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Tips for choosing photos

May is National Photo Month, but no matter when you read this, these tips for choosing stock photos will help you up your visual content game.

There's been a lot of talk about representation in visual media, including the stock or custom photos we use in our content marketing and brand journalism projects.

Last year, we committed to being more intentional about our approach to choosing the photos we use in our work.

Upshaw-Iungerich-Goode
photo: Nicola Goode; courtesy ICG Magazine

We started by simply looking for photos that included mostly or all non-white people in any setting, like the one above. That seems like a ridiculously low bar, but if you're a white person, look at the photos you've chosen for the last few projects and you may just notice that most people look like you. That's an easy first step, and if it's all you do, it will matter.

But we're not just going for racial or ethnic representation, we're also thinking about the activities and relationships presented, too.

Let's be honest, a lot of photos show white people in positions of power or in higher-ranking jobs than people of color. For example, in healthcare photos, it's common to see white people as doctors or researchers with few or no people of color in sight. It's also still common to see women as nurses and personal care aides and men as physicians and surgeons. Combat that by selecting or shooting photos that showcase people of color and women in those roles.

A women in Kente cloth clothing

It's also important to reflect the rich ethnic mix of our country when choosing marketing images. Recognize this with photos of people representing other cultures, say Indigenous/First Nations people in traditional dress, Sikhs in turbans, Muslim women in hijabs or Ghanaians wearing Kente cloths. Be mindful to avoid images, however, that constitute cultural appropriation.

There's also a serious lack of differently abled people in most marketing images. Make an effort to use or create photos that include people with prosthetics, using mobility aides or in wheelchairs. Same for people living with medical conditions like vitiligo or with obvious scars from burns, injuries or surgeries.

These tactics seem small, but if more of us applied them to our content, we'd build a more representative marketing landscape. And we'd be showing our customers and prospects that we see them and value them.

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