Ready to represent the entire human race by using diverse stock photos in your visual marketing?
I’m glad to hear it.
It’s a tiny step in the right direction.
Word of warning #1: If you aren’t used to making the extra effort to include all types of people with a beautiful range of skin tones, body types, and gender identities, you may feel …
- Strange. Like anything brand new, it may feel weird and uncomfortable when you start. Do it anyway.
- Inauthentic. You might feel as though you’re pandering. You might feel like a fake. Do it anyway.
- Vulnerable. You might worry you’re “doing it wrong.” Do it anyway.
Any discomfort you feel when you make a small extra effort to use racially inclusive imagery in your marketing is nothing.
Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Do it because you want to open the doors of your business to all human beings, not just people who fit a culturally acceptable mold.
Do it because it’s a small way to “vote with your wallet.”
That’s right: When you search for and download diverse stock photography — even free diverse stock photos — you send a signal to the stock photo site owners.
You tell them you want to see stock photo diversity. That you value diversity. And you’re actively using diverse stock photos.
Word of warning #2: When you represent all of humanity in your marketing images, guess what? You’ll attract a more diverse audience.
When your community is diverse it will be smarter and stronger. But don’t forget that …
You have a responsibility as the leader of a diverse community — you must serve and advocate for your whole customer base.
It’s not enough to throw open your doors and welcome everyone inside. That’s good for you — but is it good for your customers who don’t look like you?
You need to take the time to educate yourself about the challenges faced by people in your community.
You need to actively ensure that everyone feels safe and supported.
You need to do your internal work so that you can show up for people who:
- Don’t have your ethnic background
- Don’t share your culture
- Deal with racism in their everyday lives
This is something I’m working on personally — like many of us, I know I haven’t done enough. Join me in this effort: It will be an ongoing commitment for me.
Let’s start by helping people to see themselves in the images we create and share.
It’s a tiny step in the right direction.
How I learned to search for and use diverse stock photos
In the two decades before I started BIG Brand System in 2010, I ran my own design studio. I primarily offered print design.
Some of my biggest clients were public institutions: Publicly funded colleges, hospitals, and non-profit organizations.
Inclusivity was part of the mission of each of these institutions.
As the lead designer on the projects they awarded me, I needed to ensure that their print materials were a reflection of the people they wanted to attract and serve.
Because it was my job to find and use racially diverse photography, I developed a few tricks I used consistently. As a result, I got really good at finding diverse stock photos on all sorts of stock photo sites — long before dedicated “diverse” stock photo companies existed.
That was no small feat, especially back in those days, because …
Stock photography used to be (almost entirely) white
I don’t have a way of showing you actual data on this next point. Instead, I’m going to illustrate how it felt from a user’s perspective.
I started using stock photos early in the 1980s, when stock photos had to be ordered from thick, printed catalogs with glossy pages. (Yes! That was a thing.)
Between 1985 and 2010, this is what it felt like I saw on stock photo sites.
Starting around 2010, things looked a little better — but not by much.
Stock photo sites offer more racially diverse stock photos these days. You can even find free diverse stock photos.
But you have to know how to look.
I’m going to share three easy tips that will help you quickly find diverse stock photos fast.
What about dedicated diverse stock photo websites?
Yes, dedicated sites that feature thousands of diverse stock photos exist. I’ll share links at the end of this article.
For now though, I’m going to show you how to find diverse images without going anywhere special.
I want to make this easy — I want to show you how to uncover diverse stock photos on the site you’re already using.
Tip 1: Understand how stock photo sites work
Imagine having a warehouse full to the brim with marbles.
Some are large. Some are small. Some are red, yellow, green, and many of them are multicolored. They are opaque or transparent. Some have bubbles, others have swirls.
How can you store your marbles in a way that will allow you to find the exact right marble in the future?
If you’re smart, you find a way to add a few words that describe each marble before you drop it into a box and slide it onto a shelf.
You create a massive database that lists all the ways your marbles can be described, and tells you exactly where they’re stored so you can locate what you need at a moment’s notice.
Stock photo sites work the same way.
They have hundreds of thousands of images. When they receive a new image, someone attaches keywords to the image before it’s stored.
Plug in the right keywords and you’ll get the exact image you want.
This is why when I teach visual content marketing, the first step I teach is INTENTION. When you understand your intention, you can use better keywords and uncover better images.
It takes some practice to use keywords effectively to find Black, brown, and indigenous people. Read on and I’ll show you how it’s done.
Tip 2: Expand your results with this approach to finding racially diverse stock photos
Because stock photo search results are still overwhelmingly skewed toward serving up white-skinned people in their results, you have to be smart when searching for racially diverse stock photos.
Here’s what I want you to remember:
The more specific you need your image to be, the lesser the chance that you will find a racially diverse photo to use.
The more generic your image needs, the greater the chance you will find a racially diverse stock photo to use.
Need to find a “Woman using laptop?” Take your pick: You’ll find lots of diverse image results.
Grab a photo of a Black woman working on a laptop and use it.
Need to find a “Woman using laptop, yellow dress, coffee cup?” Good luck. Here’s your option:
“Woman using laptop” is not very specific. The phrase doesn’t include many keywords. That’s why you get lots of results — and you’l see diverse images among them.
The more keywords you add, the fewer results you’ll get. And your image results will probably use a white person as a model.
Here’s Tip 2 in a nutshell:
Use fewer keywords to broaden your search results. Universal topics are an opportunity to use a photo that features a person of color.
I have one more tip you can try.
In this tip, you’re going to try adding very specific keywords to see if they help to surface the images you’re looking for.
Tip 3: Get diverse photo results when you add these terms
There are a few keywords you can try adding to uncover the best diverse images a stock photo site has in its digital warehouse.
These keywords may not be the accepted terms used to identify groups of people — but they’re the terms used by people who add keywords on stock photo sites. I know, because they work.
For example, here’s what I get when I search bigstockphoto.com for “lawyer meeting.’
But when I add a keyword from this list:
I find this photo:
It’s a great image — everyone is engaged, their faces and body language convey emotion, and the image itself tells a story. Yes!
Make an effort to show humans in all their glory
TIP 1: Understand how stock photo sites work.
Go into your image search with intention so you can pick the best keywords. Avoid using too many keywords and eliminating all the diverse stock photo results (see the next tip for more on this).
TIP 2: Expand your search results by getting less specific.
Take full advantage of a “generic” photo need.
Less-specific, “universal” images (Examples: man on bicycle; woman in boardroom; man hiking; woman drinking coffee; man reading book; woman climbing stairs) will yield more diverse image results than ultra-specific searches.
Do the right thing: When you need to illustrate a universal concept with an image? Use a person of color in the photo.
TIP 3: Try adding search terms that yield diverse results.
Did you search for a universal concept and now you need to wade through the 4,578 results to find a person of color?
Add a keyword like: Diverse; Ethnic; African-American; Latino; Indigenous; Native.
That should help diverse stock photos come to the surface so you can choose from them.
Explore these sites which offer collections of diverse photography
You don’t need to jump through hoops to find diverse stock photography on the sites below. They’re chock-full of gorgeous images — and many are free.
MochaStock.com: Affordable, royalty-free stock photo images.
Nappy.co: Beautiful stock photos of black and brown people.
DiversityPhotos.com: Relevant. Authentic. Inclusive.
Picnoi.com: Free stock photos for a colorful world.
Remember, this isn’t about “appearing diverse”
When people see themselves in your marketing images, they’ll feel welcomed in your community.
That’s great — but it’s not enough.
Make sure you can fully support and serve your entire community. It’s your responsibility as a business owner.
I’m learning because I want to be pro-active from here on out. If this is something you feel you don’t know enough about, I hope you’ll learn, too.