How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto (Part 2)

by SomeGirl on March 22, 2011 · 29 comments

Phew, this week’s post is difficult to put into writing. I hope I make it clear enough. If not, feel free to ask questions in the comment section after you finish reading it. :)

Welcome Back! I hope you’ve had lots of fun taking photos this past week!

Let’s jump right into things, shall we?

Today we’re going to look more closely at last week’s, How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto (Part 1), point #3: The need for clear, technical quality of photo.

If you have Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements, open it. If you don’t, download a free 30 day trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 here.

(The trial stops working after 30 days with no credit card needed to download it. That time period ought to be long enough for you to go through this tutorial then apply and get approved at iStockphoto. After that, you might want to buy a copy for $99. You’ll be able to make that money back by selling photos.)

Now that you have Photoshop ready to go, open one of you NEW pictures (remember last week’s mandate to forget all those photos you already have?)


Then type 100% down in the little box on the bottom left corner…

With your photo at 100% you’ll be able to see it the way the inspectors will look at it for approval (btw, they do this every time you upload a photo to sell, not just when you are applying. Each photo you desire to sell must be approved by an inspector at

Look all over your photo to find a clear focal point.

In the following photo the focal point is on the dandelion and adult hand. It’s a very crisp, clear focal point at 100%. The rest of the photo is out of focus intentionally to create an interesting look.

Here are some examples of 100% views of photos with no real clear focal point or misplaced focal point

The main subject of this photo was my youngest son’s smiling face. It was not in focus at all.


This next photo had a clear focal point… (the bottom right shoe)


But not the correct focal point (which needed to be his face and probably hands).

Can you see that the last image is out of focus? It’s at 100% and slightly blurry. If I “downsized” it (made the photo a smaller size) I could possibly get away with submitting it and having a clear focal point.

Here’s a little technical size information: The smallest size photo you can submit is 2 megapixels. This photo was taken at 8 megapixels so I have plenty of room to downsize to a Medium iStock photo size of 2 megapixels or even a Large size of 5 megapixels and probably pass the focal point evaluation. (To find out how many megapixels your image is multiply the width in pixels by the height, for example 1920 x 2560=4.91 just under 5 megapixels)

Now, even if I did downsize the photo and eliminate the blurred issue there are a few other reasons why this photo wouldn’t be good to upload to iStockphoto (and more information you need to know)…

Let’s start with the most obvious (because of the blue arrows). ;)

Logos are not permitted in any part of your photos, even the logos you don’t notice on the bottom of shoes, around the side of a tire, in the design of a shirt. NO logos whatsoever. (Another reason why you want to start with fresh photos. You’d be surprised how many logos are floating around without you even noticing.)

Next, the colors in this photo aren’t very “stock”-like. They’re drab and uninteresting. (Remember last week’s mandate that you must detach yourself from your photo? I personally like this photo for my scrap book, if I scrapbooked. But it’s not “stock-worthy.” ) The background is very cluttered with unnecessary objects that don’t add to the overall picture and, because of that, there’s no clear concept. (remember last week’s homework? Work on producing shots that show a concept. Ask yourself, “what could this image be used for?”)

Now, if this photo had been taken with a blue sky background, or at a tennis court on a nice, bright day (early in the morning)… and if my littlest one had been wearing colorful tennis or casual sports clothes… and the focus had been on him hitting the ball with no logo and with rackets without logos… then it might work as stock. Can you picture the difference?

Let’s go back to that first photo with the dandelion.

Now that we’ve established there is a clear focal point, it’s time to look around the rest of the photo for purple fringing, sensor spots, pixelation and artifacting (please take a moment to visit the links on each of these terms; they are all very common reasons for photo rejections)…

As I look around the photo with the dandelion, I notice lots of dots around the red sweatshirt of my oldest son. I’m not quite sure if the technical term would be pixelation or artifacting, but I’ve been around the block or rejections and acceptances long enough to know it might warrant a rejection. It’s hard to see in this photo, but it’s there in Photoshop.

Fortunately, I have a trick to get rid of the dots since the background is already intentionally blurry. I just add more blur with a Photoshop tool (which I’ll explain more in an upcoming post). No sensor spots, no purple fringing, no more spotty-ness, now the photo is ready to be lightened and brightened just a bit (NOT sharpened… a sure way to get a rejection when you’re starting out), then uploaded without emotion. ;) And within a week or two I should hear back from the inspector! :) Unfortunately that’s about how long it takes to hear back from them when you’re starting out. :(

But, after you have a certain number of downloads you can opt to become exclusive with iStock, which shortens your time to nearly nothing… in fact, I submitted this photo early last week, heard back within 3 or so days that it was accepted, and it has already been purchased (downloaded)! Yay!

Now, I have one last thing to address in today’s post…

Let’s say a photo has a good focal point, no logos, good composition, bright colors, and you just LOVE it! It captures the moment and brings you a smile to look at…

Ask yourself these questions…

What does the image portray? What’s the concept?

What could it be used for?

Could I see it in a magazine or on the front of a card?

Is it “ad worthy?”

If you can’t answer the last two questions with a yes. Then…

Hang it on your wall! ;) (see last week’s post)

It’s a GREAT shot, but “not suitable for stock” (another famous reason for rejection at Enjoy it and have fun with it! You’ll be richer in memories for photos like it. ♥

(For those who are very observant, that last photo doesn’t really have a good, clear focal point. You get an A+ if you already noticed that.) ;)


Now, your HOMEWORK:

Keep shooting lots of photos, producing shots that show a concept. Make sure there are NO logos anywhere when you’re shooting. Pick out the clothes for your children or friends to wear. Keep looking through magazines and and check out their Stock Photography Training Manual.

Choose a few of your new photos to examine at 100%. Look for a clear focal point, purple fringing, sensor spots, pixelation and artifacting. And if you want to, let me know how it goes! :) (Don’t forget that you can download the trial version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. I did that today to try it out.)

Tip: You’ll get less noise/grain if you shoot with ISO 100 or 200 outside in good lighting (early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there are no harsh shadows). On most of our cameras any picture with greater than 200 ISO will usually be rejected for noise. (more on this next week)

I’ll see you back here NEXT Wednesday when we talk about cameras, settings, lenses, etc… in Part 3 of How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto! (I promise we’ll be finished before the 30 trial runs out!) ;)



Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you doing this tutorial. I’ve always wanted to make money with stock photography and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same way…but there are so many sites and “gurus” that would have you believe you can just submit any old thing and get paid. So thanks for taking the time to write such a great tutorial…and I can’t wait to see part 3! :)


Thank you, Kristy! It warms my heart to know what I write makes a difference and is appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to comment! ♥ Michelle


You are such a great teacher, Michelle. (I have to admit I have not yet done any of my homework – FAIL!)

Can I say that the picture of your son swinging the racket is just awesome! I love the close up of his face!


Thanks, J! You’re so sweet!

Now, go do your homework! ;) lol


Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of this information Michelle. You have a real gift of explaining things clearly. Thank you for taking the time to help us all.


Thanks, Kristen! That means a lot to me!


Most fun I’ve ever had doing homework….. !!! ;)

Thank you for all the work and effort you are putting into this for us. You rock.


Music to a teacher’s ears! It’s lots of fun to teach when you have such interested students! :)


Thank you for the info you are sharing with us. It’s really making me think about my shot when I take it…


So glad to hear it! You’re welcome! ♥


Love this tutorial! This might sound silly, but I never knew the trick about typing in 100% in the bottom to see the whole photo up close. It is helping my editing tremendously!


Yay! Love hearing that you’ve learned something helpful! Thank you! :)

Heather @ At The Picket Fence

Okay these are so great! I am going to have to sit down some place quiet and really read through them and than get to work! I also shared your links with a sweet teen friend of mine who is venturing into photography. Her work is beautiful. She’s going to come over and read what you are sharing. I think she has an eye for exactly this type of work! Thank you for being so willing to share of your knowledge. This is the very reason why I LOVE the blogging community so much!



Thank you! Isn’t the blogging community GREAT?! I hope this helps your friend! {HUGS}

Deb Chitwood

I LOVE the way you talk us through each step of analyzing a photo, Michelle! Must get Photoshop, though. I’ve stayed with the simplicity of Paint Shop Pro, but it’s time to do something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years. Photoshop here I come! :)


Thanks, Deb! Hope you enjoy it! :)

Gail Debenport

Michelle, How can we see your work on istock? Would love to look at it. Your lessons are great!.


Oh, it’s not much to see right now. I have a few dozen photos from 3+ years ago when I didn’t know what I was doing… Hopefully it will look better soon! :)


Btw, I’ll reply to your email tomorrow after I run it by Steve for answers. :)

Betsy at Zen Mama

Wow this is a great tutorial. I’ve been meaning to get photoshop for a while so this will be a good trial.


Thanks, Betsy! I think you’ll like all that you can do with photoshop! :)


You are seriously awesome. I am having SO much fun with the homework! Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Yay!! Glad to hear it!! :) (And thank you!)


Hi Michelle,

I just saw the link you left to your portfolio and had a look at it. You take some awesome photos! I also saw your husband’s portfolio, which is very impressive. Just a question, if you both don’t mind (hope I’m not getting too personal), where does he get all of his models from? Does he offer something for being in a shoot and obtaining model releases?



Thank you! I don’t mind at all. :)

In the beginning my oldest and I were his models. Then he went to Craigslist and offered photos/headshots in exchange for model releases. If the model’s photos sell well he’ll offer one more shoot in exchange for free photos. After that he pays, starting at $10/hour… upping the pay as time goes and shots prove profitable.

Now, he is starting to move to model agencies as another source. He’s finding that it’s easier to pay people than to do the work involved in getting them CDs with photos.

He also goes to group events called “mini-lypses” hosted by other istock photographers. Each photographer in attendance pays a fee (maybe $300) and the host of the event hires models, secures locations, sets themes, etc. There lots of fun. :) He’s been to Florida, Utah and Canada for different “lypses.”

Maybe one day we’ll host a mini-lypse and invite all you guys to come! :) Wouldn’t that be fun?!


That would be awesome! Thanks for all of the information, Michelle. :)


I’m loving these tutorials! You are helping me to see the light at the end of my tunnel! With your help, I’m going to find a way to work from home! :)

Public Records

What’s up, this weekend is pleasant in support of me, as this point in time i am reading this great informative piece of writing here at my house.


One of the reasons there could be pixelation and/or artifacting is that many photos are shot in the JPEG format, which by nature compresses photos to save space. You can change this it to shoot in RAW (You’ll have to look it up with your specific camera for details, but for me it’s in the “Quality” menu), which doesn’t compress the photos at all. The only problem is that there are few programs or companies that will use or accept them. Photoshop can process them and then save them as a PNG or Jpeg or whatever you like. Another thing is that RAW photos, with their lack of compression, are huge and can take up lots of space very quickly.

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