Do you know how to make money from microstock photography? You’re about to find out.

Using your passions, hobbies and natural abilities to earn some extra income is one of the strategies we covered in our popular article: 3+ Guaranteed Ways to Find Profitable Business Ideas.

The business idea I will share with you in this article concerns something you probably do everyday for fun.

Mobile devices (like phones and tablets) make it very easy to use a camera these days. Whether you like to take photographs of yourself (selfies), cute dogs, mouthwatering foods or fancy cars, there exists an amazing opportunity for you to make money from all those beautiful photos sitting idly on the memory card of your camera or mobile phone.

Gone are the days when only professional photographers could make money from their cameras; you too can now make money from photographs you take in your pastime.

What exactly is this opportunity?

It’s called microstock photography.

Let’s find out what it is and how you can take advantage of this phenomenal business idea.


Microstock photography: What is it? How does it work?

1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 2The microstock photography market is worth over $2 billion worldwide.

Microstock websites collect images and photographs over the internet from a wide range of photographers (commonly known as ‘contributors’).

Contributors include professional photographers, amateurs and hobbyists (ordinary people who take photographs for fun, like you and I).

These images are sold to anybody who likes them at very low prices – usually between $0.20 and $10. Contributors are paid a commission every time their images are downloaded or purchased. Commissions can be a percentage of the sale price or a fixed amount (like $0.20 per download / purchase).

The way it works is simple.

First, you need to register as a Contributor on one or several of the microstock photo websites we will share with you shortly.

After you have signed up, you can start taking photographs and uploading them to the website. This doesn’t mean just about any photograph will be accepted.

Nearly all of these websites employ a team of inspectors who check every photo that is submitted for technical quality, as well as artistic and commercial merit. So, you’ll need to be a little creative. 🙂

These websites are designed like search engines (like Google) which will provide image results based on the keywords used by a person looking for images.

For example, if you are looking for pictures that have something to do with African art and type ‘African art’ in the search bar, the website will give you results of pictures that have been uploaded and tagged by contributors as ‘African art’.

So, it’s very important to give the right tags to your pictures so the right customers can find them.

Who on earth would want to buy photos on the internet?

I was amazed to find out that millions of dollars are spent every year buying photographs over the internet.

Advertising agencies are the biggest buyers. They are always looking for new, relevant and creative photos to use in advert campaigns for various clients.

Next time you see a beautiful image splash in a magazine, on a billboard or metro bus, it could likely be one of the photos bought through a microstock photo website.

Rather than hire a professional photographer each time they need new photos, advertising agencies prefer to patronize microstock websites. It’s cheaper, more convenient and there’s a wide range of options and categories to choose from.

Don’t forget; many of these ad agencies have clients such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and many others who do a lot of advertising to promote their products and services.

It’s not just advert agencies who spend money on microstock photographs. Small businesses with low advertising budgets, website designers, music and movie producers (for album covers), book and magazine publishers, movie producers and bloggers are some of the big buyers of microstock photography.

As copyright laws and regulations get tougher, more people (including ordinary people) will start to visit and buy photos from microstock websites.

Why is Microstock photography a huge opportunity for Africans?

1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 3Based on my research on the leading microstock sites (which I will soon share with you), Africans have a huge opportunity!

Why do I say this?

Well, there are only very few ‘original’ images and photographs uploaded by African contributors.

As more of Africa’s economies continue to grow and more local and international companies start to set up shop on our continent, advertisers will need more pictures that look local and African.

Statistics show adverts that influence people the most usually have images that contain familiar things, places and faces. There is a huge opportunity out there for Africans to tell their own everyday stories in pictures.

My research also reveals that the best-selling photo categories are “lifestyle” photographs — pictures of ordinary people at work and play.

Other interesting categories include food, home and office interiors, events, objects, sports, business shots and fashion.

Africa remains underrepresented in many of these categories. And this makes it a huge business opportunity for African contributors to fill the supply gap for African images in the microstock photography market.

What are the popular microstock photography websites?

Microstock photography took off in the early 2000s and has grown very rapidly since then.

There are about eight websites at the top of the charts. Many of them have over one million pictures uploaded by contributors from across the world. These websites are also very popular with advertising agencies, website designers and all kinds of people who are looking for creative, interesting and high quality photographs.

The graph below shows the eight major microstock photo companies and the number of photographs that have been uploaded by contributors on their website. These numbers would have grown considerably by now given that the latest figures from the graph are from 2010.

After the graph, I have shared a summary profile of each microstock photo website and give you some useful tips about them. However, we still recommend that you visit each of these sites to learn more about how they operate.

1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 4
Volume  of photographs and images collected by the leading microstockk photography companies in the world as at 2010 (credit:

  • 1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 5iStockphoto (also known as ‘iStock’) is one of the biggest players in the microstock photography business. The company makes over $100 million in sales every year and is now owned by Getty Images (which makes over $1 billion in its stock photography business).

Photographers must be over 18 years of age to register and become contributors to iStockphoto. You can follow the full steps to sign up by visiting the following page on their website:

  • 1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 6Shutterstock has more than 40,000 contributors from 100 countries who upload over 20,000 images every single day. To become a contributor, you will have to submit 10 pictures that are screened for quality and suitability. At least 7 pictures must be approved for the contributor account to become active.

Shutterstock pays a flat rate of $0.25 for every image that is downloaded. To get started with Shutterstock, follow this link:

  • 1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 7Dreamstime pays between 25 to 60 percent to its contributors for every downloaded photograph. It has over 20 million uploaded images in its catalogue in a wide range of categories. To become a registered member, visit
  • 1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 9BigStockPhoto, which has over 16 million photos, illustrations and vectors in its digital library, was taken over by Shutterstock in 2009. It uses a credit system for selling its photos and usually pays its contributors a flat fee of $0.50 for every credit used to buy images on its website. To join the BigStockPhoto community, visit
  • 1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 10123rf joined the microstock photography scene in 2005. It offers over 20 million images in its collection contributed by over 100,000 members across the world. Some of its customers include big names like Google, Microsoft and Apple. To get started with 123rf, follow this link:

How much money can a Contributor make from microstock photos?

Well, it depends. Contributors can earn anything from a few hundred dollars a month to several thousands.

Many of the top-selling contributors on the microstock photo websites we just shared with you earn up to $100,000 every year! Some of them take photographs on a part time basis while some others depend on this as their sole source of income.

1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 11The key to how much money you can make from this business depends on your skill and the volume of photographs you upload. We will talk about volume now and focus on skill a little later in this article.

I noticed that many of the top-earning contributors to microstock websites have uploaded a large portfolio of photographs. Many of them have more than 3,000 photos and upload about 2 to 10 new photos every week.

And this makes perfect sense! Since the amount of money a contributor can earn is based on commissions, the more photos they have in their collection, the more money they make.

In fact, the more photos you upload, the greater the chances that people will buy more of your photos. Don’t forget, buyers usually have more than one million photos to choose from. To increase your chances (and earnings), you will have to upload more pictures. Microstock photography is a volume business.

One common trick you can use is to sign up with and upload your pictures to many of these microstock sites. Yes, it’s legal as long as you don’t sign up for ‘exclusivity’ with one single microstock company.

I’ll explain:

There are some microstock sites that give the option to submit your photos ONLY to them (that is, make it exclusive to them). The benefit of exclusivity is that your commission rates will be higher than non-exclusive contributors.

Is this a good or bad thing?

It depends.

If you think you can make more money by being exclusive, that’s great. On the other hand, spreading your eggs into different baskets may work for you. Just make sure you do your research and find what works for you.

What do you need to succeed in the microstock photo business?

Like every business opportunity we have shared with you on Smallstarter, there are certain tips and secrets of success that apply to every business venture.

In this section of the article, I shall share some tips with you that can mean the difference between frustration and fulfillment or success and failure. You need to take your time to consider each of them and make sure that you satisfy these requirements so your success can be assured. Here they are…

#1 – You need to learn the skills

1.1 How to make money from microstock photos 12Anybody can claim to be a professional photographer nowadays. With 8 mega pixel cameras on most of our mobile phones that often have over 4X Zoom ability, it’s easier than ever before for anybody to take pictures anywhere they want.

While this is a good thing, you will need to do much better if you plan on making any reasonable money through microstock photography.

Photography is both an art and a science. And in today’s digital world, you would need more than passion to create good photo shots.

Don’t forget, there will be millions of other photographs competing against yours for every dollar spent my interested customers. Your photos will be up against other photographs contributed by other professional and amateur photographers.

To stand a good chance, it’s very important that you invest some time, effort and money to learn the basics of photography and acquire the skills that will increase your chances of success. (photo credit:

You need to learn about lighting, exposure, how to take portrait and landscape photos and other very important photography basics.

As usual, I have a great top recommendation for you. This is likely the most popular resource out there for both beginners and advanced photographers.

You will find several useful and FREE tutorials and tips that will help to kick off your photography career. It’s all at

If you know of any other useful resources on the internet for digital photography, please share them in the comments section of this article.

#2 – You need the right equipment

Trust me, if you are going to take this seriously, you will need serious and professional cameras that have more capabilities than the camera on your mobile phone.

There are sophisticated digital cameras that are made to produce those high-quality and attractive photographs that will catch most people’s attention.

On the website we recommended to you (Digital Photography School), there are comparisons of various models and brands of cameras that you can choose from. Once you have made up your mind about the kind of camera you want (depending on your budget), go for it!

Fortunately, sophisticated digital cameras are not as expensive as they used to be. You can get a good, sophisticated and high quality camera for less than $1,000. Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Samsung and Sony are some of the strong and reliable camera brands out there.

You can check out these interesting camera options on Amazon.

Now you know how to make money from microstock photography. When do you plan to start?

If taking photos is your hobby and something you fancy, you should really consider the opportunities in microstock photography. It’s like getting paid for doing stuff that you love. Amazing!

If you have a creative eye, it would be good for you too. If you’re already a photographer who has been taking beautiful shots for your personal collection, why not share your creativity with the world and earn some money on top? Either way you slice it, this is one serious opportunity you have to consider.

It’s simple, fun and you will continue to earn money from your photos (a steady stream of income) for the rest of your life!

We believe that the opportunity and information we have shared with you in this article can be taken further by your creativity and energy. You could also choose from many more lucrative business ideas in the Business ideas section of this website.

What do you think about this business opportunity? Please leave a comment, share your views and ideas or ask any questions you may have in the Comments section below.

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To your success!