Stock Photography Agencies for Amateur Photographers

Photography: illustir

The stock industry has changed. For established professionals who were already inside and enjoying the benefit of lifetime royalties from a reliable sales channel, it’s all been bad news. Competition has increased, and the prices — even of photos from companies as selective as Corbis and Getty — have fallen sharply. For enthusiasts, the kind of people who shoot for fun and hope to make a little extra money on the side, it’s been largely good news. Instead of hoping that one of the major stock companies would happen to look in their direction, they can now upload their pictures to a wide range of microstock firms with low acceptance requirements. If the image looks like it might sell, they can find an outlet willing to take it. But the news hasn’t all been positive. While microstock might be open source, it’s also underpriced. And the competition is fierce too. Fortunately, there are options that allow photographers to sell licenses for real money while still enjoying minimal acceptance requirements and open opportunities. Here are five of them.


Based in the UK, fotoLibra calls itself an “open source picture library” rather than a stock company. The difference is important. Unlike most stock companies, fotoLibra will accept almost any image that a member wants to submit.

“There’s only one rule: no porn,” says founder Gwyn Headley. “We accept all images because our taste cannot be the same as the buyers.”

Gwyn, who had previously spent twelve years running a specialist photo library representing the work of about a dozen architectural photographers, illustrated how even experienced stock selectors can sometimes get things wrong. After pointing out an image that was so poor he thought it must have been uploaded by mistake, a colleague informed him that it had just been sold to a theater company for £450.

“Let the photographers choose what they feel will sell,” Gwyn concluded.

That’s easier to do when the company isn’t covering the cost of storage though. While microstock sites are free to join, fotoLibra charges photographers membership fees that range from £18-£45 per quarter depending on the amount of storage the photographer needs. The company also takes between 50 and 40 percent of the sales fee, depending on the type of membership. In return though, photographers receive full market value for their images. While microstock companies, which have more restrictive entrance requirements than fotoLibra, only offer low rates that vary with picture size, fotoLibra also has rights managed licenses with almost 1,500 different price points. Photographers are free to join but fotoLibra’s services aren’t free and neither are their images.


FotoLibra accepts pictures on every topic (bar one). Other stock companies though specialize, a choice that means they’re always more interested in the image than in the photographer.

PhotoResearchers started in 1957 with an emphasis on travel photography. In the 1970s, it moved towards nature photography, becoming more scientific in the following years. Today, the company has a core group of 500 photographers, most of whom shoot images of animals and the environment.

“The best performing sector is science,” co-owner Bug Sutton has told us. “Nature is second, then natural sciences and behavioral sciences. We’re always looking for a scientific bent.”

The company is selective. The 4,000 images it adds to its inventory each month represent about a quarter of the submissions it receives. Redundancy is the main reason for rejection; PhotoResearchers is less willing to accept close similars than it used to. Prices vary too and depend on usage. PhotoResearchers’ biggest customers are textbook publishers, but they also sell to pharmaceutical companies, colleges and clients in continuing medical education. An image used in a convention might sell for about $7,000 but the average sales price is $450 — significantly higher than the sort of fees earned by microstock firms.

Today, most of the contributors are professional photographers but about 20 percent are amateurs, particularly doctors and scientists with access to universities and teaching hospitals. For scientific types with a love of photography, PhotoResearchers provides one valuable outlet.

FarmBoy Fine Arts

PhotoResearchers might be open to any photographer who has the right image but not everyone has the kind of connections necessary to create them. Farmboy Fine Arts, a Canadian design firm, accepts the sort of images that any talented photographer can produce.

“We are… looking for more content that is ‘art driven,’ conceptual and even a bit edgy,” says Todd Towers, company President.

Those images are added to the company’s collection and offered to clients looking for unique designs for their hospitality venues. Instead of seeing your images of happy executives and smiling receptionists printed in magazines and brochures, you’ll know that your artworks are decorating the walls of hotels and spas. Again, anyone can submit their photos and photographers can increase the chances of winning sales by contributing multiple images.

Although the ability to license artworks is a rare opportunity, prices at Farmboy Fine Arts have been reported to be low, and the company is relatively small. It might be a useful outlet for arty images that are hard to sell elsewhere but it’s not the kind of place that’s going to generate a lifetime of income.


One of the problems of selling photos through a stock site is that not only do you usually have to give up the right to offer the image elsewhere, you also lose the ability to set your own price. Fotolibra might have 1,500 different price points but the company has chosen them, not the photographer, and the prices are set. In practice though, buyers might well be willing to pay different amounts based on the quality of the image as well as the subject matter. The person best left to decide the value of an image is the person who created it.

That, at least, is the idea behind Cutcaster, which calls itself an “image marketplace.” Created by two former Wall Street traders, the company aims to combine open sourcing with flexible pricing.

“The idea was to create an electronic marketplace similar to the one we worked in, which gave control over pricing back to the sellers and buyers in the market and provided tools to educate the participants in order to make better decisions over buying, selling and creating,” said co-founder John Griffin. “We wanted to create a dynamic marketplace much like the NASDAQ stock exchange and also give people tools to educate themselves on what the marketplace was looking for, analyze the data surrounding their content and find available market research.”

Sellers can set their own prices for their images or choose to make use of the site’s own pricing algorithm. Images are sold on a royalty-free basis however, and the prices tend to be closer, although a little higher, than those on microstock. For photographers looking to keep some control over their pricing, CutCaster lets them offer their photos for sale without selling them for bottom dollar.

Your Own Stock Site

There are other sites that allow photographers to submit their images and offer them for sale, without touching microstock. GoGoImages is looking for pictures of ethnic groups; PhotoShelter lets photographers license images themselves. But these days, it’s also possible to create your own stock site. FolioLink’s Pro account comes with an archive site that allows photographers to set their own price points for each image they offer. It costs $695 a year and you’ll have to do all the marketing yourself. But you’ll also get to keep all of the sales revenue — and enjoy the freedom of being your very own stock company.

11 comments for this post.

  1. Bla Bla Said:

    Great article! Thanks. Would also be nice if there was a summary table of most of the stock sites for comparison. But this is good information nevertheless

  2. Kimberly Said:

    Thanks for this post; it's very helpful. This is something that I wanted to get involved in this year.

    Thanks again.

  3. Louis Cayle Said:

    well this is not the most complete list but it was useful

  4. Rahul Pathak Said:

    Nice post, Dean. I had written a post on our blog about direct licensing which might be helpful to your readers.

  5. J-F Maion Said:

    Re your own stock website, affordably:

    PhotoDeck ( will surprise you 😉

  6. Becky Parker Said:

    A new site to add to the list:

    Similiar to stock or mictostock except that the buyer describes their photo needs and price and then photographers can browse buyers' requests and submit photos that fit the bill.

  7. film earth Said:

    Our new site posts lists of buildings and landmarks that we will pay $25.00-$100.00 each.

    All our users have to do is register for free, reserve an object from our specific list, photograph 360 degrees around the building/object, upload to our FTP or by using a web-upload site and we pay quickly via paypal/ western union/check, etc. very quickly and have a payment confirmation que so you can check on your payment status.

    We post our new locations up on our by country twitter accounts (also always up on our home page once logged in) for our users to reserve, right now we have hundreds of active users who are happy with our payment turnaround and compensation.

    *this does not require a professional photographer or pro equipment, just point and shoot 4 MP or greater!

  8. Matt Said:

    Great article... there are so many options out there now, but to me the trend really is moving to more of these smaller 'boutique' agencies that focus on a specific topic (like photoresearchers) or self-representation and self-marketing to a client group. In the long run, I think the "upload and forget about it" agencies will disappear or are devolving into crowd-sourced content. Professional or aspiring professional photographers are looking for other options like what's presented here... great!

    I'm personally giving Photoshelter a shot:

  9. Duane Stevens Said:

    I received an email from FarmBoy Arts in early 2010 that said they were not accepting new photographers.

  10. Vitezslav Valka Said:

    Interesting read Dean. It is actually nice to so see the colors of the microstock market. We at Pixmac tend to focus on buyers and by that we hopefully satisfy photographers like Yuri Arcurs or Dolgachov.

    So far it is working. And so Pixmac is currently one of those successful startups that grows pretty well...

  11. Henrik Said:

    Interesting article. I think for and amateur photographer that does want to make a little money with photos, then your best choice from this list would be CutCaster. I would never consider a site like FotoLibra where you have to pay to upload your images. Agencies should make their money from selling images, and not from there contributors. Here is a list of microsotck agencies For a more deatailed list (I am still working on this list) go to

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