Stock Photography Has A Diversity Problem

Posted on 10/10/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

An article in Popsugar says stock photography has a diversity problem.  According to the author more stock images of black and brown people are needed.

From what I see being published it seems to me that, particularly in advertising, a lot more images of black and brown people are being used today than was the case five or ten years ago. Maybe they are all the same images being used over and over again by multiple advertiser. But it seems to me that if the product being promoted is the kind of thing blacks purchase then you’re going to see more black and brown faces, and fewer white anglo-saxon faces, in ads.

It is also possible that all the pictures of non-whites I’m seeing were shot on assignment.

I think it’s a good thing that more non-white pictures are being used in all types of advertising, but I seriously doubt we’ll see much of an increase in stock photo collections of the kinds of black and brown images Western advertisers are looking for. There are several reasons for this.
The vast majority of stock pictures produced today – and in the last few years – are produced by amateurs who tend to take pictures of family and friends. Most do not normally mix with people of other ethnic backgrounds.

In addition, a significant percentage of today’s stock images are produced in Eastern Europe and Russia where ethnic diversity is very low. Another large portion of stock images is produced in India. There the faces are brown, but it is very hard for local photographers to find siturations where they can photograph their subjects in a way that looks like the images were produced in North America or Western Europe.

So why aren’t professional photographers in North America and Western Europe producing more of what the market says it needs?

Professional stock photographers try to study the market, determine what is in demand and then hire models and set up situations that enable them to produce more of what customers are likely to buy. Surely, professionals recognize that there is an increasing demand for pictures with black and brown models.

The big problem is that customers are no longer willing to pay enough for stock pictures to make it possible for photographers to earn a living. (Check out stories here and here.) As a result, most professionals have left the business, moved to other ways to make a living and turned stock photography over to the part-time hobbyist and other amateurs.

There are still some good pictures of black and brown people in the stock files. Often, they were shot by white photographers 5, 10 or more years ago when the prices paid to use images were enough to offset the photographer’s production costs. But, in most cases they have been overused and are no longer up to date with the current styles.

If advertisers want and need images showing black and brown people there are plenty of good professional photographers who would be happy to produce them on assignment, but they will not take the job for anywhere near what the customer wants to pay for a stock image. If they want more variety advertisers to need to be willing to pay enough to cover the photographer’s cost of doing business.

It seems likely to me that eventually users who need these pictures will forget about trying to find a stock image that fit their needs and eventually be forced to pay a reasonable fee to a professional to produce to get exactly what they want.

Everyone wants to constantly pay less and less for the things they need to buy. At some point consumers must be willing to pay workers enough for them to sustain themselves and their families. That’s true, not only in the business of photography, but for all activities of daily life. Today, in the United States a significant percent of the population seems to think this principle can be ignored.

Copyright © 2020 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


  • Mark W. Richards Posted Oct 10, 2020
    Former professional here. Assignment and stock.
    I am afraid this is the future and present in many professions. Just look at all the programmers, they are getting paid by companies to have computers replace people. That is way the high pay, nothing right or wrong about that. It is happening across many professions. Any thing that can/will be automated will be. We have to look at the world and be prepared to changes.
    Some we can change with, other changes it is not possible have it work under the current systems. We need to address what happens when you have a skill that takes years to learn and then AI replaces you .
    I am ok, I started in film moved to digital, now retired. This issue of AI and technology will get harder. As a country we need to address this.

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