16 Aug 2007 What Not to Submit

Above the Rest, Martin WorkmanWriting my last post on microstock reviewers I realized how many photo subjects are over represented. Take a look at this:

Undesirable photos in the reviewer’s account at Shutterstock I linked to in yesterday’s post:

  1. Photos of poor technical quality
  2. Multiple photos of one object in different colors
  3. Ugly naked people
  4. Photographer’s feet
  5. Single tree in a field
  6. Skyscrapers and tall buildings
  7. Money / cash
  8. Blurred tail lights
  9. USB plugs and computer equipment
  10. Old camera equipment
  11. Flowers

iStockphoto provide a list of least needed images. Here’s some of them:

  1. Your dog or cat
  2. Flowers
  3. Flags
  4. Feet
  5. Immediate environment – computer equipment
  6. Light blurs
  7. Brick Walls
  8. Fire
  9. Eyes
  10. Symbols
  11. Sunsets and clouds
  12. Forests
  13. Airplane wings
  14. Your shadow
  15. Backgrounds

Notice any common themes? Feet, flowers and computer equipment are all overdone and not desired.

Are you guilty of submitting photos of some of these subjects? I am!

So What’s Best to Submit?

Look at What Sells – take a look at the top selling images on each microstock website. If they’re selling well, they’re in demand. Start your research here:

Be Guided by Contests – Many microstock agencies run photo contests. Take the topics of their contests as hints about areas of their portfolio they’re looking to expand. If they want more photos of a particular topic, it’s because the topic is selling well but they could use some more images.

Aside from boring the reviewers and costing agencies the reviewer’s time, submitting these over-represented and “convenient” shots is not a good investment of your time. You’ll earn more money submitting well-taken shots of original subjects than gambling that some of your many easy-to-take shots will get through the reviewers.

Better quality and interesting shots will also get reviewed faster. Ever notices that your photos are not reviewed in order? Reviewers want to view appealing photos just like buyers.

Many microstock agencies say in their advice that a good stock photo is planned. This doesn’t mean you planned to take photos today and walked around your house shooting different objects. Do the research, find in-demand subjects or pick a specialty, and plan what the photos you’re going to shoot will look like.

The message coming through loud and clear is quality over quantity.

  • john
    Posted at 10:52h, 17 August Reply

    how would you rank the big 5 or others in terms of difficulty of getting your images accepted?

  • Lee Torrens
    Posted at 12:24h, 17 August Reply

    Hi John,

    They’re tough, at least for me. I imagine the experience of better photographers would be very different. Like all microstockers, I’m working to improve my photography and subsequently my acceptance rate.

    The best resource to compare is this chart of acceptance rate averages.

    Hope that helps.

    – Lee

  • Zbynek Burival
    Posted at 18:18h, 11 February Reply

    Well, those most required pics are usually photos of ppl or other photos requiring some investments, profi lighting setup or studio etc. Please count how many times you must sell such picture for $0.25 or other “funny” payment to earn something. Most of these pics are for dumping prices which means someone shot them during advertisement photo session or contract and offered them as leftovers because they were already paid by another person. This is very unwise, dishonest and this is the true problem of “microstock killing photography” issue. If someone requires profi pictures, also should offer fair price. Microstock does not offer fair price for such pics so I do not offer them via microstock. Thats it.

  • Pixels Away
    Posted at 11:40h, 18 March Reply

    What Sells in Microstock? My Picture Bestsellers…

    Probably, every microstock agency displays their most popular pictures – see e.g., iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, Fotolia, or Dreamstime. Their submission guidelines specify what to submit and what not to as discussed by Microstock Diaries….

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 20:18h, 29 March Reply

    Actually, some of the more downloaded shots(on BigStockPhoto) are of a lone tree, an eye, a rose, technology; etc. I don’t tend to have much faith in the “what not to submit” issue. Pictures of poor quality should not be submitted, though.

  • Steve
    Posted at 15:55h, 14 April Reply

    That’s so funny, I clicked the link to see the top sales on fotolia and there they are. A picture of money, a lone tree, a brick wall and a forest! I think you just have to have the worlds greatest ever brick wall photo 🙂

  • Jackson Wallace
    Posted at 06:06h, 16 May Reply

    I’ve tried two agencies. One is a microstock and has sold images for me, specialty images, and off of 5 sales, I’ve made a grand total of $4, which I don’t even to collect until my total reaches $100. I don’t even get to know where the imagery goes, though it is one use, as far as I know. This is iStockphoto, under Getty, and one of the most legitimate out there. I hate these people. They are destroying the careers of photographers. I spent a day taking these pictures, they were all from the same event, and some lazy designer gets to use them for essentially nothing. I was so appalled by this that I yanked most of my images, and went to another agency Photoshelter, which at least pays a decent amount, but doesn’t have the same draw. Bottom line is that as long as photographers from all over the world are willing to denigrate their work, then no one will get paid well. That said, you can get a few thousand downloads off of the right image, and therefore make 3-5k, so it can be done, but busting your butt across the spectrum in the hopes that one will hit in my mind is totally counterproductive. I’m better off making prints and selling them online or in person or cards. Anything pays better than these people. They pay $70 for a rights-unlimited deal. Some buyer can print a million posters from your image, and you make $70. They can go straight to h*ll and other photographers must treat them the same way if they ever hope to make any living off these guys. Then again, it is just a sideline, but it is no small amount of work, so no thanks.

  • lior iluz
    Posted at 08:25h, 26 August Reply

    actually, you have a mistake there… the list you linked saying it’s iStockphoto unwantet photos is actually a list of photos they DO want. therefor, there is no common themes between the shutterstock’s list and the istockphoto’s list.

    thank you for this great article.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:19h, 26 August Reply

      Yeah, the took the list of unwanted files off that page. 🙁

      You’ll just have to trust my list.


  • Lior Iluz
    Posted at 19:24h, 11 September Reply

    sure will… your site has been very helpful for me with improving my sales 🙂

  • microstockphoto
    Posted at 07:10h, 30 October Reply

    I totally agree with the “quality over quantity” approach.

    But with the current trend in all microstock agencies (lower and lower prices + more and more pictures online) we are sometimes forced to pursue “quantity over quality” as a way to simply stay visible on micro stock photography sites, however absurd and sad.

  • ec
    Posted at 00:17h, 20 November Reply

    i agree with lior that istock says one thing and show another. look at what is on their home page, a dog in black and white. been there for months. shutterstock is no better, check their all time best, and you see trees, and lots of silly girlie photos.
    and zbynek is right about “shot during advertisement photo session or contract”, check out how many top sellers are using pseudonyms. if they are top sellers, why are they so afraid not to reveal their real names?

  • crazy utuber
    Posted at 00:36h, 20 November Reply

    You forgot to add “same shots from the same session”. Both sites will penalize you for sending 2 shots of the same session, with a rejection saying, “send only one”. But if you search a certain keyword,
    you see their top sellers with tons of the same session and even repetitions in just slightly different viewpoint. it really depends on whether they are exclusive or not. or if they know the reviewer.
    Mind you, it’s not just Istock and Shutterstock. One of my favourite sites too is guilty of double standards. Zymmetrical will reject a shot saying , “the lighting limits the sales potential”, or “fringe”, “off colour”. Yet look at the image they have on front page, a guy in the wrong lighting, fringe tinged and in the most absurb color . So really, it all depends if you know the reviewers.

  • Stefan Gustafsson
    Posted at 18:17h, 19 July Reply

    Great article! Pretty much sums it all up. I liked the reviewer’s post aswell, being a reviewer myself i know how frustrating it can be sometimes.

  • Bob Kane
    Posted at 02:10h, 14 July Reply

    I see a few contradictions in your article compared to reality.
    1) iStockphoto’s least needed image #1 is a dog or cat.
    iStockphoto’s #11 highest rated photo (last three months) is someone’s pet cat.
    2) iStockphoto’s least needed image #2 is flowers.
    iStockphoto’s #6 & #15 most popular photos (last three months) are flowers.
    3) iStockphoto’s least needed image #5 is computer equipment.
    iStockphoto’s #4 most popular photo (last three months) is a computer.
    4) iStockphoto’s least needed image #11 is Sunsets and clouds.
    iStockphoto’s #4 most popular photo (last three months) is a sunset with clouds.

    Of course, these are not your contradiction but rather iStockphoto saying they do not want something but then accepting it and having it do well.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 02:28h, 14 July Reply

      Hey Bob, thanks again for another great comment.

      There’s no faulting the evidence you’ve cited. They are clear contradictions.

      I would a few things though.

      First, are those popular images old ones? That is, uploaded years ago? They may be successful due to the algorithm boost have a history of strong sales, plus appearing high in the ‘downloads’ sort order. This means these specific photos can sell a lot, even though the subject (pets, flowers, sunsets) doesn’t sell that much. This theory runs against the oversupply aspect, but may still be a factor.

      Second, just because those photos sell well doesn’t mean iStock (or any other agency) doesn’t already have “too much” of them. They are notoriously the most common subjects because they’re easily available to almost everyone, and almost always free to shoot.

      Third, saying they don’t want any can be a filter, effectively saying “this is common so only submit *exceptional* photos of these subjects”. Of course everyone things their own bugs-on-flowers shots are exceptions, so they would still submit. Saying “we don’t want any” probably means they get fewer.

      Fourth, I know the reviewers get extremely bored of these topics. The agencies are paying reviewers to inspect thousands of sunset photos a day, and having to pay them more due to the boring nature of the job when reviewing sunsets, bugs-on-flowers and pet photos. You can understand their wanting to minimize the quantity of submissions of those subjects for both their bottom line (we’re all in it for the money) and the sanity of their reviewers.

      So in summary, you’re absolutely correct that these are contradictions, but there’s solid logic behind it when you look deeper. Thanks for bringing this up.


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