World Models

January 6th, 2011 by

Not only is business global, 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.There are two approaches to representing diversity in lifestyle photography. In the first you want to be inclusive when selecting models by showing people from a range of ethnicity in a single photo.  The second approach is exclusivity-concentrate on authentic depictions of a specific ethnic  demographic. Today ways to monetize photography have been developed to capture truly authentic photos from crowdsourced, social media like companies such as Foap, EyeEm, ImageBrief and Stipple among others.



Companies and specialized markets, like the U.S. textbook market, want group photos that show models from more than one race. A photo of a group of children should show boys and girls from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. Global businesses like to show that their employees come from many parts of the world and that they take diversity in hiring seriously.

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 removed from the reality that women 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 and they certainly aren’t all 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 really faked.

Traditional Indian Wedding ©Dmitry Rukhlenko/

You can’t realistically fake a middle class family in India 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 their collections. There are photographers living in all the major countries of the world who understand the subtle visual clues that stamp images with cultural honesty.

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?


Here are some tips to add diversity to 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 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.
  • Shoot what you know. Photograph your own culture.
  • When you travel remember to photograph day-to-day life not just the poorest citizens. For some reason some photographers think that commercial stock photography is photojournalism. It isn’t. Photojounalism-that’s a different story.


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 but very real differences.