Getting Approved As An iStockphoto Photographer

I don’t know about anyone else but I sometimes need to motivate myself by means of a good challenge. I’ve always loved it when someone says to me: “That’s not possible, it can’t be done. Just forget it!” Guaranteed I will do whatever it takes to prove that person wrong and thoroughly enjoy the process!! So whilst lacking a little motivation/inspiration or maybe both, I took to the various photo forums to have a browse and just chill out. On the first forum I came across a thread where a few pro photographers were bemoaning the fact that their applications to become an iStockphoto Stock Photographer had been turned down for varying reasons. It seems that iStockphoto is the most stringent of the stock photo sites when it come to judging image quality so your images need to be pretty much spot on in order to gain approval from their administrators. Now I know pretty much nothing about stock photography but I thought this would be a decent challenge so I decided to give it a go.

I did some reading and gave it a little thought and decided that first off I’d submit three images I already had on my HD, just to gauge the reaction of those standing in judgement of them. I knew they wouldn’t get me approved as they weren’t the kind of images people would be looking for in editorials or advertising but I just wanted to see if the istockphoto administrators would invite me back to submit some further shots. It seems that if they don’t much like your initial submissions they’ll ask you to come back and re-submit in 1-6 months time, whereas if they do like the images they’ll either approve you straight off or ask for further evidence to be submitted within a few days.

Here are the three images I sbmitted:

Omega Seamaster 120

Omega SM120
Zenith El Primero 1969 New Vintage

FujiFilm X100 With RRS BX100 Grip

Fuji X100

In my humble opinion all three images are OK. Not perfect but they’re decent shots. None of them, however, are the kind of images stock photography sites will sell many of and all the images are a bit too similar in style. The files above are just the smaller versions, BTW. The ones I sent in were at least 1600 x 1200 pixels and about 5.5mb each. But..hey ho, let’s see what they say.. Within twenty four hours the reply came back that I had expected and hoped for:

The iStock administrators have asked that you upload new samples based on the feedback provided below. You’re welcome to return in 3 days, upload some new samples and we’ll re-process your application.

Comments from the iStockphoto Administrator:

Two or more of these images are very similar in subject matter, perspective or style. We would like to see a demonstrated range of diversity in technical ability and a variety in subject matter. So if you have anything else you can show us we would love to see it. We welcome you to return after the number of days specified and upload fresh samples of your work and we will re-process your application. Please note that you will not be able to upload new samples until this waiting period has passed.

OK, so it would seem they liked the image quality but they were now asking me to show that I could produce the kind of images that would actually sell with some frequency via their agency. Right, let’s give it a shot!!

The first thing I did was to sit back for a while and consider what kind of shots I was used to seeing in magazines and editorials. They would often be quite generic in subject matter, the composition would need to leave space for text and/or logos and they would always be technically perfect.

So what should be there and what shouldn’t?


1. Images need to be minimum 1600 x 1200 pixels.
2. Must be jpeg format and about 5.5mb per image.
3. They must be free of artefacts, chromatic aberration, dust, fluff bunnies and sensor dirt. Just good, clean images.
4. They should be sharp but not over processed.
5. There should be some real estate left for the addition of text and/or logos from those who might purchase them.
6. The subject matter should be relatively generic but of the kind that companies and advertising agencies might be searching for.


1. Be necessarily images that you normally take and love.
2. Be over-processed.
3. Be standard snapshots of pets and family. Think outside the box a wee bit.
4. Be inappropriate.
5. Be under or over-exposed. Technically they need to be spot on.
6. Images should NOT have been up-sampled or “rezzed-up”. In other words, you can’t increase the pixel dimensions to be larger than the file’s native size.

OK, I had three days so I decided that there would be no more dipping into the archives! I was going to shoot one fresh image each day and submit them all on the third.

Day One was a pretty lousy day weather-wise so this one was going to need to be done indoors. Having just got up I sidled up to the cupboard just as the kettle boiled and reached for my mug and the coffee. The mug I chose was one of a set from well-known designer Emma Bridgewater. Beside it stood a tiny version of the same mug that we’d bought for our now four year old son. Sipping on my rather delicious latte I reached back into the cupboard and took down the tiny mug and my wife’s mug, upon which is glazed the words: “I love You”. Hmm… I set them down on our light oak kitchen surface, close to the window, carefully positioned a couple of perspex sheets to kill some odd reflections and placed the mugs exactly how I wanted them. I then set up the Nikon D300s on it’s tripod, set it to manual and shot away. The resulting image was this one:


Day Two saw better weather so I moved into my little conservatory studio and pulled down some white vinyl. I dressed my little son in a nice shirt and blue jumper, sat him at a small, light wood coffee table and asked him to “work” on his Mum’s 10″ laptop whilst I made obnoxious noises and clicked away with the cable release. I can’t post the resulting image here as my son is adopted and we’re not allowed to post images of him online but needless to say it was your typical smiling boy with a white background but as he was working on the PC I entitled it: “Early Learning” and again figured it was the kind of image that plenty would search for and buy. The white background provided plenty of space for text etc.. and I made sure the image was noiseless and ultra-clean, even at 1000%.

Day Three and my final image. I really hadn’t decided what to shoot but outside it was a lovely sunny day. Whilst making the morning coffee I noticed my wife’s washing swaying in the breeze on the line that extends the length of our garden. When I was finally 100% compos mentis I trudged outside and picked up a few brightly coloured pegs. A polarising filter later the shots were taken and I was busy processing in PS CS4. This was the result:

Clothes Pegs

Right, time to submit those suckers and see what happens! The files were duly uploaded and the wait began. Again, twenty four hours later and the results were in!

Dear thirtyfivemill,

Welcome to iStockphoto the Internet’s original member-generated image and design community.

Congratulations! The iStockphoto administrators have determined that your files are commercially and technically ready for Please begin uploading at your convenience. There is currently a limit of 18 uploads per 168 hour period.

To upload files, please click on the Upload Files link found in the navigation bar.

Thank you for your time and effort.

Best regards,
The iStockphoto team


So there you have it!! IMO, the first set of three shots were technically far more difficult to achieve. The latter three were actually relatively easy to achieve with the camera and post-processing wasn’t overly taxing, either. What was slightly more taxing was thinking outside of my usual box and working out what iStockphoto actually wanted to see me demonstrate to them. I have a feeling many of the pro-photographers that failed to make the cut simply fell at that last hurdle. Keep it simple and give the administrators of the stock photo sites what they want to see and you should breeze it.