Stock photography has always been something of an enigma. Used by brands, marketers, advertisers and the media, it has successfully stood the test of time and the sea change in the way media is consumed and sold. Until recent years, stock photography served functional and generic images that could be used in a variety of ways by a basic clientele. This is no longer what creators want. To keep up with demand, stock photography providers have begun to evolve cookie-cutter images into more compelling, artistic, and authentic visuals.
Traditionally, we all have preconceptions about stock media: professional photographs of women laughing while eating salads and other behaviors that seem less than human. It’s dated and these situations just don’t come naturally in real life.
The original mission of stock photography is to give consumers easy access to a world in which their message is represented but which is not easily accessible with their own cameras. Once upon a time, the disconnect between reality and stock was acceptable due to consumers’ lack of ability to create their own content, but photographic technology has evolved at such a rapid pace over the past decade (the first iPhone having a lot to do with it) and stock photography has changed with it.
With four billion digital photos taken daily, the stock photography industry is experiencing a very visual and ethereal revolution.
This revolution was caused in large part by social media. Instagram, a social photography hub with over 700 million monthly active users, is changing the way we see the world. With a heavy emphasis on the unfiltered (filtered) lives of authentic living, it creates a stark contrast to the generic, sterile, staged imagery that dominated stock photography. There is a deeper personal connection to these photos – an aesthetic that stock photography vendors are taking note of. The industry is embracing this shift with a strong pivot towards community-driven photography that focuses on personal relationships.
Along with this shift to a more personal or “selfie” view (searches for selfie-related topics increased 270% in 2017), stock photography reflects the sensibilities of today’s sharing society. With 74% of the creative community citing that they use their mobile at least daily or weekly for creative projects, the perspective inevitably shifts from a third-person view of standard situations and contemporary photography to that of a first more nuanced, realistic and visually stunning. – approach to the person. This creates a greater depth of selection when it comes to stock photography, which is more reflective of our current culture than statically posed images with white backgrounds.
For some photography companies, this means putting more emphasis on community engagement and delivering top-quality media that reflects societal changes. Consumers are looking for authenticity in photos more than ever. With searches for footage representative of diversity up 172% in 2017, companies that listen to their customers and embrace this change by offering not only traditional stock photos to customers, but from large and engaged user communities will thrive. This creates a database of images that represent the coming change in the way photography is consumed and created. Community-based stock photography opens up a wider range of options for customers and offers more opportunities for creators.
All of this creates a new paradigm of authenticity. Thanks to the rise of photo sharing on social media, consumers are now acutely aware of the types of stock photography presented by brands and agencies. The bland, staged photos of a decade ago have no cultural and visual impact (outside of meme culture). Instead, consumers are looking for content that represents their lifestyle. Highly lit stock photos with cliched poses and fake smiles are replaced with user-generated content from a selfie stick.
Stock photography, for all that it is affected by current culture, is also an influencer on culture. Since it is used by brands, media and advertisers, it is in a unique position to be both a reflection of culture and the mold for which we see cultural shifts.
The industry will continue to adapt to changes in the way content is collected, created and presented to the world. The traditional view of stock photography is quickly being replaced by a world that looks and feels a little more Human.
Written by TJ Leonard, CEO of Storyblocks