September 2019 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome-back to September’s action-packed edition of the Brutally Honest Earnings Report. Read on until the end to see which content has performed well and at which agencies and alternatively to find out which agencies are turding, as to avoid them altogether! 

Has this been a flourishing month? Let’s find out…

For a recap on my August Brutally Honest Earnings Report. Before getting started…

Would appreciate if you could help me out!

Throughout my blog, as you can appreciate, I’ve given quite a bit of my time to help you make sense of this complicated stock industry and focus on making money. I’ve also given away earnings info on some of my best-sellers which will directly lead to those images reducing their value (how much is impossible to say but suffice to say that copycat thieves may be lurking).

If you feel that the information below and throughout the blog is useful I kindly ask you to donate as much as you feel is reasonable, such a price of a coffee, by clicking on the following link below:

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You can also support me by purchasing one or more of my images as a wall-hanger:

Alex’s Fine Art Prints!

Now let’s get started on the Sept earnings report…

Summer is over, time to earn some (serious) money!

On one hand, I’m a bit sad that summer is over and days in the northern hemisphere are getting shorter and colder. On the other hand, the period between September and Mid-December should traditionally be the “business-end” of the year with stronger sales. In addition, Oct 31st, is the Brexit deadline so I predict that many of my Brexit-related concepts should keep selling regularly…what a mess that country has become….

Oct 31st is the current deadline for the UK govt to negotiate a deal with the EU or face a potentially devastating No-Deal Brexit. Likely this deadline is to be extended to make room for a General Election, likely in January…

Time-lag in earnings

So, given that I’ve uploaded some 1,000 images and 100s of clips over the past 6 months, especially since investing in a gimbal, such content should start maturing / selling in this busier period. I’m sure you’ve kept busy as well and have noticed an uptick on some agencies.

Autumn at Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, London, UK

Detailed Earnings Breakdown

To make it easier to digest, going forward, I’ve split earnings from stills and clips. I’ve decided to publish it two days early as I’ll be busy preparing for my move to Madrid early next week.


Agency Number of Images in port (added Sept) Net Revenue for Sept (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF 4,327 (99) 21 0.58
Alamy 11,195 (63) 89 13
Arcangel 735 (3) 0 0
Adobe Stock 3,711 (171) 75 0.85
Bigstock 3,667 (77) 24 0.29
Creative Market 1,230 (57) 24 8
DepositPhotos 6,090 (164) 24 0.36
Dreamstime 6,337 (186) 18 0.57
iStock 5,907 (146) 73 0.21
Robert Harding 383 (0) 14* 2.31
Shutterstock 9,926 (119) 599 1.22
Pond5 1,150 (175) 4 2
Picfair 5.149 (161) 0 0
SignElements 1,117 (110) 10 N/A
Total 960

*Up to July 2019 (Q2 Report), average of three months


Agency Number of clips in port (added Sept) Net Revenue for Sept (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock 315 (21) 0 0
Pond5 1,167 (100) 12 12
Shutterstock 941 (56) 79 21
Total 91

Combined total net earned: $1,051 vs August $1,075

Overall thoughts on Sept results

Shutterstock (def not Doom & Gloom)

I came into Sept with high expectations, which is dangerous in this industry since results are so unpredictable (usually on the low-side). Right off the bat, the standout result, which I’m sure you’ve noticed, was a huge result over at SS, easily smashing a Best-Month-Ever status at $678. My previous Best-Month-Ever was $462.

Agencies are constantly tweaking their algos, so whatever SS must have done is very much welcome! I did notice that some never-before-sold images started selling for the first time, so that’s certainly great news. If things keep going this way I’ll have to rename these earnings reports as “Shutterstock and Others Brutally Honest Earnings Report”…

Other agencies

Over at other agencies, it’s been a more balanced and on many occasions, a disappointing picture. Adobe Stock produced an average month at $75. However, Alamy disappointed at net $89, although I’ve spotted at least three sales which are yet to be reported (buyers have 3 months to pay up) – more on this later.

Pond5 continues to disappoint and only managed a pitiful $4 worth of still sales and one lousy $12 clip sale on over 1,000 assets. Other contributors have painted a similarly depressing picture in the appropriately entitled “What’s Up with Pond5” thread over on the MSG forum. Pond5 seem active to address such concerns and have arranged to host a Youtube Town Hall meeting scheduled for October 8th.

Average from CreativeMarket with only $24 (three sales) and a big fat zero from PicUnfair. Sigh.

Sold on Creative Market earning me $6 net

iStock huge huge disappointment

After an encouraging Best-month-Ever in April, where I earned $189, it’s been going downhill ever since. In comparison, August was pitiful at $73 with some $8 in Canva refunds (more on this later). Normally one would expect to earn more with more images uploaded but this game seems to defies logic at times! To give you an idea, since April I’ve uploaded to iStock 482 stills, bringing my port size to 5,907. WTF?!


Footage earnings were average with four clips sold at SS for a total of $79 vs August six sales for $87. Not too bothered about this blip (other than the Pond5 drought) since I know that I’ve uploaded loads of quality clips from my recent Iberian adventure, including working with a beautiful young model, so fingers crossed they will be picked up soon and in 4K – blog post on my latest trip here

Some highlights of the clips sold:

Seems like some businesses are already gearing up for Xmas, since a buyer purchased the following Milan Xmas scene for $23.81.

milan clipPleasantly surprised to see one of my airport clips sold for $19.50. Not the best quality with the reflection from the glass and quite wobbly (before my gimbal days). Anyway, a good sale, nevertheless!

mxpThe remaining clip was the NYE fireworks in Rio, sold for $18.95 that is so far my best-seller by far! I believe that one has sold 10 times in total at all agencies.

Update: A sale came through on Sept 28 at Pond5 for a whopping $12 and Sept 30 at SS for $16.

Looking at the long-term (majors)

all agencies
Go Shutterstock Go!

Highlights from individual agencies

Mediocre Adobe Stock

I find my results on Adobe Stock to be mediocre at best (Sept was $75). Although the individual return per image is decent at around the 70cents per image mark for the past few months, volumes are relatively low. With 3,711 images and 315 clips I’m expecting a considerable uptick in earnings.

Only two decently priced sales to report, likely from the same buyer since it was for the same price (around $6 each) and within the same geographical region (Catalonia, Spain). More specifically, Girona on the left and Tarragona on the right respectively.

Stellar Shutterstock

Hit the ball out of the park with SS, earning me $1.22 per download. 53 ODDs at $2.85 (top-tier) earned me $151, although the cherry on top came through as Extended / Enhanced Licenses totaling $284. Subscriptions sales, for the first time in a long time, were a minority of total earned at just $161 (thank fuck for that).

Some highlights of the month include:

$66. Captured in Porto, Portugal – behind the scenes blog post on this shoot here. The dimensions seem very interesting for a book cover!

More good news from Portugal…

$36 for this colourful facade, although I think I could have done a much better job with correcting the barrel distortion, perhaps it will be an image I’ll re-visit

Nostalgia from Milan…

$17 (snowflakes added later in Photoshop)

Unpredictable Alamy

Alamy (11,195 pics) is a hell of a frustrating agency to work with due to their sheer lack of consistency. I’m sure you feel the same way.

August produced a relatively stellar month at $165 net, followed immediately by very mediocre $89 in Sept. It’s very possible that in Oct I’ll earn either $300 net or $50 net – who wants to make some bets!? Probably somewhere in between…

Notable sales at Alamy

Only two notable sale to speak of, firstly one from my Climate Change series (including other controversial themes), where in this case I flooded Porto, Portugal:

$57 gross

Continuing on the trending theme of Climate Change, I’ve spotted the following image where I flooded the already Lowlands, which I’m pending a payment.

Flooded Rotterdam was picked up by a Hungarian newspaper

Secondly, this image I captured in 2018 in front of the Bloomberg HQ in the City of London sold for $49 gross. Thanks Joas Souza, London-based Architectural photographer, for the tip on capturing street scenes with with upside V shape of the legs for a more natural look!


Spotted images (pending payment)

Here’s another one I spotted (payment pending but should be around $20 gross since Elijah was featured in the same article – ha):

Spotted this delicious pic, sold via Alamy, that is yet to show up on my earnings report – link to article

How to find your own images?

This is something I do on most days and if you’ve been following me on Instagram @brutallyhonest_alex, I often publish my stories with images that I find.

Simply search “your name + Agency” on Google + past week or so. Helps if you have a unique name…for instance:

google search
I highlighted where some of my images appear

Often a buyer will use an image and not give credit, which can be frustrating to find the image. In these cases, you can simply use the Google Reverse tool to find, for instance, using my Ginja de Obidos example:


Suspicious Personal Use Licenses Strike Again

Frustratingly, two highly suspicious Personal Use licenses (I’ve discussed this at length on another blog post) of the following same image popped up earning me just $12 gross each:

Scope: “Media: Non-commercial, one time, personal/home use” – YEAH, RIGHT!

Immediately, I’ve requested the excellent Alamy Contributor Relations Team to investigate (still pending a response), since it seems highly unlikely that someone would want to use this image to frame a print on their wall at home, for instance…or a greeting card to send to friends (4756 x 3150 pixels). To be continued…

iStock =iSuck

Perhaps the biggest frustration of the month were my August 2019 results for iStock for two reasons, firstly the sheer number of refunds, which I’m sure you also noticed. Many contributors were up in arms, with some even threatening to quit over at the MSG forum.

To calm the mood, iStock kindly sent out a memo justifying the adjustments:

“There were a number of licenses from one of our distribution partners, Canva, that were refunded on the August 2019 royalty statements and then re‑reported at a corrected amount. 
There were two reasons for this:
  • Some Canva licenses of Essentials images were reported using the incorrect currency (USD instead of AUD). These were initially reported on the June 2019 statement, and corrected on the August 2019 statement.

  • Throughout 2018 to July 2019, a number of other Canva licenses were reported incorrectly to us at double the actual revenue. This resulted in an over‑payment of royalties to contributors. These were corrected on the August 2019 statement.
In both examples, contributors impacted by this would see the original license removed and the correct re‑license amount reported, which will be lower than the original license. All refunds appear in red on the royalty statement. 
If you are seeing a number of refunds associated to Canva, we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and for not notifying you in advance. We’re looking at our processes to try to ensure we can avoid this kind of issue in the future.
iStock by Getty Images 
Contributor Relations”
I wasn’t too fussed about the refunds since they only added up to something like $8 in total (others have reported refunds in the $100s). It’s not like there will be returns every month because of a Canva fuck-up. If you’re interested to dig deeper into the subject, see the corresponding MSG Forum thread.
Only one OK sale to speak of from iStock from my Iberian Adventures in 2018:
Tourists at Cathedral staircase and square, Placa de la Catedral, in Old Town of Girona in Catalonia, Spain earned me just $6
Low Average Return Per Download at iStock vs other majors
However, much more worrying than an accounting mishap, is the downward trend I’m seeing in Average Return per Download at iStock (21cents in August vs 44cents in July). In other words, more images sold for much less $.
Total earned vs number of sales experienced a collapse in July and especially in August. If things continue this way I’ll have to reconsider whether it’s worth uploading to iStock…

To give you a comparison, in Sept, SS gave an average return per download in stills of $1.24 and AS gave 85cents FOR THE SAME FKING IMAGES!

In fact, here’s a comparison of the majors in terms of average return per download over the past few months.

average return
Wtf is going on at iStock?

Small agencies (combined) are pulling in their small weight

I often get asked, even by veteran contributors, whether it’s worth uploading to the smaller agencies. Which are the small agencies you may ask, well I would say the following fit the bill: 123RF, Bigstock, CreativeMarket, DepositPhotos, Dreamstime, SignElements.

Looking purely objectively at my results, I’ve had a great September with them combined. In fact, DepositPhotos and 123RF brought in Best-Month-Evers at $24 and $21 respectively. Chump change still. However, in total, these 5 small agencies outlined above brought in $90+, which isn’t much considering they each have at least 5,000 images….but over a year that is approx $1,000, which is a tidy sum that can be put towards a nice fast lens, for instance or to pay off some holiday expenses.

So my answer is that, YES, submit to these small agencies unless they’re turdy enough to start messing around as in the case of Canva and Colourbox (won’t get into this here but my rants are available in previous earnings reports). So always be on the lookout for your best interests and collect the small change which does add up.

Algarve1 photo8
Perhaps the best analogy of contributing to small agencies over the long-run is to look at the beautiful rock formations carved out from millions of years of erosion. Captured in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve, Portugal


I’ve been asked whether I upload to EyeEm and the answer is no but may change in the future. How’s been your experience there? I have heard mixed messages from that agency…

Turd of the Month / Century – September 2019

Unsurprisingly, this month’s Turd of the Month Award goes to without a doubt to iStock. In fact, I’ve extended the award to them for the next 82 years! I would also mention Canva for their accounting mishap but I don’t even submit to them anymore…


Hasta Lluego, Amigos

I’m moving to Madrid so next update will be from there after I stop living from my suitcase and settle down…It’s a place I’ve never been so should be exciting to capture some new content from there…looking forward! Change of scenery is always welcome, both from a personal and professional point of view…as the brutally honest guy hates routine!

I’ve preemptively started researching on what I could possibly shoot in Madrid. To benchmark the best images out there, I’ve searched on Robert Harding’s Madrid collection.  Fortunately, I already have a good start from the results of my 2018 Spanish adventures.

Update: Click here to see my first post on exploring Madrid!

Since I may not upload even one single image in the next few weeks, will be interesting to see if not uploading fresh content will have any impact. Perhaps a few weeks isn’t long enough…in any case, I’ll be back with the comprehensive October Earnings Report. Hasta lluego, amigos!


About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted six years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography


  1. Congrats Alex on a great month and SS milestone.

    To answer your question about EyeEM – my average there is 4$ a month on 2500 images. Quite crappy. The only reason I started with them is that you get your images into high-priced Getty Images collection, but I haven’t seen any sale from this collection in 6 months either. So overall, pretty bad experience with them.

    Same goes to Creative Market – I don’t even count this agency towards my monthly earnings. Turds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Alex, I have a question, probably a stupid one but here I got. How do you get how much a specific image earned you on istock? You mentioned that your Girona image made you about $6, I have looked but never been able to figure out earnings based on specific images.

    Thanks and have fun settling in Madrid

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Alex, thank you for comprehensive review. Your Alamy earnings fluctuate a little but you can rely on it finally :). I have about 2100 photos in Alamy portfolio ( and a I had a couple of sales from…2012. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of sales from the same photos on other agencies. Have you got any idea what is going on with Alamy? I wrote to them how to improve my earnings but they had nothing to say.
    My earnings on EyeEm are usually $50 – $100 per month with 2300 photos in portfolio. Sometimes there was about $20, another month – $150.
    Congrats for SS earnings, impressive for me 🙂
    All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Przemek

      Thanks for your comment.

      To me it’s quite clear why you struggle at Alamy. You do predominately model-released lifestyle. Alamy is predominately an editorial-based agency (which suits me since I shoot 60% editorials).

      Ever thought about trying it out at Stocksy?

      All the best

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex, thanks for quick response.
        You are right, indeed. Editorial was out of my scope. Maybe I should think about it.
        Yes, I applied to Stocksy. They said that my photos does not meet their feel of taste 😉

        All the best


      • Alex, thanks for quick response.
        You are right, indeed. Editorial was out of my scope. Maybe I should think about it.
        Yes, I applied to Stocksy. They said that my photos does not meet their feel of taste 😉

        All the best


  4. Adobe Stock is quite ridicule.
    Mat Hayward seems active on MSG but useless.
    He keeps finding excuses to why sellers’ aren’t doing well.
    Think the algorithm in Adobe Stock has been modified in the past few months,
    But whatever it is, Mat Hayward will tell you that your work is not good enough,
    Or that your portfolio isn’t big enough.

    Its Shutterstock who’s investing in AdWords campaigns,
    while Adobe Stock is solely relying on the advertising withing their Software (not aggressively, either)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Alex,

    First time commenting here 😀
    Just wondering, up till now, how have your experience been with Addictive so far? (Read your review)
    Also, have you compared Robert Harding and Westend61 and why did you decide on Robert Harding?


    • Hi Gnohz,

      I have heard good things about Westend61 but I thought they were too focused on the German market and Robert Harding was more international. Maybe I was wrong. To be honest, I really like RH but the returns have been poor to mediocre at best.

      Haven’t tried Addictive because I was focused on RH.

      Overall I think that going exclusive is too risky these days.


      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s true that it can be risky going exclusive. But I have been thinking about whether there’s somewhere that is focused on travel (like robert harding) and yet has better prices for photographers as compared to microstock. Those that tend to be are usually exclusive lol 😦


          • Thanks. Yes I saw the amazing list you compiled. Seems like the focus for most agencies is on commercial and lifestyle, but that’s to be expected. I see 4corners, but that also seems to be exclusive lol. Probably the best alternative could be Alamy, although the sales there can be slow and on many occasions turn out to be a few dollars too. The industry outlook for sure doesn’t seem to look good for photographers.


            • 4Corners is similar to RH. Alamy is probably your best bet if you were to go exclusive…in that case you’d earn 50%. My average sale on Alamy is around $10 net, which is 14x that at SS, but volumes at SS are way more than 14x.

              Still risky though goign exclusive. As you’ve seen, most of my sales are on Shutterstock, followed by Alamy, Adobe Stock and iStock.


              • True, Alamy would probably be the best balance for now, and it’s also one of the best places for editorial work.
                Thanks for your blog posts again. Looking forward to the others! 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

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