A Day in the Life : Microstock Photo Reviewer

Soft focus on a macbook pro computer closeup, with title 'a day in the life of a microstock agency photo reviewer' by Chris Gardiner Photography
Let's talk about this unique, work from home opportunity!

You probably wouldn't know this about me - but I am a micro stock image reviewer for a stock photo agency.  It's quite likely that you don't know what micro stock photography is, let alone what a 'reviewer' would do for it.  So let me walk you through a day in my life as a reviewer.

Before we get started you should understand the industry.  It's easy to talk about the day in the life of a chef because you all know that a chef cooks food, but what does a micro stock reviewer do?

What is Microstock?

It is a collection of assets contributed to an agency by a variety of photographers, videographers, illustrators, etc.  Each agency has it's own clientele (the buyers), and the agencies take care of all the financial and legal transacting that is involved with purchasing an image for use in any given commercial medium.

So if you try to imagine all the photographers around the world, sending all their photos to an agency to be sold - not only will there a whole heck of a lot of them, but there will undoubtedly be some that are much better than others, and some that are much worse than others.  So those agencies need someone who can decide "This deserves a chance to sell" or "this doesn't look like something that sells, we don't even want it", basically.

We talk about photography as an art form a lot. And it definitely is.  And I think the nature of art itself defies it from being absolutely good or absolutely bad - it is only as good or bad as the individual viewer perceives it to be. But in stock there is a little more to it. There is one key phrase that will help you understand the nature of the beast; Not all art is good for stock, and not all stock is good art.  Stock images are generally used to sell a product, service, or concept, so if they are so abstract in that they don't illustrate any relatable subject matter at all - they probably won't make a very good stock image. But on the other side of that, you can shoot some images with slim to no 'artistic value' but they may do wildly well as a stock image.

If you want to review stock, you're probably going to have to shoot it first.  How else will you know a good stock image when you see it if you haven't put them together yourself first hand.  You need to see what sells and what doesn't.  Chances are you won't have a clue what to look for, unless you're a very keen observer to the advertising media all around you - which ultimately - is where a lot of this stuff ends up.

Take the photo below for example: A screen capture of the Apple Store - the significance - that is my image on the cover of that book - but I never had any dealings with the author, they bought and licensed my image through a third party.


So an agency may have fifty thousand photographers contributing to the library, and in any given day, they may get anywhere from 20 to 120,000 images sent to them.  So I am one of the reviewers who sifts through the daily piles of images  Sort of like the people sorting letters into tubes for the mail rooms of the movies.  I look at the images objectively from a technical standpoint first and foremost - do I see noise, is there focus on the subject, is there distracting elements, how is the lighting, the colors, the composition, does it have the right keywords to help it get found in the right searches? These are just some of the things I have to ask myself for every photo I look at in a day - which is often times a couple thousand a day.


When you have skilled photographers sending you full sets of what they consider their best photos, often in their full resolutions, it can feel like your touring parts of the globe without leaving your desk chair.  My list of travel destinations definitely hasn't gotten any smaller since I started reviewing.

Aside from the whole seeing the world from your desk chair thing, A definite bonus is that I can work whenever I want.  So it let's me run my localized business without issues, and gives me the ability to leave the computer for ten minutes, two hours, or five days when my other duties may call.

It can be inspiring.  I didn't have many days in my previous career that really inspired me to try something new.  If you can imagine seeing all these great photos in a day, it certainly gives you some great ideas, and some helpful pointers on how to execute those great ideas - and even the bad images can give you ideas how not to execute, which is equally valuable. 

Another favourite is that it's piece work.  Even back in my kitchen days I dreamt of one day having a piece work job. Back then that dream was centralized around tree planting - mainly because it was the only piece work job I knew of. As cool as it sounded - now I wouldn't want to live in a tent in a remote location, and plant in the rain for a few months of the year, or have to be away from my family the whole time.  I'd rather have my espresso machine, lumbar support, and some loud music.  

In the Line of Duty

It's not all easy. In fact, if you read some of the other posts on the internet about a day in the life of a stock photo reviewer, they tend to be very negative, and moreover, negatively directed at the photographers or content creators themselves, like 'why can't you be more perfect?'  I don't share those sentiments.  The way I see it is I have a job that is quite desirable for me, and is in very limited supply so there is already quite a bit to appreciate about it.  If it weren't for the contributors (which I am a member of as well) I wouldn't have anything to review, and if I didn't have anything to review - I wouldn't make any money.  

I am not going to totally ignore the downsides though. 

Let me tell you, if you collect 100,000 images a day from people all over the world, you're going to see a lot of… stuff. A lot.  It can get a little draining, and a little tiresome, sometimes offensive, but it's also wildly interesting! 

Try signing into Facebook and picking a friend with a lot of photos, and going through a few hundred of them, then tell me how it made you feel. I'm guessing a little tired.  Not body tired like you ran a marathon, but brain-tired.  Which is fine. Thats really a small thing to complain about. Actually I'm not complaining.  Great photos are really easy to look at and review, you know them when you see them, and the people who make them tend to know what they're doing so you see a lot of really consistent work all at once. I like those people. A lot.

Bad stock photos on the other hand, if there are too many of them it can cut my effective hourly wage in half or a quarter even.  I can tell a bad stock photo by a thumbnail in a matter of a few seconds. The part that takes time is isolating the best area for improvement to inform the contributor. As much of a pain as they may be, I fully respect their right to submit these 'poor quality images' - I actually learned a lot myself about noise, focus, lighting and composition just by the rejections I got in my early days of stock shooting.  There are reviewers who may not see every rejection as a teaching opportunity, but I still try to because I understand the value it can have. 

There are also a lot of technically good stock photos that get sent in, but they're bad because they've already been shot to death. For instance, if you decide to get into stock, don't send in pictures of your cat. On average I see at least 100 cat photos a day. I reject probably 99 of them. It's not that I don't like cats, its that the libraries are already chock full of them and ten more of the neighbourhood cat sitting in the dappled light between your driveway and the lawn isn't going to help sell a gosh darn thing!  If you want to sell a cat photo, try finding some advertisements with cats in them and see what is actually selling. But really. the internet has enough cats I think. 

Another would be the ever popular 'blue sky with clouds on sunny day'. I probably see a couple hundred a day of these - easily.  If you want to try to sell a photo of something that is so universal to basically every human being on the planet, you're going to have to kick some serious ass at it. What that is for a 'blue sky and cloud shot' - I don't know - so I don't shoot them.  Some of the other notoriously shot-to-death subjects are: concrete walls, brick walls, wooden boards, and 'pretty flowers'. 

On the topic of seeing the world, I think I can recognize every or almost every statue in every major European city now. We're talking cities I've never been to, and theres a slim chance I can even name the statue for you, but at the very least can tell you the city its from.. The funny bit about statues is that they are another artist's handiwork, so its not suitable for licensing - so shooting and key wording them is really just a big waste of time - but hey - thats their prerogative.

And then there are the other weird or irksome little things you see from time to time.  Please pardon the impending sarcasm;

  • People sending pictures of their pet's droppings outside.  It's a huge and hidden niche market actually.  
  • Mouldy bread, rotting vegetables, messy plates with leftovers.  Thats how all the best food products are advertised, dirty, empty plates. 
  • Religious hate speech.  This was a new one I encountered from last week, and I personally blame it on Mr. Donald Trump! Thanks dude!
  • (I assume, Euro) Parents sending pictures of their mostly naked children at the beach. I'll do you and your children the favour of not accepting these.  In five years both you and your children will probably both be happy those photos exist solely on your own hard drive.
  • The equivalent of your cell phone snapshots of your baby sleeping, crying, eating. I get it - your child is beautiful, why not do them justice by bathing them in beautiful light too? 
  • The photographer who doesn't get model releases so they just chop off everyone's head and try to sell the photo anyways.  You - yes you reading this - you may be available for sale somewhere if some reviewer let you in to an agency library!  
Okay, I think that's enough.  All joking aside - the benefits far outweigh the challenges and I do feel truly lucky to have gotten this position.  I often consider that when I was cooking, I was one of maybe 2000 other restaurant chefs in the city, but in the world of micro stock agencies - maybe two dozen serious agencies across the globe - I am probably one of 2000 with a position like this in the world.  To me that is a something worth holding on to! 

And even though I can do this work at home, I don't take my work home with me - I'm not critiquing your photos I see on Facebook unless you ask me to!  Poor quality photos in a printed magazine or advertisement on the other hand… watch out! haha.

Thanks for reading and I hope this has opened your eyes to a whole new industry you may not have known existed!

I wish I could give you more info, but I am already walking the line of what I am contractually allowed to talk about. 

C Gardiner Photography | Promote Your Page Too