One of the first examples of stock photography dates back to the 1920s. An American photographer, H. Armstrong Roberts, had a photo shoot with six subjects standing in front of a Ford Tri-Motor airplane – bags packed and ready to be whisked off to a far-off destination.
Roberts ensured that they all signed model releases, which was the important step for commercially profitable photographs. Stock imagery began to appear as an alternative option to staff photographers, and in the mid-1990s photo libraries transitioned from physical archives to servers.
Today, websites offer valuable platforms for both the advertising industry and creatives. Marketers can source images quickly and efficiently, while photographers, videographers and designers can earn an extra income.
Thanks to the internet and new technologies, this concept has been streamlined, but there remains a gaping hole in the South African market. The stock content currently available does not always speak to who we are, but rather who we should be according to international standards.
How are we going to connect with our local audiences? The answer is simple: we need real South African images, created by South Africa’s best. The creative industry needs you, our local talent!
Alison Blair is the founder of Photie – a South African platform for royalty-free photographs, illustrations, design elements and videos. Alison recently reached out to South African creative directors to understand the content they’re looking for, and whether they are willing to pay for it.
The consensus is that there’s a lack of authentic South African people and families representing our diverse cultures. Advertisers need images that express a range of emotions, while capturing the essence of our nation across various demographics: gender, age, race, culture and status. The stories being told should be inclusive, featuring people with different senses of style, body types and disabilities.
“We love to show diversity in advertising, but in an authentic way. It shouldn’t feel forced,” one art director points out.
Another contributor says they are always on the lookout for “good quality stock imagery that is shot beautifully – with wardrobe, hair, make-up, background and composition considered. The more natural the images feel, the better”. You know those family portraits where everyone is wearing matching outfits, or the same colour t-shirt… they aren’t looking for that.
There is a need for spontaneous and candid images. Poses should feel in-the-moment and should not seem contrived. Advertisers also want scenes with subjects gazing away from the camera, as well as a range of facial expressions. Art directors need variety so they can choose an image that represents their client’s story in the best way.
There is always a demand for happy and empowered expressions, but recent image searches indicate that people who look pensive, caring or restful are sought after too. “I’ve previously looked for breastfeeding images. Authentic ones, not staged in a nursery with wispy curtains, but real life scenarios,” a creative director mentions.
Portraying South Africa’s unique landscape and seasons is also high on advertisers’ lists. Think about a blazing hot Christmas spent at the beach or poolside, electric thunderstorms on the Highveld, bushveld winters in the Kruger National Park, or a colourful scene in Namaqualand during spring. We need images capturing the textures and atmosphere of our landscapes, featuring the fauna and flora indigenous to our land. “Moody, but not gloomy,” another director adds.
Activities featured in images need to be relevant to our target market. “Avoid stereotypes and rather aim to represent various races, ages, body types and cultures”. This said, there are some South African conventions which remain loved and popular, like a good old braai after a sporting match, a vuvuzela blaring at the stadium, the Diski Dance, or a vibrant spaza shop in a township.
When it comes to composition for portraits, simple backdrops are always better; well-lit images with soft backgrounds are ideal. Creative directors prefer photos that aren’t over-edited or too difficult to crop – leave enough space around your subject or object. Designers prefer photos where they can easily add text to the image, which are simple to modify and they thrive on having various orientations, both landscapes and portraits.
One of the key topics for stock searches this year has been working and learning from home, but it remains important to portray a range of people from different backgrounds and ages. Wearing masks and social distancing has been popular too, but keep in mind this trend might be fleeting.
It is always good to think outside the box, but the biggest mistake creatives make is to chase after the excotic or the unknown – a bit like the six travelers in Roberts’ photo mentioned above. Remember, our audience wants what’s in your backyard, street or town. They want home-grown. Capture the everyday, but in an extraordinary way.