How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto (Part 1)

by SomeGirl on March 16, 2011 · 41 comments

Alright, you spoke and I listened!

But, before we get started you need to do one VERY important thing…

Forget about any photos you have ever taken!

Forget about the trips you’ve been on, the beautiful photos you have from the beautiful places you’ve been, the thousands and thousands of images on your computer just waiting to go somewhere…


Stock photography is fresh and new. And your photos to get accepted need to be fresh and new. Later down the road you can go back and look at those photos, but for now I want you to pretend they don’t exist.


You MUST detach yourself from you photos!

You can’t LOVE your pictures… if you LOVE them, hang them on your wall. If you’re going to sell them, you MUST take your feelings out of the picture (no pun intended). In the beginning your photos will, most likely, be rejected more often than accepted. And if you submit a photo with feelings attached (“This is the BEST photo ever!” “My best work!” “They’re going to LOVE it, too!”) you will surely be let down and struggle with feelings of rejection. However, if you submit your photo without emotion and think, “Hmmm… I wonder if this will get accepted or not based on technical merit?” you will be able to handle the rejections in a much less personal way.

Now that  you’ve forgotten about all those photos you have (“What photos?”) and you’ve detached yourself personally from your pictures, let’s get started!

The main things an iStock inspector will be looking for when evaluating your photos for approval to be a stock photography seller on their site are:

1. A good understanding of stock photography.

2. The ability to shoot a variety of stock images.

3. Clear, technical quality of photos.

Let’s tackle those one at a time…

1. A good understanding of stock photography.

In order to have a good understanding of stock photography, you need to know what it is. So, in layman’s terms:

Stock Photos are generic photos that can be used in ads, magazines, billboards, flyers… you know, those photos you see in dentist brochures and local magazines with smiling people that look too happy for real life. ;) It’s not only people though. The pictures of houses in roofing ads, the walkways with flowers in landscaping postcards, single apples in heath magazines, rulers and books on school websites… those are all stock photos. And the photos of people doing things on are almost all stock photos (and my son and I were on there!! My claim to fame!). ;)

In a nutshell, stock photos are generic photos of people, places and things that are sold to others for design and advertising purposes.

Remember your homework from last week? Browsing through, magazines and printed ads is a GREAT way to get a better understanding of stock photography.

2. The ability to shoot a variety of stock images.

When applying to become a seller you will be asked to submit 3 photos. It is very important that the photos you choose show your understanding of stock photography and your ability to shoot different things… this is done by shooting 3 different types of photos. Let me show you what I mean:

Here are the photos I used to get accepted and why I chose them…

This photo shows that I can shoot action type photos and that I understand that faces are not necessarily important in stock photography. Useful for a hair cutting school or “How To” article.


This photo shows that I understand the need for “copy space” (empty areas with room to put text) and how to set up a basic photo to provide that. It also shows that I understand that stock photography is sometimes very simple, clean and focused on one subject. Useful for golfing businesses and concepts such as “hole-in-one.”


This photo shows that I can shoot faces and convey emotion with those faces. It also shows that I have an understanding of how “cheery” stock photography tends to be and that I know how to choose facial expressions that seem natural and not forced. Useful for ads that want to convey emotion.  Although, as a side note, I wouldn’t recommend a photo of just a face like this nowadays.  I’d suggest you do something more like this (from my husband’s portfolio)…


It conveys more than my photo does… is much more useful as stock photography.

3. Clear, technical quality of photos.

This point is going to take much more time than I have today. I’ll give you something to start with and next week will show you EXACTLY what I mean.

While all three points mentioned today must be present, this is the one that causes the most rejections. Your photos must be VERY good technically. Which is why you can let go of the emotion of your photos… there is nothing personal about the technical aspects of your photo. It’s very cut and dry… either your photo has a CLEAR focal point or it doesn’t. Either it is clear of purple fringing, noise, artifacting, sensor spots, or it isn’t. (I’ll explain all of these things in detail next week.) For today, what I want you to leave with is the need for a CLEAR point of focus… your photo must have one area that is SO crisp and in focus, no matter the size of the area. (I promise I’ll explain this all very simply next week.)

Now, your HOMEWORK

Start shooting lots of photos. Work on producing shots that show a concept. Ask yourself, “what could this image be used for?” Keep looking through magazines and You’ll find that your technical aspects will greatly improve if you shoot outside early in the morning (7-8am).

I’ll see you back here NEXT Wednesday for Part 2 of How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto!

(And I hope you know you’re always welcome to thought-provoking Thursday and our walk through the Gospels on Friday here at SomeGirl’s Website! ♥)

FYI: You’ll get 3 chances to upload photos for approval, so don’t worry if you don’t get in the first time. But, if you’ll wait to upload until we’re done with this tutorial (maybe 3 weeks), you’ll be MUCH more likely to get in the first time.

If you like SomeGirl’s Website would you please consider voting for it in the Top 25 Blogs of Faith by Moms contest? Just click the button above and then click the little yellow thumbs up to cast your vote… thank you!! ♥ Daily votes are allowed and encouraged.



Thank you for sharing! I can’t wait to learn more and do some practice shots. Great info:)


Thanks, Julie! I hope you’ve had fun taking some shots! I look forward to seeing you in a few days for part 2. :)


This was SO interesting — I learned so much.

I love your blog! I’ll definitely be back. Come by and see me sometime.


Aww… thanks, Laura! I’m on my way to visit right now. :)


Thank you for this! I love learning all of this stuff. There is just so much to learn!

I’ve had fun practicing some shots….I definitely need to work on getting over feeling silly taking pics in front of people. Felt a little…. weird… taking pictures of washing machines at the laundry last night. But I did it! :)

Maybe when I have a more professional looking camera I won’t feel like such a poser!


I hate to tell you, but having a more professional looking camera feels weird sometimes, too. ;) I often feel like a poser with mine! lol

We’ll have to go out together to shoot and help each other feel more comfortable.

Can’t wait to see more of your shots!


Wow…thanks for all of this great information. Since getting a DSLR, I’ve been more interested in this. I’d love to hear more about the equipment you use to take your photos-cameras, lenses, background, camera settings, etc. I have a good understanding of shooting in manual, but would just like to know what you prefer.



Thanks, Shondra!

I have to confess that I’m a newbie to getting out of auto and camera details. But I’ve been using a 50 prime lens for almost everything. I have an old Rebel XT (8 megapixels) and am looking forward to upgrading to a Rebel 3ti someday soon. :)

As far as background goes, my favorite is a nice blue sky. Otherwise I make sure the background matches the concept (I’ll show an example soon). I’ve used a plain white background before, but haven’t been very successful with it, without good lighting.

For camera settings, I’ve been shooting on Aperture mode (AV) between 1.8 and 2.8 for personal use, but between 2.8 and 8.0 for stock use (usually settling around 4.0).

ISO can’t be greater than 200 for stock submission (unless you have a really GREAT camera that can take a photo at 400 without noise).

I’ll touch on all this in an upcoming post… maybe this Wednesday. :)


Great info. Thank you, Michelle. What kind of camera do you have?


Thanks, J. I have an older model Canon Rebel (EOS XT), we started with a simple Olympus point and shoot. :)


Nice! Thanks! (And thank you for the mass email you sent!)

Deb Chitwood

What a great post, Michelle! Even though I’m far from submitting a photo, I’m thoroughly enjoying this. Your information is useful on so many levels! My major problem is that early morning bit! LOL


Yeah, we’ll have to find you a better time to shoot. ;) Late afternoon/early evening is another good time. I’ll look up the specifics soon. I’m SO glad to hear this information is useful! Thank you!

Leslie, the Home Maker

VERY good post! Thank you so much!
Do you suppose pictures of home things are good?
This is my area of expertise :)
I will start taking lost of pictures, cuz I love to take them (really, I do :)


Yes, pictures of home things are great! You might do a search at for different home items to see how they sell and look. :) Hope you’re having fun taking photos!


Cant wait till next week. I have sent in 6 total pics and all rejected. Guess there is to much attachment in them. Thanks for this it has made me want to start taking pics again and try yet again.


Yay! I’m glad you’re going to try again! I’ll walk you through it step by step. And you’re always welcome to come over to learn more! :) Now, let go of that attachment, Girl! ;)


Great, concise information, Michelle! Richard and I are about to go to Oklahoma for a couple of days and I will be taking lots of picture of things that I will NOT get attached to (well, can’t help being attached to the hubby….hehe). Great post!


LOL. You made me smile! Hope you had a GREAT trip! Can’t wait to see how you and your mom do with istock!


Hi Mrs. Debenport! This is Hannah Cate. I think the last time we saw each other was during that baseball game we went to, do you remember?

Mrs. Berkau referred me to your blog because of the photography posts you might be doing. I am very excited to follow this series on how to get accepted to I love taking pictures, and would love to be able to submit it to that kind of website.

Anyway, just wanted to say hi and thanks for writing! If you want to see a little bit about our family, you can visit This is a place where I share events in my family, recipes, pictures, and spiritual thoughts.

Hope you have a great day!


Hi Hannah!! How GREAT to hear from you!! I’m following your blog now. Hope you had a good time in Virginia Beach!

Please tell your family, “Hi!!”

I’m SO glad you’re hear and look forward to seeing your photos!!


Betsy at Zen Mama

Wow! I’m very excited to learn more! Looking forward to next Wednesday!


Oh man!! I went out of town and forgot those verses again…. agh!! I feel like such a flake! Sorry about that, Betsy! I will not go to bed tonight until I get them done… promise.

On another note, I’m SO glad you’re excited to learn more!! :)

ali @ an ordinary mom

Excellent information! Now, to detach, and get brave…


Thanks, Ali! You can do it! ;)


two questions:

1) what about pics that my dd took? She is a minor. Could we try those? What if she got accepted? Do I just put the $$ in a college fund? ( or maybe towards a loft bed??)

2) Does anybody have a Kodak easyshare M381 and have had taken pics that are not blurry? What was your secret?


Oooh, good questions…

I just asked my husband, who had researched the first question for a nephew of ours, and he said she could open her own account with your supervision… but he didn’t know all the details. Here’s the istock contact page They’re really good at answering questions like that. :)

And, for the 2nd question, that’s a great question for the forums at iStock. There are LOTS of helpful people there. You can sign up without applying to sell and ask if anyone there has had luck with the Kodak Easyshare. My son had one and the photos were decent, but probably not stock quality. I have a Canon Powershot that produces good pics. We started stock photography with an Olympus and it did well. However, the nicer the camera we’ve gone to, the easier our photos were accepted. (Once you get accepted as a contributor your photos then have to be accepted individually to be sold. With the Olympus we had a 40-50% acceptance rate, with a low level Canon Rebel DSLR we went to 60-70% acceptance and now with a Canon 5d we’re at 90+% acceptance) Hope that helps! :)


Oh, here’s the forum link

martha brady

thanks for a very helpful post:) those last couple of sentences are very helpful. i have no idea what kind of cameras those are, but i’m guessing that none of them are point and shoot and take skill at figuring out settings, etc. (details that drive me nuts:( i’ll see what i can figure out. i would enjoy this i think. m


So you are “excepted ” into the istock world of what is to be bought and sold to the media and public, omg! , these istockers who judge what can be seen and what can’t sounds like profiling on MASSIVE scale. Just saying!! Beware of the BIG Brother.

Karah @ thespacebetweenblog

Wow! This is so awesome. I just got my first DSLR and am focusing on photography in the next few weeks. Your series will help me along the way. Thank you so much for sharing!!

Stephanie @

This is fabulous! I’ve been drooling and waiting to get my first DSLR. Right now I’m doing my best with my little Cannon Power Shot. Thanks for all the info in helping us little people get started with stock photos! :D



Lots of helpful tips. Thanks.


Hi, i’m Dan from Tanzania…..Great article here, it’s very nice to help people in giving insight of new ideas based on your personal experience, this article series is great information needed to help a newbie photographer like me gain useful knowledge of istock photography and everything about it…………..i have a deep conviction that i have a talent for Photography, i want to start doing photography while at the same time earn income from it. From research i have concluded that istockphoto pays well for quality pictures but they need to be of excellent standard and condition…..I have good ideas of which photos to take, but there’s one thing which i’m stuck with and i need help from you……………based on your personal and interpersonal experience, which cameras should i start taking photos with??….On which can produce good quality pictures while cheap at the same time………excluding these big expensive ones like Canon 5D Mark 2………i want a cheaper but produces good picture which will be accepted by istockPhotos.


AJ Hotchkiss

Great to find some girl on the road
Is istock looking for a theme or genre in the selection process?
Nice meeting you and your family

shari lynne @ faith filled food for moms

THANK YOU! I hopped over here because I get Amy Andrews “Useletter” She mentioned you and this article in it. :) I have been thinking ALOT about selling some of my photos..and not knowing when or where or how to start..this is fantastic! Thank you so much for explaining…

Jason Bhemah

ok guys composition is the key you have to take a photo that anyone when seeing your photos know what the hell this picture is all about, when you are building your portfolio go out and shoot on a particular subject like day one think about what your topic will be, day two think of another subject to shoot etc, companies like photographers that has a portfolio with themes. i.e. food, people, I.T etc, Look at what sells on istock how can you improve that photo that has sold more than 200 downloads and create it.


If this is not so, then the native may not make money even if the share market is in favourable
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the belts that the wrestlers would hold over their heads
when they would win their gymnastics display, er, I mean match).

Another example would be if the borrower’s credit score
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You can adopt their styles to suit yours; this is one
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Style- Most of us looks at the design and style while buying any item.
A new kind of wire mixed with natural fabrics, like cotton, provided the
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I’m a new blogger, and stumbled upon your blog via somebody else’s blog, lol. I just wanted to say this post was very interesting and helpful. I plan trying this out so thank you for the insight :)

Lynn Lavoie

Hi I’m a amateur photographer of many styles took my photography course back in the 90’s in 35mm when my kids were little, since then I’ve adopted digital and loveing it … My boys are all grown up I do photo shoots of family’s and babies and kids and nature … Everyone keeps telling me to look up stock photography as I travel more now so lots of different subjects .. Is it hard to get into stock photography? You seem to have been threw the starting phase I’m very interested

Your blog is very interesting thank you so much

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