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 iStockphoto.com. 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.
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.
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!
Door - REJECTED.
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.