Monday, July 4, 2011

The stock photo model in this picture is really me

This is what I look like, honest
This Blog ran several months ago. Since then, many of you have commented on it, and even asked us to repeat it. So, here it is again.

A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words. If that’s true, than a stock image photo is worth about three. They are “use with caution”.

Let’s face it, Non-Profits don’t have very good pictures of themselves. They usually don’t have a professional photographer walking around snapping stills all day. At best, it’s the lowly communications officer with a camera designed for holiday snaps (purchased because it’s the cheapest, of course). If you’re lucky, they had some photojournalism training when they went to school. If not, there’s always you or one of your managers or secretaries who likes to take pictures of their kids’ soccer games for Facebook. These usually look rather terrible – the lighting is bad, there’s always someone with their eyes half closed so they look slightly evil, the poses are contrived and people generally tend to look like they are underwater. And this is the image that you want to give to the world?

It’s not surprising that many Non-Profits turn to stock photography as a solution. Why do you have to look like yourself when you can have a model do it for you? At least that’s the idea. Stock photos are very deceptive in the fact that they are easily found on the Internet, from a graphics supplier or even in some software you have already, like PowerPoint. You can find almost anything if you look hard enough – babies, sick people, depressed women, rebellious teens, happy couples, older couples and more.

No, this is me!
But stock images can often create more trouble than they’re worth. First and foremost, they aren’t real. You can tell a stock photo from a real photo because everyone looks like a model. Don’t believe me? Just look at the teeth. Yes, the teeth. Most stock photos have people with the whitest teeth. Then, there’s the hair, and, of course, the clothes. There’s something in these things that tells most people they aren’t real. That’s a problem when your Non-Profit wants to be authentic. If you use “fake” photos then what else is “fake” in your communications or fundraising materials?

Second, stock photos aren’t perfect. It’s easy to make a mistake with one. Next time you’re at a stock photo site or even Google image search put in terms like “security guard”. Chances are that the images you get back will be American. A rather large college near me just sent me a catalogue of courses, including one about how to train to be a security guard. The image is obviously American. The man in the picture has a US Sheriff-style brown uniform with a bright star on his chest. In Canada, most security guards wear black and have a mandatory “security guard” patch on their shirt – they don’t usually wear badges. In other words, the people who take this course will never, ever see a guard like this in their entire time in the security industry. What does that say about this college?

Thanks to the Internet the world communicates in images. The way to describe yourself in pictures is now more important than ever. This is a great opportunity for your Non-Profit. Why not take some real pictures of real people in your organization? It will give you the authenticity you want. When you ask for donations you will actually be able to show the person who will benefit from the donation or the person who delivers the service. That’s a powerful tool. It can also give you unexpected benefits. Taking pictures of your stakeholders, volunteers or employees can be a very positive morale-booster.

This could be me...
So, here’s what I recommend. Hire a photographer for a day. Do your homework and scope out what images you want and where. Compress a dozen or more shots into one day’s work. Then re-visit at least annually and do another photo day. Over time you’ll build up your own stock image library. That’s what I did for several organizations. I was so good at it other organizations started asking me how to do it and if they could borrow my stock images!

If that isn’t possible, or your Non-Profit has privacy issues that make it hard to find willing clients to photograph, remember this. Use stock images sparingly, and test to make sure they look “real”.

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