More Photos to Critique (Stock Photography)

by SomeGirl on May 3, 2011 · 22 comments

Boy, have we been busy around here! I really want to sit down and blog about what’s been going on in our life, but have had a hard time finding much time to sit down at all!

Hopefully I’ll have some time to tell you more about it in a couple of days when Fraddling Friday returns (YAY!). :)

But, for now, I’m going to jump right in to the technical aspects of today’s post… a critique for one of my sweet readers of their photos which were rejected in an application to I hope you all find it very helpful in your journey toward becoming an istockphoto contributor. I’m so thankful he’s kindly agreed to let me share this critique publicly with you! (Thank you!)

Let’s look at our new friend’s first photo… (Remember we’re taking emotions out of our photos, right? See Part 1 of How To Get Accepted at iStockphoto.) ;)

This photo has SO much going for it! It’s technically solid. There’s a clear focal point. Good ISO. No noise, sensor spots, purple fringing. It’s a nice shot. But why was it rejected?

The main reason I’d suggest is because it doesn’t have a clear “stock” (ad) message. It’s a nice shot of a horse’s head and face with great technical merit, but not much ad value.

I forgot to mention in earlier posts that iStock doesn’t want to see animals, flower closeups or landscapes in your submission photos. (Once you get accepted, feel free to submit those photos, but the training manual suggests you not submit them when applying.)

An exception to the rule would be a photo that has a STRONG stock message. Take this photo from another sweet reader for example…

Imagine it with the full chick’s body in view, standing among dozens of eggs waiting to be hatched. Change the aperture to f8 and try to get the chick and eggs in focus on a crisp white background. Can you picture it? This would be a great photo to submit, even though it’s an animal. The message is one of standing out from the crowd, breaking free from what constrains you, the early bird gets the worm, etc…  definitely ad worthy concepts.

Anyway, back to the critique…

There’s one last suggestion I’d make with the first photo we’re looking at… a little post processing in photoshop would do it some good. Look at what happens with a simple “auto level” and “auto contrast.”

Do you see the difference? (top adjusted slightly, bottom original)

It’s a great idea to adjust your photos a little, just don’t sharpen them until you really know what you’re doing.

Now, let’s take a look at another of our fellow photographer’s photos…

This is a nice shot. I like the clothes the model is wearing and his professional look. There’s a good stock message: business, business man, professionalism, etc. No logos. An overall good shot! So…. what’s the problem?? Well, I’m glad you asked. ;)

When I opened this photo to look at 100%, here’s what I saw in the area where there should be a clear focal point…

Do you see those dots? Quick! I’ll give 100 bonus points to the student who can correctly diagnose what caused this. (Watch out, I’m about to answer in the next line.)

Did you guess the ISO was too high? If so, you were right! Give yourself 100 bonus points. :)

Yes, the ISO on this photo was 640. Remember, it’s very difficult to get a photo to be free of noise/grain with an ISO over 200. The first picture of the horse was very clear with no noise and had an ISO of 100. The way to remedy this issue is to have more light on the model or shoot outside.

My recommendation would be to take this model, in the same outfit, to the front entrance of a building. Have him coming out of a revolving door, looking at his watch like he’s late for a meeting, or shaking hands with another model who is dressed similarly to him. I’d like to see his eyes open more. And would like to have him on one side or the other of the frame (following the rule of thirds), not in the center.  Wouldn’t you like to see him holding the same folder looking at you and smiling? Just some ideas. :)

Ok, here’s the last photo we have the privilege of reviewing together…

What a sweet family! You can tell they love their little one so much, can’t you? Now, let’s take the emotion away from this photo and look at the technical aspects that might have caused it to be rejected.

First, I went in to look at 100% and again found noise/grain.

Do you see those dots? The ISO on this photo was 1600 which is way over the suggested 200. I tried downsizing the photo to 1800 x 1200 (close to the minimum size allowed for submission) and was able to reduce the noise, but not eliminate it.

Can you see the difference? If the noise had been minor, the downsizing could have gotten rid of it at 100%.

Again, the answer to this problem is more light.Take the same shot outside and you’ll see a WORLD of difference!

There are a few other things I must mention with this photo… the logos, even though they’re partial, need to be removed. I’d suggest having them wear clothes without logos at all.

I’d like to see the mom’s face a little more. And would like there to be more color in the photo… taking your models out of everyday clothes and putting them in something crisp and new looking makes a HUGE difference in how stock-worthy your photos will look. It’s worth it to buy a couple of new shirts from Walmart or Target (don’t have to be expensive, just simple and nice). It’s also worth it to get a fresh haircut or shave. Those little details can make or break a photo in the stock world. It’s totally different than taking photos for people. While families want photos of how they are. Advertisers want photos of people at their best (how most of us, I, rarely look in real life). ;) Does that make sense?

And my last little note on that photo is that it would be good to have the baby a little less squished. I’d like to see a nice smile that says, “I am SO happy and loved!” Which you know is the case, but the photo needs to show it from all parties. (Wow, I sound SO picky, don’t I?)

The bottom line is this: Stock photography is a picky, picky business. Your photos must meet those picky standards to be accepted. And you need to WOW them with your images. So, take your time. Get your models dressed in their best. Get lots and lots of light, but not too much to where you have shadows. And start snapping away! Try to follow the rule of thirds as much as you can; it gives room for agencies to add copy (text) to your photo.

And remember: iStock wants photos with absolutely NO noise/grain, pixelation, purple fringing, sensor spots, and a SUPER crisp and clear focal point. High ISO’s will cause grain and eliminate clear focal points almost every time. (Btw, did you see last week’s post on how to remove purple fringing? See it here.)

Well, I hope you guys enjoyed today’s post and learned something for your journey! I’d love to hear how your photography is going and how you’re doing on your goal to apply to iStock! :)

And thank you, my sweet friends, for letting me critique your photos here! I really appreciate your willingness to let us all learn from your experience! Good luck on your future application!


♥ Michelle (aka SomeGirl)



Gail Debenport

Your critiques are helping more than you know. You are so sweet to give of your time in this way. I think I need some great looking models who don’t wear name brand clothes.

When I read your posts I get excited about photography all over again. Thank you so much. Question: When istock refers to a light box are they talking about a grouping of shots from one contributor that shows a topic such as “business people”, “construction”, “office buildings”? Or, are they referring to an actual lighted box (as I learned when I took photography)?


Aw, thanks Gail! Your comment made my morning! :)

The light boxes they mention are collections of photos. You can make private ones to share with others via links that contain only your photos, or public ones to be searched by others with photos containing multiple photographers, unless they’ve changed the rules. :)


Thanks Michelle,

The critique helps a lot, I was afraid the horse was just “wrong type of content”, missed the ISO issues with the other 2 photos (drat).

Hopefully, I’ll do better the next time.


Can’t wait to hear how you do! Thanks again for letting me do this and share it! :)


wonderfully helpful Michelle!! (as always! :-)) I’m still working on downloading off the camera. I havn’t touched it in a month b/c of life, but you’ve still got my interest! I”m so thankful for the really great job you are doing helping us out! :-)


You’re so sweet, Kelly! Thank you! ♥ Can’t wait to see what you do in the future (when life slows down)! :)


This continues to be in the back of my mind every time I take a shot. I haven’t worked on ones just for istock, but I sure having been thinking about it! Thanks to those who let you critique them – helps so much for me to “see” the reasons!


Thinking about it while shooting has been one of the hardest things for me to learn! Even today I realized I shot several photos in the wrong mode… didn’t think to look. So, you are far ahead! :) Can’t wait to see your shots in the future! ♥

ali @ an ordinary mom

Love the tips!

I’m still not ready to jump in, but I am pleased to say that the sun has finally come out in Minnesota and I’m excited to see the difference real light makes in my photography :-)

Ooh, and I won a Night Photography e-Class w/Kent Weakly, and have been learning a ton, now I’m just waiting until it’s not ice-cold out at night to get out and practice w/my new remote shutter release! Good times. :-)


Yay! Glad the sun’s out!! I’d LOVE to hear tips from you after the night photography class. Saw it on and LOVED what she shot from it… can’t wait to see your shots! And I’d love to have a remote shutter release… awesome!

Betsy at Zen Mama

Thanks again for such a great post. I’m printing them out into a little booklet so this summer I can read through and send them on to istock. I am too bold, or can I send a my few favorites to you, too?
Thanks again Michelle! I look forward to this every week!!


How fun! My first e-book! ;) I would LOVE for you to send me your favorites… would you be interested in having them critiqued online? (please, please, please) :)

And thank you SO much for your encouraging words! I was wondering last night if this was really of an interest to others or not… thank you for letting me know!! Love ya!

Betsy at Zen Mama

Funny you should say that… I was thinking that you should offer all these posts as a free ebook if people to subscribe to your blog. I will get some pics together to send to you for a critique (gulp)!


Yeah, I’ve wondered about that. May need to look into it. :) Can’t wait to see your photos!

Deb Chitwood

I always love your photography posts, Michelle! Your critiques are awesome – helpful for much more than learning how to get accepted at iStockphoto! :)


Thank you so much, Deb! I just commented back to Betsy saying that I wasn’t sure if there was real interest in these posts or not. It’s SO nice to hear that you are enjoying them and that they’re useful for more than iStock. Thank you! (Using your encouraging talent again!) :) xoxo

Bill Ebbing

Well Michelle, I’ve taken it all in and with any luck used it all correctly. I’ve resubmitted to IStock. Hopefully the third times a charm.


Good luck! Hope it goes well! :)

Bill Ebbing

Thanks Michelle, for you help and encouragement. I’ve been rejected again with the same “no explaination”. I’m done trying.

Thanks again.


Bill Ebbing
Bill Ebbing

So I’m a very amateur photgrapher, I came here looking for ways to work from home. I would need a better camera to do this. I just wondered if how the animal/subject itself looks would affect the acceptance. For instance if the horses ears were forward and maybe bridal path and muzzle trimmed better, main neater ? Does that type of thing make a big difference?

I love taking pictures and would love to get a good camera and do this! I also love photoshop ;)

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