Shutterstock Lessons

I’ve had a few days to think about Shutterstock rejecting 8 out of 10 of the photos I submitted in my first batch.

I searched WordPress for blogs mentioning Shutterstock and found this post about Shutterstock charging US taxes on photographers’ earnings. It reminds me how complex business is in the US – and how complex it is to do business with a US company. It’s one of the reasons I left for a simpler life here in Thailand.

I learned some lessons from the test submission I made. Maybe they’ll help other prospective submitters:

  1. I did not do enough research about the kinds of images that Shutterstock consider marketable. I looked at Thailand and Bangkok pictures and thought they were rather boring. But maybe a better word is conventional. Stock photography isn’t a place to show off your creativity. They need high quality, non-controversial pictures.
  2. I do not understand the ways that the pictures will be reproduced if purchased.  For example they said that the picture I submitted of the “phra” of a temple was not in focus. It looked fine on my laptop screen. But perhaps their customers need something that will print at A3 or larger. I didn’t check that. My camera are capable of producing high quality pictures, but I need to take more care than when I am printing for my own use at A4 or merely posting them online.
  3. Not understanding the customers may be the source of my frustration about “copyright violations”. Two pictures were of Bangkok city buses – one new, the other old. One has a company’s logo but the old one doesn’t – although the colour scheme could be considered distinctive. I thought it would not be an issue for, perhaps, an article on Chinese buses competing in the export market or traffic accidents – but maybe I did not understand the issues. I feel that they are playing super-safe with this.
  4. I was amazed that they rejected my panorama of the interior of Hua Lamphong Station because I did not have releases from all the people. If you enlarged it enough maybe the farmers in the Sa Kaeo Corn Harvesting picture could be “identifiable” but that seems questionable. Maybe Shutterstock set the bar high for new submitters and they are not usually that picky. I should search their site for crowd scenes and similar landscapes.
  5. Shutterstock’s business model is to accept photos from anyone worldwide. I am sure they have far more submitters than they need. Therefore they do not have the resources or incentive to give every submitter personal attention. If I accept their model then I have to take care of myself.
  6. Further to that, I am sure they get submitters who try to “game” their system and are an irritant. That may be why they put a 30-day hold on further submissions if you fail their ‘7 out of 10’ test. In my case it is not reasonable. I am a bona fide photographer who put some thought into his 10 pictures. OK I did not choose correctly but that isn’t a crime.
  7. What I should have done was submit 10 high-quality “safe” photos. One that Shutterstock accepted was a straightforward picture of a train – no people, no logos and absolutely no creative effects. If I had done 10 similar to that (not all trains) then I would be a happy submitter and maybe given a bit more freedom by Shutterstock.
  8. The 30-day hold just puts me off – I feel like they’re treating me like a child. I’m not going to flood them immediately with loads of similar pictures that don’t meet their criteria.
  9. There are many services similar to Shutterstock. This WordPress blogger has photos on six services. So it can be done.
  10. I bet not many bloggers will be willing to post how much money they make. Let alone work out their revenue in terms of dollars per hour spent. I bet most amateur submitters make revenue that’s well below the US minimum wage for their work. But they do it to get some recognition and the money is secondary. I’m sure that drives real professionals crazy.

I have not decided it I will try again with Shutterstock. I have 28 days to prepare a new 10 picture portfolio. Since I have gone to the trouble of creating the account I could try my theory that a conservative first submission is the best route.

On the other hand I could get in a snit and take my photos elsewhere – maybe to a non-US service where it isn’t so complicated with tax issues and the like. Paying taxes on my earnings would be nice problem to have: currently I have zero earnings.


6 Responses to “Shutterstock Lessons”

  1. mystockphoto Says:

    Hi bkkphotographer,
    thanks for the mention.
    About Shutterstock non-US taxes, there are some news.
    They created a Tax Center and you can fill a form online… little better.
    Check my related post:


  2. bkkphotographer Says:

    And thanks for the summary.

    I feel for the Shutterstock company. They are stuck in the middle and have to act as unpaid tax collectors and law enforcers.

    I understand the outrage of the submitters who have nothing to do wiuth the US being required to obtain a US TIN else lose a load of their money to a government they ahve nothing to do with. I can see it getting political – “Why should I pay for your war in Iraq, your bank bailouts etc?”.

    I know it’s about the US Government trying to ensure that people with online income pay tax correctly but the issues are so complex it’s distasteful to most.

    Things like this may put Shutterstock at a competitive disadvantage compared with companies based in locations who care less about tax and tax treaties. Buyers of stock photogrpahy have no reason to care the provenance of the stock agency, beyond the fact that it won’t make off with their money.

    Maybe I should set up a stock agency in Thailand while life is still simple here.

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