Photos: Top 5 Rejection Reasons & How to Avoid Them

In 2017, we announced a new approach for Photodune while also including photos as part of our subscription service, Elements. In order to build a library that stands out and offers what customers have been asking for, we moved away from the standards generally used by the Microstock industry, to refocus on quality with a definite shift towards more natural, authentic looking content.

For those reasons, a rejection doesn’t automatically mean that the photo is bad or even that it has no commercial utility, just simply that it’s no longer in line with the new library requirements.

Here are the 5 most frequent rejection reasons and how to avoid them:

  • Composition/Lighting
  • Authenticity
  • Overprocessing/editing
  • Editorial and Intellectual property
  • Too Similar images

1. Composition/Lighting

Lighting should always flatter the subject, 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.

Generally speaking, 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. You could also choose to shoot on an overcast day, as the clouds help diffuse the sunlight.

It’s also important to always keep your target audience in mind, both who may want to use your images and how they might use them. With subjects as common as flowers, pets, sunsets, travel photography, we will be even more selective.

Here, the composition is cluttered and random. The photographer is casting his shadow over parts of the image. Overall, it’s simply not a great or useful flower photo.

In this example above, there is a similar subject but the lighting here is nice and soft, with a composition that is simplified and effective. The short depth of field helps focus our attention on the flowers, the colors are good and natural. There is also some copy space, which all results in a much better shot.

Here we have a beautiful image, but 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 on the right.

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 often end up looking unintentionally crooked.

You can also refer to this article regarding travel photography as we decline many for composition/lighting. It can be a very useful category but there’s a thin line between travel photography and travel snapshots to be aware of.

2. Authenticity

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

The model in the photo to the left is holding blueprints while laughing and looking at the ceiling, resulting in an image that simply isn’t realistic.

On the other hand, everything about the image to the right, including the models’ posture and expression looks genuine, making the image more credible and useful.

3. Overprocessing/Editing

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 different ways.

In the first photo to the left, a yellow tint was added to the image and this would be declined for being over processed. Similarly, the photo in the middle has had a light effect added in the lower right corner. This would also be rejected for over processing. In the photo to the right, we have added heavy vignetting, so this would also lead to a rejection.

Lastly, we have the same natural lighting and interesting point of view, but the colors are much more accurate and natural. This photo below, is the version we want.

Things to avoid:

  • Overlaying colors (like the yellow example)
  • Oversaturating/desaturating
  • Heavy use of HDR (you can notice halos around objects, it starts looking like a 3D render).
  • Adding lens flares, gradients, fake sun effects, replacing skies, etc in post-processing
  • Heavy vignetting
  • Fake tilt-shift effects or fake depth of field
  • Overlayed text, graphics, snowflakes, etc.
  • Blurring faces, logos, signs, etc (everything must be properly cloned out)
  • 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.

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).

4. Editorial and Intellectual Property

Photodune does not offer editorial licensing and therefore, 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 the face is not completely visible). There’s also many people on the sidewalk and signs, logos, license plates, etc. These types of images should not be submitted. You can work around this by using long exposure or short depth of field when shooting.

Any real world product that has a distinctive design (recent cars, SUVs, motorcycles, smartphones, iMac, 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 limited commercial utility.

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, activity, 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).

5. 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, composition, 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 with significantly different shots. If you haven’t done so already, we also encourage you to have a look at your portfolio and remove any photos that might be too similar or that may be weaker than the other photos you already have.

From this batch for example, maybe 2 or 3 would be worth uploading as the rest would not serve a different purpose.

Runner-up (Ok we said 5.. but here’s a bonus one!)

6. Wrong Content Type

This is about the content that we no longer accept on PhotoDune.


Flat textures should now be sent to GraphicRiver. Please see this article for more details.

3D Renders

While we still approve 3D renders, they need to meet very high standards including accurate modeling, high polygon count and proper texture mapping. It should have great lighting, composition and be photorealistic. Please see this article for more details.


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.

Please see this article for more details on our requirements and review this article to better understand the differences between GraphicRiver and PhotoDune submissions.

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

You can also follow our lookbook to view more examples of the type of content we are looking for!

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