Our Review: 

The first and at one time largest of the microstock libraries. Now part of the Getty images empire. Since 2003 we have watched the cost of photos steadily rise (good news for photographers), gone are the days when you could get a good usable image for $1, they introduced XSmall images and in effect the cost of an image tripled overnight. In early 2010 exclusive images doubled in price making istockphoto very attractive to those who are willing to tie their images to just one agency. In 2014 Istock dropped selling smaller sized images at lower rates and introduced flat pricing per image no matter what the resolution; overnight the price of our 'standard sized 2mp' image shot up by 50%, but of course buyers get the full resolution for that price.

Overall the site is still popular among corporate/business buyers, in 2013 istock opened to doors to what a lot of photographers feel are inferior images, they (at time of writing) accept pretty much anything; regardless of bad keywording or image quality - istock is still however picky in terms of intellectual property. In doing this istock have been able to massively increase the size of their image collection in the last year, the dowside being that long-tail searches often reveal lots of irrelevant, falsely titled/described cruft.

You should include iStockPhoto in your portfolio. Don't lose any sleep if as a non-exclusive you earn less on this site than on some of the other smaller sites.


The Killer Search

istock cotrolled vocabulary

From all the work that goes into disambiguation of uploads istockphoto should have pretty much the best search technology ever seen at a microstock agency. Sadly the implementation leaves a lot to be desired and it's clear that some other financial or business concerns are seriously eroding the quality of search results. The search technology used makes it slightly more difficult to upload to as you have clarify the meaning of your keywords. for example include a keyword 'orange' and you will be asked to tick one of two boxes Orange (Descriptive Colour) or Orange (Citrus Fruit), or perhaps you include the keyword 'lead' the response will be Lead (Metal), Dog Lead (Pet Equipment), Leading (Moving Activity), Graphite (Material) etc. and the list goes on for 1000's of different ambiguous words in the English language. This really is cool stuff, as an image purchaser trying to clarify exactly what sort of image you want using words is a difficult business and this helps significantly.


Exclusive Photographer? istock exclusive icon

A big decision for any photographer to make. Becoming exclusive with istock will mean that you cannot upload images to any other site. I can't comment on what it's like to be exclusive as I have no experience, many people swear by it. Exclusive photographers get a larger percentage per image purchase, and also receive 'care' from the site - istock will chase people who use your images in breach of the license on your behalf. You will also come across 'Exclusive+' which allows exclusive photographers to nominate a small amount of their images for sale at a higher price.

The top exclusive photographers also get to sell their images via getty's image network (including photodisk) increasing sales potential dramatically.


Audio, Video, Ilustration, Music, Flash, Logos... istockphoto icons

Along with several other agencies istockphoto also accept video, vector illustrations, and submissions to their audio library 'istockaudio'. Even if you only contribute photographs to istock it's important to consider that buyers may find istock a convenient one-stop-shop for all their media needs, and these buyers will be your potential customers.

It's true that at present many buyers are only in the market for images, but demand for video is growing fast and royalty rates are higher. I can see one recipe for success in this emerging market is having quality video with matching print resolution images, hence designers can create matching online video and web/print campaigns; perhaps even just the option to go back and download matching images if they become needed will be enough to make your video work stand out.


istock Tips istock gold film can


Istock is the only major microstock site that does not support FTP/SFTP upload. There are a couple of work-arounds for this. Firstly there is the istock image manager available for download from their site (istockphoto.com/ws_client_intro.php). The second option is to use picworkflow or similar upload assistant to submit images but make sure you log into istockphoto and set those categories and keywords once the upload is done. The third option is a simple time saver: bookmark the page that is shown when you have clicked “upload > image type” (the one with a browse button) put the bookmark in a shortcut bar in your browser, then once you have logged in you can click it and save yourself a couple of clicks and page loads for every image you want to upload i.e. just click that shortcut when you receive the upload confirmation page and you are ready for another image.



Public Lightboxes are a great way of showcasing a range of at least 20 of your images that feature related subjects or styles. These are a great targeted landing page for you to link to from somewhere else online (twitter, blog, website etc.). External Resource: Impact of using lightboxes (via microstocks.wordpress.com)

Number of images estimate: Getty/istock are tight lipped about the number of images in the istock collection.



Despite my criticisms of this site, the low royalty level (a low 15% for non exclusives, compared to previous levels of about 28%, no way to sugar-coat subscription rates for non-exclusive, they are disgraceful), the fact that it has fallen from the #1 spot, tedious keywording process etc, I still recommend istockphoto as one of the top three earning microstock agencies. The microstock market moves and changes all the time, although slipping they still hold 3rd place



Visit istockphoto


Site Details
Media Types (in addition to RF Images): 
This site accepts editorial images
This site accepts video footage
This site accepts vector illustrations
(sort by agency)
Real US$ Cost of 1 Standard Image: 
10 (compare prices)
Referral Scheme: 
YES : Moving Goal Posts, previously only paid for recruiting a new photographer who earns at least $100, now one off $20, 20 credits or 20% of first purchase for recruiting a new buyer who purchases a minimum package in 30 days. (this offer replaces a dreadful $10 flat referral fee offered before Nov 2011) (compare rates)
Exclusivity Options Available: 
Exclusive Contributor (compare)
Cost of a standard image (1600x1200) 2MP approx: 
1 Credit
Royalty Rate: 
15% for non exclusive images (video 20%). Exclusive members (25% to 45%) and double image sale price. Subscription downloads for non-exclusive images earn a disgraceful 10c. (compare)
Cost of 1 Credit (basic): 
$ 10
FTP Upload: 
Not Available

Multiple Combinations of Downloads (10-750 month), Length of Subscription (1month or 1 year), photos, illustrations and vectors included, no video, option to access signature images at a premium.
1 Month: 10 images $40 (essentials)
1 Month: 10 images $100 (signature)
Annual: 50 images/month $1000 (essentials)
Annual: 750 images/month $3800 (signature)
(corporate accounts have separate price structure)

(compare subscriptions)
Search: XML (Details: istockphoto.com/webservices/xmlrpc_doc) (list all)
Site Statistics
Approx. size of photo collection (0 = no current estimate): 
30,000,000 Images (compare)
Alexa Traffic Rank: 
603 (a measure of the site popularity, lower number is better)
Alexa 3 Month Change: 
-42% (measurement of the increase of site popularity compared with three months ago, negative is a decrease)
fan page link (list all)
@istock (list all)
(may 2020) istockphoto.com/au/plans-and-pricingsource:marketingmag.com.au/hubs-c/evolution-of-stock-photography-in-marketing/
Overall Rating: 
8/10 (compare sites)

Ronnie Hall's picture

is it still possible for amateurs to join?

Ronnie Hall (not verified) on Tue, 2009-11-10 11:26
I am getting a complete blank on my applications to join istockphoto, even though I am confident that my photos meet their criteria and are as good as some photos already on the site. I have been rejected four times now - and the third time there was no comment on criteria, simply that the photos were not 'diverse' enough! I have the distinct feeling that nothing I submit will be accepted, and that the bar has been raised, but I do not know how to find out if this is the case. Any ideas?
Jab's picture

Certainly not a top 10 agency

Jab (not verified) on Sat, 2010-11-13 16:58
Istock is certainly not a top 10 agency for may reasons: 1. Poor to very poor interface (compared to Dreamstime and other Fotolia for instance). 2. Complicated and long upload & keywording process 3. Support almost nonexistent (it looks like it's actually a server that does the support, not human beings). But worst of all, their website's application is full of bugs. Try to upload image for review and right after send a message to support, you will automatically receive a rejection message (from the server) for your images (minutes after, meaning that no editor has had time to review it). Again, is there a pilot in the plane or is it a conscious policy to reject automatically new photographs ? And don't dare to ask for explanations when the same images have been accepted everywhere else... istock, when arrogance meets a very poor service...
Steve Gibson's picture

Not quite sure how this

Steve Gibson on Sun, 2010-11-14 23:59

Not quite sure how this comment fits into the middle of the thread about joining, but with the sales figures as they are there is no way, no matter how much you dislike it, that it is not a top 5. They definitely belong up there, measured on sales, images, contributors and any other metric I can think of - including photographer ire.

I have to side with you on the issues after F5, it's was all decidedly shaky with broken links, ophaned pages etc, and dodgy search for several days most of that is sorted now?

no website that big is ever perfect, especially in those dark corners. Poor interface? - well Controlled vocab often gets peoples back up because, well, yes it's tedious at first until you learn the way it works. (personally I didn't like the new search at all).

Steve Gibson's picture


Steve Gibson on Wed, 2009-11-11 01:58
Im guessing you have read http://microstockinsider.com/guides/photographer-application-process-get... Is istock the first site you have joined? Yes amateurs can join and still have their work accepted, but in this respect I'm talking about amateurs at stock photography/learning stock, not an amateur photographer who wants to make money from a photo of a sunset or family cat. - so no photos of flowers, pets, motion blurs or skies, even if you see something similar on the site already, try to be conceptual and play safe with the initial submission.    
Henri Faure's picture


Henri Faure (not verified) on Tue, 2009-11-17 13:04
Do not send photos to iStockphoto. It is no longer the most powerful in terms of sales, indeed Fotolia and Dreamstime can do better. I have been contributor in iStock since November 2007. At the beginning all was at its best, I uploaded lots of photos and my sales increased. Then I became exclusive and my sales kept growing from 80 files per month to 120 in January 2009. But on February 17th, my sales dropped from an average of 5/day to less than 1 per day. Since then I could not sell more than 2 files peer day and last week was dreadful with only 8 files sold. I worked hard to upload 500 files - in fact 1000 because 50% files are rejected - and when I began to earn some money, they threw me by the window. Impossible to know why my sales dropped in one night. The support says that its because the quality of other contributors has increased, but if you look at the database, you dont see a significant quality increase and anyway the quality on the files could not increase 10 fold in one single night, on February 17th. What they did with me. They used my files to draw traffic via Google paying me only 25% of the price and when I could earn some money they pushed my sales down. In iStock there are some happy few who sell 300 files a day or more and earn several thousand Dollars per month. These contributors are protected and most customers are directed to these contributors. The new ones see their best files rejected when the risk to compete with those of the happy few, I was here only to make volume and to attract people from the net. Other contributors took the money and iStock make fantastic profits without any risk.
Steve Gibson's picture

don't don't

Steve Gibson on Wed, 2009-11-18 02:47
I think we've known for a while that istock has been loosing ground to others considering they were once the biggest. Each agnecy has its quirks that photographers love to hate. I do think it's way to far to suggest its not a good place to upload, they are still one of the big 5 and still recommended. Sounds like you were a victim of their 'best match' changes which chooses which image to display based on all sorts of 'secret sauce' criteria. all agencies do it or their search results would be full of spammed keywords. Perhaps you had a good run of sales before, lots of people felt the new system was a lot more fair - including myself with just a very marginal increase on more popular images, stopping what seemed to be a downward trend
Alistair Shankie's picture

Exclusive Contributors

Alistair Shankie (not verified) on Sun, 2010-01-10 19:00
We still need to deliver useful stock week in week out.Some contributors take there eye of the ball and some even fall ill with a new disease.C.V.M... creative vetta madness.Like they have taken some adobe steroid and pumped up the volume and effort in post processing.They sit in front of there PC's for hours and hours straining to get ever detail from the shadows and generally wasting there precious time as no f##### can afford to buy them !.. Henri,go back to basics.Simple images with copyspace for print.
Anonymous's picture

Used to be good, now the pits!

Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 2010-09-15 14:57
This site has been raising prices and lowering commissions to its contributors since being purchased by Getty in 2006. It no longer represents good value to either image shoppers or photographers selling work, offering commissions as low as 15%, the worst by far in the industry. Do the artists a favour and buy their work from elsewhere!
Heater's picture

iStock - not again, not ever...

Heater (not verified) on Tue, 2011-03-22 06:25
iStock was once the place to be, but since they nearly halved their commissions to contributors in late 2010 they are to be avoided like the plague. Don't waste your time contributing, it's a pain, they reject perfectly good images for arbitrary reasons, the forums are teeming with rabid fanboys, and they have no reason to keep commissions where they are since most people took the last pay cut. Not me, I'm outta here...
Alex's picture

istockphoto search is no

Alex (not verified) on Mon, 2011-04-04 22:18
istockphoto search is no longer the best. It ignores good matches in favor of higher priced items and changes randomly so often it is impossible to use it in a consistent manner. Anyway, there is no option to exclude their higher priced collections from a search - so istockphoto is really a $30+ per photo agency these days, I'd argue that takes it out of the 'microstock' range and into some intermediate area. As a buyer I still have a bias towards it, having used the site for so long, but frankly I use it as a last resort these days.
Steve Gibson's picture

istock search

Steve Gibson on Fri, 2011-04-08 04:52

I hear you alax, I've already been fairly vocal over the past few years about how the search at istock has been gradually whittled at until its become (as of 2011 for me) unusable. the results are indeed a mine-field of premium priced images that you can't sort by and istock have made it clear that there will be filtering/ordering features to allow sort by price. its a real shame, with all the keywords disambiguated the results should be excellent, and indeed are better than most if it were not for the various ill motived annoyances.

e.g. try a search between shutterstock and istock for "camera book" (i.e. a photo of a book and camera to emote learning or books about cameras etc) at time or writing on SS all you get is a page after page of books with not a photo with a camera in sight, istockphoto at least does show me a photo of a camera sitting on an open book - perfect!

It's only when you use search in earnest that you really see problems arise. Personally iI've stopped buying from IS long ago, SS is only acceptable if you are tied to that subscription otherwise it would be very temptng to go somewhere else, searching images is not easy

Santhosh's picture

Istock files acceptance

Santhosh (not verified) on Sat, 2011-12-03 16:19
I recently joined istock, and I am also dissappointed with their rejection ratio, upload cap, disambiguation needs and review time. Nowadays I am putting a fewer keywords to lessen the upload harassment. But I may not stop uploading there.. I hope they will change things soon for better.
Steve Gibson's picture

istock change

Steve Gibson on Sun, 2011-12-04 22:28

istock will change when they have to - but that's not guaranteed. This is only my opinion, but from external appearances istock seems partially paralyzed by what seems like an internal morass of 'big business'. They will either change or suffer some mortification at Getty's hands. No company is too large to fail and the larger they are and the less in touch with customers and contributors they get more likely that is. Once trust has been lost (for many that is already the case) then it's very hard to win back.

BUT... (isn't there always one) the large contributors with bargaining power to create bulk image submissions, bargain for higher royalties etc. can more than supply istock with 'most' of it's fresh image needs, meaning 'they can do this'.

It's interesting to hear this from a newbie(if you are?), most experienced microstockers, tho perhaps upset at times, look at their income from istock and, perhaps begrudgingly continue uploading; things are always changing and falling istock incomes might mean a revaluation for many. For me its the little things that annoy, a seemingly 'well controlled' amount of free speech in the istock forums (bans, locked threads etc) troubles me deeply - and would from any business.

Pie's picture

Best Microstock sites

Pie (not verified) on Mon, 2012-04-16 14:02
Hi, Im a graphic designer and I'm interested in uploading my vectored artwork to microstock sites. Where is the best place to start. Initially I was going to start with istockphoto but after reading some of the comments I am obviously having doubts. Could someone give me a list of say the top ten to contribute to. I presume Fotolia is up there. I just want sites that are going to give me a fair rate for my uploads. Thanks
Steve Gibson's picture

Vector Sites

Steve Gibson on Tue, 2012-04-17 00:36

I'm not a vector illustrator so I'll highlight that first.

Theres a growing trend in crowdsourced content to have single marketplaces that sell all kinds of media (video, still and vector, and perhaps also audio, templates, 3d models, even scripts and code) so with that in mind think carefully about specialist vector-only sites and those larger agencies with an established client base who sell photos and also vectors - the later might be just as good if not better

I have a list of microstock agencies that sell vectors in vector format

also have a look at microstock blogs and sites - theres a couple that specialise in vectors/illustration.

Finally even if they don't accept vector illustrations have a look  very seriously at shuterstock for selling rasterised versions of your work.

Anonymous's picture


Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2014-10-09 06:32
I have been looking at the comments at this blog about istock.. but I don't understand it... I started uploading a month ago at 123rf, dreamstime, canstockphoto, bigstock, istock and shutterstock. I have been accepted by all but the only one that was really difficult to get in to was shutterstock. istock was really the easyist one. they accept almost anything even when I saw some technical mistakes in my pictures. they even accepted a photo that I now regret uploading because it not looks professional when I look at my portofolio. and I am annoyed when I want to add a editorial image the description is never good while other angencies accept it.and my acceptence ratio is gone low because of that I tried it a couple of times. I think its not really far because thet didnt reject the photo they rejected the discription.. pff and I already got 51photo's online and I dont even have views and on other angencies I do have a lot mor views..pff
Steve Gibson's picture


Steve Gibson on Sat, 2014-10-11 00:59

Over the past few years istock has transformed itself from the hardest but best selling place to sell your images (i.e. strict reviews) to opening the flood-gates to everything. I hear what you are saying about quality now, the istock collection is now peppered with bad photos; wrong, spammy or plain misleading descriptions and meta data - it was only 2 years ago that their collection was the best curated, tightly managed in the industry. i'd like to think that they have some secret-sauce technology that is working to protect buyers from the bad images through historic views, reputation and sales - but sadly I don't think that is the case.

This change (less than 18 months ago for the review quality) makes reading information about istock difficult, espeically when what should be quality references like books on the subject are now out of date. There are still references to 'istock' the leadng microstock site, shuttestock took on that role several years ago.

Add new comment

Popular content