State of Stock Photography in 2015

With photography becoming more accessible and people being able to purchase professional quality equipment for a lot less these days, I thought I would chime in on the state of stock photography as it stands in March (almost April) of 2015.

Some Thoughts…

Before I go into reviewing the various stock photography agencies and my likes and dislikes about each, I thought I would mention a few quick tidbits first.

I have seen a lot of other photographers out there saying that stock photography is dead.  I want to elaborate on this point a little bit because I feel they have not really explained the reasoning behind their statement.  If, for example, you think you can take a photograph of your cat and sell 70000 copies of it, yes, stock is dead for you. That ship has, unfortunately, sailed many years ago. When stock first went digital and hit the interwebs (you know, when tens of millions of pro quality photos weren’t available yet) you could have taken a shot of a brick wall and that texture could have made you some nice cash.  Obviously, today, that horse has been beaten to death.  That being said, stock photography is not dead but it has reached “career” status.  In other words, the more resources you put into it the more you will be rewarded.

Many full time photographers supplement their income with stock.  Why? They are already putting in the time, travel expenses, hiring models, etc. for their projects or commissioned work.  They might as well submit some of their work (obvious note: you must obtain model releases for shots that include recognizable people and/or places that require property releases) to stock agencies for some extra cash each month.  That being said, this is what they do for a living.  They are taking hundreds or thousands of shots a week. Does this mean the weekend warrior can’t make a dime? Not at all.  Even the devoted amateur can still make some beer money (or a lot more) depending on their level of commitment, creativity and skill. Just remember, you are working in a saturated market with professional competition that is dumping a lot more photos into the stream then you are.

The other thing that you should know is that many agencies these days also accept stock video, vector art, illustrations and even sound clips.  There is a LOT of potential out there for you to put all of your creative skills to work and submit more than just your beautiful commercially viable photos.

Keep your expectations realistic and you will have a good time and make some money to buy your next plane ticket or next piece of kit.  Don’t listen to the naysayers who are afraid you are going to take their market share.  Just be persistent and you can achieve as much success as you are willing to work for.


Okay, lets get to what you really want to know.  I am going to review 5 agencies.  I will be rating them in order of my least favorite to super awesomesauce.  In the name of full disclosure, I have not been paid a dime to advertise for these agencies.  This is simply a review based on my own opinions and personal experience with them thus far.

Each agency has a different business model.  I will not list the percentages and royalties they take/pay as that info is readily available everywhere.  This review will focus mostly on the user experience.

Note: You can visit the sites directly by click on the names in the headings.

5. Dreamstime


  • The #1 reason why Dreamstime is awesome is because they let you sell exclusive rights to your photos AND they let you decide what price to charge.
  • They have a modern, intuitive (at least compared to some of the other agencies) user interface for their contributors.  Their uploading process is smooth and easy to navigate.
  • Review standards are fair and consistent.
  • Dedicated contributor area that is easily identifiable and navigable from the main menu.
  • They have plenty of tools, utilities, blogging and other materials to help you help yourself.  If you make money they make money so this is usually standard for all agencies.


  • The slowest review time out of all the agencies by a ridiculous margin.  I am talking upwards of a WEEK more compared to other agencies.
  • Substandard SEO statistics.  I want graphs, info on who is clicking on what images during what time, from what part of the world etc.  The more information you have the better you can serve your niche.

Final Thoughts:

Dreamstime is actually fantastic.  In a market where time is money having the slowest review rate is unacceptable.  If they had a similar or better review time compared to the other 4 agencies I will be reviewing, I would have ranked them significantly higher.

4. 123 RF


  • The #1 reason why I love 123 RF is because they have a feature that allows commercial photos to be automatically submitted to the editorial category if their review process has deemed you did not have the adequate releases to sell the photograph commercially.  When you are editing hundreds of photographs, having to resubmit work is a pain in the ass.  This makes life a little bit easier since you generally cannot contest their decision.
  • They have a clean website design but it is not as intuitive or easy to navigate as others.
  • Review standards are fair and consistent.
  • They have plenty of tools, utilities, blogging and other materials to help you help yourself.  If you make money they make money so this is usually standard for all agencies.


  • They have the second slowest review times after Dreamstime.
  • Limited stats on SEO related activity.  I want as much data as possible about who is clicking on my images.
  • They do not have a contributor area/link or main tab on their website.  I find myself always having to go to “My Account” first or scroll to the bottom of the page to find the “Sell Image” link in their footer section.  This is really irritating when, again, you are uploading many images.
  • The reason the above is annoying is because their FTP service is set up in such a way that after you upload all your photos through the FTP client (I recommend Filezilla) you still have to go to their website, go to the upload button, go through the steps as you would if you were uploading directly through the site, select FTP instead of web upload and then wait for them to queue up your stuff.  NOT COOL.

Final Thoughts:

123RF has some cool features and great design but the contributor area could be more intuitive and the review times could be a bit faster.

3. Istock by Getty Images


  • They have one of the fastest review periods.  Most sites give a generous estimate of 5-7 business days but with Istock it usually takes a day or two at the most.  At least that has been the case for me thus far.
  • They have a dedicated application called DeepMeta for uploading, keywording and finalizing your images. This app is essentially an FTP client with added functionality for everything you would need to add metadata and upload your photos en mass to Istock.
  • Review standards are fair and consistent.
  • They have plenty of tools, utilities, blogging and other materials to help you help yourself.  If you make money they make money so this is usually standard for all agencies.
  • As of March 20th they will be updating their SEO tools and make it (presumably) more efficient and effective for you to get your images found by potential clients.  This is a big plus because we want to make money right?


  • They have the least intuitive website out of all the agencies.  Their uploading process through their website is horrendous.
  • Their testing program to see if you qualify as a contributor is even less intuitive.
  • They have a strict policy where even unidentifiable people in photographs require releases.  Most of the photographs that were accepted under a commercial license by other stock sites had to be submitted as editorial photos to Istock.
  • Their SEO stats are acceptable but limited.

Final Thoughts:

Istock is the old dog in town.  It has been around, it is well known and offers great exposure for your work.  Their website is not up to standards in my opinion especially for their contributors.  Thankfully the DeepMeta app resolves that but if you aren’t using it you are going to have a hell of a time and may give up on working with Istock.

2. Alamy


  • They have the best website out of all the agencies.
  • They have both FTP uploading and a superb website based uploading system that makes the FTP option irrelevant.  It is super intuitive and allows for large numbers of images to be uploaded.
  • They pay you the highest royalty out of all the other agencies (50%).
  • If you are the type of person who doesn’t keyword all their images in Lightroom and you do it once you have uploaded your images to your specific agency, Alamy is for you.  They do not require you to do any of the work before they review your images.  If they accept your work then you will be prompted to add titles, keywords, descriptions and all the other metadata.
  • They have plenty of tools, utilities, blogging and other materials to help you help yourself.  If you make money they make money so this is usually standard for all agencies.
  • Awesome SEO stats.  They track everything.
  • Best user experience by far.  They are #1.


  • Review time is not the greatest.

Final Thoughts:

Alamy is a huge agency.  They have the largest collection of stock around.  They are well known and can provide great exposure for your work.  Their website is boss.  It is literally the best user experience out of the bunch I have reviewed.  It never seems like a chore or a pain when I know I have images to upload to their website.  Their review times are a bit slow but because they are just so damn good at everything else I had to give them the 2nd spot.

Stock photography by Christian Papainog at Alamy


1. Shutterstock


  • They are insanely strict (I am putting this in the cons also).  They seem to have either jaded or evil reviewers but I have grown to love them.  As hard as they are on their judging the results in sales are there.
  • Great sale turnover.  I have to attribute this to their strict review process.
  • By FAR the fastest review times out of all the agencies.
  • One of my absolute favorite features of Shutterstock is its set system.  You can categorize and organize your photographs by specific sub-types and then display them as a set rather than a mix of all your photographs.  This is especially useful for me because I can create a set for really specific travel destinations (e.g. Tokyo) or something more broad (e.g. Rocky Mountains). It’s also fantastic and lets you separate your body of work if you cater to more than one niche.
  • Fast, efficient and minimal number of steps required in uploading through FTP.
  • SEO statistics are decent.  I love the fact that they have a map that shows which country your latest clients have licensed images from.  It really gives a nice global community feel to it.
  • Separate contributor area on their website.  This is great idea that needs to be adopted by some of the other agencies out there.
  • They have a keyword suggesting feature that lets you search for images similar to yours and give you ideas about proper keywords to use in your metadata.
  • They routinely host events and provide contributors with as many opportunities as they need to get to the next level.


  • They are insanely strict compared to all other stock agencies.  They will reject your images on a whim.
  • Their site is not particularly intuitive with regards to uploading without using FTP.

Final Thoughts:

My favorite agency as things stand.  They are strict but the results are there to back up their process. Their site is not as insanely awesome as Alamy but because they have lightning quick review times, decent stats, fantastic keywording tools and they seem truly professional in dealing with their contributors they have earned the #1 spot for me.


Thank you for reading.  I hope this has brought some insight into the stock photo world.  Perhaps it has re/kindled your interest in joining the fray.  If you have any specific questions that were not addressed in my wide brush stroke of a review, send me an email as usual or leave a message below and I will try to get to it asap.


Article Name
State of Stock Photography in 2015
A brief overview on the state of stock photography at the start of 2015.

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