How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto (Part 3)

by SomeGirl on March 30, 2011 · 11 comments

Alright, you’re getting closer to becoming an contributor. Yay!

(one of our earlier photos when we really started paying attention to our account – taken on our favorite backdrop: a nice blue sky)

Once you have your three varying photos (see Part 1) with good “ad worthy” composition, super clear focal point and technically “perfect” absence of purple fringing, sensor spots, pixelation and artifacting (see Part 2), you are ready to complete the next step

Visit to start the application process!

(Btw, for those of you who are thinking, “WHOA! I’m not ready for that yet!! I need more photography tips before I apply!” Don’t worry. I’ll be back next week with some photography tips to help you get better quality photos!)

First, you’ll sign up as a member, which is free and gives you a username. My tip here is to choose a name near the front of the alphabet. If photos are ever sorted by author yours will appear closer to the  beginning. :) (sign up here)

Next, you’ll be instructed to read the iStockphoto – Stock Photography Training Manual. It’s VERY important that you read it and pay CLOSE attention to details. You will have to pass a test on it to be accepted as a contributor (see the manual here).

Then, after you pass the quiz, you’ll be prompted to “upload” 3 original photos. According to my husband you don’t need a model release for these photos since they won’t be available for purchase by anyone. The inspectors are just looking at your work to consider your status as a contributor. Once approved you will resubmit your photos (with model releases if applicable) for them to be considered to be added to the collection (see interesting fact about approvals here and facts about model releases here).

Btw, here are a few questions I have been asked recently and wanted to address here for everyone…

iStock asked for me to email a copy of my driver’s license.  Did you send yours online?

Yes, we sent ours each when we applied. You can black out personal identification numbers if you’d like. It’s to prove you are who you say you are since you’re entering a contractual agreement with them (more info here).

All the wording [in the Contract Agreement] protects istock but my question is, when you get a “model” or whoever to sign istock’s release, do you also have them sign a release holding you harmless?

We have a generic model release that we have the models sign. It is similar to iStock’s but can be used at other places, if we were to choose to quit being exclusive (which we don’t plan on doing). iStock is very good about caring for their exclusive photographers (I can’t speak to the other end since we went straight to exclusive when we could with only a break from that for 6 months or so to try contributing across other sites… which we quickly realized was NOT worth our time/effort.)

Do you know if releases are expected to accompany the three sample pictures? I’m assuming they are not going to publish them, they are just seeing your work to approve or disapprove.

That’s true about just using them to see your work. According to Steve (my sweet husband) you don’t have to send a model release for those photos. :)

I would hate to send my Driver’s License just to be told your pictures don’t measure up and you are not accepted.

Unfortunately, you have to send it. But remember you can black out your number. I think you can even send another, less important, photo ID… gym membership or something. (?) In order to approve you they have to know that you are who you say you are.

Do I need a name for my business?  Did you incorporate your business?

Starting out we didn’t. Now that we live off of our earnings we met with an attorney and created an s corp. We did it mostly for tax purposes, but it’s nice to have extra legal protection. :)

So, when you say no logos, does that mean anything, including the generic designs old navy puts on little boys’ clothes? I’m talking a football and a fake year- no ‘old navy’ anywhere.

A ball with a number is probably not a problem, but it might be. If there’s any question, I’d steer away from it. We’ve had too many photos rejected for possibly copyrighted flowers, eagles, and curly q’s. Not to mention, clothes with designs on them distract from the photo, date it, and make it less useful/generic for designers.

Also, a Ball jar, with the embossed word Ball on the jar – guessing that’s bad, too?

It might be fine, but again I’d opt for a clear jar. Just my opinion. However, it never hurts to try it! :) (Remember, you’re not emotional attached to your photo… so if it gets rejected, chalk it us as a learning experiment, and let me know so I can share what you find out!) ;)

Can I photoshop out the logos? Is that acceptable?

Certainly, but make sure it is ABSOLUTELY NOT NOTICEABLE. In the beginning we had our fair share of “sloppy photoshop work” rejections. :)

What are the acceptable solutions for the picture problems you mentioned: sensor spots, pixellation, etc

For sensor spots, the best thing to do is to clean your sensor often. On an older DSLR you can have that done at a camera store for a reasonable cost. For a newer Canon you probably have a built in sensor cleaner. Run it every time you change your lens, or every so often.

For point and shoots and photos already taken that have spots, you’re going to have to do some cloning. Again, make sure the cloning is NOT visible at 100%. Most sensor spots will occur in the sky, which is fortunate since that’s pretty easy to clone (I will do a tutorial for this next week).

For pixelation, I’d downsize or blur the area if it’s in the background, using a guassian blur (more on this soon).

For purple fringing, there’s a great way to get rid of it using the paintbrush set to “color”, but explaining it will take it’s own post (coming soon, too). :)

Do you recommend photoshopping an image to make the colors better, etc?

Yes, but not much. In the beginning you want your photo to look as NATURAL as possible. Once you’re accepted you can play with colors a little more. Try them and see what happens.

How can we see your work on istock?

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! :)

Where does [your husband] get all of his models from? Does he offer something for being in a shoot and obtaining model releases? (see his porfolio here)

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. Again, if the photos do well, he’ll hire the model for pay at future shoots.

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. They’re 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?!

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.

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).

Do YOU have any questions… write them below in the comment section and I’ll be sure to answer them as soon as possible! :)

Now, your HOMEWORK

1. Open a free iStock account. Read the training manual carefully and take the quiz.

2. Set a time to shoot 3 photos for submission (which, if you’re anything like me, means shoot 150 photos to get 3 good photos… I shot around 250 photos the other day and narrowed it down to around 20 to submit, if that gives you a good example).

3. Plan what you want your 3 photos to look like/include. I’d recommend:

  • 1 without people (a picnic table set up for lunch, a formal dinner setting with flowers, a walkway with beautiful landscaping…)
  • 1 with people without faces (child coloring paper cropped to only show hands coloring and paper with art, woman chopping food cropped to show arms, hands, knife and cutting board, someone cleaning kitchen counter with bright gloves and a sponge cropped to only show gloves, sponge and counter…)
  • and 1 with people or a person’s face (children on a playground laughing, loving adults sitting on a couch spending time talking, family eating popcorn around a coffee table or tent playing dominoes or cards without logos…)

Remember: You’re going to get your best lighting outside, so try to set these shots up to look like a kitchen scene, but do it outside. Takes some creativity, but look at what we did with our breakfast area a couple of weekends ago…

None of that stuff is normally there. We took out our table, down our decorations, hung some teacher stuff up, and brought in a little kid’s table from another room. You get the picture, right? Fake your area wherever you need to get good light! :)

Have FUN and I hope to see you back here NEXT Wednesday!

Btw, I have a sweet book giveaway going on at yesterday’s post and I’d LOVE to have you enter! It’s super easy; just leave a comment! (See it here.) ♥



THANKS Michelle!! WOW this was super helpful! I”ve been waiting for each Wednesday morning to hear more!! I’m excited to start!! It may be a few weeks though because of life. ugh. But now I feel much better about it all!
One question though…I can not imagine it would even be possible to shoot indoors with an ISO of 200 or below. Is it???? I suppose you would absolutely have to use a flash with that ISO indoors and then the picture doesn’t have the attractive natural lighting. Do you ever shoot inside with an ISO at 200 or below?


That’s exactly right! In the beginning we only shot stock outdoors, with exception of the few times we were able to get a good photo by pulling in all of our lights and wrapping a coffee filter around our flash (diffusing the light). Then Steve got a Speedlight (with diffuser) as a Christmas present, which made a lot of difference in the way our indoor shots turned out (although the photos were shot at 200 iso but they would have dark background)s. Sometime after we got another Speedlight with an umbrella and a “slave” making it fire when the original one did…

Now, a few months ago, after really analyzing Steve’s photos to see what could “kick them up a notch,” we invested in 2 Alien Bees (lights) with soft boxes (big diffusers)…. which is how I got the bottom 2 shots so bright and clear indoors.

BUT, when we started all we had was a point and shoot, sunshine, what we’d call a “nice photoshoot sky” (clear, blue days), and lamps we’d pull around the house. Outdoor shots were definitely our staple! :)

SO glad you’re enjoying this series! I’m going to keep Wednesday as a photography day from now on out. :)


Thank you again Michelle for taking the time to explain everything in so much detail. What an awesome teacher you are.

Gail Debenport

Thanks Michelle, You are a GREAT teacher. I’m getting so much from this.


Thanks again, Michelle! I’m really trying to keep working on this, but my only model is my 18 month old and things get tricky with him. :) I’m happy to hear that you are going to keep Wednesdays as Photog day!


I love the bottom two photos – what fun to hear how you took them, Michelle! I’ve really enjoyed this series even though I’m taking my time with working on my photography skills. Your explanations are awesome! :)


Thank you again for posting such a helpful series! I love working on the homework for this… :)


Is Canon Rebel XS suitable to start with for stock photography to produce great pictures which will be accepted at iStockphoto?


Hi Dan,

I have the Canon Rebel T3i and love it! The quality is just fine for getting accepted. One great thing about it is the automatic sensor cleaning at each power off. This reduces the need to check closely for sensor spots. I would probably look for the lowest level Rebel with sensor cleaning and start there. (In the past I have spent way too muh time looking for and cloning out sensor spots in photos to submit or resubmit to istock.) :)

Best wishes,



Its me again…want to officially start the stock photography as a full time job and i would like to know something from you since you’re in already……..when i want to depend on it as my source of income, then submit 3 photos after they’ve passed…….how long will it take for me to start seeing some subsequent income??….lets say to earn $100 a week??…How much photos do i have to submit in a week say in order to get the average of that income??


I passed the quiz and it tells me to enter my birthday and type I agree in the box. But when I go to the next step it says I have to agree to the artists supply agreement. I’ve done it like 20 times. I type I agree in the box every single time.

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