So… I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks that I might try my hand at selling photos online, on one of the stock photo agencies. Since I’ve long believed that the best way to learn something was through total immolation … oh, I mean, immersion… I went ahead and filled out an application at iStockphoto and sent in my three (carefully (?)) selected photos.
I have to admit that when I found out that all three of the images were rejected, I had the same reaction of aggravated disappointment that I know I’m not the first person to feel. But it passed pretty quickly as I started thinking about what the reviewers had to say, and even more quickly after I buzzed around some blogs and realized that not only were rejections common, but rejections are meted out by iStockphoto (and other sites, I’m sure) with the same exact boilerplate text for everybody. So my pics were just among the thousands and thousands reviewed, where I imagine the reviewers click a checkbox on a screen to generate repeating rejection notices. No problem; if that’s the business model, it’s the business model — though frankly I think it might benefit the stock sites and the art of photography as a whole if they treated it as an opportunity to share real knowledge as opposed to knocking photos out of an assembly line.
On the other hand, I will say this: as I read what other photographers wrote about their rejections (no links here, sorry; I don’t want to start something), I came to believe that a lot of people are burning up a whole lot of their creative energy getting all spiky over their rejections. It’s really of no consequence that any one agency rejects any one photograph (or ten photographs or a hundred photographs): it seems to me that rejections are something that someone can either learn from or simply disregard and move on, and neither choice is more valid than the other. But whatever choice is made, should be made quickly.
Anyway, I tried to decide what these rejected photos taught me, based on the iStockphoto form-letter. Here are some of my thoughts; the pictures follow and you can click on any image to view the full-sized original (I just learned how to do that! wheeeee!).
The white orchid was rejected because it’s a flower. I knew they didn’t want any more flowers (see their needed photos list here). I had previously read the list, but it just didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t submit such a photo with my application. Well, now I know; that was an easy one.
This next one was rejected for two reasons: the focus needed to be improved, and the photo “lacked impact” so was not suitable as stock. In other words, they considered it blurry and boring. I guess I could say it’s intended to be a depth-of-field shot, so where the focus should dissolve is largely a subjective opinion … and yet I can see that even as a depth-of-field shot, it would have been better if the architectural piece I’m focusing on was sharp from top to bottom. I know one of my consistent technical challenges is taking straight pictures, both on horizontal and vertical planes; I’m constantly straightening and cropping my pics when I get back from a shoot. Maybe my posture’s bad; if so, I have to learn to compensate (or, hell, just stand up straight!).
As to lacking impact and not stock, presumably they know their market so I accept that. But permit me this one snark: if they think this photo isn’t suitable as stock, they haven’t spent enough time searching their own website. And I still like the out-of-focus eagle in the background.
This last photo was rejected on the grounds that the lighting could be improved. Unfortunately, the response only suggests different ways of dealing with lighting in general, and offers no specifics as to what the reviewer considered wrong with this lighting. Since they are no blown highlights, and the lighting isn’t harsh or out of balance, I’m guessing they considered it too dark overall. Okay, that’s fine … although, realistically, Santa does deliver most of his goodies at night, doesn’t he? In any case, I’ll take this as advice to pay more conscious attention to my lighting when shooting or during post-shoot processing.
Having said all that, what shall I do now? The only rational and creative thing: yesterday I opened an account on Fotolia and have submitted 34 photos (Fotolia doesn’t have a gated application process), all of which are waiting for approval (well, okay, approval or rejection). And tonight I resubmitted three new samples to Istockphoto. Yay, for getting back up on that horse and doing it all over again!
In closing, I wanted to mention two articles I came across while doing some research on the stock agencies. The first is Photography’s Vanishing Middle Class, from the very fine Strobist blog. The second is from Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection, and is called Why Corbis’ New SnapVillage Stock Photography Agency is a Bad Deal for Photographers. These two articles — along with their very well-written comments — touch on so many cultural, social, and market issues that have been made more volatile by the rapid transfusion of digital photography into society, that I can hardly wait to write a detailed analysis of the two.
There have been some nice developments since I wrote this entry. Fotolia accepted 31 of the 34 photos I submitted, so that means I’m officially in the business!
You can see my photos here.
As another important lesson learned, Fotolia accepted two of the photos (Santa and the architectural shot) above that iStockphoto rejected — a probability I had read about in my research that has proven to be true. Like iStockphoto, they declined the white orchid because they don’t need any more flowers; see their list of needs here.