10 Most Common Mistakes for Photos

Being in an increasingly visual world, the demand for high-quality and meaningful photography is more relevant than it has ever been. Photos provide a pathway for businesses, individuals, and groups to communicate themselves in a way that is real and marketable, especially in the digital age.

This has been reflected in our improvements to PhotoDune and the addition of Photos on Elements library, bringing the basics of high-quality photography to the forefront and celebrating the real and diverse world we live in.

As a new Photos Author that is still exploring and understanding content submission requirements, or those in need of a refresher of best practices – here is a list of 10 most common mistakes we’ve encountered (and how to correct them) as recommended by our Media Specialist and Photography Expert at Envato.  

By understanding the guidelines and avoiding these mistakes, not only should your approval rate improve drastically within the marketplace but you will also be increasing your chances of commercial success.

Editorial and Real-world products

Photodune does not offer editorial licensing and therefore images that fall under this category should not be uploaded. Having editorial images used commercially represents serious legal risks for all parties involved, including yourself.  Photos that contain people that could potentially recognize themselves in the context (even if the face is not visible) always require model releases.

This photo would only be acceptable if each person in the picture has a model release.


This is unacceptable because it depicts a recent motorcycle. The same applies to recent cars and SUVs built after 1999 and for some brands, we might reject even if they are older. The design itself is protected and cannot be licensed commercially (even when all logos are removed).

Any real-world product that has a distinctive design (smartphones, tablets, toys, game controllers, etc.) should not be uploaded unless they have been modified to the point where they become generic or their brand is unrecognizable (for example removing all buttons, microphone and camera from an iPhone would result in a fairly generic design), in which case the editing must be absolutely seamless.

Other legal aspects to be mindful of:

  • All logos and trademarks must be properly cloned out from the images (not blurred). See this article on Trademark Use.
  • Most places you pay to visit will require a property release (zoo, museum, etc). The same applies to events, shows, competitions, permits will usually be required and releases will be needed in order for the images to be used commercially (in most cases that won’t be possible).
  • When shooting building interiors, always provide a property release (unless it’s very generic and plays a small role in the image).
  • Most buildings that have very distinctive designs cannot be submitted even if shot from a public place (unless they are a small part of a landscape for example).
  • European castles (unless they are ruins) are not allowed.
  • Sculptures and art, in general, should be avoided unless you have a property release.

I don’t have a model release but we don’t see faces…so it’s safe right?

Simply ask yourself this question:

If it was me in that picture in that context (clothes, hair, location, tattoos, ID numbers, etc), would I recognize myself? If the answer is yes or even possibly, a model release is required (yes, even if the face is not visible).

Commercial Utility

A very basic subject may or not have commercial utility depending on how it’s captured. When shooting, always keep your target audience in mind, both who may want to use your images and how they will be used. Also, always make sure your photos have proper composition, lighting and exposure.

While the animal itself may make for a good subject to photograph, it has poor composition, is underexposed and has very little commercial utility.


White Russian Borzoi Gazehound Fast Running in Forest | Image by: Grigory_bruev

In this case, we have a beautiful action shot of a dog. Lovely lighting, colors and contrast. The image was adjusted but processing was kept natural. Simply a great image that is much more interesting and useful. This could easily be used to advertise dog food, a veterinary clinic, a pet store, etc.

Here’s a typical snapshot of grass, with very little thought put into it, almost as if someone randomly took a picture pointed towards the ground. Not only is it uninteresting and poorly executed, but there are very few chances of it ever being used.


Wet Grass | Image by: duskbabe

Here is the same simple subject, shot from a different angle and with short depth of field. Better composition, lighting and colors, which results in a much more viable image.


Though we can accept composites on rare occasions, the depth of field and lighting of the different elements should fit seamlessly together and be supported by a strong concept.  Whenever possible, we always recommend shooting the subject in a real environment.

In this photo, the isolation is a bit rough and it’s very obvious the model was pasted in front of an artificially blurred background. The overall posture and expression also feels staged and somewhat unnatural, resulting in this image being rejected.


Construction Worker Planning Contractor Developer ConceptImage by: Rawpixel

Here’s a similar subject, but the difference is that the model was shot on location. The short depth of field keeps enough of the environment, while contributing focus towards the subject. Their posture, facial expression, and the whole scene looks like what we would expect on a construction site. The lighting and processing was kept natural, resulting in a much more authentic and convincing image.

Added text/graphics

It is important that you do not submit photos with composited/overlaid text or graphics (text that wasn’t present in the source image as part of the original subject and added during post-production). Content such as this should be submitted as an editable graphics template or mock-up on GraphicRiver.

This is a colorful image but it would be declined because of the added text and graphics. We want to let the customers add whatever text they need (or don’t).


Wood Open Sign at the mirror door of store | Image by: siraphol

In this case, the text is actually part of the photo (and not artificially added) and therefore would be acceptable (you also want to be sure the signs do not include copyrights or trademarks).

Excessive Processing/Filtering

You can often enhance and bring out the best in your photos with proper adjustments and editing, but it’s important not to overdo it.

Here is a 100% view of a photo that was over-sharpened.  We can see this has introduced jagged lines and increased the noise – this would not be acceptable on the marketplace.


In this case, the author added a lens flare, sun effect, heavy vignetting and warmed up the colors pretty aggressively. It’s simply overdone and it no longer looks or feels authentic. For those reasons, this image would be declined. The trends around vintage processing come and go, but natural looking images will always be relevant because it represents reality as we see it.

There’s an endless possibility of filters out there and exploring them can be a lot of fun, but it often limits how the photo can be used and generally, should not be submitted. It’s easy for many customers to add effects if they want to, but removing them is generally impossible.

Things to avoid:

  • Heavy use of HDR (you can notice halos around objects, it starts looking like a 3D render).
  • Added lens flares, fake sun effects, etc.
  • Heavy vignetting
  • Pushing colors too far off from the original version
  • Fake tilt-shift effects or fake depth of field
  • Overlayed text, icons, snowflakes, etc.


Lighting should always flatter the subject, being not too harsh and not too soft.  When shooting in natural light, it’s very important to choose your timing. Dawn and dusk can provide warm, soft lighting that can be great not only for portraits but for landscapes. The worst time to go out with your camera is on a bright sunny day right around Noon (between 10h00 and 14h00). That’s when the sun is at it’s highest and creates the harshest shadows that are rarely flattering to anyone or anything.

Here’s a typical snapshot of a child where the lighting is too harsh. This could be addressed by shooting earlier or later in the day, using reflectors and/or artificial lighting to help fill in the shadows. Overall, it’s a cute snapshot but due to the lighting, composition and facial expression, it would be declined.


Little Preschooler Writing Activity Concept | Image: By Rawpixel

In this image, natural light was also used (the light coming through the window and reflecting on the book) but in a more balanced and flattering manner, that makes good use of the overall environment to naturally enhance the image. Great education concept and properly executed. (*Book content was created by the author).

Travel Snapshot vs. Travel Photography

Most of us love taking pictures while traveling. It’s a great way to share with friends and family where we’ve been and what we’ve done – but some of these pictures are better to remain just that, souvenirs of our travels.

Here’s a snapshot of a small hostel in Central America. Poor lighting (direct flash), random and cluttered composition results in an unacceptable image. It may still be a fun picture to share with friends to show them what the 1 star hostel looked like, but this image has very little commercial utility as a stock photograph.


Vernazza Village, aerial view on sunset | Image by: StevanZZ

Here’s a proper example of travel photography using beautiful colors and lovely composition. With these kinds of photos, keywords and description accuracy are very important so customers know where it was taken and are able to find the right image for their specific needs. As this type of photography is more common, we will be extremely selective and only the very best should be submitted (example above was obviously approved).

Too Similar / Repeated / Spamming

We encourage you to take many pictures when shooting to make sure you get the perfect shots where the lighting, subject, expressions all come together at the right moment.  However, please do not upload the complete photoshoot and expect us to choose the best ones for you. Customers like to see related images that work well together and variants of a concept, but they do not want to see dozens of photos taken only seconds apart or with no meaningful difference.  Please go through your photoshoots and upload only the most distinctive and very best shots.

Can you spot the difference?  These shots were likely taken seconds apart. Uploading more than one of these would not be acceptable and considered spamming.

Isolated objects

When shooting photos or isolated objects, please avoid framing or cropping out only a tiny portion of the object. In this example, the butterfly could easily be integrated into different designs, but because the tip of the wings is missing, it greatly reduces its usability. It’s unlikely that customers will be able to recreate the missing wing tips and they will simply choose another image (like the one on the right where the entire subject is intact).  Images should not contain an excessive amount of negative space either – the subject should generally fill the frame.

The background also needs to be pure white, free of dirt, marks, or anything else that would prevent a customer from directly pasting the image on a white background (view example on the right, there’s the shadow but the rest is pure white and mixes in well with the background).


For photographs intended primarily for use as textures/patterns, they should be submitted to the textures category on GraphicRiver as an individual texture or texture pack instead.  

For example textures of wood, paper, fabric, etc. where one or more of the following apply:

  • The image is shot with a flat-on, more 2-dimensional perspective
  • The pattern/object is relatively uniform and fills the entire image
  • The image is seamlessly tileable

Brickwall | Image by: xponentialdesign



Diamond PlateImage by: alexkar08

The above textures should be submitted to GraphicRiver instead of Photodune.

Understanding these 10 common mistakes will help to ensure that your photos meet Envato’s new content requirements. This will help you to better meet the needs of your customers in a highly competitive and quality-focused environment.

If you have any questions or want to continue the conversation, jump over to the forum and connect with your fellow author community.

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