Commercial stock photography has been around for more than a century now, and in that time, the industry has undergone countless evolutions in terms of what photographers shoot and what buyers want. The past few years have been reshaped by trends ranging from in-demand topics like sustainability and technology to stylistic choices like minimalism and warm color palettes.
In 2018, dark and moody photography was “in,” and 2019 witnessed the return of the 1990s-style flash. 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic transformed our daily lives, and stock photography changed with them. While some trends are fleeting, many of the themes that rose to popularity within the last year have proven to be evergreen.
When investing time into shooting for your Licensing portfolio, it’s essential to think long-term. The foundation of a profitable collection is longevity; the longer the shelf life, the more potential your photo has to sell over and over again. We put together this quick and easy listicle of just four stock photography categories that never go out of style.
Topic #4: Business
In the past, business-themed stock photography might have been stiff and unrealistic (e.g., men in business suits shaking hands, sitting around a conference table, pointing at charts, etc.), but the tides have turned, and today’s buyers crave images that feel authentic, diverse, and relatable. From the gig economy to flexible workspaces, there’s no one way to visualize business in 2021.
Of course, the pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, with collared shirts and conference tables being replaced by sweatpants and kitchen tables. Many are juggling childcare and work, navigating homeschooling and project deadlines.
Last year, Getty Images noticed increased searches for key phrases ranging from “working at home” and “home office” to “video calls” and “video conferencing.” Even Flo from Progressive had Zoom meetings. As of fall 2020, 33% of U.S. workers were always working remotely and 25% were working remotely sometimes; about two-thirds of remote workers wanted to continue working remotely.
When photographing business, it’s also important to prioritize representation and inclusion. When it comes to women in the workplace, there are unfortunately still stereotypes that need to be shattered; recently, Getty Images joined forces with NatWest to launch a new collection of images celebrating female entrepreneurs, in fields ranging from farming and blacksmithing to tech and wellness.
Photographing entrepreneurs and employees of all ages, ethnicities, body sizes, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and genders can help close the gap and empower us all. Collaborate with your models—including family and friends—and document their days as they go about their real jobs. Ask questions to learn more about what they do, and use your photoshoots as an opportunity to uplift and celebrate their work.
Topic #3: Industry
According to research from McKinsey & Company, more people than ever expect to make a portion of their purchases online after COVID-19, and contactless options like food delivery and curbside pickup have taken off. From grocery to retail, many industries have changed significantly over the past year, and brands want to visualize these changes through their marketing.
There are several ways to illustrate industry today, including photos of warehouse workers or production lines, order fulfillment, or contactless shopping or delivery. In recent months, ads from USPS, Target, and more have shared stories from their employees, demonstrating what they’re doing “behind the scenes” to keep everything running smoothly.
Part of capturing industry in 2021 also means sharing stories from small businesses, as recent research from iStock indicates that 54% of consumers in the UK believe it’s important to support local and small businesses during the pandemic. Almost a third say they feel cared about when shopping with small businesses, as opposed to just 2% who feel the same when shopping at a large retailer. Six in 10 people prefer to buy from brands that represent or are founded by people like themselves.
For commercial photographers, this trend poses an opportunity to collaborate with local businesses on creating fresh and relatable content. Many businesses need high-quality pictures to market their products, and some might be willing to sign a property or model release in exchange for a discount from a professional photographer. When approaching a business owner or entrepreneur, explain that by signing a release, they permit you to sell the photos for commercial use by brands around the world. These kinds of collaborations can be a win-win for both parties.
Topic #2: The Environment
One of the most significant movements in commercial photography in recent years has been the push toward a more sustainable future, with “nature” topping global searches on Getty Images for the first time in 2019. This trend includes landscape and nature photography, of course, but the movement has also transformed lifestyle photography, as brands ranging from Starbucks to Marriott have looked to replace plastic with reusable alternatives.
Visual GPS research from Getty Images has revealed that across four generations—Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers—people were twice as likely to respond to visuals showing large?scale solutions like reforestation and renewable energy, especially if those visuals included a human touch. 81% expect brands to be environmentally aware in all their visual communications.
Brands want to show people engaging responsibility with the environment; that can mean photographing a family enjoying vegan meals or a hike in the park, or it can mean photographing operations at a sustainable business. It can be as simple as replacing a plastic straw with a metal one on your next shoot. Maybe you document your friends as you volunteer for a beach cleanup, or you photograph your parents teaching your children how to compost or plant fruits and veggies.
The best part is that you don’t have to travel into the pristine wilderness—or take up mountain climbing—to capture these kinds of images. A local city park or trail will do. Keep in mind that in an urban environment, you’re more likely to run into intellectual property issues—like license plates, brand logos, signs, and protected buildings—but as long as you’re aware of any potential problems, you can work around them or edit them out.
Topic #1: Everyday Lifestyle
This is the big one, and it also encompasses every topic we’ve covered thus far, including business, industry, and the environment. In 2021, lifestyle photography is all about capturing genuine, candid moments from daily life. Last summer, research from Getty Images found that nearly 80% of people worldwide say it’s not enough to show people of various appearances, ethnicities, and backgrounds in advertising; they also expect brands to do better at representing people’s true lifestyles and cultures.
Year over year, searches for “real people” on Getty Images went up 115%. In October, Peloton released a new ad campaign featuring actual customers, ranging from a teacher to a baker, instead of models and actors. In September, Giant spotlighted five families and real moments in their lives, while Walmart released a documentary-style ad featuring 22 families.
This shift toward relatable “micro-moments” at home and work represents the perfect opportunity for commercial photographers to collaborate with friends and family and document their own everyday experiences. “Even a situation like eating lunch or playing with a pet can provide a number of great lifestyle photos,” the 500px Content Team tells us.
If you’re working with friends and family, choose an activity they love; you can give some direction, but then fade into the background and let your models get comfortable and express themselves as they normally would. Go wide to capture your surroundings, and then get close for some details. Give us a window into your ordinary life, and show us what moments matter to you. If a photo resonates with you, chances are other people will relate to it as well.
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