Diversity: Do We Have The Right Images?

Posted on 12/9/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

I was recently asked by an African American stock photo customer why the stock photo industry doesn’t do a better job of showing diversity. I was surprised by the question and didn’t know how to answer.

I know that stock photo agents have, for years, been emphasizing the need for more pictures that include minorities and show diversity -- particularly in the work place. It has certainly been my impression that for years most of the photographers trying to produce images of subjects in demand have made every effort to include minorities in their pictures whenever possible.

I decided to do some searches of five of the major image suppliers. Here’s what I found.

  iStock Getty Images Shutterstock Adobe Stock Alamy
Diversity 1,053,523 584,996 473,227 239,779 226,332
Diversity, People 441,754 417,950 304,346 128,884 115,617
Diversity, Office 78,400 65,060 67,234 27,229 21,033
Minority 2,130 1,246 68,327 25,524 142,589
Minority, People 1,550 990 37,495 11,211 79,339
Minority, Business 290 115 7,171 4,199 7,978

Certainly, there could always be more, but if you search for “diversity” there are certainly more pictures than any customer has had a chance to review. I suspect that in any given year more than half of the images in the diversity category are not viewed by any customer. This may not be a problem of not enough images, but of how search returns are organized.

I also noted as I did these searches that some of the early images to appear were not the kind of images that I think most commercial customers would be interested in using. That may be my personal preference. On the other hand, maybe the reason the customer who asked the question believes there are not enough images is that she gets discouraged after looking as some of the early ones and doesn’t dig deep enough to find the more appropriate images.

I think back to the print catalog days when Tony Stone, Image Bank and The Stock Market were market leaders. They didn't show anywhere near as many images as the online stock agencies are offering now, but every one of the images in those catalogs was the kind of image that some customer would want to buy and use.

Minority vs Diversity

It is possible that the customer was searching for the keyword “minority” instead of “diversity” and that’s why she felt there were inadequate choices. It is amazing to me that there are such huge discrepancies in the number of returns for these two words. When people use these words are the meanings so different? Is this evidence of inadequate keywording, particularly when we look at iStock and Getty Images? Are there a lot of other images in the “diversity” category that should have the keyword “minority” added to them?

Are Agencies Doing Their Job?

Another question the customer asked is whether stock agencies are doing their job? Why aren’t they producing more of what customers want? I had to point out to her that agencies are simply selling what they are given by the photographers. They don’t produce anything. They may encourage photographers to produce certain types of imagery, but then it is up to the photographer to decide whether it is worth his or her time, cost and trouble to produce such imagery. As prices for usage go down, and the odds of any picture getting used declines, more and more photographers make the decision that it is not worth their time or trouble.

It also occurs to me that as more and more professionals leave the market, and a larger and larger percentage of the available images are produced by amateurs there may be fewer images that show the kind of diversity this customer is looking for. Amateurs will shoot what is easy and what they come in contact with in their daily lives. Professionals will try to assess what the market wants and then go out and bring the various elements together that are needed to arrange the image the customer needs. But, there must be an economic reason for the professional to do this.

There is nothing to stop minority amateurs from shooting a lot of pictures of their minority group and placing them into stock agency collections, but evidently that is not happening to a satisfactory degree. Amateurs who are part of the majority of the population tend to interact with others majority members. That’s who they photograph.

How Do Corporations Show Diversity?

There was an interesting story recently in Fortune Magazine about how some corporations are showing that they have diversity in their work force.

Instead of hiring a photographer to photograph their own employees, many are using stock photos because it’s easier and cheaper – a lot easier and cheaper. Of course, one of the problems that arises is that the people shown in the pictures have nothing whatsoever to do with the company. And, the same people tend to show up working, in theory, for lots of companies.

Eventually companies may decide that it is better to spend a little more money to hire a photographer to take pictures of their own people in their own working environments.

Corporations say they want pictures that are more realistic and genuine, but when it comes to money they go for cheap.

According to Fortune, Tiffany R. Warren, Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer for Omnicom Group recently told advertisers and marketers, “We as an industry rely heavily on stock photos. We use it for our clients. It’s just easier sometimes to do that than to do a full photoshoot.”

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Hans Halberstadt Posted Dec 10, 2016
    We put a great deal of effort into recruiting actors who are AA and find very few who are suitable. We use several ways including a casting service and have a high priority on the AA role and test every good candidate. But we get very few AA men who have the appropriate look for our kind of stock production -- clean-cut, short hair, no facial hair, athletic build. We have very good results with Hispanic and Asian, but not AA.

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