It’s always subjective (even when you think it can’t be)

posted in: On writing, Photography | 1

1282745If you’re reading this you’ll know I write books and take photographs, not necessarily in that order. And although they’re both creative, they’re very different pursuits. In this day of Indie publishing, the exhausting task of trying to interest an agent or publisher in one’s work is no longer an issue. And just as well, too. I’m too old for that shit. Besides, agents always only consider what they think will sell. Which, I suppose, is fair enough. In the past publishers were willing to work with an author to hone a rough diamond into a polished gem – always assuming they recognised the rough diamond. It’s a subjective process, you see. Agent/publisher – author interaction, agent/publisher perception of what will sell, agent/publisher perception of how much work (money) would be needed to rework and polish.

The business of accepting a photo for sale on a stock photo site is a little bit different. Certainly  the aim of these sites is to collect images that people will want to buy, so sites like Dreamstime explain that they have lots of sunsets and sunrises. They’re pretty, but one can have too much a good thing. And that’s understandable and completely in line with the bookseller’s perspective of “will it sell?” On top of that there’s the privacy and proprietary concerns. No images of (recognisable) people without a model release. No picture of inanimate objects with some sort of proprietary identification, such as really famous buildings, sculptures, logos and even one stand-out house boat in a canal in Amsterdam.

However, photographs are required to have a high level of technical quality. No blurry images, no grainy textures where the photographer should have used a longer exposure or a lower ISO. Visible scratches or dirt marks. Overuse of filters or Photoshop fixes. Or any number of other perfectly legitimate issues with quality. The big stock photo sites can’t afford to have below par photos for sale. I’ve been selling pictures for about four years now, and I’ve learned what they’ll accept and what they won’t. A picture can look great on Facebook even if the focus isn’t quite right – but don’t bother submitting to a stock photo site.

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? So you’d think that if one site is happy with the quality of a photo, another site will be, too. Actually, that’s not the case. I sell my photos on Dreamstime and on Canstock. Both sites have refused photos on technical grounds that the other has accepted.

You can buy this on Dreamstime – but not on Canstock
You can buy this one from Canstock but not Dreamstime
You can buy this one from Canstock but not Dreamstime

It’s very, very easy to be over critical of one’s own work. I found fault with this one, for example, and it was literally years after I took it that I thought, “what the hell?” Both sites accepted it.

Wildflowers brighten the Pilbara landscape
Wildflowers brighten the Pilbara landscape

The other day, on the premise that if you don’t ask you don’t get, I sent Dreamstime three of my sunrise photos. Four years ago, they’d rejected a couple I thought were nice on the basis that they had plenty like that, only better. I was expecting more of the same, but to my eternal astonishment, they accepted all three. Here’s one.

A person takes the dogs out on the tidal flats as the eastern sky brightens
A person takes the dogs out on the tidal flats as the eastern sky brightens


So what should you take home from all this? Very often a judgement is an opinion, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t give up just because one person says it’s not what they’re after. Don’t take every one-star review to heart. And stop beating yourself up. There are plenty of people out there eager to do that for you.


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