World Models

Posted Wednesday, 29 December 2010 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Not only is business global today; so is life. The president of the United States is of mixed ethnicity as are huge members of most societies. Buyers of stock photography want to use images that show an accurate and authentic representation of their target market or demographic.
World peace

© grafikeray/Crestock

There are two approaches to diversity. In the first you want to be inclusive when selecting models by showing people from a range of ethnicities in a single photo. The second approach is exclusivity: concentrate on authentic depictions of a specific ethnic demographic.

International business team in a meeting

© 4774344sean/Crestock

The requirement for a variety of ethnic origins in a business image is nicely met in this photo because the casting isn't overtly obvious.

Ethnic diversity within a group photo

Global companies and specialized markets that purchase photos for textbooks want group photos that show models from more than one race.

Multi-ethnic business portrait

© Yuri_Arcurs/Crestock

I like this image because the front and center Indian model reads as the leader.

A photo of a group of children should show boys and girls from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, as should images of a business or professional group or meeting. Global businesses like to show that their employees come from many parts of the world and that they take diversity in hiring seriously.

School children and their teacher in a high school class

© MonkeyBusinessImages/Crestock

I've noticed that in some photos the obvious leader or director in the group is an older white male. This is very old school and there is a need for images of women who occupy important positions in all fields from business to medicine and education. Further there are some pretty important CEO's in billion dollar businesses that are under 30.

Elementary school computer class

© MonkeyBusinessImages/Crestock

This image presents an excellent solution to those looking for images for elementary school textbooks. The teacher is of African descent as are several of the students. Other students are of mixed ethnicity or Caucasian.

Dropping one person of color into a photo to solve the diversity issue, is tokenism and frankly, looks just plain silly. I showed such a photo to a class of young photo students. When the image came on the screen, they burst out laughing. I was bewildered. When I asked why the giggles, they said that the group looked faked.

Happy friends faces

© Andresr/Crestock

Although these women are of Hispanic origin, this photo is useful in many cultures. There are very few visual clues like wardrobe, jewelry and backgrounds that indicate that they are from South America. They could be Americans or Europeans. They are what are known as “world models” because they could be from many places on the globe.

Ethnic similarity and authenticity within group photos

The exclusive aspect of diversity in stock photography is related to showing photographs that correctly represent a specific culture. When it was realized that the U.S. Hispanic population was a market force, some non-Hispanics shot photos that were not authentic and in some cases, insulting as they were based on misconceptions.

Mother and son Family Fun

© szefei/Crestock

© darrenbaker/Crestock

Today we see families that are ethnically blended as well as the traditional ones.

You can't realistically fake an Indian middle class family for a website in India by shooting a second-generation American family. This is where the great diversity of cultures represented by microstock contributors adds strength to the images. We have photographers living in all the major countries of the world who understand the subtle visual clues that stamp the images with honesty.

Muslim women

© szefei/Crestock

The photographer, szefei, lives in Malaysia and so has access to local models and wardrobes that might elude traveling photographers to the country

When you cast people, think of the target market for the images. Are you looking to depict an ethnic group within a broader society-such as a Hispanic family in U.S.? Or are do you want to show a typical family in a particular country such as a relationship group in Mexico City that is geared for that market?

Indian Family outdoors

© deanm1974/Crestock

Here are some tips to add diversity to the popular business, education and family shots:

  • Cast models that represent a 'world look' for maximum downloads. These are people with a blended looked of an uncertain ethnic origin. But be certain to identify their race in picture headings, keywords and model releases as some models of one ethnicity don't like being identified with another.
  • Ensure that group shots mix it up...the obvious leader is a woman of African descent, for example. Or the CEO is very young.
  • When you travel, remember to photograph day-to-day life - not just the poorest citizens. For some reason some photographers think that stock photography is photojournalism. It isn't.
Kids Holding Hands 1

© BasheeraDesigns/Crestock


One group of buyers want real people from a particular demographic like an Indian family assimilated into a new country for use in hyper local ads/publications. Another group wants an authentic Indian family living in Delhi for example for marketing/websites etc. geared to the viewers/readers in India. The photos will show subtle and very real differences.

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

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Ellen Boughn's best-selling book, Microstock Money Shots, is filled with insights, tips and advice on how to create commercial images and improve your work flow to profit from photography whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
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