Changing face of the faceless

Here’s an interesting article in the British Journal of Photography which asks if the recession has affected the style of imagery being requested from stock agencies. It looks specifically at buyers’ preferences when choosing business imagery, and the article catches my eye because business imagery makes up much of what I shoot, though I work directly for end-user clients rather than libraries.

It seems the day of the haughty portrait of the perfect-toothed business man, looking down his nose at you in a “I’m better than you” sort of a pose is going out of favour, to be replaced by “more apologetic body language” as a counter to the general public’s mistrust of large corporations (ok, banks and petrochemical companies to be specific).

Getty Images’ head of European content, Tom Hind, is quoted extensively in the article, but a few of his points stand out for me.

“Believability within business imagery is more and more key,” he says. Yes, well I could have told him that. It’s why my clients come to me instead of buying generic business photos of unbelievably generic business men and women from stock sites. The problem for stock sites is that it doesn’t matter how you shoot pictures destined to sell to a wide market, they will always have that slightly sterile “stockphoto” look.

Hind himself slips seamlessly from discussing generic stock to talk about specific images shot to order for an end-user client (Coca Cola) who commissioned images of the shop-floor staff at their Wakefield plant for a promotional campaign.

Reading the article you might think that the Coca Cola exercise was some ground-breaking formula, but again this is what I do for my clients on a regular basis; natural shots of their own staff and MDs in their real office, looking real.

Senior manager for Creative Intelligence (no sniggering at the oxymoron) at Corbis, Amber Calo agrees with Hind when he says that image buyers “want to see what looks like real people, in real situations.” My simple answer to businesses wanting this look for themselves is simple: commission pictures of real people in real situations within your own (real) business, and not only will you get that polished-but-natural look, but you’ll look more convincing to your clients too.

corporate business portrait of a man in a suit

Relaxed, friendly, genuine.

The article does have some useful style pointers, which merely reinforce what I already do for my clients, such as keeping the style loose, not too starchy or posed, and using depth of field to make the subject stand out from what can be cluttered surroundings (Hind talks of shallow depth of field as a shorthand for quality and I’ll not disagree with that).

The concept of believability seems strong in the article, and again I’d say that independent photographers like myself have been far ahead of the stock agencies in this regard for a long time. Mainly because we are shooting real people for real businesses, not models pretending to be chief executives.

I honestly believe that businesses and the better designers are already eschewing stock imagery in favour of presenting their true selves to their clients. I benefit from clients telling their designers they want to open up visually and avoid the “me too” look of stock.

In a world where commercial enterprise is having a bit of a PR crisis, where better to start repairing that damaged image than with the images you use to communicate with your clients?

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2 comments

  • Robert Day March 15, 2011   Reply →

    All true, Tim; but if it’s over-done you end up with the Halifax adverts…

    • Glass Eye March 16, 2011   Reply →

      There is a balance to be struck, Robert. I presume you’re referring to those TV adverts for Halifax. I don’t like them, and I think the reason for that is it involves non-actors being scripted to do and say things in situations which are not natural to them. Stills using non-models can work far better!

      And on that subject of banks trying to be cuddly by using their staff, the Nat West ad drives me mad too. The ad is all about how they’ve just released some independent performance report, and one of the staff says “nothing’s been hidden, only the facts,” which makes it sound as if the only information they’ve concealed is the facts! Listen out for it next time you see the ad. That is poor scripting though, not the employee’s fault.

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