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Light Advice: Avoid Rejection for 'Poor Lighting' or 'Lighting Problems'

As a contributor, you may have received one of the following rejection reasons for a submission:

Poor Lighting: Image has exposure issues, unfavorable lighting conditions, and/or incorrect white balance.

Lighting Problems: Image contains color fringing and/or inappropriate lens flares.

Lighting and exposure issues are among the most frequent technical problems we come across in reviewing submissions, and can be caused by a number of different factors.

Avoiding 'Poor Lighting'

Example: Overexposed image

Example: Overexposed image

If you've received a "Poor Lighting" rejection, it means that one or more of the following issues is present in the image:

- Incorrect white balance; color tones appear too cool (blue hues) or too warm (orange and yellow hues).

- The highlights in the image are overexposed and/or there is a loss of detail in the shadows or highlights.

- The overall quality of light is too flat or there is too much contrast.

- The subject is lit in a way that produces unflattering shadows.

Example: Underexposed image

Example: Underexposed image

The old adage, "measure twice, cut once" pertains not only to carpentry, but also to photography . While we now have a variety of methods for improving exposure after the fact, no amount of Photoshop magic can replace getting your lighting right at the time of the shoot.

If you're shooting in a controlled lighting environment, like a studio, it's important to get the light tested before you begin shooting. Establishing good lighting on set can save time and money by cutting your post-production costs, and it's much easier to fix a lighting issue at the shoot than trying to adjust levels in post-production, which can degrade the quality of your image — even if you’re shooting in RAW.

When setting up your shoot, take a lot of well-focused test shots. If possible, shoot with your camera tethered to a computer with a large, color-calibrated monitor. Be sure to preview each image to determine where your lighting might need to be adjusted. There are a few other handy tools that can quickly improve your lighting. A light meter will tell you what the desired exposure should be, and a grey card is an easy reference for setting accurate white balance.

If you're shooting outdoors and relying on available light, keep in mind that the light will be changing throughout the day. Bracketing — taking a number of photos using a variety of camera settings — is a good way to experiment with alternatives to get the best exposure possible.

Avoiding 'Lighting Problems'

“Lighting Problems” as a rejection reason refers to color fringing and lens-flare issues. Color fringing, or chromatic aberration, appears as colorful edges around objects. From a scientific perspective, this effect occurs when light wavelengths aren't meeting correctly at the same point of convergence. Chromatic aberration is common among lower-quality lenses, but can occur in better lenses as well. Most photo-editing software offers tools to eliminate some aberration, but may not remove all of it. You can also zoom in to your image at 100% and erase the prominent fringing by hand in post-production.

Example: Color fringing

Example: Color fringing

Close-up: color fringing appears as purple haze around branches

Close-up: color fringing appears as purple haze around branches

Many contributors manipulate their white balance or utilize lens flare to enhance the feel of an image. As long as the effect adds a new and creative element, we love this type of work. The review team most often rejects an image if the white balance looks unintentionally warm or cool, or the lighting detracts from the subject matter. If you're using lighting in a creative way, you can always leave a note for the reviewer stating your intention. It will help us evaluate the image with your vision in mind.

Example: Unintentional lens flare

Example: Unintentional lens flare

Getting the perfect light in any shooting scenario can be tricky, but by following some of these simple rules, we hope your prep time will be well spent, and more of your images will become a part of the Shutterstock collection!

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