They’re everywhere in mass media: filler images of nondescript models doing mundane activities (see: woman laughing while eating a salad) used as stock imagery for website articles, marketing, and advertising, etc.
But stock photography, like any commercial industry, has a diversity problem.
When there’s a lack of inclusion in stock photography, it trickles all the way down to the projects they’re used for.
Studies show that when marginalized groups aren’t able to see themselves in the media, it has a drastic and negative impact on their ideas of self-worth.
Not only does this hurt vulnerable communities, but it’s also a missed opportunity to highlight exactly how brilliantly diverse the world is.
When stock photography isn’t done well, it can have truly harmful repercussions. For example, there have been multiple instances in the past where stock photography has unintentionally perpetuated racist, ableist, and overall damaging stereotypes.
At best, marginalized groups are tokenized in stock photography.
At worst, it reinforces violent tropes against some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Ultimately, we take our cues from visual elements and when there’s a lack of representation, it sends a coded message to the audience of who and who isn’t allowed to be seen.
Thankfully, there are people doing the incredible work of making stock photography more diverse.
If you’re someone who uses stock photography in your work, here are some places where you can make a difference to your audience by using inclusive media:
Free Stock Photo Sites for Diverse Photography
Unsplash is a popular user-friendly platform that you can use to search for specific tones or concepts.
Photographers are able to directly host their work for free use on Unsplash and it sorts by category, collection, and similar imagery.
While it’s one of the bigger free photo platforms out there, it’s worth noting that not all photos are guaranteed to have signed photo releases for models.
You’ll also have to work a bit harder to find photos that aren’t tokenizing.
P.S. Good Good Good shares photos of the Goodnewspaper on Unsplash for anybody to use.
The Gender Spectrum Collection
The Gender Spectrum Collection is a free stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the stereotypes.
This collection aims to help the media better represent members of these communities as people not defined by their gender identities.
They've also included each model's gender identification in the caption of each other to help editors avoid making assumptions.
Nappy provides free beautiful, high-resolution photographs of Black and Brown people to startups, brands, agencies, and more.
They’re working to help people be more inclusive to dark-skinned people and making it easier for companies to be purposeful about representation in their designs, presentations, and advertisements.
One of photography’s biggest issues is the representation around Africa and Black people that don’t fall into being racist or stereotypical in the way that Africa is typically depicted in the media.
Thankfully, Iwaria is working to fix that by offering a variety of high quality, free African photography that ranges from food, people, landscape, and more.
WOC In Tech
The tech industry is notorious for not being as diverse as it could be, despite the number of women of color who work in it.
To challenge ideas of who belongs in the tech world, WOC In Tech is asking people to use their photography in pieces about entrepreneurs, software engineers, infosec professionals, IT analysts, marketers, and other people who make up the tech ecosystem.
UK Black Tech
UK Black Tech supports, promotes, represents, and encourages the continued growth of diverse innovators and tech innovation across the UK.
One of their initiatives is to provide free stock photography of Black people in technology that can be accessed and used with appropriate credit.
Regardless of whether or not you’re in the UK, this is relevant to wherever you’re based.
Paid Stock Photo Platforms with Diverse Models
Stocksy is a diverse photography and videography marketplace that ethically and sustainably pays their creators for their work.
They have a fair pay program where 50 percent of regular purchases and 75 percent of extended license purchases goes directly into their creators' pockets. Their photographs are highly curated for quality — and their diverse creators are located in 75 countries around the world.
Pricing is based on licensing use and can range from $15 to $500 per photo.
The founders of TONL, Karen Okonkwo and Joshua Kissi, set out to diversify the digital landscape for creatives after experiencing a real lack of representation online.
Now, TONL seeks to humanize the lives of BIPOC folks and challenge the stale, homogenous look of traditional stock photography by showcasing the many ethnical backgrounds of everyday people.
Their "Narrative" approach includes storytelling stock photos and text that includes context of the models and what they represent — including themes like "Traveling While Black", "Black Maternal Health", and "Active Allyship."
TONL offers a-la-carte pricing starting at $25 — or you can sign up for a monthly subscription to get rates under $2 per photo.
Not only does Diversity Photos offer inclusive photography, they also have programs that reinvest back into the communities they photograph.
Their goal is to help creatives develop additional revenue streams and diversify their portfolios while shooting diverse stock images and video.
Their pricing ranges from $25 to $50 per photo, depending on your plan.
Create Her Stock
Create Her Stock is a grassroots resource and digital pantry for stock imagery that can be used for lifestyle, business, and everyday content creation for bloggers, creatives, and growing influencers.
They feature primarily Black women to humanize their lives and combat stereotypes.
Their pricing options include 4 tiers: blogger ($10/month), brand ($35/month), tribe ($65/month), and influence ($99/year).
Traditional Stock Photo Platforms
But to ensure true representation that isn’t damaging, you need to be intentional with your choices.
This can mean consulting with experts on your team or just being extra careful when finding media.
When in doubt, it’s always better to lean into the winds of caution and do your background research on what is and isn’t harmful.
Hire Creators of Color
Lastly, a great way to get great inclusive photography is by hiring photographers and artists of color.
When you hire creators of color, you’re supporting diversity efforts in front and behind the camera and leaning into their lived experiences as people of color. This also helps more creators of color get paid and more exposure for their work.
Ultimately, mass media is everywhere and it sends subliminal messages to our brains. If you're responsible for the imagery shown on your platform, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful and positive difference.
When we’re more thoughtful about the visual imagery we use — particularly as we consider race, gender, age, etc — the whole world benefits.