Adventures in Shutterstock or “We’re sorry but your content was not accepted at this time”

Let’s begin with a bit of background. I’m a computer programmer by trade, Purdue Class of ’96 in Computer Science and I’m currently unemployed. Not the “OMG, if I don’t find a job soon I’m going to be homeless” sort of unemployed but more along the lines of, “I’m unemployed, maybe it’s time to reinvent myself and choose a whole new way of making a living” sort of unemployed. I realize that this is a massive luxury that most people don’t have so hold your boos of derision for the end. I get it that I’m among the 2% if not the 1%.

Since I was let go I’ve pondered rather fitfully the eternal question of “what to do next?” I’m endlessly amused by the written word so the idea of writing… something… occurs repeatedly but I’m absolutely clueless how to break into that vocation or anything related to it. I also tend to go out and photograph things (see, “things”… just the sort of wonderfully specific word that a writer would use. You can tell I’m the next Henry James can’t you?) and since photography is reasonably in demand I dipped my proverbial toe into the proverbial water of stock photography. The initial result of which is to verify that I don’t know a damn thing about stock photography.

I chose as my first point of submission Shutterstock which, after more careful perusal, appears to be a royal pain to get into. They require an initial portfolio of ten photos with detailed descriptions and to qualify you must have 7 of 10 photos “accepted” based on some rather nebulous set of criteria. Below find my ten submissions and Shutterstock’s response to them. As well as my own thoughts after having been rejected.


From 10-24-2012 West Lafayette, Indiana

This is the one photo they did find acceptable. It’s a fish-eye view of fall foliage from above and below in a Lafayette park. Personally I like it but it has a rather other-world quality that creeps me about a bit. I don’t consider it my best work but people seem to like it. I don’t claim to understand exactly why but it’s probably that lack of understanding that makes this at least a somewhat doomed prospect.


From Misc Weekend of 4/1/2012

This was rejected for “Poor framing, cropping, and/or overall image composition” just as all the images except for #10 were. Again, personally, I like this shot. It has an interesting perspective, the name tag is in the lower left but just as ghostly presence, lots of contrasting colors. The only thing that bugs me is the appearance of the trees on the right but they do offer an interesting counterpoint. Not quite seeing the argument against I suppose unless it’s just so damn cliche.


From Random Trip around Purdue – 02-20-2012

Really this one is a demonstration of texture. Nothing magical really but the color here is just off the scale. I could be argued that this is junk but on the surface it seems a reasonable example.


From 6-30-2012 Oregon Day 2 – Crater Lake

OK, I accept that this one is probably in the “holiday snaps” category. You had to be there. But Crater Lake is just so COOL! *shrug* I accept this rejection.


From St Louis, Missouri

Alright, well I don’t care what anyone says, I like this picture, though maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” shots too.


From 03-19-2011

I could see plenty of arguments against this one too, I suppose…


From Douglas Michigan, 7-23-2011 **

A bit cliche too perhaps. Basically just another #2 honestly.


From 2012-01-08

I like this shot too but perhaps it’s too hard to tell what exactly is going on?


From 6-2-2012 Kickapoo Nature Preserve

I can understand if this is rejected as it is just terribly depressing but it still manages to move me. Probably because it is just so idiotically depressing to think about it.


From 7-6-2012 Day 8 – Mt St Helens – Astoria

And this last was rejected due to poor focus. I’m not sure I see that but I allow that it’s possible. The tree bits in the foreground aren’t happy, looking at it in retrospect.

So there you have it in a nutshell. At the least it’s clear that I have no idea how to chose what will sell in the realm of stock photos. It would seem this needs some detailed analysis that I just haven’t done yet. I’m trying to do something artistic while they just want… marketing. Ah well.


  1. Rob, you are an artist…Stock photos have no view, that’s why so many people can use them to sell so many different things. I tried my hand at stock illustrations and met a lot of rejection. When you have a thought and a focus and point of view…you are not “stock”. Be proud of your rejections! I think you have found another career, just not the one you thought you were looking for :)))

  2. Shoot what you want and share your passion with others. If you do this for commercial purposes, you will have many days of second guessing yourself. If you can put up with that, carry on and may God bless you…

  3. I agree with rhondablue.If you are going to reinvent yourself I think you can go beyond google image maker.I like the photos you post on your blog;and I have excellent taste.Seriously though;good luck.I did the reinvent thing in 1988;and believe me it was one hell of a great ride.

  4. I enjoyed looking at your shots! Although I agree with the person above that these seem more like lovely, artistic shots, not stock photography.

    I think #2 is a lovely perspective. While I don’t know much about Photoshop (yet), it’s really easy to remove those trees if you find them distracting.

    And I agreed with you about #9. Yes, it is so heartbreaking, but a very moving shot that really tells a story.

    Good luck!

  5. Gee Rob, I am sorry this attempt didn’t work out but you have a variety of great photos. He probably just need to find the ‘right’ company. Diana

  6. Just to back up what others have said. Your photos are too artistic for stock. I would suggest continuing to work on your skills and passion as an artist, taking photos that YOU like… maybe along the way you will also take some photos that are acceptable as stock. Continue to work along both paths but absolutely do not be discouraged… you are a great photographer.

  7. I’ve got same rejections with same reasons and I decided not to send them any more photos. To be honest I did not understand the criteria that they are using to judge and evaluate photos. Anyways, your photos are amazing and artistic and that’s what matters.

  8. I like some of your pics. And seriously, just as in writing, you’d need to be able to take critique, make adjustments, and re-submit. Now, I’m no pro on photography but a lot of your shots I like. Crater Lake, cropped at the bottom would make a great facebook banner, or wordpress for that matter. Infant tombstone, awesome. It could be the image for a book cover or a P.S.A. Photoshop that banner out of the pic with the Lilies and it would be my favorite.

    • Thanks, KL. And I’m happy with critique if it’s something actionable. I know I’m no expert at this stuff but I don’t know what to do with vague feedback.

      PS: On the lilies, I’d failed to even notice the banner. Poo. Thanks! Now that’s what kind of feedback I can readily accept!

  9. For stock photography, you need to remember that it’s not what *you* like, but what *they* like and what they think might sell – which turns out to be the oddest things, sometimes. Try posting your photos to Flickr, which has an agreement with Getty Images. Because of this, I am now a Getty Contributor and have actually made a teeny bit of money off of some of the photos they selected. Stock photography doesn’t pay that much, and you need to have *alot* of photos with an agency to make anything reasonable. That said, I can at least claim now to be a “semi-pro” photographer and can pay for a tank or two of gasoline now and then.

    • Agreed, and I can try to conform with their standards if I knew better what they were. I just need to be more patient it would appear. Figure out what exactly they’re looking for.

      As for Flickr, good point. More than one fish in the sea. I need to stop being so lazy and properly describe/tag things. More work than taking the photos!

      Thanks, Rebecca

  10. I like your self-assessment, but honestly, I love and appreciate just about all of these photographs. Keep your chin up and listen to your own mind and heart. In the end, you’ll find they serve you better than some random group of judges.

  11. Every month I have to search Shutterstock for images of wholesome happy woman for a book series we do the covers for. We have a contract. I can’t understand why they reject your pics when I can safely say the bulk of pics I sift through are snapshots and of terrible looking people – I have no idea why they are thinking of modelling! The pic are nowhere near as nice as they used to be …

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