istock and shutterstock vs "pro stock" sites

This thread on dpchallenge says that, “istock / shutterstock are ruining the industry”.
SharQ recommends Alamy, Corbis and other sites that sell photos on a royalty basis. istock/shutterstock sell royalty free photos so photographers could be “underselling” their photos. It’s an interesting thread and worth a read.
According to their FAQ, Alamy require 48MB tiffs (24MB for “reportage material”) which my camera might have a little trouble creating. By upscaling a 2048×1920 photo to 3584×2688 the resulting uncompressed tiff file is 28MB. *ouch* It might be a while before I submit stuff to them!
Meanwhile, in the world of the amateur photographer I’ll continue to use the “royalty free” sites such as istockphoto and shutterstock.
Here’s a thread about how well some users of those sites are getting on. Note to self, upload more photos!

31 thoughts on “istock and shutterstock vs "pro stock" sites

  1. I’ve been an iStockphoto user/contributor for some time now (portfolio). These threads about low-cost stock photo sites “ruining the industry” crop up from time to time. I think it’s just FUD.

    iStockphoto (and similar sites) fill a niche. Period. “Professional” photographers who have dealt with the “high end” agencies will be able to determine which solution works best for them. Likewise for the consumers who purchase the pictures. If they need super hi-res for a large-format project, most of the material on iStock wouldn’t be suitable — they’d need to use one of the other agencies to get the higher resolutions. But if all you need is artwork for the web or normal print work, iStock is a nice, affordable alternative.

    1. I agree. I’ve work for ad agencies for over 20 years and most of the agencies that I’ve worked for are going to iStock. In over 95% of the time, we’ve been able to find a good, quality photographs that we could use. Times are tight, so long gone are the days when a small agency can pay $300 – $400 or more for a single photograph.

  2. Wow! Nice gallery! I must dig out some more of my photos and upload them. The discussion did sound absurd although many good points were made – the proliferation of cheap digi-cams will make create a lot more cruft for people to wade through.
    At the end of the day, quality and talent counts and if you deliver what someone wants they’ll download your image instead of someones noisy, underexposed or blown out photo. That is, if the customer see your image in time!

  3. Thanks 🙂

    A lot of the cruft on iStock is weeded out. On a few of my most recent submissions, my work was rejected due to quality issues (color noise, or sloppy editing on my part). I had to re-edit and re-submit one pic several times before the moderators approved it. There are still pictures that get through that might not be “art”. But the overall quality of the pictures on the site is quite good.

    I’ve learned a lot just by reviewing the work of other, better photographers on iStock. I look back at my portfolio and feel embarrassed sometimes. I’ve got a few that I’m proud of, though.

  4. Hi guys, we have a great stock photography site too– We are nice to our photographers & only charge the users $1-2 per photo. Lots of great photos and you can even use them on web templates. Our traffic & sales are doubling every 2 weeks. check us out–thanks! 🙂


  5. I sell through shutterstock because they are sympathetic
    towards digital artists like myself I was kicked off Istock over an artistic dispute they didn’t rate my swans hearts although it is one of the biggest selling images on the web. You judge you can see it on I have found it very difficult to get accepted as an artist anywhere. I dislike
    stock photography but it helps me develop as an artist
    and if I do achieve anything shutterstock will have helped me. I think the minimum price set by all agencies should be agreed at about 10 dollars. Pete Bax


  6. I just started using Shutterstock for my graphics work and found the service to be incredibly slow and unreliable. I don’t think the larger companies have anything to worry about. sucks.

  7. I have tried numourous stock photography site and shutterstock is the only one that is giving me any kind of real returns. It does take a long time keywording and uploading photos in the quantities required to make any money, but it makes for a fun hobby!


  8. Yeah, I’ve seen these threads from time to time claiming that the photo industry will be destroyed because of these sites. I did a small experiment over the last year to see how I’d do–grand total approx $750. Not bad for something I haven’t devoted all that much time too in my spare moments. (You can see the results here. (I have to admit my first impression was that this model contributed to the “walmartization” of photography…now I see it closer to “open source” photography).


  9. High resolution digital photos for the masses will lead to faster dissolving rain forests worldwide.

    Sounds weird, hu?

    – the cheaper the pictures the more will get sold.
    – more pictures sold means more pictures printed in ads and editorial media, because creating ads become less expensive and articles get more attention with a picture.

    As a result more publications will be printed and much more paper will be needed!

    And this increases with the improvement of image resolution!
    Besides the whole print media industry everyone with a digital 8MB SLR will want his/her private wedding fotos in full glory! Not those tiny printouts like the old days!

    Just like the computer did not reduce the amount of paper used in offices, I know companies were everybody prints out their emails “for the records”, in fact we all have printers and use more paper than ever.

    Stop the further development of higher resolution cameras!
    Save our rain forests!

    phew… now lemme check if I recently sold any pics on iStock….

  10. I have to admit that I’m guilty of this too. I was “forced” to upgrade from my trusty Olympus d-580 to an SP-320 – jumping from 4 mpx to 7.1 mpx because totallyphotos has a “4 mpx minimum” rule, and in fact my d-580 is really 3.9 🙁

    On the bright side most of the shots I’ve sold there have been at the highest resolution (and price!) – so it seems the demand is certainly out there for the high res shots.
    … I apologise in advance to the rain forests 🙂

  11. It’s funny that this argument is out there. It rings familiar to a time when painting artists made the claim that photographers were not truly artists and they were ruining the industry. We all see how that turned out. This is no different. The industry has gone digital and we are a world of free enterprise. Don’t you think that when Wal-Mart discovered a way to get products into the hands of the consumer at a cheaper price that people didn’t make a ruckus about it. There were, of course, all of the specialty stores that said they were ruining the industry. Why? Because they (the specialty stores) couldn’t keep their outrageous prices high, to compete. Now, looking back, do we still have outrageously high stores still selling their products…of course we do. The industry was not ruined by any fashion. This will be the case here, as well. Those that sell outrageously high images will still be around and are going nowhere soon, but microstock sites are now to going provide a reasonable price to more of the community. The only thing microstock sites did was open up the availability of stock photography to the smaller companies that couldn’t afford it before. So don’t worry Corbis or other larger stock companies microstocks are in your backyard, but we’re not taking it over.

  12. Hello Ive been interested in doing this whole istock thing and im wondering what happens to the rights of your photos in all these sights do you still own the photo once it goes onto a billboard or a bus. thats a lot of money lost if your photo gets used in that way. can anyone give me some pointers for putting my photos on these sites or statrting my own website so i dont have to read the many pages in the maze of rights on the sites.

    thank you for your time


  13. Well all i can says is that these two stites are good for me, I was with crestock and they never except pictures and when they do (6) no one seams to be selling. Their people that check the pictures and the admin are very rude.
    If you check out their forum, I found it to very very negative from all that write on it.
    So keep up the good work shutterstock and istock, you making me happy at the moment.

  14. 20 years ago, a young photographer could make between $100,000.00 and $150,000.00 a year selling stock. That was based on selling about 60 to 80 images. Do the math people. How many pictures do you have to sell now to make that same amount of money? Old photographers, who have already made their money and are living the high life, are watching these young desperate photographers give away their future. If you are selling pictures for $35.00 today…I guarantee, you will be selling pictures 20 years from now for $35.00 a photo. I made my money in photography and I am retired. I am scratching my head right now. Blackstar, magnum and the ASMP warned us about this 25 years ago. I blame the distribution of currency. Just because you are published for free means nothing. Do not put value on being published. Put value on your creativity and experience. You will sell your soul if you’re just trying to get published. I have never sold an image for less than $1500.00 for one time use on a (6) month term. What are these companies paying? What is your work worth?


      1. It doesn’t matter what YOU think your photography is worth. You can put a million dollars on it if you want to, but you’ll be sitting on it until the paper turns yellow. Good or bad, the “high priced” stock agencies are going to die a slow, painful death due to iStock and similar stock photo agencies. Dan, 20 years ago is 20 years ago. Did you have iStock and similar companies selling photos for a buck back then? Did you have amateurs making decent photos with a high resolution digital camera 20 years ago? That answer would be no.

        As an ad agency (which now deals mainly in web design and development), I have a choice to make – do I pay $450 – $800 or more for a photo – or do I buy something I like just as much for $1? You can base this on principle all you want, but wake up and smell the coffee – you “have to do, what you have to do” to keep you business afloat in this economy, and my clients aren’t paying $800 for a photo – PERIOD! They’re shopping services too, and if the agency down the street can give them what they want for $1000 less simply because they use iStock and I use Corbis – what am I going to do to stay in business? For me, the decision is simple – give them what they want at a price they can afford.

        I still use local commercial photographers from time to time on product shoots, and when I need a special photograph – but those times are getting fewer and fewer. The photography profession is changing, and unless you change along with it like I did (going from a mainly print agency to a web development firm) you’ll be holding your $1000 photographs 20 years from now. But hey – at least you’ve got principles!

  15. Dan – somehow I think that was the exception, not the rule. Not everyone was earning 6 figure sums from their photography in the good old days.

    I totally agree with you about the value of creativity and experience. Skills and knowledge are invaluable.

  16. what about us guys who dont care, and just want to upload a few photos for free money… sounds good to me.

  17. I want to chime in to the ‘So Called Pros’. Recently, Istock Photo jumped its pricing to an ABSURD 30 credits for the smaller images.

    Let me correct a few myths. MOST of the images are USELESS for web design. Won’t waste my time explaining. If you don’t know the reason then you aren’t a pro.

    SECONDLY – The majority of IstockPhoto’s customer base ARE IN FACT WEB DESIGNERS.

    Who told Istock they should try to compete with Getty Images.

    LASTLY – I have spent hours sifting through thousands of ‘Amature Photographer’ photos there only to find one decent usable, but settled-for photo.

    So, that said…I hate to burst everyones bubble, but until your photos are worth usage, you really don’t deserve 10 credits, much less 30.

    If I am going to pay upwards of $100 per image, I’m going to buy it from a professional source. That source isn’t IstockPhoto and I highly doubt it ever will be.

    If you feel the need to debate, debate it for free. I’m taking my 20K budget to Getty.

  18. Former Istock Photo Customer – You’re storming out of Old Navy and going into Banana Republic, but your money is still going to The Gap.

    Getty owns iStockPhoto.

  19. Former Istock Photo Customer – You’ll be horrified to learn Istock contributors (the better ones anyway) have the option of uploading directly to getty. So you may take your 20k budget but you are still buying istock from the day getty bought them.

  20. I now would never deal with StutterStock.

    They now deal with many shady domains that have been caught many times giving away copyrighted artwork. Sites like are basically a front for StutterStock’s links and ads. And I have personally found MANY of my competitors works on this site. I let them know since it is also hurting my business sales. Also, the owners of these sites are hidden thru Makes me wonder who owns these sites and why the owner is hidden. hmmmmm?

    I would TOTALLY avoid StutterStock.

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