What Is An “Authentic” Photo?

Posted on 1/13/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

What is an “Authentic” picture? Do such images really sell? Photographers are being asked to produce more authentic pictures, but they are being given little or no information about what makes a image authethic, or how well such images are actually selling.

Today’s buzz word is Authentic. More and more stories directed toward buyers and users say “Stock photography is dead,” and that brands need to be using more “authentic” pictures if they want to reach today’s consumers.

A recent story by Brent Morrison is a prime example of such a story. He provides two pictures. One is an image from iStock that he thinks is a bad stock picture that brands should not be using. The other is a “real and unfiltered” shot of people in an office “caught in the moment, being engaged in their … busy work areas.” He think this image will appeal to today’s customers. When Getty and Shutterstock say they want “more authentic images” is this what they are talking about?

I think both images are probably poor examples of the genre, but weak as it may be I think the iStock photo is much more likely to get used – and be effective – than the shot Morrison favors.

The iStock photo has one person looking at the camera. There are probably too many shots in the stock files of people looking straight at the camera and smiling, but if you do searches of iStock, GettyImages or Shutterstock you will also find a lot of shots where the people look more engaged in their work. It seems to me that percentage of looking straight at the camera shots has been declining, although a lot of them are still getting used by customers.

On the other hand, the kind of shots Morrison seems to favor is a cluttered work space, poorly lit with a confusing background. The people are engaged, but certainly not enjoying their work. They dress casually, not professionally, and look like they can’t wait for the work day to end. This may be authentic for some businesses, but is this the kind of picture that would encourage someone to want to buy a product, or go to work at this location.  

There are certainly a lot of stock pictures available that fall between these two extremes. Many are used regularly and probably do a better job of encouraging customers to buy products or engage with a particular company than more candid images might the one shown.

But, back to the question. When agencies encourage photographers to produce more "authentic images" what should the photographer be shooting? The best way to help photographers produce more of what will sell is to show them exactly what is selling and how frequently. Not just a few selected samples, but a broad cross section of images.

For the most part the agencies refuse to do this.

Getting The Information

To get some information photographers can do searches on the major sites. Presumably, a significant number of the best selling images appear on the early pages, but the agencies also need to show a certain percentage of new images that have never sold. There is no way for the photographer to know which images have sold and which haven’t. Are the more candid images that Morrison likes really selling? Currently, there is no way for the photographer to know.

Show Off Your Own People

Maybe a significant number of customers really want the kind of candid pictures Morrison favors. But, there are two big issues that work against using such images – Time and Money. If a brand wants shots of its own site and people rather than using a stock photo the brand will probably need to hire a professional photographer. That will certainly take more time than going to a stock site to search for something usable. Usually the brand simply doesn’t have the time. It will also probably cost more money. Consequently, the buyer for the brand ends up going with the best stock they can find.

I went looking for authentic family pictures. The classic stock shot is a mom and dad with two young kids, one boy, one girl. The kids are hanging over the backs of the parents to provide a tight shot of four heads all smiling at the camera. There are countless of these shots taken by many photographers. Many of them are used over and over in countless ads and promotions that talk about family. Are these pictures authentic?

The authentic family situations that I observe are one or the other parent carting children in the car from one activity to another. Or parents siting on the sidelines of a sporting or recreational activity in which their kids are involved, and using the time to talk to other adults. Or parents at home taking care of the house, or organizing some future activities while the kids have their noses buried in their electronics. Do we need more pictures of these family activities? Will customers buy such images if they are produced?

A stock photographer’s job is not to make a political statement. It is to produce pictures for which there is a demand. Pictures that will generate revenue for the photographer.

Photographers need better information as to exactly what is selling. This is an appeal for stock agencies to give their contributors more useful information so the photographers can do a better job of producing what customers want to buy. I hope the agencies can see the advantages for them in supplying such information.

Copyright © 2017 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.  


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