Group Stock Photography

Taking photos of large groups of people — such as at family gatherings, business meetings, conventions, etc — can be very tricky. And, while this article over at Improve Photography has a lot of great advice on how to get better photos of groups, the photos its using literally set my teeth on edge. It’s pretty obvious that these are all heavily posed stock photography shots using professional models which is a great way to convince the real, normal people out there that there is something terribly wrong with them when the group photos they’re involved in turn out looking like groups of real human beings.

For the most part, I have no real beef with stock photography. We make use of it a lot to showcase examples of certain kinds of photography — nature, wildlife, scientific, etc. And, marketing departments use it all the time which is why it’s becoming increasingly obvious when a photo is a “real” photo as opposed to a stock photography photo. So, I’d like to offer some advice to stock photographers out there in hopes of improving the quality of the photos they sell to stock photography sites and decreasing the number of “some VP will love this photo that would absolutely never happen anywhere in the multiverse because real people don’t act that way” style photos that tend to pervade such exchanges.

1) Stop with the overblown expressions already — The only way a photo like this would actually exist in nature would be if the two women were looking at a hated rival’s computer screen that had, helpfully, shown them every single bit of information they needed to ensure that said rival would have their life, career, marriage, and social life completely destroyed. Or if they were looking at Godzilla, King Kong, and Mothra working together to rebuild Tokyo. Yes, I know, these photos are popular with marketing departments. They’re also extremely unpopular with customers.

2) In any group of people, there is going to be someone who looks like crap — If you take fifteen people at random, someone in that collection will have had a poor night’s sleep. Or they might have sunburned over the weekend. Their hair won’t be perfect. They’ll have freckles. Someone will be overweight. So, seriously, stop with the groups where everyone is trim with fresh makeup and in suits. Also: suits. Suits do great on the East Coast. They get you laughed at for being a complete Poindexter on the West Coast. And that business casual yuppie thing needs to stop right this minute. No one dresses like that. Ever.

3) Tokenism is still bigotry — Any photographer or company who uses images with only one black person, only one Asian person, or only one person in “ethnic” dress to try to communicate how diverse they are is a company run by people who are socially inept. So, seriously, stop with the tokenism in stock photography. It’s stupid.

4) Never again take a photo of false enthusiasmThis never happens. Never. So stop photographing people doing it. There will never, in the history of the multiverse, be an instance when a bunch of people dressed like they just walked out of JC Penney’s will stand around a laptop without a logo on the back looking beyond it with their fists in the air in a victorious manner. The closest you might get is a bunch of sports fans watching a game or something but their expressions won’t be so fake and they’ll be looking at the screen and not the camera.

5) There is no family that sits in bed with a laptop and someone holding up a credit card — Generally, if someone has a laptop in bed, they’re single, in their 20s, and aren’t going to have immaculate living spaces. If someone is old enough to have two children and a spouse, they’re not going to gather the whole family in bed to do online shopping. Actually, they’ll probably rarely consult with the children on a purchase (seriously, are there any parents who involve young children in financial decisions?) that isn’t for the children themselves. So, photos like this one should not exist.

Now, with all that said, there are some really great stock photographs out there that involve people and look real, sincere, and communicate a clear message other than “I’m doing this because some idiot above my pay grade thought it was a great idea.” If you’re ever curious about which category a photo should go in, ask yourself if you could imagine the photo happening without being elaborately staged. If the answer is “no,” then that is a stock photo you should stay well away from.

— da Bird