My iStock Experience

Recently, I was fingering through the newspaper one morning when I came across an image that caught my eye. It was a book cover. It accompanied a review of the book. Wow, that image looks familiar, I thought….very familiar. A quick search on Google provided a larger, much more detailed version of the image on my monitor. I pulled out my iPhone. I compared the image that I use as my phone’s home screen to the image before me on my monitor. Yup, that’s the same shot. It was an image I shot on a trip to New York city in 2013. My family and I were staying at the New Yorker Hotel, and one evening while my family went out-and-about, I stayed in and shot images out our hotel window. Our room faced east, and so I had an excellent view of the Empire State Building. The weather was glommy…..perfect.


The New Yorker Hotel relative to the Empire State Building. Photo courtesy of



Wow! One of my images is being used on a book cover! Wow, wait till I show the kids, wow, I’ve never had an image as a book cover before, wow,… hey wait a minute…how did they get that image. It took me a moment to realize that they must have got it from the stock photo service iStock.

Way back in 2013 I thought I’d look into what opportunities there might be for me in Stock Photography. After seeing the ease of registering and listing images, I signed up with iStock and immediately uploaded a number of files. The way I saw it (and still do), I had to make my images stand out in some way. There are THOUSANDS & THOUSANDS of images of just about anything you can think of already on these stock sites. Because the subjects in my images were pretty cliché (we’re talking NYC landmarks here), I presented the images that I uploaded in B&W with a gritty, grainy look. Not that this treatment was anything particularly original, but it was at least somewhat different to what I saw of these subjects already on iStock. Here are some examples;






Anyways, I was quite excited to login into my iStock account to see the big money I no doubt had been rewarded for having this image purchased for such prominent usage. Once logged in I saw that that image had been downloaded only once back in 2013. Cool, that must be for the book cover. And the royalties…..huh, $1.47? That can’t be right. $1.47? Seriously? This doesn’t seem right. I looked up the terms for ‘Permitted Use’ when purchasing a Standard License (which is how the image was purchased). It states that the image may be used as follows (this is in addition to many, many other ways):

iStock License

So there you have it. The image may be used for half a million hard copies of the book….including unlimited usage for e-books! All this with a ‘Standard’ license. I found this hard to believe, so just to make sure, I fired off an email to iStock to ask whether this was all legit. They got back to me within 24 hours: “The usage of your file appears to be legitimate.”

Now I know that when one signs on to a service such as iStock, one should be aware of all the terms and conditions one is getting themselves into. But I’m not. I’m not a regular contributor to iStock and therefore don’t keep myself informed with the ins and outs of how the world of stock photography operates. You could say I’m lazy, which I wouldn’t argue, but I do find sorting through this landscape very confusing.

I sincerely have no complaints, no bitterness. I actually found the whole thing amusing. Here I was so excited to make this find in my newspaper- MY image, on a book cover, awesome! Another feather in my cap!….and to end up with $1.47 to show for it. That is kinda funny. Makes me wonder- How do these stock photographers do it? Quantity I guess. My hats off to you if you can make a living as a stock shooter.

Hey, at least my $1.47 is in American funds.

UPDATE- It’s been over four years since I originally published this post, and I still haven’t received my $1.47. Turns out iStock has a ‘minimum payment’ threshold of $100.00 (US), and I have not yet met that (after 5 years!) I’m up to $86.23, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to $100, as I no longer contribute new images. I’m thinking of buying my own images off iStock so I can meet the minimum payment threshold! I want to get paid!!