Selling Smartphone Photography and Videos at Microstock Agencies

Alexandre Rotenberg
March 8, 2021

New generation smartphones are pushing the technological boundaries to produce stunning mobile phone photographs and videos that can be uploaded to multiple Microstock sites.

As you’re probably aware if you own a smartphone, the quality is becoming increasingly comparable to entry-level DSLRs and sometimes exceed them when it comes to footage production. What you may not be aware of is that you may be missing out on opportunities by not uploading such content to the major stock photography agencies.

In this article we’ll explore some advantages of using smartphones to produce and submit your creative work to microstock agencies and discuss details on the agencies that accept such content. Let’s get started!

Credit: Elijah Lovkoff/Smartphone Photography

Do microstock agencies accept smartphone photos?

Yes! The following microstock agencies accept smartphone photos:


 Ok, great most agencies accept them, but do they ever sell?

Yes, they can sell depending on the content! Below are just some examples of images captured with smartphones that sell regularly at the major microstock agencies:



Credit: Theocharis Charitonidis/Smartphone Photography

What about stock footage?

As for video captured using a smartphone, the following have been licensed at least once:

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/110866772-mexican-fast-food-franchise-chipotle-restaurant

(HD Version sold)

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/110866772-mexican-fast-food-franchise-chipotle-restaurant

(4K Version sold)

https://www.shutterstock.com/el/video/clip-1061147785-cancun-playa-delfines-dolphin-beach-nicknamed-el

(HD Version sold)

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/144034382-colombia-scenic-view-cartagena-beaches-and-playas-sunset

(HD Version sold)

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/146934246-financial-center-skyscrapers-overlay-numbers-indicating-econ

(HD Version sold)

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/63780855-mykonos-greece-town-view-ship-leaving-port

https://www.shutterstock.com/el/video/clip-34437736

https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/65041293-ciampino-airport-italy-aerial-window-flight-view-rome



 Are smartphones soon replacing professional cameras in terms of quality?

Smartphones won’t replace top-of-the-line DSLR and mirrorless cameras for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, they do provide a viable alternative as a tool for stock photography image and footage production, as long as you’re shooting and uploading in the highest resolution possible.


Innovative Apps to further your photography

Smartphone technology advances are undisputed, and the pace of innovation is astonishing. The App ecosystem has noticed this trend and some creative tool vendors have taken the plunge and crossed the Rubicon into the mobile-only world (most notably VSCO presets).

In addition, media giants, such as Adobe, have invested heavily in the development of mobile apps, producing an impressive array of image and video editing applications for smartphones and tablets with simplified interfaces and yet impressive set of features.

8 Advantages to Using a Smartphone vs a traditional camera


1.  Portability

The most prominent advantages of smartphones are obviously their size and weight. Any photographer can attest that carrying a DSLR camera body, lenses, a standard tripod, and peripherals can be exhausting, especially in challenging weather conditions.

Or, at worst, to stand out like a sore thumb and be harassed by members of the public and/or enforcement officers while shooting in sensitive places, engaging in street photography or at contentious protests. Naturally, photographers are on a constant lookout for lighter and more discreet alternatives while trying to keep the quality standards high.  

Shooting at sensitive places, such as an airport, with a DSLR can lead to major issues and even penalties and criminal sanctions in some countries.


2. Availability and cost

Smartphones have become ubiquitous and are considered an essential and increasingly affordable part of our lives and daily routine. In fact, most Americans (96%) own a cellphone. We carry them all the time and it allows us to be spontaneous with our photography and more available to respond to quick and exciting changes in our everyday environment.

3. Speed in setting up the shot

It takes no time to mount a smartphone on a portable tripod like DJI Osmo and it allows to start shooting videos, time lapses and images almost instantaneously. It can also be done discreetly without most people taking notice.

Source: https://www.dji.com/es/osmo-mobile-3

If you’re shooting spontaneous shots, it’s literally a matter of seconds from taking your smartphone out of your pocket and shooting, unlike pulling out your camera from your bag.

4. Apps’ Ecosystem

Smartphones are designed to be an ideal platform for various applications to be installed. As such, it provides not only a great choice for additional functionality that enhances your photography, but also an easy path to upgrade and maintain those apps through respective App Stores. Some apps allow you to submit (and later use the built-in microstock keywording tool) images shot on your phone directly to stock agencies, e.g. Shutterstock mobile app or Stockimo Alamy app.

Source: https://www.stockimo.com/


5. No overheating issues and better battery life

The latest mirrorless cameras are known to have overheating issues when shooting high-quality video and there is a limitation interval set after which the camera shuts off. Smartphones have much longer shooting span and do not overheat as much. With fast charging technology, flagship phones can be recharged significantly faster than professional cameras which require multiple batteries and battery banks for expedited charging.

6. Low Dust devices

Often-overlooked feature - smartphones cameras are (almost) dust-proof. Camera compartment is sealed, and you are guaranteed not to have dust spots on your sensor. While easy (yet annoying) to be removed from images, dust spots present real challenges when it comes to video processing and removing them can be a time-consuming process even for powerful computers.

7. More access restrictions for professional cameras than for smartphones

As mentioned earlier, due to the perception of smartphones as devices used by amateur photographers, you’re more likely to get away with shooting in places that would strictly prohibit usage of professional cameras, such as museums, airports and shopping centres.

The same is correct with regards to street photography – you can easily get a pass for shooting people and surroundings with your smartphone but will be frowned upon if you point a full-frame professional camera at a stranger on the street, especially if it’s a professional-looking camera and lens, such as a 300mm lens with lens hood.

Caption: The author of the following image was kicked out of a bookie in London for shooting using his DSLR…if he had pulled out his mobile phone at the time, security would have probably never noticed…


8. Automatic backups in the Cloud

Losing a complete day of shooting to faulty SD cards or broken camera can be heartbreaking and may have financial implications for stock photographers. With smartphones, you are covered even in the event you completely break your camera since most smartphones allow you to enable automatic sync of your images with your cloud account.

***

Which Smartphone works for you to upload stock content?

The next step in the decision process is to choose which smartphone should be used for stock images and to upload stock videos.  Despite being portable and light (200g on average) the following flagship smartphones provide plenty of horsepower for most tasks and would be highly recommended:


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

·        Rear cameras: 108MP f/1.8, 10MP f/2.4, 10MP f/4.9, 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide

·        Front camera: 40MP

·  8K video with the main camera and 4K video capture at up to 60fps

Source: https://www.samsung.com/us/smartphones/galaxy-s21-ultra-5g/

Apple iPhone 12 Pro

·        Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6, 12MP 52mm f/2

·        Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera

·        4K recording at 60p with Dolby Vision HDR video recording and Night-Mode time-lapse


Source: https://www.apple.com/iphone-12-pro/

Further resources:

A great point of reference is DXOMark Mobile reviews. They describe in detail how their sophisticated tests are performed to substantiate grades given to specific models and their approach is quite impressive:

“DXOMARK engineers capture and evaluate over 3000 test images and more than 2.5 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings”. A sample review can be seen here.

3 Disadvantages to Using a Smartphone vs a traditional camera

1. Small sensor size and limited pixel size

Smartphones sensors are significantly smaller than full-frame camera sensor, which is the golden standard of photography these days. The sensor is the heart of your camera - the bigger the sensor the more it is capable of capturing light, which is crucial for producing quality images. There are multiple sensor sizes (Full-frame, APHS, 4/3, 1 inch, etc.) and smartphone censors are at the very bottom of the list, thus reducing the quality of images and clips significantly, especially in low light. Also, where there is significant range of dynamic exposure leading to blown highlights, on the sky for instance.

The biggest pixel size available on smartphone cameras is still 6 times smaller than the one used in full-frame cameras, which may be an issue when meeting the minimum standards of most microstock agencies. Smaller pixels are known to capture less light and to produce more digital noise. Noise reduction remains a significant challenge for smartphone makers and a nagging rejection reason at the major microstock agencies, particularly Shutterstock.

Source: https://capturetheatlas.com/camera-sensor-size/

2. Poor performance in low-light conditions

Following on from the last point, due to significantly smaller pixel and sensor sizes, smartphone cameras traditionally underperform in low-light conditions. Technology advances have made significant strides in the low-light photography field and sensor technology will soon bring the first 1-inch sensor to smartphones.

3. Limited Zooming capabilities

Historically, all smartphone cameras relied on digital zoom, which produced blurry, grainy images and has always been considered an inferior zooming option – instead of truly zooming in, it simply cropped the images and then enhanced them digitally. Periscope camera design significantly improved zooming capabilities by introducing hybrid zoom, yet it is still a far cry from optical zoom quality provided by optical lenses.


To preserve the best image/video quality, it is best to approach the subject, if possible, rather than zooming into it or install an external lens to your phone.


Some tips to getting the best stills and videos using your smartphone

1. Keep your lenses clean!

When it comes to smartphone usage, our habits tell us that those devices are made to be durable and keeping lens protector glass clean is not something that is required. We are also getting used to ‘shoot on an instinct’ forgetting that our phone lenses often meet rough surfaces and rub against other objects and your fingers. Wiping the lens glass before shooting images is a proactive way to guarantee that your images are produced with top quality.

2. Use (mini) tripod when necessary

Most of us do not have steady hands to shoot handheld videos. There is a great variety of smartphone tripods available from recognizable brand name manufacturers. Selection of gimbals that reduce shaking is equally impressive.

Highly recommend gorilla-pods by Joby

3. Explore your camera app settings

It never hurts to explore all options that go with your camera app. Most smartphone computational abilities are impressive and come enhanced with AI technology which results in impressive panoramas, such as the following, and acceptable night shots.

Credit: Elijah Lovkoff/Smartphone Photography

4. Check settings after upgrades

Don’t forget that when your phone OS is upgraded, it often comes with an upgraded version of your camera app that may contain new and exciting features.

5. Experimenting with alternative apps

Google and Apple stores often contain third-party apps that can provide enhanced functionality and increase quality of your images and videos, such as the following:

- FimicPro;

- Firstlight (by FilmicPro);

- Sneapsead, etc.


Credit: Mauro Pereira

Last but not least, even if there are built-in apps to add filters to your images, it’s best to keep edits as natural as possible when uploading to multiple stock agencies.

Conclusion

With fast technological advances and continuous development in the Artificial Intelligence field, both smartphone hardware and software are expected to make a quantum leap when it comes to computational power and quality of images and videos. Even today flagship smartphones are fully equipped to produce quality media content capable of bringing sales from Microstock Agencies - and this trend is only expected to grow bigger.



Aleksej Vasic

Aleksej is the co-founder and General Manager of Lumina stock studio that has more than one million licences worldwide. With 10+ years in the stock industry, he knows its ins and outs, players and complexities as well as anyone.