For 2017, Getty Images announced the trend Gritty Women indicating an increase in stock photography searches for women who are active, forceful, and not afraid to break a sweat. In a follow-up, there's a wonderful article in the New York Times “From Sex Object to Gritty Woman: The Evolution of Women in Stock Photos” by Claire Cain Miller. She traces the last ten of women in stock photography, looking at the most popular images featuring women from Getty Images from 2007 to 2017.
In general the trend has been away from showing women in a passively sexy, "pretty" way and more towards them being active, confident and agents of their own. We love helping brands move away from these old stereotypical images and are excited to see the trend taking off.
While most beauty and luxury brands haven't embraced "gritty" per se, there's definitely a movement towards realism and having the feel of authenticity. Of course, having custom model photography is nearly always the "best" route. However, if you're trying to build a luxury beauty empire on a shoestring, don't despair.
Model photography is often too expensive and time-consuming for many smaller brands. This makes stock photography the next best route. The good news is stock photography has become much more interesting and diverse in the last 10 years. The bad news is, there's still a lot of bad photography that makes me wish stock photography houses had a "no cheesy images" filter.
No one ever looks this happy applying face cream.
The goal in finding good stock photography is to use images that strengthens your story and feels unique to your brand, even if it's not. Granted, stock photography often lags behind as the more edgy, premium photography work on exclusive client projects. Stock photography is generally created based on what there's proven demand for and therefore scrambles to keep up. That said, it is a good barometer for market demand. Whereas ten years ago, a perfectly Photoshopped, flawless 18 year old might be considered for an anti-aging campaign, these days it looks...well, a bit cheesy.
So how do we find good stock photography that creates the right feel for your brand?
How to Find Better Stock Photography
1. Make Your Images Relate to Your Customers
Reflect Your Customer
Let your customer see themselves in your image choices.
Your customers want to put themselves into your images. Your brand's photos should in some way show an idealized version of their life. This doesn't need to be literal (see point 3) but it should relate to them specifically. If you're selling anti-aging products, use a stock photo of a middle aged woman. They're hard to find (and often look mid-30s tops) but if there's demand, we'll start to see more. Same goes for racial diversity, stock pictures might be harder to find but it's worth it.
Think also how customers will see themselves reflected in your image. It's easy to find stock images of women smiling radiantly into the camera. However images that evoke a story tend to be more compelling. Plus, we've all seen so many generic pictures of women smiling to sell everything from brake shops to antacids, there's image fatigue. Experiment with images that are less posed with the model turned away from the camera, involved in her own world. Often these feel more modern and authentic.
2. What are your customer's aspirations?
Find images that inspire and speak to their goals.
Consider the aspirations of your target market at a deeper level. While for a skincare line, it is easy to say their customers want "clear, flawless skin," there's probably even deeper motivations. If you ask the customers themselves, good skin is likely not on the top of their life goals but rather a step to what they really want. For instance, perhaps they want good skin so they can shave 20 minutes off their morning make-up routine, spend more time with their kids and still show up at work ready to present to the board. For a stressed-out stay at home mom, it might be the idea of having a few luxurious minutes in her daily routine to focus and pamper herself. Personas can be helpful in this area.
Once you start finding stock photography that ties into these deeper aspirations, you'll both find much more interesting options AND ones that resonate more deeply with your target market. If you have a range of products, consider the specific persona for each and choose stock photography that fit. This can also be a good way to subtly differentiate overlapping products.
3. Avoid Being Too Literal
Avoid Funny Salads
Sometimes being too on-the-nose takes a wrong turn.
This is a bit tricky to explain but a good example of this is the Hairpin's excellent Women Laughing Alone With Salad. If you look at these images alone, they're all a bit ridiculous. No one has ever had that much fun with a salad. However stock photography sites and the internet as a whole are overflowing with images of women snickering, giggling and smiling delightedly over apparently hilarious salads. That's because when bloggers, content marketers, and designers have a healthy living, lose weight or better eating blog post they immediately think salad. We all know salad is boring by itself so add a person in there to make it relatable — preferably someone that looks incredibly happy. Then poof, the internet is full of women beaming into their salads.
This doesn't just hold for women and salads though. Customer service popups inevitably have a perky woman with a headset, eagerly awaiting your call. Beauty sites end up with flawlessly photoshopped 18 year old models hawking anti-aging products. It can be difficult to get away from these typical images but if you are able to move away from on-the-nose literalism and go for a more poetic interpretation, you'll find that your images become much more unique and engaging.
4. Choose Images That Maintain Brand Consistency
Create a Unified Look
Your images should look like they belong together.
One of the easiest ways to tell a brand is using stock photography is when each image looks radically different. Early in the process, you should agree on images that are good fits for your brand and then try to tease out what you like about them. Do you want all your models to appear on a white background? Is it oversaturated color tones? Is it the way they're cropped or a certain style of photography?
Some of this such as cropping or color tones may be created by a designer. Others will be harder or impossible to recreate in Photoshop (changing the angle of photography, isolating elements, etc). Sometimes the same photographer has a whole body of work for you to pull from. Often that's the easiest since they likely have a similar look — perhaps even with the same models. If not, you can mix photographers but still try to keep a consistent look across all the images. This doesn't have to be boring or limiting. For instance, the iconic brand Pat McGrath uses an eclectic range of images but they all fit within the brand's vision.
Hopefully this guide makes the task of finding images to support your brand a little easier. Here are some places to start your search:
Paid Stock Photography Websites
Getty Images: The premium stock photography source. They have nearly everything and some top name photographers as well. However it does tend to be more pricy than other options.
iStockPhoto: The little sister site for Getty. Lower prices but you'll also have to dig a bit more. They changed their pricing structure so it favors business on a subscription plan.
Shutterstock: Similar to iStockPhoto in quality, however a bit cheaper if you're buying one-off images. There's some good stock images but be prepared to filter.
Fotolia: Adobe's answer to Getty Images. It supposedly integrates well with Adobe products. We haven't used them a lot but seems to be a promising site.
Free Stock Photography Websites
Unsplash: One of my favorite free photography sites. The images tend to be stylish and trendy. Good for blog posts or social media.
Pexel: A more diverse, less trendy collection of images than Unsplash but still high quality and worth checking out.
Pixabay: This is more the kitchen sink approach but they still have some good images not found on other sites.
Flickr Creative Commons: If Flickr users select Creative Commons when uploading, you're allow to use their images (depending on the license and restrictions). The downside is it's completely unfiltered so it might take a bit of looking. The plus side is you'll anything and everything there.
Of course, if you're not relishing spending the afternoon looking through stock photos and would prefer to hire professional design help, contact us. We'd be happy to hear from you!