What To Do If You Get an iStockphoto Rejection

by SomeGirl on April 19, 2011 · 15 comments

So…. What do you do if you’ve applied for iStockphoto and received an email back saying:

“At this time we regret to inform you that we did not feel the overall composition of your photography or subject matter is at the minimum level of standard for iStockphoto.  Please take some time to review training materials, resources and articles provided through istockphoto.  The photographs provided in your application should be diverse in subject matter, technical ability and should be your best work.  Think conceptual, creative and most important think stock photography.  Try to avoid the average eye level push the button perspective of a common subject.  Try and impress us, we want to see how you stand out from the crowd.”

First, you congratulate yourself for having enough nerve to actually apply in the first place (I’m SUPER proud of you)!

Next, you comfort yourself in the knowledge that MANY people, even professional photographers, get rejected the first time around (phew, nice to know isn’t it?).

Then, you email me your photos and let me look at them and give you a little helpful critique, which is what one of my sweet readers did. And she is so kind and brave that she gave me permission to critique her photos here to help her and you at the same time (what a sweet gal, hu?!).

update: Sorry, life has become so busy that I’m not able to offer the service of critiquing photos any more. However, there are a good number of photos reviewed on this site in the “stock photography” tab above that ought to provide helpful information.

Let’s take a look at her application photos…

GREAT photos, aren’t they?!

When I first opened her email I wondered why they were rejected, but after I looked more closely, thought about the rejection letter and talked with my husband I found a few things to pass along…

Before I get started, let me say that I LOVE her photos! If I were to see them on her FB page or flickr account I’d think they were awesome! And the one of her husband and grandson is ADORABLE!

BUT, this is for stock and our first rule is to detach emotionally from our photos… that said, let’s look at her photos for what they are: samples of her work to get accepted to istockphoto.com (no emotion attached) and see why they might have been rejected.

The first thing I noticed when looking at the cross and sky photo at 100% were little sensor spots (dust spots) that needed to be cloned out.

The other thing my husband and I both made note of was the fact that the clouds in the sky busy-ed up the photo and the window at the bottom of the image was cut off. More importantly, we asked the question, “What does this image say?” And couldn’t find a clear stock answer. Here’s what we would suggest…

Shoot a photo like this on a clear, blue sky day (no clouds) and focus solely on the cross. You’d get an image that has a stronger stock message… (see comment section below for more about this)

(Btw, that photo was altered in a very quick manner for illustration purposes, not for admission to istock.)

Next, let’s look at the painting photo.

Here are a few things that stood out to us at first glance…

My eyes bounced back and forth between the door glass and paint tray. Occassionally they would wander up to the canvas, but I REALLY wanted to see all of the canvas. (note: you want the viewers eyes to land, and always be drawn back to the most important part of the photo).

Upon inspection at 100% we found that their is no real, clear focal point… it’s slightly dull (hard to see here).

And there’s purple fringing in some areas (seen on the top edge of the paint brush).

The paints at the bottom of the easel show what true artwork is like, but they clutter up the photo. See what a difference it makes to crop in and take away the distractions (and to brighten up the image)…

Again, the question was asked, “What is this photo saying? What’s the stock message?”

What I’d really like to see her do is to take this same easel, lower the canvas to the bottom tray and place it in front of a beautiful landscape (maybe one with lovely flowers)… portraying a message of peace and relaxation, hobbies after retirement, etc…

Here’s a quick shot I took to illustrate the idea. It would have been nice to have my little one with a paintbrush and the beginnings of the landscape painted on the canvas.


Remember that you don’t have to take photos just where you are, you can go places and take things with you to get just the right shot. :)

On to my sweet, fellow photographer’s last photo (hasn’t she been a good sport?)…

This is my favorite, but I’m removing emotion, right? ;) While the composition is GREAT for a personal photo, there’s a problem for stock… the message of this photo is largely about the old truck and the fun that’s being had in it. But for stock, you want the message of your photo to be largely about the enjoyment of a moment together. Simply cropping in to the people and exluding a large portion of the surroundings does that quite well.

See the difference? :)

Now, let’s look at technical aspects of this CUTE photo…

Upon inspection at 100% I see that the focal point is dull, not crisp and clear. It may seem like I’m being picky here, but your focal point needs to be SO, SO, SO crisp and clear for acceptance.

Another thing I’d mention here is that a spot like the one our adorable little model has near his eye needs to be cloned out. It’s fine for personal photos, but advertisers don’t want spots like that on their ads, unless they’re a focal point of the photo, like being treated by Dr. Mom with a kiss or a bandaid. :)

If you’ll look closely at the back seat you’ll notice some pixelation which would be a cause for rejection. (Do you see it? Those pinkish, purplish dots on the black seat, near the top.)

And, the logos/artwork needs to be eliminated… remember to dress your models in art free clothes. :)

Here’s another photo taken by the same sweet photographer that would make a much better submission to istock…

Can you see why this is a better photo for an application to iStock? This image has GREAT emotion, nice looking models, a little logo that could be easily removed, and a strong stock message… enjoyment of life, brothers, friends, guy time, retirement, bonding, vacation, etc… it’s a very versatile photo! I haven’t seen it at 100% to comment on the technical aspects, but the overall “stock-y-ness” of this photos is wonderful!

Well, that does it for today’s post. :) I hope it’s helped you all some in your progress toward becoming an istockphoto.com contributor.

Thank you, my sweet reader, for letting me share your photos, critiques and tips online! I know it’s helped lots of fellow istock hopefuls and I hope it’s helped you, too!  Love you bunches! ♥




Jenny @ The Southern Institute

Wow, Michelle! If I ever get around to taking pictures and applying, I’m having you critique them first! Excellent!


Send them on! :)


Thanks Michelle! You’re my first Wed morning place to visit while I sit down with tea before the day begins! :-) Very very very helpful post! I will reconsider some of my submissions selections. Basically I’m getting the idea that they like very clean, uncluttered images, right? And also sometime could you talk about what causes the purple fringing so it could be eliminated in the first place? That’s very new to me. And what causes the pixilation on the back seat of the car? Could that have somehow been avoided too? And is there minimum dimensions (is that the right word?) for a submission? Can you take an image like the cross and just crop down to what you want to submit? Ok..i have more questions…but I won’t harrass you with them all at once! :-) Thanks again Michelle!!


Good questions! There seems to be debate on what causes the purple fringing… it might be a lens/camera issue. We used to have it often and now have it much less as our cameras have increased in quality. But there are other possible causes. What’s really most important is how to get rid of it. I will make a strong mental note to touch on that next week. Until then you might want to google, “removing purple fringe” and see what you find. There are lots of ways to get rid of it. I’ll share what I use next Wednesday… promise. :)

I’ll talk with Steve about the cause of pixelation and get back to you on that. :)

Minimum photos are 2 megapixels (that’s around 1200 x 1800)… pretty small. So you can crop a photo (we used to do that a lot), but after awhile you’ll start to learn what a stock photo looks like and start to shoot like that naturally. :)

And you’re right on the clean, uncluttered images. :)

Thanks for the GREAT questions! Hope you’re enjoying your tea! :)


ok, one more question…there’s so much I want to learn! The clouds in the photo of the cross… I seriously love them! At what point do some of the issues become a personal preference thing? I think they add a softening element that contrasts well against the strong rectilinear form of the cross and roof line. And I also, LOVE the pop of the orange bricks against the blue sky!! And the introduction of the lime green strip of wood is a great third accent color that draws the eye up to the cross. The colors seem to work into a bold, happy combination. I do see what you say though about the circle window being snipped a bit. When you point that out it becomes glaring. So, all that to say, when does it just boil down to personal preference as to what is “stock-y” enough and what isn’t? I would think that the original composition still left good room for copy and the bold colors would look great on a glossy magazine page. And with the rule of thirds the focus is still very much on the cross even if you leave the roof line and bricks in. I’m just thinking out loud here. Any thoughts on all that? You’re the expert! :-) I’d love to know if I’m off track in my thinking. It will help me know how to choose selections to submit better. Thanks for your “coaching!”


There’s a lot of personal preference going on… we have some photos with clouds and some without, but the ones without seem to do better, so I’d suggest one without.

And I agree the colors and composition (other than cutting off the window) are wonderful. It would make a great print for sure. The only problem for stock is the lack of a good answer for the question, “What would the ad be about?”

It would be a TOTALLY cool shot from a vacation, or to sell in a store, no doubt.

But, without the colorful building and clouds it’s a lot easier to answer the question above, right?

It could be used in an ad about churches, Easter, coming to the cross, having faith, etc…

Does that make sense?

So, stock photography isn’t so much about being able to take a beautiful, artistic photo; it’s more about being able to take a clean, crisp image that can be used to portray a thought (or many varying thoughts) for ad work.

Love your questions! Send more if you have them! :)


Let me clarify here that the original photo could be used for an ad about Easter or coming to faith as well, but it brings in another element… it’s more personalized… hmmm… can’t figure out how to say/write this well… it brings more attention to the colorful exterior than it does to the cross. It makes you think that the church running the ad is going to be colorful like that…

It’s hard to explain, but I hope I’ve done it well enough.

Btw, churches are a large source of customers on iStock. We’ve found Steve’s images at MANY local churches (websites, flyers, inhouse publications…).


Btw, I’m nowhere near an expert, just have a little experience under my belt and love to teach! lol


Here’s a thought I wanted to share…

Stock photography is very plain and simple… functional, so to speak. And a lot of photographers hate it! For photographers who love to capture great shots with color and creative elements, it might drive them crazy to have to pare down to the most simple shot for an ad. But for photographers who don’t mind giving up the artistic side and focus more on making a great shot rather than taking a great shot (lots of set up and hundreds of photos with models and props manipulated to get a good “stock” photo) there’s money to be made.

But, some photographers find that they don’t want to give up their creative expression to make a buck or two (or a few thousand). ;) And that’s totally understandable! There are lots of other ways to make money, and there’s more to life than that anyway… it’s a blessing from God to enjoy your work – whatever your work might be. :)


many more thoughts, but will need to wait till a day with a bit more time! all my personal fraddle time is gone for the day! time to do for the family! thanks for the great conversation…even if it has to be drawn out.

Betsy at Zen Mama

Wow! They’re gorgeous photos. Hard to believe there’s anything wrong. Can you tell again what cloning is? I’m sure I could look back and see. Thanks! I’m getting closer but will probably have to wait until school is out (in one month!! Yeah!) to actually apply.


Cloning is where you take a section of the picture, copy it, and move it to another section of the picture. I’ll try to remember to add a little tutorial, or a link to a good one next week. :)

So glad school is out in a month!! Yeah to vacation!! :) Looking forward to seeing how your application with iStock goes!

Deb Chitwood

That was fascinating – thanks, Michelle! I thought the original photos looked great but can see how your suggestions improve them. Even though I’m nowhere near applying to iStockphoto (and may never be if it isn’t my calling), it’s wonderful to know what’s important in stock photography. And so many of your ideas are helpful for any sort of photography. You’re an awesome teacher! :)


I was lucky to be acceptedthe first time but finding your blog after that, I must say it is a great help for anybody who wants to start selling their pictures. None of us is perfect and it is easy to omitt something. Great job!



So I know this article is a few years old, but I was wondering if you’re still offering to critique photos. I took a few in a national park near me and I feel that at least three should be good enough.

here is the link: http://imgur.com/a/qYoUI#0

if anybody has three they think would have the best chance, let me know!
thanks :)

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