03 Jul 2007 Which Microstock Websites have the Best Photo Previews?

When you upload your photos to microstock agencies to sell online, you upload the full size photo. The agencies then create thumbnail and preview copies of the photo to display to buyers. Recently, Lora Clark demonstrated in a microstock forum that not all photo previews were created equal. So I investigated.

I downloaded the preview images of one of my photos from each of the microstock agencies I’m currently using (except CanStockPhoto who rejected the image). There’s eight images and they make up 750KB, so I’ve put them below a ‘read more’ link so you can choose if and when to view them. If you’re viewing this article in full on the website, it’s too late. Just scroll down.

Photo Size

Presenting photo previews to buyers is a delicate balance. The file size needs to be small so the website performs and loads quickly. At the same time, the preview needs to be large enough and of sufficient quality to sell the photo. Here’s a breakdown of how the various microstock agencies handle that balance for my subject image.

File Size versus Pixel Size

The rear (green) statistic is the file size in Bytes. The agencies in the chart are ordered left to right from the largest file size, LuckyOliver, to the smallest file size, BigStockPhoto. The front (purple) statistic is the quantity of pixels, which is the size of the image as you see it on screen.

The difference between the two metrics for each preview image represents the quality of the preview. That is, where the green bar is taller than the purple, the image has less compression and so is higher in quality. Where the purple is taller, the image is lower quality, relative to the others. If you then chart this difference, it looks like this:

Microstock Image Preview Quality Chart

Agencies with the yellow bar above the middle have above average quality of preview in this sample. Those with the yellow bar below middle are poorer quality.


The purpose of a watermark is to prevent the image from being stolen while allowing the buyer to see it well. The watermark must therefore strike a balance between being difficult to remove and obscuring the image too much.

You can see below in the subject images the different watermarks microstock agencies have implemented.

Determining which watermarks protect images well is simple. A watermark must:

  • Cover enough of the image to make it useless if the watermark is cropped out
  • Cover all parts of the image to protect photos where the subject is not in the center
  • Be substantial so that removal with photo editing software is difficult

However, determining which watermarks allow the buyer to preview the image easily is more subjective.

Photo Color

How much time do you spend correcting the colour of your photos before you upload? Did you realise the variety in how your carefully colour-corrected photos are being represented by the preview images?

You need to see the images below to understand the difference. This is just one example, and the colour differences will vary with photos of different shades and levels of brightness. Focus on the richness of the orange in the subject image towards the top-right corner. It’s most pronounced in the comparison of the LuckyOliver and BigStockPhoto previews. Also notice the difference in prominence of the black lines that run across the price board.

Which Photo Previews Sell your Photos the Best?

Looking at all the metrics – image size, file size, quality, watermark and colour – which microstock agencies do you think sell your images well?

Do you experience better earnings at the agencies whose previews better represent your photos? Or is it the reverse?

Would photo preview quality ever be a factor in choosing which agencies you would permit to sell your portfolio?

Here’s the previews:

iStockphoto (75KB) Photo Preview at iStockphoto
ShutterStock (114KB) Photo Preview at ShutterStock
Dreamstime (78KB) Photo Preview at Dreamstime
Fotolia (154KB) Photo Preview at Fotolia
BigStockPhoto (24KB) Photo Preview at BigStockPhoto
LuckyOliver (157KB) Photo Preview at LuckyOliver
StockXpert (82KB) Photo Preview at StockXpert
123rf (49KB) Photo Preview at 123rf

Click the agency name beside each image to see the detail page for this image at that microstock agency.

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