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Woo-Hoo! Got Accepted To iStock This Morning!

Now I know this probably isn't a big thing to most photographers, but this is the third time I've tried to be approved for the iStock stock photography selling site, so I was well chuffed when I got the email this morning:

"Congratulations, the iStockphoto administrators have determined that your files are commercially and technically ready for Please begin uploading at your convenience."

If you've seen many of my photographs you'll know that I'm usually pretty heavy handed with my editing and post-processing, so I had to alter my style to gain the possibility of actually selling some of my images as stock, so lets look at where I went wrong, and where finally I got it right!

First I'd like to explain a bit about the iStock Photography Site. Its the most popular place on the web place where designers, newspaper editors, webmasters and anyone who needs a cheap photo can go and find cheap Royalty Fee images that they can download and use in their projects.

This is stock photography - not fine art - so the people that buy the images have different requirements. They're going to be using these photographs on the web, in print, in adverts, etc, so the subject can't contain trademarked or copyrighted objects. If you use people, you need to get a model release to say they agree to their image being sold. If the subject (eg house / car) could be clearly identified as being theirs by the owner, you need to get a property release for them too.

iStocks editors (the people who'll be approving your photo's) have very high quality guidelines too - they know their clients want clean, noise-free photographs that they themselves can work on after they've bought them. Photos must be sharp, exposed correctly, free from noise and chromatic aberration (purple fringing), and also be commercially suitable.

So why did I bother to jump through all these hoops? Two reasons.

The first was the challenge, satisfaction and affirmation of getting someone to look at my photographs and think "Yup, these are good enough to sell." That might seem a bit odd, but it can be hard to judge whether your own images are actually any good or not. I'm not saying that "Stock" photographs are great photographs, and its a certain style, but when you post your images for critique in forums or on Flickr, the feedback can be great, but its from people who are doing it for fun.

When the iStock editors look at your photos their primary interest is "does this photo reach the high standards of iStock images" and "will it sell?". To me this means you're getting a professional to critique your photo's for free - someone who's paid to do it, and it gave me great satisfaction to know that they've let me in the door - it's now up to me to produce more "stock" style images.

The second reason is money. If someone downloads a small version of your photograph, you'll earn 18p. If they download an extra large version you'll earn £2.75. I know this doesn't sound like much, but your images can be downloaded again and again, by uploading to iStock you're creating a reserve of images that could be downloaded and creating a (small) income for years to come.

The downside to all this is that iStock want a certain type of image - technically correct and commercially viable - and their editors choose, so you've got to take extra care choosing your subjects, how you take them, and what you do in post processing. To get accepted to iStock you need to read their Photographers training manual, take a little test, then submit three example images plus a photo of some photographic id (passport) to prove who you are.

So lets look at some of my images that got rejected, then the ones that got accepted, and why.

Lee On Solent Groin - REJECTED.
Lee on Solent Groyne

This was part of the first batch I photos I submitted back in April this year - I was heavily into HDR at the time. I really like the image, but you have to understand that the iStock editors will look at your image at 100% zoom, and this photo just has way too much noise and artifacts - it would look horrible blown up much bigger.

Beach Huts - REJECTED.
Lee on Solent Beach Huts

Again, there's way too much noise up in the sky.


This was part of my second attempt at iStock, where I ditched the HDR, but still made the mistake of editing the photographs too much. The iStock rejection comments were that I changed the photograph too much from the original, which was true. I had really played around with the levels and hue / saturation.

Viewing Platform - REJECTED.

I really liked this one, and tried to keep my editing to a minimum, but lets take a closer look:

Viewing Platform - REJECTED - 100% Zoom

Few! What a mess! No wonder it got rejected for artifacts!


I went real simple for this one - simple composition and subject - but it got rejected for Chromatic Aberration or purple fringing. Lets take a closer look:

Door - REJECTED - 100% Zoom.

Look along the edge of the white wood door-frame. See the purple / blueish shadow? That's CA or Chromatic Aberration, more commonly called purple fringing. It usually occurs when you photograph subjects that have strong contrast, and my S5700 can suffer quite badly from it. However, if I had spotted it in post I could have corrected it with a hue / saturation adjustment layer in Elements, or the Camera RAW editor in Photoshop.

All Tapped Out - ACCEPTED!

This was the first image that got accepted by iStock. Its incredibly simple. I used a large aperture and got close for a depth of field effect. In post processing I just straightened it, cropped, used noise ninja, and slightly adjust the levels.

This photo, compared with my rejections taught me some lessons. I had to shoot at the highest possible quality setting in my camera (The S5700 just shoots jpg, not RAW - RAW would be the best choice). I had to shoot at the lowest ISO possible (64) to reduce noise, plus use Noise Ninja to get rid of any other noise. I had to use a high shutter speed or tripod to get eliminate blur. I had to shoot in subdued light (not harsh sunlight) to reduce the chance of CA. I recognised that my camera works best with subjects that aren't very far away - not beyond the point at which my S5700 starts to focus to infinity .

Although I recognised these facts, I didn't feel very enthusiastic. This wasn't my style of photography, what I found exciting. Who wants to take pictures of taps? Then my attitude started to change. I realised that my camera could be used for stock photography (always a nagging worry). I realised that someone had said "Yep, that's good enough". I realised that I might actually be able to sell some photo's! The challenge of finding and capturing this style of photographs spurred me on to keep my eyes open for similar subjects while I was out and about on photowalks.

Old Brick Wall - ACCEPTED.

Another success. Simple subject, taken on an overcast day. Taken at a medium focal length to avoid the distortions of the wide-angle and extreme telephoto, because the bricks would have shown this up easily. Taken at low ISO (64) to avoid noise, and a fast shutter (1/640th) to avoid blur. Post processing consisted of Noise Ninja, rotate, then crop. Nothing else.

Turret Warning - ACCEPTED.

Another simple idea. Medium focal length, simple subject in overcast lighting. Noise Ninja, rotate and crop the only post-processing (in Photoshop Elements).

So there it is, I'm '"In" at iStock - next up I've got to upload some images (I'll start with my accepted example images) and get them approved for sale.

If you fancy having a try at getting into iStock, have a go, just be ready for rejections and be open to changing your style and work flow to get through the approval process.

Thanks, Rob.

Reader Comments (25)

Congratulations Rob!
Always a good feeling to realise a commercial acceptance.
Well done on the 'share and tell', a little open help can go a very long way.
I wish you all the best with your stock photography.

Oh, and please don't stop your creative editing, they may not be commercially viable but are still a pleasure to view!

September 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVictorW69

Congrats! I have a love/hate thing with Istock, but they are my #2 earner. I love them because they SELL SELL SELL, but I hate them because their commission sucks and my acceptance rate is the worst. But, seriously, you should do very well there. Their rejections are at least something you can learn from, and the reviewing is very consistent. Good luck!

September 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine

Hi Lorraine, thanks for the encouragement!

Took a quick look at your site, I think I'll be spending a lot of time there!

Thanks again, Rob.

September 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

I find that funny, because iStock themselves say that they DO NOT need any pictures of brick walls in their quality standards :D
However, congratulations to you!

September 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteryamaneko_

Ha! You're right, I guess they let me slip through!

Cheers, Rob.

September 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Actually they don't publish the 3 photos you send for acceptance. They only use them to check whether you master the basics of composition, lighting, post processing. So, I guess a brick wall could pass inspection for acceptance, but it might have a harder time passing for contribution.

September 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Funny thing is, the brick wall got accepted for contribution...

September 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

I am reviewing my pics to apply to iStock. Did you send your first pics in one-at-a-time? I know they ask for 3 in the beginning, but do I have to send in the 3 together?
Thanks for your help.
BTW, Congrats on the acceptance. I hope what you like to shoot and what sells converges for you.

October 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Hi Steve,

I submitted my pics three at a time, the first few got rejected straight away, but I kept on submitting until I got accepted. Once One gets accepted, you submit two, then one, etc.

Cheers, Rob.

October 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hi Rob,

Just to let you know , thanks for the advice on big stock photo , I thought i would have a dabble , i uploaded five images and two of em were accepted!!.

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Clark (Clarkysnap)

Hi Matthew,

That's great news - gives us all an extra reason to shoot!

Cheers, Rob.

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hey, guys. I found an up and coming stock site called Abundant Photo.
You can submit as many photos to them as you like for consideration. I signed up and sent in 5. 2 got rejected but the other 3 got accepted. And once they were accepted, they were placed on the site immediately. Plus, you get 50% commission which is pretty cool.

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDennis

Dennis...buddy...please post the photos that got rejected. I bet I could give a camera to a 3 year old with "special needs" and it would be 10 times better than the images on that site. If anyone thinks I'm being a jackass or exagerrating, feel free to check it out. there are only 24 photographers at time of posting and one of them puts GUNS ON CARPETS in every image. The photos are all shot with 1994 point-and-shoot cameras or possibly 2004 cell phones.


April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

I know you wrote this a while back but it's a good story. I just submitted my first set of three photos yesterday for admission to the istock site. I am hoping they make it but realize they might not on the first try. I shoot with a Nikon D40X and don't to a whole lot of post-processing. Congrats on making it in and hope to join you there soon.

The site Dennis mentioned is terrible. Some of the photos are decent (not stock quality), but most of them have terrible composition and quality issues.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Hi Daniel,

Good luck, and don't take any rejections personally, just keep going!

Cheers, Rob.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Hi Rob
We are currently preparing a property brochure for a new development in Marine Parade East, Lee on Solent and I was wondering if you had any suitable pictures we could look at.
Doug Saunders

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Saunders

Hi Doug,

Mostly Sunsets, here's a set on Flickr:

If you need something more specific, just drop me a line.

Cheers, Rob.

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

I had 3 rejections already and your post made me realise that I have to be more simple to get accepted. Liked your photos, and gratz for your acceptance ^_^

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLoreathan

how long did it take for them to process your application? :)

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersammy

I think it was about a week.

September 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

I just got my second round of rejections from iStock this morning.

It's been better than a year since the last post, so things may have changed, but I got both my rejections in less than 24 hours. However, after the 1st rejection they make you wait 3 days before you can submit more. After the 2nd rejection they make you wait 7 days.

The unfortunate part about iStock is that their rejection notice is very generic - check the iStock training manual to learn how to take better pictures. So, it's been kind of a trial and error process for me. Would be nice if they would provide some constructive feedback.

I think I've finally come to a similar realization to one mentioned above - iStock is not looking for art, they're looking for something simple with broad appeal. I guess I need to retrain myself to take pictures that others can use versus pictures that are appealing to me. a week to go capture some uber-interesting images of walls, traffic signs, and paper clips. Wish me luck.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrichard

Great article, very helpful. Thanks

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRavage

Great article! I'm just now where you were a few years ago...just got my 2nd rejection from istockphoto....but did have 4 photos accepted by Alamy! Thanks for sharing your rejected photos and showing/telling why they were rejected...a big help!

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanmarie

I can hardly believe that I uploaded 3 pictures for acceptance for the first time tonight and got accepted as a contributor within a few hours. Really wasn't expecting that, has something changed in the system?

October 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Not sure, but maybe its that you submitted some great photos!

January 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

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