The Week of Money: How to Get Paid for Your Photos

Kevin Lohka was an attendee at our last stock photography workshop in Santa Fe, NM.  He came to the workshop, took photos during the studio shoots, sat in on the photo editing sessions, learned how to take stock-quality photographs, and then uploaded several of his workshop shots to online stock photo agencies where they’re up for sale today.

I caught up with Kevin and asked him about his sales.  And more specifically, I asked him why he chose to sell his photos to multiple stock agencies instead of just one and how, exactly, the pay out works in each.

You’ll find his answers below…


Lori Allen

Director, Great Escape Publishing

P.S. Mark Twain famously said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”



By Kevin Lohka in Alberta, Canada

September 22, 2010


After attending AWAI’s Ultimate Stock Photography Workshop in Santa Fe, NM last year, I quickly applied to using the images I took at the workshop.  I was accepted and have been selling my photos there ever since.

Then, in early 2010, I applied to other agencies. I'm currently a contributor on iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, 123RF, Bigstock, and Alamy.

Each microstock agency has a different pricing model and royalty structure.

To help you decide if a microstock agency is right for you, I've summarized the royalty payment system for the top three sites where I'm a contributor, below…

1) iStockphoto has two royalty plans -- one for exclusive photographers and one for non-exclusives.  Exclusive photographers are those who have agreed to exclusively sell their royalty-free licensed images through iStock. Non-exclusive photographers are like me.  I sell my images through multiple agencies.

Non-exclusive photographers earn 20% royalties on the credits used to buy their photo.  The larger the photo a buyer purchases from your portfolio, the more money you make.

Royalties range from $0.19 for an extra small (XSmall) photo to $7.60 for a triple extra large photo (XXXLarge).  I'm a non-exclusive contributor on iStock and have 42 sales with a small portfolio of just 19 images.  I've earned $43.95 in royalties on those sales.

It’s not much.  But remember that’s coming from just 19 photos and I’m also selling my photos on multiple sites.

Exclusive photographers earn 25% to 40% royalties on their photo sales.  Their photos are also priced higher than those from non-exclusive photographers so royalties earned can range from $0.47 for an extra small (XSmall) sale to $18.30 for a triple extra large (XXXLarge) sale at 40%.

Exclusive photographers can also have their photos included in higher-priced collections on, such as “Exclusive Plus” and “Vetta Collection” within the iStockphoto catalog.  Because of the higher prices in these collections, the royalties earned per sale can be significant.

iStockphoto also offers its photo-buying customers a subscription-based pricing plan where photographers are paid a set amount for their image regardless of its size.  In my experience, not a lot of photo-buyers take advantage of this program.  Of my 42 sales, only four have been subscription sales.

2) Shutterstock, unlike iStock, is best known for its subscription plans.  Also, unlike iStock, it doesn’t have an exclusivity program. All contributors work on the same royalty schedule. Royalties at Shutterstock are based on the lifetime sales of the contributor.  Until you earn your first $500 at ShutterStock, you’re paid $0.25 per download. Once you’re over $500 but you haven’t yet earned $3,000, you earn $0.33 per download.  Between $3,000 and $10,000 in royalties earns you $0.36 per download.  And over $10,000 in image sales earns you $0.38 per download.

On-demand sales (that is, a photo buyer joins ShutterStock and buys just one or two photos without buying a subscription) can earn you, as the photographer, anywhere from $0.81 to $2.85 per download depending on your sales level and the size of the image that was downloaded.

At this writing, Shutterstock is my most successful agency.  With a portfolio of just 39 images, my total earnings are $118.16 for sales between April 24 and September 20, 2010.

I find that my images sell quickly on Shutterstock -- often the same day they're approved.  This is different from iStock and Dreamstime, where it normally takes two to three weeks for sales to begin after the images have been approved.

3) Dreamstime has a unique pricing and royalty structure which is very generous for contributors.  Each image accepted into the Dreamstime catalog increases in price as it becomes more popular. Here's how it works: Once an image is accepted by Dreamstime, it is assigned to Level One.  Once it's been downloaded five times, it moves up to Level Two. The price increases, and so do your royalties. Level Three starts at 10 downloads, Level Four starts at 25 downloads, and any image with more than 50 downloads is a Level Five.

In addition to the tiered pricing and royalty model, Dreamstime also offers two types of exclusivity.  First, if you're accepted as an exclusive photographer, you will earn a 60% royalty on all your sales regardless of the level of the image sold. This is reported to be the highest royalty paid by a microstock agency.

As an exclusive photographer, you’re also paid $0.20 per image the instant your photo is accepted.  That means you make your first 20 cents before your photo even sells.

The second type of exclusivity Dreamstime offers is by image. Exclusive images earn royalties from 33% to 55% based upon the level of the image when it is sold.  I’m not exclusive with Dreamstime because I sell to other agencies, so my royalties range from 30% to 50% based upon the level of the image sold.

I've also had limited sales success at Dreamstime.  With a portfolio of 41 images, I've had 33 sales for a total of $22.65 in earnings between March 18 and September 20.

So what's my strategy moving forward?  Should I become an exclusive photographer and benefit from the higher royalty payments, higher prices, and better image placement in buyer searches?  Or should I keep my options open and continue to work as an independent submitting to multiple agencies?

Right now the answer for me is simple -- keep submitting as an independent.  I don't have a choice since I don't meet the minimum sales and portfolio requirements of any exclusivity program.  Also, being independent allows me to learn what buyers want and which of my images sell best at each agency.

Maybe later I’ll consider it.  But right now, I’m still learning.

Good luck to you!

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]