03 Mar 2008 Bigger Photos Equals Higher Earnings

DSLR Camera, Janis LitavnieksI’ve often been frustrated that my 6 megapixel camera doesn’t allow me to access the bigger royalties of the extra large sizes at some microstock agencies. I wanted to find out exactly what I was missing and at what point it would become worthwhile upgrading my camera to increase my earnings potential.

How Much More Can You Earn?

Quite a lot, as the table below shows. Each agency offers different sizes with different labels, and has different royalty structures based on various states of the contributor and/or the photo. This makes it impossible to do a direct comparison of how much extra a contributor could earn with a higher resolution camera. So, here’s some qualitative data on the price (not royalty) difference between 6MP and higher resolutions:

iStockphoto 6MP = $10 (L), 12MP = $15 (XL), 16MP = $20 (XXL)
Dreamstime 6MP = $3 (L), 8MP = $4 (XL)
Fotolia 6MP = $4 (L), 8MP = $5 (XL), 16MP = $6 (XXL), 30MP = $7 (XXXL)
StockXpert 6MP = $3 (L), 8MP = $5 (XL), 16MP = $10 (XXL)
BigStockPhoto 6MP = $8 (L), 11MP = $12 (XL)
123rf 6MP = $2 (M), 8MP = $3 (L)
LuckyOliver 6MP = $4 (L), 12MP = $10 (XL), 16MP = $20 (XXL)
Crestock 6MP = $10 (M), 17MP = $15 (XL)

Note some caveats:

  • Credits used to buy images vary the actual price paid
  • High selling photos rise in price at Dreamstime
  • High selling photographers can raise their prices at Fotolia
  • Photos can be listed in the Sidebar for higher prices at LuckyOliver
  • Photos also sell via subscription at Dreamstime, 123rf, Crestock and (optionally) StockXpert

But Are there Other Things More Important?

Yes. First the content of the image. A small image with a commercial concept executed well will earn more than a large sized image with inferior content. While the camera is an advantage, what you put in front of it and how you capture the photo are infinitely more valuable.

Second, megapixels is not an indication of image quality, only size. If you don’t investigate the other metrics your new camera with more megapixels may actually create inferior photos. Some of the photos it creates may be accepted at larger sizes, but rejections for quality issues will increase and sales will most likely decrease.

Third, depending on what equipment you already possess, lenses are usually a better investment than a bigger camera. Also, camera technology changes rapidly, and most photographers find they update their cameras more frequently than their lenses. For these reasons, get good lenses before getting a good camera.

Extra Benefits

Having bigger photos allows you to crop. If I crop my 6 megapixel photos they won’t be accepted at all agencies. With 12 megapixels camera I could crop liberally to improve composition while retaining enough megapixels to be accepted.

More megapixels also allows you to downsize a photo to sharpen the focus and/or reduce noise. This process would save many photos that are otherwise rejected. Even though you won’t have a large size photo, you’ll have a photo that can earn.

What About Subscription Sites?

Some contributors downsize their photos before sending to subscription sites. This is intended to discourage low-royalty downloads of large sizes, forcing buyers to get them at non-subscription agencies where the contributor royalty is higher. This strategy assumes buyers have accounts at multiple agencies and risks buyers simply choosing a competitive image which is available at the size they need.

The Net Impact on Earnings

When I started investigating upgrading my camera I wanted to know how much extra I could earn with larger photos. What I’ve learned is that there other things I can do that will have greater impact on my earnings than upgrading my camera, many of which cost much less, or nothing. While I still intend to upgrade, I know I haven’t yet reached the limits of my existing camera.

  • draiochtanois
    Posted at 12:22h, 03 March Reply

    On iStock large is 1920 * 2560 or approximately 5 megapixels rather than 14MP as stated here and so on … you may be confusing it with the 14.1 MB under the image size on the front page which is file size measurement.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 12:35h, 03 March Reply

      That’s exactly what I did. Thanks for the correction – I’ve updated the post.


  • James
    Posted at 13:19h, 03 March Reply

    Great post Lee! You’re just trying to convince your wife to get you a new camera for your birthday 😉 What kind of equipment do you currently have? What are you considering getting?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 22:04h, 03 March Reply

      Hi James,

      I have a Nikon D70s and am looking at the D300. I would love the D3, but I wouldn’t do it justice, yet.


  • Boris Yankov
    Posted at 13:21h, 03 March Reply

    At istock, Large is $10, XLarge is $15 and XXLarge is $20 for at least a month.

  • L. F. File
    Posted at 14:30h, 03 March Reply

    Thanks for another informative article Lee. I have thought about downsizing for subscription sites but worry that I might miss out on some EL’s that way.

    c h e e r s

  • Smooth Bokeh
    Posted at 17:46h, 03 March Reply

    Really nice article.

    For those wanting to maximize their earnings I suggest buy a prime macro lens. Around 100mm seems like what many prefer. I, for one, use extensively a 50mm F2.8 macro on tripod and in less than 3 months it already paid for itself plus the Manfrotto CF tripod, Neat Image plug-in and the upgrade to 10MP (from 6MP) dSLR.

    In order to get better results from a higher MP camera you really need to use good (prime) lenses since any imperfection from the lens shows up even more.

    Overall, I get a lot more return from the 10MP images: via cropping (horizontal and vertical), from higher pay due to resolution increase, more acceptance rate at Alamy due to lower upscaling ratio required etc.

    Bottom line for me: the combination of a good prime lens with higher MP count increased my acceptance rate and payout.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 22:07h, 03 March Reply

      Thanks for this informative comment. I just bought my first prime lens (50mm F1.8) last week! Haven’t given it a run yet, but I’m hoping it’ll pay for itself like yours.


    • Stephen Strathdee
      Posted at 00:32h, 04 March Reply

      That may be good advice if you’re planning on making fine art images or doing street photography, but it isn’t very sound for shooting commercial stock. In order to get the most out of a location or studio session you really need to have a high quality zoom lens. But why take my word on it – check out what the most successful among us are using … they ain’t primes.

  • Marco Venturini Autieri
    Posted at 05:49h, 04 March Reply

    Talking of megapixels and money, I just wanted to add that I have some pics on iStock that are considered XL or even XXL (about 20 MP), and I just used an old and cheap medium format film camera, and a scanner.

  • Photonomikon
    Posted at 18:58h, 04 March Reply

    Primes are great. You won’t find many zooms that beat a good (or even average) prime. However, personally I hate swapping lenses especially due to the dust problem. So I prefer good quality zooms. Canon’s L zooms have great quality, although not quite as sharp as a good(ish) prime.

  • L. F. File
    Posted at 02:10h, 05 March Reply

    With higher megapixel cameras primes become more practical since you can gain back some of the flexibility of a zoom by cropping. fred

  • Laurent
    Posted at 12:26h, 05 March Reply

    Lee I was looking at the numbers you quote for Bigstockphotos prices. It depends for how much the customer buy the credit right ? If he gets then cheap at $ 1 the XXL costs him only $6, if he pays high rate it is $15. And we always get 50%

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:00h, 05 March Reply

      Yes, it’s complicated at most agencies, which I tried to address in the caveats below the table.


  • calevphoto
    Posted at 18:52h, 05 March Reply

    While having a camera with more MP does enable you to sell photos at a higher rate, in reality you will not increase your sales by the same ratio. Many buyers do not purchase the largest sizes available and they are unlikely to purchase a larger size given a larger image.

    I recently examined my IStockPhoto sales to see how much I would gain from moving from my current 5D (13MP) to the 1Ds Mark III (21MP) and found that – if everyone that purchased the largest size continued to do so – I would increase my sales by about 10%.

    This calculation gave me the same conclusion that you have here – it pays far more to invest in lenses than in more MP.

Post A Comment