It has been three years since our multicultural stock photos post, and since then, several businesses have popped up to stake their claim in this market and offer their own diverse stock photo catalogs. Writer Louis Rawlins explores two of these businesses — Colorstock and TONL — and also gets some perspective from working Black designers on what they want to see in terms of stock photos. — MC
Digital creators of color know it can be a challenge to find stock images with diverse subjects. Historically, stock photos come from White men with Germanic backgrounds, yet surprisingly it’s those same people that “comment on how badly [they want] diverse imagery,” said Karen Okonkwo of TONL. “They are just as invested in this search and haven’t been able to find it.”
Designers in our Slack community are excited to see the growing number of stock photo sites catering to people of color, but not everyone is finding what they want. Dwight Battle, art director and product designer at HBO Digital Products, said he needs practical photographs with people holding tablets “so I can put a mock of my project in there and show it to stakeholders at work.”
Designer and front-end developer Paul Anthony Webb also mentioned the struggle to find scenes that represent people of color. “It’d be great if there were stock photos of people using technology products and doing things around the house.”
Lauren Dorman, a software developer at A Color Bright echoes this concern. Her studio has a collection of device photos that feature people of color and she shared that she has access to a studio and equipment to help increase the number of people of color seen. Reflecting on how stock photos of people of color are gaining notice, she added, “We kind of treated it as a ‘one and done’ project but this is a valid reason to go back and expand on it and/or revise.”
Jenifer Daniels, founder and managing director of Colorstock, is no stranger to this process. When she worked in public relations for Wayne State University, she was frequently unable to find images that reflected the school in Detroit’s Cultural Center Historic District. Dealing firsthand with a lack of diversity in stock photography pushed her to create Colorstock in 2015, where she offers a range of photographs of people from many backgrounds.
Colorstock serves businesses and nonprofits like Slack, Color of Change, YWCA and the City of Chicago Health Department. Daniels shares proudly that Colorstock made its first sale the day it launched, and they have been profitable ever since. She looks to other stock photography businesses to work together to change trends in stock photography and even address diversity for facial and voice recognition.
Okonkwo notes that though it has been a struggle to find diversity in stock photography, it is changing. “Traditional stock photo websites are recognizing that diversity is important,” she said. “We see those businesses continuing to try to meet the demands of the people and that is by showing more of the faces that make up this world, which are not only white.”
When TONL launched in August, her team was excited to see people who subscribed pre-launch visit the site for free images. Okonkwo has seen people buy photos individually and on subscription. TONL serves businesses large and small as well as personal users, and they have made it their mission to focus on quality while maintaining a catalog for people who see diversity through imagery as imperative.
TONL co-founder Joshua Kissi worked for years on Street Etiquette, an agency that was originally a lifestyle photography website for men. He said, “it provided storytelling through culture [and] was a nice segue into TONL.”
Platforms like Instagram have made seeing diverse people from around the world easier, but they have made explaining licensing and intellectual property law difficult for contributing photographers. Up to one-third of photos submitted to Colorstock cannot be used because of these restrictions. Daniels wants to ensure contributing photographers succeed, so she bridges the gap with educational tools and onboarding. Photographers can get support in the Colorstock Slack community. “The collective talks to each other,” said Daniels. “They share ideas.”
The stock photography industry grosses nearly 3 billion dollars a year, according to Daniels. But she points out that although the market is big, there is room for niche offerings like CreateHER, a stock photo website that features photos of Black women.
She is excited to see the breadth of images available online and looks forward to a settling in the industry. For both TONL and Colorstock, they see more brand partnerships in their future so people can find images of those they want to represent without having to compromise on gender, ethnicity or visual expression.
As the the industry continues to change, having a choice of stock images showing people of diverse backgrounds means we can communicate our diverse world more clearly.