For...reasons...which are neither crucial to this post nor probably very interesting to you, I have a project that requires me to look through a lot of stock photography. Much of that stock photography involves children, babies, and families in holiday regalia. The vast majority of these photos bother me in some way. A few even make me physically uncomfortable. Not like, in an explicit or inappropriate way. Like in a "I folded a newborn baby in half, stuck him in an old wooden chest with his head hanging out the side and propped the lid in a precarious and ALARMING manner over his soft spot and then walked several feet away and busied both of my hands with an expensive piece of equipment" kind of way. Also, occasionally, in a "there is a GIANT flower strapped to this baby's head and we're all trying really hard to pretend it doesn't look like a sentient tumor" kind of way.
Sometimes, the babies are old enough to reach out and put things in their mouths and they are posed with a million tiny choking hazards on a blanket on a set and just...left there. Now, do I truly believe these babies are in any danger? Not really. Probably, the mom is hovering nervously right out of the shot and will leap to the baby's rescue the second the flash goes off. BUT!
If I were, say, to put one of these images on my company's Christmas card, what kind of emotions will it evoke? Will people think, "Ooooh, sweet little Christmas baby!" or will they think "DEAR GOD! Who thought it was a good idea to wrap a string of Christmas lights around an eight-month-old's neck and allow her to chew on a glass ornament?!"
Maybe I'm crazy, but I would fall firmly into the second camp. I know I would, because I am the one looking at these images and I am thinking these exact things. Which is probably obvious, but I feel like stating it anyway. My first response to some of these images is physical discomfort, worry, or stress. I don't think I have an anxiety problem (although this could be a sign of one, I suppose). I'm generally a pretty even keeled sort of person most days. And they ook me out.
Now, the entire point of stock images is for use in situations when you want to convey something--put a smiling child with perfectly straight, pearly white teeth on the banner of your pediatric dentist website and you have conveyed that people should bring their children to you so that they, too, can have perfectly straight, pearly white teeth. An image of someone with a solemn, pensive expression is meant to make us feel solemn and pensive. We all get this, right? It's simple advertising.
So when the props you use or the way you pose the person or even the angle of the shot DISTRACTS me from the message you're tying to convey, it's not a very good shot, right? I mean, I'm assuming you're not trying to make me anxious and squirmy and pleasegivemethatbabyrightnowyouirresponsiblecrazyperson. So why are you selling this photo to a stock photo place? And why are the stock photo places buying these shots? And DEAR GOD WHY are these stock photo places trying to sell them to me?
This also goes for the truly horrifying Photoshop fails. The baby floating randomly through an animated starlit sky. The clothing added or changed to suit the "purpose" of the shot. Oh, you need a screaming kid at Easter AND a screaming kid at Christmas? I'll use my super secret stealth skills to erase the bunny ears and add this too-large and oddly lit Santa hat on top of his blotchy red tear-stained face! What. I especially like what I'm calling the Conglomerate Shot: That rattle in her hand? NOT REALLY THERE. The bench she's sitting on? MADE OF IMAGINATION. That dog playing poker? BORROWED HIM FROM C. M. COOLIDGE. That park she's sitting in? WHAT ARE YOU, NEW? The baby's real though. 100% real. Weeeeeell, okay, like 95% real. Once I got rid of her blemishes. And added a sparkle to her eye. And skimmed off some of that "chub." At least 30% of that baby is the same as the baby who came to my studio.
OH! AND! The "selective colorization" technique? Just stop. A baby on a white blanket wearing only a white diaper and a Santa hat? Fine, cute, whatever. Selectively colorize only the Santa Hat? Great job! It now looks like the baby isn't breathing.
Never. do. that. again.
And while I'm here in Random Rant Central, I would like to make the case that people's personal Christmas photos, INCLUDING THEIR LAST NAME AND THE YEAR, are maaaaayyyyybe not stock photo material. I mean, I cannot think of a situation where someone would buy that. "Look honey! They're the Michaelsons, too. You know how much the kids hate sitting for photos. And, while they look nothing like us and have three more kids than we do, I bet our relatives don't really look at these anyway. Let's just save some money this year and send this one out instead. I mean, the year's wrong, but if they don't notice we've suddenly become Chinese, I bet they won't see the 2012 there either." Huh, I guess I CAN. I just can't think of a situation where someone would buy that AND that would also be a REAL situation.
Some of these pictures are just...crap. There's no better way to put it. The posed family photo where the oldest child is looking off to the left and no one else is in focus? Why purpose could that possibly serve in a publication or on a website or on a flyer. "Bruno's Cheapcheap Photography: at least I'me not as bad as the guy who took THIS." The shot where the baby's face is completely in shadow and nothing coordinates and I'm pretty sure I can see the photographer's right thumb in the lower left-hand corner? Probably not the one you send in for the real cash money, I'm thinking.
I've been needing to take breaks from this project all day, about five to ten minutes in, because my arm waving becomes detrimental to my blood pressure and my work space. It's making it very difficult to get anything done today. I find myself uttering, "What? Oh, okay, maybe. No, wait, what?" A lot. Like the four pregnant women hanging out in bras and booty shorts, showing off their naked bellies and wrapping each other in Christmas garland. Sure, that looks like a normal Tuesday afternoon to me! Or the same baby Photoshopped next to itself in a row of three, each with a Photoshopped pacifier in a different color and one with a Photoshopped Santa hat. Don't believe me? Here. Many of these would qualify for Awkward Family Photos. Except they're Awkward Family Photos You Can Pay To Use As Your Own Photos. Because America, that's why.