Learn from the refusals

Darn, my photo got refused. Never mind, I will make another one and submit it when I catch some time.


That is not a good thing to do. Have you at least checked the email you received based on refusal or you've just deleted it after reading the subject line?

Well, let’s start this way. I am an editor on Dreamstime, one of largest stock photo sites in the world. You know what I love to do with photos and illustrations users submit? I love to APPROVE them. Yes I do, really. I am just an ordinary guy with some required knowledge gained through years of photography in field of stock, wedding photography, teaching photography and of course editing. I also know that bitter feeling when you take photo, transfer it to computer, do some editing on it, give it proper title, description, keywording and after a few days of waiting, photo was refused. We have all been through that. Usually there is no big problem. In 90% of cases, problem leading to refusal is easy to fix. All you have to do is to read the email that was sent to you. It contains guidelines on what you should pay attention to and what is actually the reason for refusal that need to be fixed so that image can be accepted.

When I started my submissions on Dreamstime (long time ago actually) my approval ratio was low. At that time, cameras were less capable than nowadays, computers were much slower, and rules were more strict than now. With every refusal, step by step, I was learning things I should do to get my photo accepted. I clearly remember when I first got refused for copyright, my God what did I do wrong to cause copyright problems - but no, I just forgot to remove one tiny logo. Even now when I am writing this I am laughing :)

If I would have to start over my stock portfolio I would first read useful links on stock site and then take my camera, shoot and submit.

Usually there is completely other way of submitting that some users prefer: I take my camera, shoot, submit, get refused, submit more, get refused, submit even more, get refused, then talk with some friend who is submitting to stock sites and tell him the story about getting refused, and after he asks you why you got refused - you will answer I don’t know, I can’t read so many mails. Quite wrong and not logical way of doing something that will potentially bring you some money.

If you are beginner and not sure, submit a few photos from series you took and wait for review to see if photos are OK. If you get refused, read the refusal reasons, maybe you just need to correct the title and the description, or you missed some tiny logo on t-shirt, and it is much better to get refused on few photos than to get refused on few hundreds of photos on the same issue, you will agree with that.

We, editors, usually take every effort to get your photo online, for instance I personally would not refuse an image if you sent it with one word misspelled in title, I will correct it and approve that photo. If you took photograph of an interesting event with people and forgot to submit it as editorial stock photo, I will move it to editorial section. Sometimes users make tiny mistakes, where we refuse one file and write custom reason for refusal where we give you direction on what you should pay attention to and what corrections to perform not to get your next batch of photos refused, also if needed to correct images already online to improve potential sales.

Did you know that great photo without proper title, description and keywording will probably never sell? Yes it is true. For instance we all use search engines on our mobile phones, laptops, desktops, to retrieve info that we need on a daily basis. Sometimes it is just some simple search and in some cases it is more complex. What would you do if you searched for computer equipment in your town and got a list of sushi restaurants in Tokyo? :) Same rules apply here. When you give title to an image, make it simple, but quite in relation to image you are submitting. Describe it also based on the content of an image, don’t describe it like this please: Lovely photo I took with my new camera on the way to my granny. Even if we approved that description, it would never sell because description is completely irrelevant. If it is a lovely countryside, take your time and describe it properly, describe that photo. Place yourself as a potential buyer, if you need that kind of image what would you search for? Asking questions will give you answers. Based on title and descriptions you will have most of the keywords instantly and if image is good it will generate sales. Sounds quite simple.

Next thing we are onto is image quality

Since you are reading this on stock site, image quality is expected to be as much as it can be perfect. When I talk about stock image quality first question people tend to ask me is what about noise. What about it? If you are capturing landscape photos it is normal that you are not having noise issues on your photos. Set ISO parameter to as low as camera can go, adjust rest of the parameters accordingly, do not over process your image and you won’t have issues. If you are refused for noise there must be a reason for that. Let’s take an example. You are about to photograph landscape and you took your camera and tripod. Framed the image, heard somewhere that for landscape you have to close your aperture to obtain large depth of field so you set it to f29. Then you look around and see bird flying - hey, to capture that I need fast shutter speed and you go to 1/4000, and what ISO should I select - never mind I will let camera do the work by selecting AutoISO and then snapped a shot. And guess what? You did it all wrong. Camera probably took very high ISO value to expose image properly since you left it without light. How to do it right? Place your camera to a tripod first. Best optical performance your lens will give you at certain aperture is usually somewhere between f8 and f11 and since most of landscapes are shot with wide angle lenses depth of field is not something you should worry about. After that, set ISO as low as camera you are using is allowing you to. After you did that, you have to adjust shutter speed accordingly. Take test shot, and don’t let it have overexposed areas. And one more thing not to forget - shoot RAW as it will give you more data to work with in your post processing software. When you finish processing your photo save it in maximum quality in sRGB or AdobeRGB color profile to avoid refusal based on wrong color profile. Also never up-size your photos. Leave them in they native resolution to avoid distortion and up-size artifacts.

When can noise be tolerated? To certain points it is acceptable when photographing editorial photos, or some areas of photography where we know that it would be practically impossible to capture a moment without raising ISO. So for usual photography, keep it as low as you can.

Composition problems

Your photo got refused for lack of composition, but why? It is nice photo. If this happens, analyze it to see where did you go wrong. For instance most of refusals based on composition are because of slanted horizons. When you take a photograph of seascape, landscape, cityscape have your horizon leveled and in most cases you avoided being refused on that issue. Also pay attention to details, check your photo on 100% zoom to see if you missed something. If it is nice landscape and happens to have old can of beer on the ground - remove it in post processing. Make it look nice and tidy.

Got refused for lighting issues?

Well, here in this area there can be multiple things you need to consider and best thing to do is to have them on mind when creating stock photograph. At first don’t over and under expose your photo. Sometimes weather conditions and equipment will not allow you to take a photo with good lighting. But if you pay attention to it when taking photo and shoot RAW most of this is not an issue. Avoid harsh shadows and shooting landscapes with dull sky as they are not eye catching in most of the situations. Don’t overexpose your photograph since overexposed areas have complete loss of any information you could possibly recover in post production. It is always better to little underexpose and to pull shadows in post processing than to burn highlights.

Missing model release?

Well when you intent on taking photographs of people, except when you are doing editorial photography, you will need your model to agree on that. Proof that model agreed is Model release document. It needs to be properly filled. If you are using generic releases they need to be in English. Don’t forget to fill in complete model address containing country, city, and street with house number. Model phone number is also mandatory requirement and of course signature. Have in mind that witness need to be person other than the model or photographer.

At the end…

With little effort, all of this issues can be easily solved. Stock photography made me better photographer, and every day I see our users submitting better and better content and I am glad seeing that they are making a progress. If refusal reasons stopped them, we would’t have over 65 million photos on our site. No, those are not refusal reasons. Consider them as guidelines to improve your technical skills and to improve your sales.

At the end of this I would like to hear from you where most often you go wrong.

Your article must be written in English

October 19, 2017


Very usefully professional style article. Nice work

October 17, 2017


Professional and excellent article
It is very useful
Thank you!

October 16, 2017


Great article! You have described my experience exactly. I have learned a lot in the past ~3 years and my sales and acceptance rate reflect that. Also, getting better equipment and checking to see if a topic is saturated on DT helps too. Thanks!

October 10, 2017


It is a usefull article and I can use some information. Thanks for your lessons.

October 07, 2017


I agree with your article! I too have become a better photographer due to image rejection. Thanks for sharing!

October 07, 2017


No refusals - nothing to learn. Since my last 57 uploads no photo was rejected.

October 07, 2017


great blog. thanks for sharing.

October 05, 2017


Most of the time my images are rejected due to focus or blur issues. Some of this is the genre (all tack-sharp or no go) and sometimes it's an editor's preference. *shrugs* My hit rate is high enough that the arguable situations don't bother me anymore.

October 05, 2017


Thank you for this article, I am guilty of not doing much editing on my photos. A bit of a crop or a touch up on exposure is what I usually do. The titles and keywords are time consuming and I can use a lot of improvement there or just let dreamstime handle it. My sales need to improve so this article is extremely timely.

October 04, 2017


Thank you for this interresting article.

October 04, 2017


Good article Dragan. I had an acceptance percentage near 50% the first couple of months I started uploading, with most of the topics you gave above as refusal reasons. I learned and have improved and now my acceptance ratio is 91%. I am still learning and will keep trying to get better, refusals reasons are helpful for the beginner for sure!

October 04, 2017


"All you have to do is to read the email that was sent to you. It contains guidelines on what you should pay attention to and what is actually the reason for refusal that need to be fixed so that image can be accepted."

Too bad this doesn't apply to videos. I had a 92% acceptance rate at one time. Then I tried submitting some videos. My acceptance rate went to 45%. The reason given? Wrong format. Not anything else. Went and checked to requirements, not much help there. Plugged those into my video software and outputted. Rejected again. Haven't submitted a video for years now and unless this gets straightened out, I'll submit to other places that have not only clear requirements, but also tips on how to get there. It's like Dreamstime purposely made it hard to submit videos. I have better things to do rather than spend time trying to out guess the site.

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Photo credits: Convisum, Dragan Djukic, Revensis.