How to Use Inclusive Stock Photos That Represent Your Community

Monday, July 8, 2019

How to Use Inclusive Stock Photos That Represent Your Community
Ashley Perssico, blogs.constantcontact.com

Representation matters

Most traditional stock photography resources offer images that use almost exclusively white, young, thin, traditionally attractive and non-disabled people. While many of these stock photos are beautifully shot and composed, you should stop to ask yourself…

Do stock photos accurately reflect the diverse community around me? Do they represent my customers?

More and more people are asking–or rather, demanding–better practices from the companies they do business with. Whether that’s ensuring equal pay, better corporate social responsibility, or–you guessed it–representation.

No matter what kind of business, nonprofit organization, or side hustle you own and operate, your customers are likely not one-size-fits-all cookie cutter copies of one another. They probably run the gamut of size, shape, skin tone and more. After all, we’re each unique. But marketing can often fail to speak to people in this way.

Of course, the best way to accurately represent your customer base is to use, well, photos of your actual customers (provided you get their permission, of course)! If that’s not an option, there are several resources online that offer free-to-use or royalty free images.

Here are some inclusive stock photo resources to help you get started

1. The Getty Images Project #ShowUs

Getty Images recently teamed up with Dove and Girlgaze to present Project #ShowUs – “a ground-breaking library of 5000+ photographs devoted to shattering beauty stereotypes by showing female-identifying and non-binary individuals as they are, not as others believe they should be.”

Photos on Getty Images are under a royalty-free license with a one-time payment required.

A transfeminine non-binary person and transmasculine gender-nonconforming person looking at a phone and laughing.

The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice | Image by Zackary Drucker

2. Vice’s Gender-Inclusive Stock Photo Library

Vice describes their Gender Spectrum Collection as a “stock photo library featuring trans and non-binary models that aims to help media better represent members of these communities.” It is a photo library of over 180 images of 15 trans and non-binary models. You can read more about how the library started, as well as recommended usage guidelines, here.

All photos within the Gender Spectrum Collection are free to use with credit.
Two women sitting in a soccer field share a laugh. They each have soccer balls by their legs and are wearing jackets.

The Take Collection by TONL

3. TONL

TONL was started by Karen Okonkwo, a Nigerian-American social entrepreneur who struggled to find diverse stock photos to display on her own blog, and Joshua Kissi, a Ghanaian-American photographer. TONL’s mission is to “transform the idea of stock photography by displaying images of diverse people and their stories around the world” and “challenge the stale, homogenous look of traditional stock photography by showcasing the many ethnic backgrounds of everyday people.”

Images on TONL are available for individual purchase or via a monthly subscription plan. TONL’s Take collection also features a selection of free photos.

A bald woman sits at a table petting and smiling at a grey kitten who has her nose pressed against the woman's.

4. Canva’s Natural Women Collection

The team at Canva grew tired of “overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes” and suddenly the Natural Women Collection was born. “We’ve put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty,” Canva shared in an article. “Every woman in this collection reflects an important yet under-represented minority in stock photography. Women whose distinctive body shapes, facial features, or tattoos may not conform to the traditional norms of beauty, but who deserve to be seen and given proper representation.”

Each image in this library is free to download and free to use.

A man wearing a checkered button down shirt and black vest holding a closed umbrella over his shoulder and looking off screen.

5. Nappy

Nappy’s founders realized that finding stock photos for coffee, computers, or travel is easy, but you’ll rarely find people of color in the search results. “But black and brown people drink coffee too, we use computers, and we certainly love traveling,” they share on their why Nappy? landing page. Nappy was launched to “provide beautiful, high-res photos of black and brown people to startups, brands, agencies, and everyone else. Nappy makes it easy for companies to be purposeful about representation in their designs, presentations, and advertisements.”

Photos on Nappy are free to download and free to use.

Woman using a wheelchair with her dog on an outing at a coastal marina

6. PUSHLiving Photos

PUSHLiving Photos was started by Deborah Davis, a wheelchair user since the age of 18. The site’s about page mentions that they represent “one billion persons with disabilities spending billions in travel and lifestyle dollars in economies all over the world” but who are “rarely seen or acknowledged in advertising and editorial images.”

Photos on the site are available for purchase through a monthly or credit-based subscription.

A close-up of a woman standing behind a tree, looking off screen.

7. CreateHERstock

CreateHERstock is the “destination for images featuring women of color.” While working on a blog post, founder Neosha Gardner struggled to find an image to use. She began to question whether there were any resources that “catered to women who look like [her]” and she decided to change that. CreateHERstock was launched in July 2015 and features over 2,500+ images spanning wellness, business, lifestyle, and much more.

CreateHERstock includes premium options as well as a selection of free photos.

8. #WOCinTech Chat

In May 2015, Christina and Stephanie Morillo founded the #WOCinTech Twitter chat to “provide women of color and non-binary people of color a safe space to connect and discuss issues in the tech industry that are important to them.” The chat evolved into something bigger, which “connected women of color to job opportunities, provided scholarships and free tickets to conferences, and invited women of color technologists to participate in #WOCinTech photo shoots.”

While the Twitter chat and greater initiative ended in late 2016, the #WOCinTech stock photo library remains a valuable (and free) resource.

Being conscious of your photo choices, and language, can help you stand out and reach new demographics.

There is power behind seeing someone like yourself in an image. If your business is using only traditional stock photos, you may be causing your customers who don’t relate to these photos to feel that your business just isn’t for them. Also, remember to be aware of the language you are using on your website, within your social media posts, and more as words also carry weight and power. Show that your business is welcoming and inclusive by representing your community in each of the photos, and words, you choose to use.