Quick Tips for Getting Into Stock Photography

Quick Tips for Getting Into Stock Photography


Getting accepted as a stock photographer can be a difficult and frustrating process. Especially when your best photos get rejected by photo reviewers. After helping many photographers trying to become accepted as Shutterstock contributors, I have discovered how the process can instead become a fun and educational experience.


Why become a stock photographer?


Earning money on your digital photography work is a great way to earn an extra income. But it is often not the main motivation for why many people try to become contributors. Being accepted, and being able to call yourself a stock photographer, means something. Similar to how many people develop their skills so they one day can become a professional in their field, being able to call yourself a stock photographer will for many mean more than saying you’re a professional photographer.

When someone presents themselves as a professional photographer, people tend to have different views of what that means. Some associate a professional photographer with someone that makes high quality photos. Others may think of the person they hired to photograph their wedding. Or perhaps someone that has their photos sold in a gallery. Some may think a professional photographer is only someone that has a diploma, or someone that works full-time and earns their main income from their photography.

Being able to say you’re a stock photographer says something about the level you have reached. Why? Because the stock photography industry is well known for its high quality requirements.

Furthermore, the best part of being a stock photographer is knowing your work is being purchased, appreciated, and used all around the world. With modern tools like Google image Search, you can back trace and find were and how your most popular photos are being used.


Are you qualified?

If you know how to make a manual exposure, get the focusing correct and have a good eye for correct white balance, you’re most likely qualified to become a stock photographer.

Expect to get rejected

It might take a few attempts. But once you’re accepted, as many existing stock photographers can testify, it made them an even better photographer. A rejection of your initial submission might feel like a disappointment at first. But take advantage of the feedback and suggestions provided. Your initial submission will most likely be more strictly evaluated than the general submissions you’ll make in the future after getting accepted.


Find the motivation to learn

Try to see your first submission as a homework assignment for reading the stock agency’s submission guidelines. Like any course or workshop, your first homework assignment is not expected to be flawless. There will most likely be room for improvement. With this attitude, learning about stock photography can be an educational, fun, and even motivating experience.

The first batch of photos is the hardest

For example, when signing up to one of the most popular stock photography sites like Shutterstock, you are asked to submit 10 samples of your best work. Seven of these must pass the strict inspection of their reviewers. But if rejected, you’re provided with great feedback to help you improve your photography.


It gets easier after getting accepted

As any existing stock photographer can testify, your initial batch of submitted work is much more strictly evaluated than the general submissions you will make in the future after getting accepted.

You’re closer to getting accepted than you might think

A submission that is not approved is often not completely rejected either. Many rejected photos can have only one minor issue that can sometimes even be fixed with a little editing. Even though it may feel like your entire batch of submitted work was rejected, you might only be a few adjustments away from getting accepted.


Try again. Many existing stock photographers did.

Many existing stock photographers did not get accepted on their first attempt. For every initial submission that is not approved, take good use of the feedback that is required. See it as a free portfolio review from experts in the field. Be inquisitive, study the material and try again!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kjell Leknes runs the Amsterdam Photo Club, organizing more than 30 events per year for local photographers. He is also a Shutterstock community leader, helping many photographers become stock photographers. See more on his own website and the camera club site.

  • moklo

    I passed the test and first submission in istockphoto.com and dreamstime.com but failed in shutterstock. I read a lot of guides before I made my initial submission because I have heard, even PROs, sometimes fail in the initial submission test. My advice is never shoot wide open, use f4 and above, have a definite point of focus, learn about composition(the inspectors always follow the rule), keep it simple and clean. Avoid coma, flares, and other photo defects. They prefer photos with space to write like plain blue sky, etc.

  • arbus

    I thought the stock photo industry was killed by the internet.

  • Kathy Sandlin

    I thought It was horrible, how do you come up with 10 tags for a leaf? Awful fussy, and they do not want editing, no filters ect. Had me going in circles, 3 out of 10 was accepted and I had to wait a few months?(I can’t really remember) before trying again.

  • Snow Ghost

    Good advices! Thanx for sharing. I dream to become a professional photograph and I am reading everything that I can find about it from tutorial books to blogs. I start my photography education from this https://keepsnap.com/blog . Very interesting blog.

  • Snow Ghost

    ThanQ for sharing! Great tips! Yes it’s unpleasant when my photos are rejected. Photo is my passion and hobby. Recently I decide to earn some money for it on keepsnap.com/. Also I have found a lot of helpful tips. So I am on a way of becoming a real professional stock photographer=)

  • I didn’t have trouble getting my original submissions approved to join Shutterstock, iStock, Dreamstime, or Alamy. But, I still have trouble getting anything accepted by Shutterstock that is not taken under controlled lighting.

    Like others I thought maybe they just didn’t want anything with much post processing, but many photos included in ShutterBuzz (the contributor blog) do include clear signs of processing. Which I like. Just wish I could figure out a formula to shoot for their criteria.

  • Making a living from stock photography is an extremely daunting task now that the number of photographers has exploded and the photographic tools have become so accessible to everyone.

  • You learn the most from rejected photos. I have been learning from shutterstock for 10 years now. This shot took 5 re-edits before it got accepted.

  • Jerry Mathers

    I’ve noticed at least one of Shutterstock’s editors is in the habit of rejecting all or most of a batch. When that happens, I will look at what they claim the problem is. If I can’t see it then I will just wait a few weeks, then re submit the same images but 3 or 4 days later from the original submit day (if I submit on a Sunday, I will resubmit on a Wednesday or Thursday) and a different time. This has worked more than once and often leads to images that were denied, being accepted. If you read the boards on their website, folks there have even nick named this person Attila. The funny thing is that 2 of my best selling images were initially rejected.

  • They have keyword tool to help with keywords. What I do I go to shutterstock and search for photos which are similar to the one I want to submit, so I just look at the keywords other photographers using.

  • I will not say I make living out of shutterstock, but this month I crossed $300 which was first time ever in one month and it definitely helps with paying off my online purchases. It was harder in the beginning, and my uploads were rejected often. But with time you learn to see what can be accepted/rejected. Now I rarely get rejection (maybe due incorrect category which I resubmit and get accepted in the end)… good luck everyone!

  • Gabriele Cripezzi

    THe problem is that stock agencies (I work with 3 of them) lowered the quality, making it easier to get in, and that has hurt the pros.

  • Zdenka Darula

    Nice article.. I’ve been shooting stock for 11 years now, full time… yes it is a long process but once you are in it, you’ll enjoy it and learn tons. I’ve created many videos on that topic.

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