10 Most Common Mistakes for Photos in 2018

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 in the digital age. 

With the improvements to PhotoDune and the addition of Photos on the Elements library, we want to bring the fundamentals of high-quality photography to the forefront and celebrate the real and diverse world we live in.

Here we have compiled our latest guide on the 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. 


It’s often easier to tell when an image doesn’t feel authentic, than when it does. Here we have two examples – both are very high quality, have good lighting, composition, nice short depth of field, natural tones but there’s one aspect that is better in the second image.

Here the model is holding blueprints while laughing and looking at the ceiling resulting in an image that simply isn’t convincing or making much sense in the context.

Processing Wooden Board by pressmaster

This photo the other hand is quite different. Everything about the image including the model’s posture and expression looks genuine, making the image more convincing and useful.

Father holding a happy toddler boy upside down by halfpoint

Here the photo depicts a father playing with his kid and everything about the image looks and feels genuine and credible.

Editorial and Intellectual Property

PhotoDune does not sell editorial licensing and so images that fall under that category should not be submitted. Having editorial images used commercially represents serious legal risks for all parties involved and this includes yourself as the photographer and author.  Photos that contain people that could potentially recognize themselves in the context (even if face is not visible) always require model releases.

This photo contains many people who could recognize themselves (including the man in the foreground even if face is not completely visible). There’s also many people on the sidewalk and signs and logos, license plates, etc. These types of images should not be submitted. Also, please note that blurring faces is not an acceptable alternative either.

This photo is unacceptable because it depicts a recent motorcycle. The same applies to recent cars and SUVs built after 1999 and for some brands, we may reject it 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, software interfaces, 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 lens 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 many 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 without a property release 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 and we will be very selective as they often have very limited commercial utility and serve better as travel souvenirs.

I don’t have a model release but we don’t see faces… so it’s safe right? Simply ask youself 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 face is not visible).


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 we have the same image processed in two different ways.

On this version, a yellow tint was added to the image, so this no longer meets our requirements and will get declined for being over-processed.

Women on the bed sleeping by herself by Rawpixel

In this version, there is the same natural lighting and interesting point of view, but the colors look much more accurate and natural. This is the version we want.

It’s easy for many customers to add effects if they want, but removing them is often impossible. Also, keep in mind that the more you process the image, the shorter it’s time life will be as it will end up looking outdated as opposed to naturally processed images, which tend to be more timeless (unless obviously the subject itself is specific to a time period).

Things to avoid:

  • Overlaying colors (like in the example above)
  • Heavy use of HDR (you can notice halos around objects, it starts looking like a 3D render).
  • Adding lens flares, fake sun effects, replacing skies, etc in post-processing.
  • Adding heavy vignetting
  • Fake tilt-shift effects or fake depth of field
  • Overlayed text, icons, snowflakes, etc.
  • We still accept composites on rare occasions, but the execution must be flawless (depth of field, lighting, perspective, isolation, everything must fit together as if it was just one image and it must have a strong concept).

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.

Happy New Year Cards And Invites Mockup Maker by oloreon

The added text and graphics means that this image should be submitted as a template to GraphicRiver to allow customers to add the text they need (or don’t).

Cookies spelling bake by RuthBlack

In this case, the text is actually part of the photo (and not digitally added) and therefore, would be acceptable.

Commercial Utility

When choosing your subject, always keep your target audience in mind – those who may want to use your images and how they might use them. With subjects as common as flowers, pets, sunsets for example, it’s even more crucial that the shot is really high quality and has commercial utility.

Here we have a typical flower snapshot. Lighting and composition are random and the photographer is actually casting their shadow over parts of the image. The flowers themselves, are also not all in good condition. Overall, it’s simply not a great or useful flower photograph and this would get rejected.

Closeup purple lavender field by dotshock

This photo has a similar subject but the lighting here is nice and soft, and the composition is simple, yet effective. Nice short depth of field and good colors. Overall, a nice and useful flower image.


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 between 10h00 and 14h00 unless you are willing to work with artificial lights and/or reflectors/diffusers.

This is a cute personal family souvenir but because of the poor composition and both faces bring cropped or partially hidden, it has very little utility and would be rejected.

Sleeping Baby by Halfpoint

In this image, the lighting is nicely balanced, composition is void of distracting elements, there is a natural expression/posture and nice short depth of field. Overall, it’s a well executed and useful image.

Travel Snapshots 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 as just that – souvenirs of our travels. Also, with these kinds of photos, keywords and description accuracy are very important, so customers know where it was taken and are able find the right image for their specific needs.

Here we have a snapshot of a small hostel in Central America. Poor lighting (direct flash) along with a random and cluttered composition. Still a fun picture to share with friends to show them what you could afford for 6$ a night, but this image has very limited commercial utility.

Aerial view of amazing boats at sunset in Marmaris, Turkey by den-belitsky

Here we have an example of a good travel photograph. It’s has an interesting point of view, beautiful lighting, colors and a nicely structured composition. As travel photography is quite an accessible and abundant subject, we will be extremely selective and only the very best should be submitted (example above was obviously approved).

Here we have a beautiful image but in the version with the red border, the horizon is slightly tilted to the left (done by us intentionally), resulting in a distracting composition. When shooting landscapes, it’s important to make sure the horizon is level, as the author did with the original version.

The same often applies to architecture photography, where the lines (both vertical and horizontal), often play an important role in the composition. You want to avoid slightly tilted images that can end up looking unintentionally crooked.

Too Similar / Repeated / Spamming

It’s always a good idea to take as many photos as possible so you’re sure to get the perfect shots where the lighting, subject, posture, facial expression all come together at the right moment.  However, please do not upload the complete series 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 have to go through very similar images to find the best ones.  Please curate your photoshoots and only upload the very best and significantly different shots.

From this shoot for example, maybe two or three would be worth uploading.

Isolated Objects

When shooting isolated objects, please avoid framing or cropping out portions of the object. In the example on the left, the butterfly could easily be integrated in different designs, but because the tip of the wings are missing, it greatly reduces its usability. 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 blends in seamlessly with the background).

Wrong Content Type

Please review the content we no longer accept on PhotoDune below and check out the technical requirements for backgrounds and textures here


Flat textures should now be sent to GraphicRiver.

Seamless diamond patterned steel floor or wall by blackartist

This flat background would be declined on PhotoDune and should be submitted to GraphicRiver.

3D Renders

While we still approve 3D renders, they need to meet very high standards including accurate modelling, high polygon count and proper texture mapping. It should have great lighting, composition and be photorealistic. See the technical requirements for 3D Renders here.

Six Network Connected by ccartgraphics

This 3D render would be declined on PhotoDune because it does not meet the photorealistic requirement.


Illustrations, including rasterized vectors and paintings are no longer accepted on PhotoDune and should now be submitted to GraphicRiver where they will be evaluated against their own quality standards.

Review the differences between PhotoDune and GraphicRiver here and the details around upload requirements here

Vector Sea Landscape With Lighthouse by primulakat

This vector illustration would be declined on PhotoDune and should be submitted to GraphicRiver.

So as you plan your portfolio, understanding these 10 common mistakes will help to ensure that your photos meet the latest content requirements for PhotoDune and Photos on Elements and therefore, your approval ratio remains high.

You can view more examples of the type of content our specialists are looking for by checking out our Envato Photos Lookbook

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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