Lockport, IL, United States

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The Twilight Zone of Stock Photography

For the last eighteen months or so, I’ve been submitting images to stock photo sites. About half of them are accepted; some have even sold, and my sales are increasing steadily. Not that I’m going to be rich anytime soon, you understand. I’ve earned enough in a year and a half to pay for one month’s Internet service….

So I’m making a real effort to understand what goes into a good stock photo. Aside from technical excellence (good composition, color, focus, etc.) it needs that special something known as “commercial value.” Whatever that is. Last week I submitted 33 images, and 32 of them were rejected. I KNOW the batch wasn’t THAT bad. Moreover, the one that was accepted was identical to one that was rejected except for different post-processing techniques. I’m totally baffled. It’s like a parallel world where the rules are different and constantly changing based on a paradigm I haven’t mastered.

My friend Dave can sometimes be prevailed upon to offer critique and suggestions, which are always helpful. (Thanks, Dave. Much appreciated.) But sometimes he is baffled, too. And that’s when I feel the urge to scream and beat my head against the wall. I seems at times that the editors just hit the accept/reject buttons at random. Judging from comments I’ve read from other photographers, I am not alone in that opinion. Thank goodness for RedBubble, where I can publish whatever I feel has merit.

I do, however, have another outlet for my frustration. I have a website, where I can publish my work and my feelings about my work. So I’ve started a page which I guess qualifies as a blog , a kind of essay with photos. Come on over and have a look, and see if you can tell which images were accepted and which were rejected. And if you can figure out why, you might send me a Bubblemail of gently-worded guidance.


  • JanT
    JanTalmost 3 years ago

    Great website!

  • Thank you. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too, and I think it has improved my hit rate on both RB and the stock site. Thanks for looking and commenting. :-)

    – MarjorieB

  • Guendalyn
    Guendalynalmost 3 years ago

    NE PA CAPI….

  • kathrynsgallery
    kathrynsgalleryabout 2 years ago

    I appreciate your frustration, Marjorie! I have investigated a number of stock photography sites, but have only stayed with one of them.

    They all have different rules, but in general they prefer unedited pictures. Those that accept collages generally prefer white as a background colour. Unframed pictures are preferred, or pictures with very fine borders.

    Also, no matter how good a picture is, if they already have a sufficient number of the same subject, they will reject it. Editing techniques can affect the way in which a photograph prints out and they have their ways and means of working this out, when deciding whether to accept or reject an image.

    They are mainly interested in photos for journalistic purposes and real life is preferred over artistic in most instances. If the editor of a magazine or website needs a picture of a pair of shoes or a vase of flowers, being a busy man, he will have a number of such sites as sources of “quick fix” generic pictures to illustrate his articles. An editor of a magazine in the United States is not going to send one of his photographers to Holland to photograph a tulip, for instance. He will search the stock photography sites that he regularly uses. The more unusual something is, the less likely it is to be taken up. A good picture of something everyday is more likely to be accepted that something highly unusual, which the site may be able to sell or license only once, if at all.

    I have had a number of rejections. The reasons given were either “technical difficulties” or “an oversupply of similar images”. I am glad of RB too, where there is a good community spirit, and where you can post whatever you want provided it conforms to the clearly stated RB criteria. I hope that this helps.

  • Thanks so much for your encouragement, Kathryn. I seem to be doing a bit better nowadays, so maybe I’ve got the hang of it, at least a little. Then too, I think much of it is personal tastes on the part of the editors. I have found that if I submit photos early in the week, the Wed. night guy rejects a large percentage of them, but I enjoy a much better acceptance rate if I upload late in the week and the Sunday night guy reviews them. Yes, I’ve even tried submitting some of my old rejects with no changes, and they have been accepted. ;-D

    You are right, the “artistic” touch is not always the key to acceptance. I’m getting quite nice sales on some very simple shots of ordinary objects—a pair of old sandals, charcoal in the grill, four aces from an old deck of cards, a wall of gym lockers. Bright color seems to be important, and the rule of thirds. But that’s at the site I use most. I have a few pix up at other sites, and the criteria seem to be quite different.

    Another thing; I’ve managed to get over 900 pictures accepted now, and I noticed a distinct increase in sales at about 700. I think there may be a critical mass in the size of portfolio. Furthermore, my acceptance rate for submissions increased at about the same time. I’m wondering if there’s a psychological component in this reflecting the old adage “Nothing succeeds like success.”

    Anyway, thanks again for your kind words. Sympathy and understanding always make the world brighter.

    – MarjorieB