Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why stock photography sucks.

The Getty family is pretty idiosyncratic: miserly billionaires, wayward heirs, kidnappings. If only the stock photography with the Getty watermark were as interesting.

Getty Images has grown as digital photography and the internet have grown, sucking up smaller houses along the way, feeding the insatiable maw of zillions of ad agencies, editorial departments, graphic design shops and web content generators too cheap, too time-pressed or too indifferent to go out and shoot something.

There was a time when art directors drew pictures of people and things in layouts and asked clients to imagine a certain mood, a style, an emotion.

Now art directors spend hour after hour hunting in vain through the Getty catalog for a shot that resembles what they have in mind, Photoshop the crap out of it to get it even closer…and then still have to ask clients to imagine a certain mood, a style, an emotion.

Because it ain’t there in the stock image. But unlike the crude drawings in old-school AD tissues, these pictures—at least to the uneducated client eye—look, well, real.

And, by client standards, uh, just fine.

Show me a creative who hasn’t had to run the stock image he put in his comp after the client glommed on to it and wouldn’t let go and I’ll show you a dead or long-retired creative.

I know there are alternatives...Corbis, Veer, istock, Flickr etc etc. Doesn’t matter. It all looks the same. And some pictures have been used so often, on so many web pages, in so many bad B-to-B ads, they have this eerie, familiar quality to them—like supporting actors who show up on CSI and Desperate Housewives in the same week. There’s Mr. Young Techno-Hipster-with Reflected-Glow-of-His-Laptop guy! There’s the Sassy-Sister-With-Her-Groceries lady! And here’s the Peaceful-Old-Guy-on-the-Dock!

Information wants to be free, the saying goes, and I guess that goes for watermarked stock shots. But pictures, real pictures, want to be made, not downloaded.

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