As one of the first steps to be a successful Microstocker, contributors must ensure that their images consistently pass the Agencies’ quality control hurdles to be accepted within the collections. Therefore, contributors need to get away from the mentality of simply taking “snapshots”, which is capturing a scene without much thinking just to register the moment.
Before even getting started on selecting which types of images should be in demand, you must have an in-depth knowledge of the technical basics to stand any chance of being a success at this game, which should ultimately lead to downloads and passive income.
More specifically, you’ll need to be aware of the following technical matters to avoid nasty rejections:
- Effective composition;
- Correct exposure / even lighting;
- Strong focus on the subject;
- Low noise / grain; and
- No dust and scratches.
The above five main rejection categories will be discussed individually within this post, starting with creating a good composition.
1. Effective Composition
Starting with the basic technical elements of a good photograph - effective composition.
Composing an image in an intelligent manner means arranging elements within the
frame in such a way that suits the vision of your work best, such as the rule-of-thirds, symmetry, colour combinations and using leading lines (perhaps even a combination of these).
These techniques, when executed intelligently, should ensure that your message is communicated more clearly to potential buyers, as well as being more aesthetically pleasing.
In addition, sometimes designers will want to place a “call to action” within one of your commercial images. Therefore, it’s a good idea to leave some open negative space, also known as “copy space” within your frame, such as the left-side of blue-walled façade in the image below.
Avoiding Composition rejections: It’s good practice to ensure that you’re not placing the main subject of your image anywhere close to the edge of the frame at best or at the very worst cutting off part of the subject, which may occur when shooting models.
Also, ensure that when shooting landscapes that the horizon is straight, although not to worry that this error can quite easily be fixed later on in post-processing with various tools.
2. Correct Exposure / Even Lighting
The word “photography” comes from Greek and literally means “writing with light” and unsurprisingly, lighting is the most important aspect of an image that can either make or break it. Important to be aware that not all light is created equal and you must quickly become proficient in determining how such light will affect your images regardless if it’s natural or artificial.
The first step is to get out of auto mode and master the “Exposure Triangle”, comprised of: Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Any change within any of these three settings will affect the remaining two.
When it comes to achieving a correct exposure, you’ll need to master your camera’s histogram, which is a graphical representation of the tonal values of your image. It shows the number of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph ranging from the blacks (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness). It's a good habit is to review such after each of your shots. This way you will be able to make adjustments quickly and efficiently.
So, what is a “correct histogram”? Usually this means that most of the tones are within in the middle portion of the graph and no or few tones would be found at the extreme edges. If you do “clip” some information on the extremes (either underexposure or overexposure), that information may be irrecoverable in post-processing and may lead to a rejection of your content by the agencies, such as the lighting coming from an airplane window.
Avoiding lighting rejections: It’s best practice to shoot when the lighting conditions are most favourable, such as “golden hour”, which are just after sunrise and just before sunset. The quality of such light is generally of soft nature producing few harsh shadows and in addition to looking most commercially/artistically pleasing. Technically, when using normal settings, it’s less likely to produce overexposure/underexposure issues.
When shooting at night it’s best to use a tripod or if that’s not possible then use a quality flash when shooting subjects close by.
3. Strong focus on the subject
“Focus” issues describe unintentional or inappropriate blurriness in an image, either caused by softness, motion, or poor lens quality. This definition is intended to be separate from the intentional or artistic use of motion blur, such as below. Other examples of more artistic selective focus involve deliberately blurring the background, which is known as “bokeh”.
Aim for super-sharp tack focus, which allows you to direct the viewers’ attention to the subject. When shooting animals or people, the focus should be on the eyes. A lack of focus should be avoided like the plague as it can be distracting and undermine your image’s commercial value. That is if it’s even accepted within the collection in the first place!
Avoiding focus rejections: The following are tips and techniques should resolve common focus-related issues:
- Improve your camera-holding shooting technique to prevent ‘camera shake’. Fortunately, there are many notable YouTube tutorials on the subject;
- Shoot test images and again zoom into your viewfinder at 100% for inspection. If it looks “soft”, time to re-shoot until it’s just right;
- If possible, shoot at a sufficiently fast shutter speeds, such as 1/200 seconds or above. Going back to the “Exposure Triangle” lesson, this may mean increasing your ISO and increasing your aperture (larger F-stop number);
- Use a tripod with a remote release;
- Again, when shooting animals and models, the focus needs to be tack sharp on the eyes, the window the soul; and
- Invest on a quality lens, such a prime-lens with a fixed focal length instead of the “kit” lens that usually comes with your camera body.
4. Noise / Grain
Noise and grain appear as small dots and multi-coloured specks in the photo, and are especially visible in images produced during low-light / high-ISO conditions, such as below which was captured held-held at night. It can also become more evident when “opening up shadows” in post-processing, particularly when the image is already underexposed.
Avoiding noise / grain rejections: It’s important to regularly check your images in the viewfinder at 100% magnitude and later on in post-processing for too much noise / grain. Should you be consistently receiving noise / grain rejections, it may be down to one or more of the following factors:
- Underexposure, so read the histogram better;
- Shooting at high ISO, so try to lower the ISO (if possible) or use a tripod;
- Not properly using noise reduction in postprocessing, although too much noise reduction may lead to a “focus” rejection; and
- Inferior body and/or lens, so it may be worth upgrading.
5. Dust and Scratches
This annoying rejection pertains to images that have sensor dust, scratches, or an unclean background, which look like tiny UFOs usually against the skies.
Avoiding dust / scratches rejections: Unfortunately, this is a common type of rejection if you’re regularly changing lenses and the only permanent way around this is to have it professionally repaired (in the case of scratches) or cleaned in the case of dust. Otherwise, you may learn to do it yourself at home.
Dust is usually most visible against blue skies and the most efficient way to fix these is to inspect your images at 100% when post processing and use Photoshop’s “spot healing brush” tool. See below an example of dust spots from a RAW file.
Dealing Intelligently with Technical Rejections
Rejections will be inevitable for all contributors, especially in the early days. The only way to avoid them is never to submit. It’s normal that after a series of rejections, your hard work will feel fruitless and you may feel frustrated, but just try to remember that it is all part of the learning process. I stress not to take them personally, as more often than not the reviewer, AI-intelligence or not, is correct.
Keep in mind that different Agencies have different review standards, and I rather choose an Agency that accepts fewer images but those images translate into more downloads. In direct contrast to another Agency that accepts everything and your efforts are rewarded with few downloads.
The good news is that it is possible to break free of those old habits that result in these rejections by continuously scrutinizing your images prior to submissions with the tips provided in this blog post. Hope the above have been useful and until next time!