How to Get Accepted as a Microstock Contributor

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Yes, ArfoAt some microstock agencies you need to have a sample of your work evaluated to be approved as a contributing photographer or illustrator. They do this to maintain the quality of their portfolio. They also need to protect themselves from spending too much time and resources reviewing submissions from photographers whose photos aren’t yet commercial quality.

I’ve seen professional photographers with 20 years experience rejected by microstock agencies. There’s plenty of reasons why this happens regularly. Don’t underestimate the evaluation. It’s not easy.

I’m a hobbyist photographer and when I first started I had very little experience. I had to work harder than most to get through the process. I was rejected 3 times at iStockphoto, rejected twice at Shutterstock and rejected once at StockXpert. Here’s what I’ve learned from these experiences.

Wait Until You’re Ready

Maybe you just completed your photography degree. Maybe you just got your first digital SLR camera. Maybe you just discovered microstock. Whatever your situation, do some research and planning before jumping in. Why? Some agencies enforce a ‘training period’ if you’re rejected. At Shutterstock you need to wait a month before reapplying after a rejected application.

Apply with Technically Good Photos

If you don’t know how to spot noise, know workable composition and understand exposure, don’t apply. If you want to make any respectable amount of money with microstock, these are things you’re going to need to know very well. Resist the temptation to jump right in with what you’ve got if you don’t know if it’s good or not. The Internet is full of great resources to improve your knowledge of photography.

Apply with Commercial Photos

Do the research for what photos the microstock agencies are looking for and what they don’t want. Start with my post about what not to submit. If you apply with the same old images the agencies see all the time, you’re far less likely to be accepted. Give them some exciting and original photos they’d love to have in their portfolio.

Be Realistic

You think it’s simple, but this is the most difficult part. Unless you’re an experienced professional photographer, you are the worst person to judge the quality of your own images. Get opinions from people who know about photography. Don’t ask your partner or your mother. People who love you are not a good choice – they’re biased. If you can’t find any professional photographers or graphic designers, find some photography forums where you can upload your photos and have them reviewed by (mostly) knowledgeable strangers.

Test the Market

Not all agencies require you to submit examples of your work. Take advantage of this and contribute a few of your best photos to see what gets accepted, and if so, how it sells. You’ll quickly get a feeling for the quality of your photos and how they fair in the microstock market.

Don’t Make Rejection Mean Anything

We humans have an amazing capacity to take a piece of information and make it mean all sorts of other things. It rarely does. If your application is rejected, it does NOT mean:

  • the reviewer doesn’t know what they’re talking about
  • it’ll never work / I can’t do it
  • your photos are crap
  • that agency is crap
  • microstock is crap!
  • you’re a bad photographer

Here’s what is does mean:

That agency doesn’t consider those particular photos as an appropriate example of the images they’re looking for at this time.

Many great photographers – and ‘potentially great’ photographers – have, and will continue to, deprive themselves of a rewarding and highly passive source of income by making the rejection mean something it doesn’t mean. Use the advice in this post, use the advice in your feedback from the agency, improve your photography, and re-apply.

Posted August 17th, 2007 by


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