19 Nov 2007 PhotoShelter

Update September 2008 – The PhotoShelter Collection has closed. PhotoShelter continues to provide its paid service for photographers to sell photos directly to clients, but the agency portion of the business is no longer operating.

PhotoShelterIf you aren’t already familiar with PhotoShelter, they’ve been providing photographers with a paid services since 2005. Their initial services allowed photographers to archive, distribute, and sell their photos directly to their clients. On September 15 they launched a separate marketplace known as The PhotoShelter Collection, which is free to contributors. It has only been open for these two months, and over 5,000 photographers contributed more than 225,000 photos. On November 15, PhotoShelter launched the collection to buyers.

The key details about The PhotoShelter Collection are that contributing photographers can set their own prices from US$50 and get to keep a generous 70% commission. Now let’s take a more detailed look at this next opportunity for photographers to sell their photos online.

Key Information

Web Address www.photoshelter.com
Image Stats 225,000
Minimum Image Size 11 – 100MB uncompressed (general minimum of 4 megapixels)
Footage, Vectors No
Licenses Royalty Free and Rights Managed
Compensation 70%
Pricing User sets the price. Minimum US$50
Payment Methods PayPal, ACH, Check
Payment Delay 45 days from the sale date
Referral Program none
Application Process Submit 3 – 10 example images for review
Exclusivity Not offered
Upload Methods Flash uploader, HTML Form, Desktop Uploader (Java software for Mac and Windows)
IPTC Data Yes
Currencies US Dollar
Languages English only
Headquarters New York, USA

Why This Business Model?

Whether inspired by the limitations of the microstock market or not, the PhotoShelter business model is a direct attempt to return control over pricing to the photographer while leveraging the same strengths of open contributions and instant purchase.

Their slogan for the new collection embodies this founding concept:

Free to Join, Join to be Free

This strategy will appeal to photographers who reject the low price of images in the microstock market, making it easier for PhotoShelter to attract contributors. Photographers will also enjoy the ability to find an ideal yield by testing their photos at different price points.

However, while the model is appealing for photographers, the buyer side is restricted by the minimum price of US$50. This puts the price range firmly in the midstock & macrostock markets, isolating PhotoShelter from the growing market of microstock buyers.

Other Key Differences

PhotoShelter will group similar photos from the same shoot into a ‘stack’. The first photo in a stack will appear as a thumbnail in the search results, and buyers can then click the stack to view all the photos.

They cater for both editorial and commercial types of photos using labels ‘Creative’ and ‘News+’. Contributors can designate which one, or both, when they upload their photos.


PhotoShelter push the fact that the people behind the organization are photographers. This may be why their marketplace is so generous to contributing photographers but not so hot for photo buyers, at least buyers at the microstock level. iStockphoto proved that buyers bring contributors regardless of your commission or how hard you make them work. So, I expect there’ll be any mutual ground for microstock buyers and PhotoShelter’s buyers. Their support for Rights Managed licenses will also attract buyers from a macrostock background.

Their system is professional and refined, and they have an excellent Learning Center with all the informaiton contributors could want. They’ve also committed substantial resources to buyer acquisition, which inspires confidence. I’ve signed up with PhotoShelter and uploaded my test images. We’ll see if I’m PhotoShelter material, and if so, we’ll see how well my photos sell there.

Update September 2008: The PhotoShelter Collection has now closed, though the paid service of PhotoShelter currently remains active.

  • L. F. File
    Posted at 16:41h, 20 November Reply

    I would find it difficult to put photos up here at $50 and at Shutterstock for $.25. However, I would have to start maintaining several portfolios otherwise. How are you handling this? fred

  • Stephen Strathdee
    Posted at 20:11h, 20 November Reply

    I don’t really “get” why anyone would buy images at higher-than-market prices in this age. I think it’s only a matter of time before images shot “on spec” become an even more common commodity, and pricing becomes separated along this line. As much as photographers would like to earn hundreds of dollars per image, that’s only going to continue happening in the fine art and client-driven markets, where connections are a great deal more important than ability.

  • nils
    Posted at 21:59h, 03 December Reply

    Bonjour à vous tous …

    It is not worthless to recall that Photoshelter was first designed for professional photographers in a similar but more affordable away as digitalrailroad …
    From what I’ve seen so far, there’s quiet a big difference between the editor’s pick on the « Photoshelter collection », and what can be found in the « microstock » market. If you get a sens of that difference then you may have some critical skills to analyze what aesthetic has to do with.
    The « photoshelter collection » (vocabulary choice here is critical opposite to « stock » imagery) because the microstock agencies prices are so low that a large part of contemporary photographers CAN’T deal with them.

    If the 1000 top sellers photographers from microstocks removed their portfolio from microstock agencies and switched to photoshelter for their higher income (not only they sell the picture at higher price, but also you get honest %), then wouldn’t microstock raise to more descent shares between the company and the photographers ?
    I’d have no problem with microstock if they had serious remunerations for their photographers : the lowest price around 10$ and straight 70/50% income would be more honest … if we compare to the price of editing a book, a magazine, a cd/dvd, or even building a website … 10$ to 50$ to buy a picture still isn’t that much, and they’d make more money this way than taking us 75% off of 1$. … the designer using our picture is charging several hundreds for the job he’s doing …

    Microstock market for now is mostly for stand alone illustrations, and half of the time the designer “downloading” it – cause at 1$/picture we can’t even seriously say he’s « buying » it- will crop or mess with our picture to integrate it in his own composition. We all know isolated object for the white/black background are meant for this. So I don’t understand what kind of satisfaction we can get as photographers … ?

    Aren’t the photographers that sell the most on microstock market those who cover the most comon topics, the most demanded illustration ? In the so called portfolios on this market, I haven’t seen yet a full body of pictures that would make sens and stand alone … just great, very nice pictures sometimes. Actualy, microstock agencies will reject some of our work when it becomes too personnal.
    But WHAT MAKES A PHOTOGRAPHER ? The fact that he makes money from taking pictures, or the fact that his work reflects/builds a singular perception of reality ?

    In fact, from the beginning of history photography, back in the 19th century amateurs have always been central in the history of photography being the first photographers, later looking up at the proffessionnal photographers as masters to imitate, and what’s happening now is quiet interesting from this point of view. But there’s plenty of ways to practice photography as an amateur and to get exhibited and published, which can provide enough satisfaction, and lead to a professional career. You’d actualy know who is getting your work and what it’s used for … (Photoshelter allows you to do so… ). But, as a professionnal, microstock really is a pain in the ass right now.

    I suggest instead of reinvesting the money from microstock incomes into high quality lenses or brand new digital SLR body, we could buy books about photography history, cultural studies, art, or simply get an oldschool polaroid, a second hand 4×5 field camera, an old brownie, or even some 120 film and a Lomo. But that’s just not how things work, right … ? At least, I’m glad to enjoy some great portfolios on Photoshelter, and try to figure out what these photographers work are about, and how they elaborate their own language …

  • John
    Posted at 09:49h, 12 September Reply

    photoshelter collection i closing.

    Dear Friends,

    We’re contacting you today with some unfortunate news – we will be closing The PhotoShelter Collection, effective October 10, 2008. Going forward, our team will refocus heavily on enhancing our original product, The PhotoShelter Personal Archive, which several thousand photographers use for bulletproof storage and online image sales directly to their own clients. Our financial position remains solid and we look forward to working with the photography community for years to come.

    More details about timing and the implications for contributors can be found in a personal statement on our corporate blog, and this FAQ document.

    Just one year ago, we started the Collection with a mission to “change the image marketplace for good.” Since then, we’ve amassed a remarkable global community. We’ve built a unique position in the industry fueled by integrity and a true passion for photography. We’ve held our commitment to fair treatment of photographers with a 70/30 split of every transaction, opened up your access to information through our School of Stock and symposium events, and gave every photographer – regardless of one’s network, location, or level of expertise – a fair shot at selling your work to the industry’s top buyers.

    However, our approach was insufficient to change buyer behavior on a grand scale and generate revenues quickly enough to satisfy our goals for this product line. While image buyers worldwide appreciated our new approach, the size of our image selection and the incumbent player’s entrenched subscription relationships were a persistent challenge. As a result, we saw few strategic options for the Collection that would allow us to stay true to our commitment to a better deal for photographers and our desire to change the industry.

    Despite today’s decision, we remain committed to using technology to advance both the art and business of photography. Our team’s energy and innovative resources will ensure that the Personal Archive remains the best online solution to help independent photographers write their own success stories. If you are not yet a Personal Archive subscriber, we hope you will continue your relationship with the PhotoShelter community through that product.

    We want to express our deepest gratitude to our global community of contributors. We’ve enjoyed a full year of seeing your exceptional images cross our desks, developed warm relationships with many of you through PhotoShelter events, and shared in your excitement when you’ve achieved sales through our marketplace.

    We’re looking forward to chatting more with you in person and demonstrating some new Personal Archive enhancements at October’s PhotoPlus International Conference.

    With gratitude,

    Allen Murabayashi


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