Commoditization of pictures and faces

Imagine you are a photographer having to compete with stock photography readily available online. Chances are you often lose the battle, knowingly or unknowingly. There are many stock photos out there that fit the client’s purpose. Sometimes clients may not necessarily want unique pictures but simply images that do the job, i.e. potential or existing customers “get the picture”. Why pay and wait for organisation, models, photographer, production and so on? Stock photography is a handy alternative for clients.


However, the market may get saturated with pictures that do not mean much anymore to the public. Think of an online banner fatigue where people just ignore online banners (not another ad!).

So do these stock pictures actually do their job or are we fatigued by over-commoditization?

The answer probably depends on many factors. On one hand, it seems that the trend of generalisation and commoditization of things, such as tastes, works to a certain extent. Knowing that you can find a McDonald’s or Starbucks serving mostly the same food and coffee all over the world can create a weird sense of comfort. The many global outlets attest to this. A similar mechanism could be applied to the commoditization of pictures and faces featured in them.

On the other hand, if you travel to some other place in the world you will likely fondly remember trying out different foods compared to the food you know. For example, eating like the locals and visiting their establishments will tell you more about their culture than sticking to say McDonald’s. This is where generalisation and commoditization of things do not work and uniqueness in experience trumps.

Where is the line between using uniqueness or commodity?

The utilitarian viewpoint points to whether the unique or commodity “thing” fulfils its intent, which makes the answer specific and context-dependent. The upside is that both uniqueness and commodity have a place in the market.

For photographers who lose business because clients use stock photography it may seem harsh but the opportunity in my view lies in maximizing the uniqueness niche, if this fits the photographer’s aspirations. Focus on adding value, something extra, that will help your clients even more than something off the shelf. Who knows, while answering the first question above, perhaps even evidence exists that ads with stock photography are not really effective in x, y, z circumstances.

One Brazilian photographer, who is unhappy with losing work to stock photography, travelled to Denmark to meet one of the models featured in many stock photos. This encounter brings a face to the anonymous model, who we at the same may find very familiar. Mashable reports on this visit to the “most downloaded model in stock photography” but be sure to check out the YouTube video below.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you actually see the pictures that are often clear stock images? Do you think they are effective? If so, do you find this always the case of in certain circumstances?

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