The imagery used in communication and advertising has undergone a profound change in the last few years. Authenticity, emotion, and social trends play a new roll in the pictures that we encounter daily. What does that mean for stock photo vendors and producers?

Murat Erimel, Head of Marketing at Fotolia DACH, discusses the issue and what it means for selecting and producing pictures.

Young couple playing football on the beach with analog film effe

Imagery in Advertising

There’s been a trend towards greater authenticity in the imagery used in ads over the past several years, one that’s also been observed on Fotolia, a database with more than 45 million photos, vectors, and videos. There are three concrete factors behind this shift.

First, photographers are benefiting from progress in camera technology. Thanks to highly sensitive sensors, scenes can be shot better – and more easily – in natural light.

Second, there are a growing number of popular trends based on authenticity that have naturally influenced imagery and visual presentation: #nofilter (from Instagram), hype surrounding the “Dad bod”, and “no make-up is the new make-up,” to name a few.

Jogging athlete man running at sun sunset beach in Barcelona cit

Third, the visual influence of social networks shouldn’t be underestimated: the thousands of (supposedly) unstaged photographs that we see every day in our newsfeeds have definitely shifted our preconceptions and visual expectations.

Put simply: we’re seeing a trend towards a more spontaneous and fresh visual language – pictures that don’t look as perfect, but are nevertheless carefully crafted, are gaining increasingly in popularity, even at Fotolia and Adobe Stock.

However, it’s important to remember that this is still just one trend: “classic” stock photos still dominate Fotolia’s sales.

Mother with kids on kitchen

New roles, new pictures

The fact that visual and social trends are closely interdependent is clearly reflected in advertising campaigns, which target the values and lifestyles of today’s consumers.

Commercial marketing wants to either generate desires and wishes in its targets, or offer a basis for connection – and realistic pictures are well suited to the latter goal, as they hit on the social trend towards authenticity. Something about the natural look of models in Elle, the famous DOVE “Real Beauty” campaign, or the deliberately crafted authentic style of Innocent drinks strikes a chord with a new sort of urban, trendy audience.

Mature female doctor in hospital room

This is even more true with the image of women presented in advertising. Just as the social role of women has changed in recent years, there’s been an effect on how women are portrayed visually. Take the businesswoman, for example: women in important corporate positions are no longer necessarily presented wearing a suit, glasses, and briefcase. Instead, professional women wear contemporary, fashionable clothing, whether working side by side with male colleagues or holding leadership positions.

Farmer With Vet Examining Calf

What this means for photo selection

As people today are flooded with pictures from Instagram and Co., their expectations of pictures have changed. Pictures must be perfectly composed – cropping, coloring, lighting, and contrast have to work for a picture to be convincing. 

Moreover, the fundamentals haven’t changed. It’s important to keep in mind your target audience, the goal of communication, and the conditions of the corresponding medium. Photos for businesses’ websites, for example, must be tailored primarily to the wants, needs, and expectations of visitors. Photos in ads that are meant to promote products or services have to effect a certain sympathy or desire, identifying with or reflecting popular trends (as was achieved, for example, in the VW Sharan campaign). Mother with her daughter

What should photographers keep in mind?

The buying impulse is, in a way, similar to joy: it is the positive difference between expectations and reality. In terms of images, it comes down to the positive difference between what you have in mind, what you expect, and the quality of the actual outcome. A photographer who has a good understanding of current trends and keeps his or her customers’ needs in mind will trigger this psychological reflex. A good picture for Fotolia – or Adobe Stock – should have a clear message which is immediately obvious to the viewer and built on a solid conceptual basis.

Swimmers at the swimming pool.Underwater photo.

For photographers, this means that it’s no longer enough to master technique. It’s now just as important to keep an eye on social trends and adapt them to your visual work, or use them to lend your photography a new perspective.