This is called the "Subpar" rejection. Perhaps you're familiar with it? It means there's a certain something lacking from your image that is holding it back from the collection. But what does that mean, "not suitable"? What isn't suitable about it? What the heck is Subpar around these parts?
To clear away the mystery, we sent our Inspectors out with some homework. Take two shots of the same subject, the first with some qualities that they would reject as "subpar". There's just something about a snapshot - something rushed, something lacking, something not quite right - that's easier to show than to explain. A second shot was then added to correct the problems of the snapshot, to make it suitable not just for stock, but for iStock.
We don't reject every picture of a dog. But the fact is, people tend to take lots of pictures of whatever is most common and readily available. In other words, our families, our pets, and our plants. Because these things are so easy, they maybe don't always get the attention they should. That's why dogs and daffodils come away with so many rejections: we're less likely to really think about the shot before we take it.
Let's start out with a little black and white. What's the nearest thing to photograph? This kid clearly doesn't want his picture taken, and even worse, we're not sure that the photographer wanted to take the picture. He hasn't done much to show interest - the composition is arbitrary and doesn't do anything to add life to the subject. The kid hasn't been directed at all; no expression, no engagement, no nothing. It could be technically fine, but who's going to look at it long enough to find out? It sure isn't stock.
Now the kid is into it. We've moved him forward, way up into the frame so he can command our attention. The low angle is set off against the angle of the stairs to get our eye moving. The lighting is moodier and more dramatic, to make better use of the black and white. And the kid isn't just loitering; now he's up to something
. A bland moment that might as well have never happened gets recast as drama.
Everyone likes to take pictures of their pets. They're part of the family, they're always available, they don't need to sign anything, and they aren't going to ask for money if they see themselves on a billboard next week. The perfect models, really.
A snap shot may be technically just fine... no noise, no compression, balanced and exposed and all the rest of it. But if the composition isn't there, the image isn't. In the first shot, the background is quite distracting. Too much stuff going on that leads the eye away from the subject. If you think your pet is cute and likes the attention, let him/her be in the spotlight. Glamour kitty! Get rid of that annoying, busy background. Not to mention the distracting collar. He also seems to be covered in crumbs, so shake him off first.
Throw up a nice background that makes the image more than a snapshot. In this case, the cat liked the warmth of the lights and did the modeling on his own. I just needed to get his attention for a shot that could be useful to more people than just me.
The snapshot is really
a snapshot, with poor lighting and poor everything, really. The background hasn't been thought out at all; the table legs and wall are distracting, with no direction. There are bad reflections on the floor. The dog is in an awkward pose, with his eyes closed, and isn't even facing the camera. In fact I hope that it's not too much of a snapshot. Please don't take my camera away.
The real shot has been thought through much more. We can actually see the subject and get a little personality from him. The DOF makes for some interest, with the leash leading us into the frame. Lighting on the dog is much better, and the background has been cleared of all distracting elements. Overall, everything is better, and adds up to a bit of a concept.
If just getting a child to hold still long enough to squeeze a shutter was all it took to make a stock photograph, we'd have five million images in the collection. This first photo documents a moment, but is not stock worthy for two important reasons: the on-camera flash, and the expressionless look of the subject. She's a cute kid, but no effort was really taken to get her at her best. Either one of these issues alone would be cause for rejection, but together they send this image back to the shoe box.
Getting kids to be good models is a feat unto itself, but it really pays off when you can coax an expression that allows the child's spirit to shine through. However, that expression alone would still be ruined by the dreaded on-camera flash, so the warm glow of natural light really is the clincher here. Put that one on the fridge.
We all love the "golden hour", that time of day when the quality of light is so warm and wonderful it can turn almost any subject into a post card moment. However, it takes more than just great light to make a good stock image. This first image has the light, but too much of the image is in shadow, and the angle alone just screams "snapshot".
The best lighting in the world isn't worth anything without a strong composition, and getting that right means moving around. Take shots from all angles ... get higher, then lower, move to the left and right, and almost always *get closer*. The first shot was just too far away and didn't have any focus. With the bars cropped out, the shadows become interesting parts of the image. Beware of the background at all times and really fill that frame with your subject.