Top 5 photo rejection reasons and how to fix them

May 26, 2020 / by Taras Kushnir

Getting rejection emails from microstocks is very frustrating. And while sometimes they are completely ridiculous, usually there’s something you can improve or learn from it. In this article we try to explain the most common ones and provide some guidance how to fix the problem.


Focus. Your image is not in focus or focus is not located where we feel it works best.

Shutterstock may think you should have focused a different part of the image


This is by far one of the most common technical rejection reasons. The problem is that even your photo is focused, the focus may be in a different place than it should be in the Shutterstock reviewer’s opinion. Sometimes people get this rejection if a photo was taken without a tripod and some small shaking occurred, visible only if you zoom to 100% and more. Another reason for this rejection could be “artistic look” in your photo, but pure art is usually discouraged on microstocks.

How to fix

Usually there’s not much that can be done here. If the objects in your photo are rather small, you can try to sharpen image a bit using Photoshop or Gimp, but if they are big, you cannot fix it in the editor. If you have a strong opinion that this rejection is a mistake, you can resubmit this artwork again and hope that a different reviewer will approve it. But beware to use this too often since you might be banned for spam.


Noise. Noise, film grain, over-sharpening, or artifacts at full size.

You can easily get noisy pictures even in the perfect daylight


This is probably number 2 in the list of most common technical rejection reasons. Noise can be subtle, it can be found in lights or shadows on your image. Reasons could range from inappropriate ISO setting, low light and as far as too hot sensor on your camera if you’re shooting star trails.

How to fix

Good news is that often noise is fixable. If you shoot in RAW, your chances are even higher. There are many advanced applications that can remove noise very well. Post-processing apps like DxO Photolab or Lightroom can do the job as well as photo editors like Gimp or Affinity Photo.


Limited commercial value due to framing, cropping, and/or composition.

Anybody needs an ad of an old piece of wood?


Limited commercial value. What does that mean? Try to think like a buyer. Most common use-case for stock images is advertisements or website banners. The reasons your picture does not work for that could be:

  • there’s no place for advertisement text or call-to-action button on the website
  • you photographed a subject that cannot be used in the ads
  • you shot good subject but poorly framed the photo which renders commercial use impossible

How to fix

Rarely, but sometimes you can still crop you photo differently and make it work. But usually it is almost impossible to fix this rejection reason. In order to make it count, you can make some lessons from it and create a better picture next time.


Missing or invalid Model / Artwork / Tattoo / Property Release

If a person is recognizable, you need a model release. Period.

There are several rejection reasons in this category:

  • recognizable people
  • recognizable properties (that is.. all properties)
  • recognizable artworks, tattoos, etc.


The rule is simple: you cannot sell photos of recognizable people/properties/etc. without their permission. This permission is called Model Release (or Property Release and so on). It’s a contract which gives you the right for commercial sale of photos with the subject in there. If it’s a Model Release, then a person that is on your photos gives you their consent in this contract. If it’s a property, then it’s the property owner that gives you permission. You have to have Model/Property or other Releases for each recognizable subject in your photo.

You can read more about model and property releases in Xpiks blog.

How to fix

If your photo is good otherwise, then it’s relatively easy to fix this rejection: just sign the Model Release document with your model and resubmit. Even better to do it beforehand next time! Good news is that microstocks usually accept model releases signed on a forms of each other. That means if you signed a Shutterstock Model Release document with your model, you can use same document for upload to Depositphotos or Adobe Stock.


Visible brand names or logos / intellectual property rights

This image has low chances against reviewers

There are several rejection reasons that fall into this category:

  • Content contains visible brand names or logos
  • Content contains subject matter that potentially infringes on intellectual property rights


World of copyright it tough. There’s no company in the world that enjoys courts, expensive lawyers and brand damage. Especially the companies that deal with copyright like microstock websites. For this reasons and also because having only single-branded thing on photo reduces commercial use, all brand names and logos are banned from submission.

How to fix

Good news is that usually it is relatively easy to fix this problem in your favorite image editor. Just remove the brand label, paint it over with the background or do whatever is appropriate for your image.

However, if you want to sell specifically this image with a brand or logo, you have to either get a property release for it or submit it to editorial section.

This blogpost is a part of a large series about Shutterstock.

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