Uncover five simple ways to reject-proof your stock images with tips from these successful and established photographers.

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — What to Watch For

Image by Abigail Fahey.

“There are quite a few restrictions when it comes to submitting work for stock photography, and for good reason,” Offset Artist Abigail Fahey tells us. Image restrictions are in place, mostly for legal purposes, protecting both the artist and the buyer. We interviewed 20 seasoned professionals, from both the Offset and Shutterstock collections, to get some insight into five of the biggest rules for stock images.

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Below, you’ll learn the guidelines that great stock photographers follow, and tips for making them work to your advantage. “Don’t feel too disheartened if an image is not accepted,” Fahey adds. It doesn’t mean your photo isn’t good; it just means it’s not right for stock. Use it as a learning experience, and over time, you’ll be a pro yourself.


Remember Your Model Releases

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Remember Your Model Releases

Image by Leslee Mitchell.

“Make sure you have a model release, if you have people in the image,” Offset Artist Ashleigh Amoroso advises. “If not, that’s not an image you can sell.” She’s right! If you photograph a person who can be identified and don’t have them sign a model release, your picture won’t be licensed for commercial use.

This was, by far, the most frequently-mentioned rule among the photographers we interviewed. “When you take pictures, you should really think about the personal freedom and privacy of the people in your photos,” Shutterstock contributor Jaromir Chalabala says. “If you have doubt at all, don’t use the picture, in question, for commercial use.” It’s doubly important to understand the rules when you’re working with children, as you’ll need their parent or guardian to consent to the use of their likeness.

Of course, the boundaries are easier to understand when you’re shooting portraits, but remember that these rules still apply to travel and street photography. “I know a lot of photographers are grabbing shots out and about of their friends, in different locations,” Leigh Beisch continues. “Be aware that it is still important to get a release for all of that, if you are going to make money on the photograph. There are a lot of restrictions on how a model gets paid. If the model is a friend of yours, then make sure they sign the release.”

Don’t worry — some of the experts we talked to kindly shared some of the techniques they use, in avoiding potential problems. Leslee Mitchell tells us, “For beginner stock photographers, my advice is either to have an organized system for working with people willing to sign a model release, or to create content where their faces are not in plain view, so it does not require a model release.”

Mirko Macari, for example, suggests checking your shots while you’re on location to make sure there’s no one visible, without a release. If there is, no problem — simply grab another shot, once they’ve moved out of the way.

Paolo Costa has a few creative workarounds. “If you are going to take pictures of a famous place, like Times Square in New York City, you may have a hard time selling your work,” the Shutterstock contributor admits. “One way to avoid this is to shoot long exposure pictures. Another one is to use stacks, taking lots of pictures from the same spot, but at different times, and removing the people later, in post-production.”

If you’re unsure about anything, check out Shutterstock’s model release guidelines, before submitting your images.


When Traveling, Be Careful with Tourist Attractions

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Be Cautious with Tourist Attractions

Image by Paolo Costa.

Property releases are just as important as model releases. So, if you’re shooting on private property, proceed with caution! “If you’re submitting travel images with recognizable buildings, you will need a property release,” Offset Artist Darina Kopcok warns.

Although the rules vary based on location and use, Shutterstock contributor Jersson Tello, who is based in Peru, agrees that famous spots can be tricky, when shooting for commercial use. “I have noticed restrictions when I photograph some buildings in my country,” he adds. “In some cases, you’ll need permits to upload photos of tourist destinations.”

Shutterstock frequently updates this extensive list of Known Image Restrictions; so, if there’s ever a question, use that as your guide. Some places you may believe to be free game, like the Disney Theme Parks in the US or Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, have special rules for how and when they can be shown.

These restrictions can extend from architectural feats to public works of art. “Artwork can also represent a problem for stock photographers,” Costa continues. “You may not [be able to] sell pictures of paintings, monuments, and even street art, like graffiti, without the required property releases.”

Again, there are handy ways to avoid mistakes. Practice implementing them and they will become a normal part of your routine. “In my work, I have learned how to clean photographs with Photoshop, to make them suitable for commercial use,” Christian Vinces tells us. “In addition to that, I have learned how to highlight the surrounding environment, more than the buildings themselves.”


Steer Clear of Logos

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Steer Clear of Logos

Image by Ashleigh Amoroso.

“You have to respect intellectual properties of others, so that means that you have to be aware of logos or trademarks, when shooting,” Kristian Peetz tells us. “If you don’t have the rights to use them, you cannot depict them.”

This one can really sneak up on you, if you’re not diligent. As Offset Artist Anna Petrow points out, even a simple mistake, like a label on a wine bottle, can be enough to make things difficult. “Anything with a logo won’t be accepted, unless it’s noted in the metadata that it’s for editorial use only,” Kopcok reminds us.

This rule extends even to small objects you might not notice, upon first glance. “I have had incredible shots ruined thanks to a Nike swoosh hanging out somewhere in the far background of a photo,” Scott Biales admits. Fellow photographer Ashleigh Amoroso affirms that, “If you’ve got a very visible Coca Cola can in your photo, you won’t be able to sell it on stock.” Be sure to check out the Known Image Restrictions – Brands and Trademarks list for details about specific logos to avoid.

If you happen to catch a logo, after you’ve taken your shot, don’t panic. A simple edit can sometimes be enough to fix your problem. “For me, one of the hardest parts is to always think about removing labels, trademarks, etc.” Shutterstock contributor Oliclimb tells us. “When editing pictures, it is mandatory that I always look carefully at the whole picture, before uploading it, in order to be sure that I removed all the logos.”

Still, post-processing takes time, and it doesn’t always work. “A mistake I have made, too often on stock images, is to have branded elements in the shot,” Offset Artist Andrea van der Spuy elaborates. “It means that I have to spend time removing the branding. In the case where I could not retouch it out, the image, unfortunately, gets rejected.”

Take precautions: plan out your compositions in advance, shoot multiple angles so you have options, and consider all the details. Abigail Fahey tells us, “When I include my children, I make sure they aren’t wearing anything with a recognizable and ‘banned’ labels, so they don’t get rejected or I don’t need to Photoshop too much out.”


Research Events in Advance

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Do Your Research

Image by Jersson Tello.

Many photographers, including Costa, have faced restrictions when shooting important events. Some events, like the Indy 500 Race, will require you to have press credentials. While photos of other events, like Burning Man, are not acceptable for either commercial or editorial use. Different restrictions apply for runway shows, theatrical performances, and/or events that take place on public versus private property.

Prepare in advance and get all the facts! The last thing you want is to arrive home from a historic festival or sporting event, only to realize that your photos aren’t suitable for stock. You can start with this list of Known Image Restrictions – Events, and make sure you have everything organized so you can submit proof of your press credentials, if the situation calls for it.


Be Aware of Image Quality

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Aim for Quality

Image by Ju_see.

While there can be some exceptions, especially in the editorial realm, it’s important to ensure that your photographs are technically up to par. Obvious imperfections can lead to the rejection of a, otherwise, great photo. “It is very important that your image is clear, sharp, and free of noise caused by high ISO,” Shutterstock contributor Marentze explains.

“It is necessary to respect the buyer and the viewer and not to sell low-quality pictures, with the wrong exposure or digital noise,” Ju_see adds. “Yes, sometimes it is annoying when a photo is rejected for a small depth of field or a blurred background, but it helps to take these mistakes into account in the future, and shoot more efficiently.”

In some cases, it will be a matter of taste. But stay on the safe side. “I try to get the shots that I know will be accepted by making sure I shoot with the correct settings, so I don’t have an issue with grain or blur,” Fahey says. Lighting is also key, as Anna Petrow reminds us. “As for lighting, dull/flat lighting tends to result in rejected images, while interesting lighting — an external light source, beautiful side light from a window — often seems to be accepted,” she reveals.

5 Professional Tips to Avoid Stock Image Rejection — Look for Interesting Light

Image by Anna Petrow.


If you’re ever in doubt, remember that it’s okay to ask questions. “I always ask for feedback when images get rejected,” van der Spuy tells us. Take note of what succeeds and what doesn’t, and build from there. Most importantly, keep shooting! If one photo from a set won’t work, that doesn’t necessarily mean the others won’t. Try out different vantage points and different settings. Take full advantage of every opportunity. “Overall, my best tip is to strive for vast variety in the images you’re submitting: variety in lighting, content, and especially subject matter,” Petrow advises.

Top image by Ju_see.