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How Freelance Photographers Make Money at iStock

By Kathy Burns-Millyard

iStock is a very popular stock photography website - with both photographers and buyers. If you're new to selling your photos at stock photography websites though, it's usually helpful to find overviews and reviews of various sites available.

Since iStock is quite popular, I've decided to outline my own experiences with them. When I first started selling my photography at stock photo agencies online a couple of years ago, I didn't sign up with iStock. I was concerned about some misuses I'd seen of photos from that site, and I also didn't like their upload restrictions.

After about two years of steady stock photography income growth at other sites though, I finally decided to give in and try iStock. It's reputed to be a top earning site for many photographers, and the number two earning site for most of the rest. And in my mind, if I was serious about trying to earn a full time living with my stock photography, then I needed to make sure I was submitting my photos to the top online agencies.

Signing up at iStock is completely free. To become a contributing photographer though, you'll need to go through a few hoops. The first thing you'll need to do is apply to become a photographer. This involves taking a brief test, and then submitting your initial photos. iStock only requires you to submit three pictures for your "test". But all three of those pictures must be approved before you're officially allowed to contribute your stock photos.

Some photographers feel that the initial test is quite difficult to get three photos approved for, but I personally didn't have much of a problem. In fact, the only problem I ran into was the fact that I'm primarily a stock food photographer. I submitted two food photos and one people photo for my initial test of three, and I quickly found out that iStock prefers to see a variety of topics in your test photos. So even though my photos were not similar in any way, since two of them were on the topic of food one was rejected.

Once I realized they wanted three different topics on the first submission, it was quick work to submit something different and become accepted.

Once you've passed your initial submission quality test, you can start uploading your photos to iStock. And this is the part that I personally detest. iStock does not provide an FTP upload service, and they do not give you the ability to upload multiple photos at once via a web form. You are forced to submit just one picture at a time, and this can be quite painful.

Another restriction that I'm not overly happen about is their upload limits. As a new submitter to iStock, you are only allowed to upload 15 photos in a one week time frame. The time limits are rolling though, and that tends to help, but the restrictions make it impossible to get a decent sized stock photo portfolio built there quickly.

Rolling time frames with the upload restrictions are confusing to many new users too. It's easy to understand once explained though: The restriction clock starts new with each photo you upload. So if you upload two pictures today and then 13 tomorrow, you'll have reached your initial 15 upload limit. In roughly 7 days, you will have two upload slots available though - not 15. That's because you only uploaded two pictures your first day. A day or so after those new slots open, you'll have another 13 open up though, since you put 13 pictures into the queue the second day.

Speaking of the queue, I've found the iStock takes roughly 5-7 days to review pending photos for new contributors. They apparently review photos from exclusive photographers much faster, but you're not allowed to become an exclusive photographer with them until you've reached a specific dollar amount of sales.

Like all stock photo agencies online, iStock has it's particular likes and dislikes. So when you first start submitting photos to them you may notice a high rejection rate. After a short while though, you'll start learning their particular preferences, and you'll be able to start getting photos approved fairly consistently.

Due to the painful and slow uploading and submission process there though, I have found myself dragging my heels with getting my portfolio onto their site. I've only been a member for a few short months and so far I've gotten just 42 pictures online, and I've earned slightly over $20. So I still have quite a ways to go before I can call this site a good earner for me.

Despite those problems though, if you're a freelance photographer who wants to sell more of their stock photos online, signing up with iStock is generally a good step. While their system may not be overly friendly to photographers, they do have a very large buyer base that no photographer should ignore.


If you enjoyed this article you'll also like Kathy's Stock Photography 101 and Digital Photography Basics ebooks at Amazon

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