'Mother and children picking vegetables': The year in stock photography clichés

It was a year of dizzying creativity in stock photography. Kind of.

While stunning photography — and there was plenty of that this year — might be a way to reflect the pinnacle of human visual aesthetic, a look at the best-selling and most-downloaded stock photo imagery is an exercise in mediocrity, which makes it even more poignant. These top-selling photos are not the best-shot or the best-composed photos that even stock image sites own. Vox populi, vox dei.

But they do tell us something about human psyche and the direction we are going in: technology abounds, female empowerment and lots of coworker collaboration.

Here are the top-selling images and most-downloaded stock photos from Shutterstock and Getty Images’ iStockPhoto. For Shutterstock, the company pulled together the most-downloaded images out of its 70 million-strong collection. Getty’s pictures were the top-selling images.

1. Man in workplace using technology

shutterstock_268450493
Shutterstock: Silhouette of cropped shot of a young man working from home using smart phone and notebook computer, man’s hands using smartphone in interior, man at his workplace using technology, flare light.

One device isn’t enough. In an always-on, connected world, media is multichannel but also omnichannel. This photo is the perfect encapsulation of the trappings of modernity — and advertising’s holy grail: a millennial who’s organically indulging in a dual-screen marketing experience. “Or, maybe just a millennial snapchatting while they should be working?” asked Dominic Al-Samarraie, cd at JWT New York. Helpfully, this stock image let’s you be the judge.

2. Free happy woman enjoying nature

2. (Free Happy Woman Enjoying Nature. Beauty Girl Outdoor. Freedom concept. Beauty Girl over Sky and Sun. Sunbeams. Enjoyment.)
Shutterstock: Free Happy Woman Enjoying Nature. Beauty Girl Outdoor. Freedom concept. Beauty Girl over Sky and Sun. Sunbeams. Enjoyment.

At a time when politics is pretty laser-focused on women’s rights and feminism was the word of the year, it’s fitting that one of the top-selling stock photos is about a “free” and happy woman who is clearly enjoying being let out for the day. Or maybe this is a look inside a woman’s mind — since freedom is just a “concept,” after all.

Al-Samarraie said, “Nothing says freedom and enjoyment more than a ‘free happy woman’ sacrificing herself to the sun god Ra, shot through an Instagram-style filter.”

3. Determination

Determination: Female athlete in competition.
Getty’s iStockPhoto: Determination — Female athlete in competition.

It truly is the year of female-focused images in stock photography. Potential uses: a listicle about female athletes or an alternative to “glass ceiling” images about women at work. One of the big trends this year is the changing perceptions of a woman’s role, said Rebecca Swift, director of creative planning at iStock by Getty Images. “The demand for depictions of women and men showing a modern, realistic view of gender has really skyrocketed this year.” But wait, said Ben James, ecd at JWT New York: “Is she over the wall? Getting over the wall? Or simply hanging in there?” So many possibilities.

4. Two young businessmen

(Image of two young businessmen using touchpad at meeting)
Shutterstock: Image of two young businessmen using touchpad at meeting

 

The theme is clear: Millennials love having all their devices on at the same time. These two young businessman would rather browse Tinder on their iPads than work, using that clunky laptop near them. The pen and paper lie to the side, untouched. Another reason to put more of your ad budget toward digital. “This small sample of top downloaded images, illustrates the rise and importance of technology, specifically in the workplace and in regard to mobile and cloud technology,” said Keren Sachs, director of content development at Shutterstock.

5. Mother and kids gardening

"Mother and children picking vegetables"
Getty’s iStockPhoto: “Mother and children picking vegetables”

This photo is from the iStock Lean In Collection. It was launched in October and was an extension of the collection created by Getty and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which emphasized creating powerful depictions of women in work and life, aka no more women eating salads. This photo features a mom with her kids — at least we assume it’s actually her kids and not some random children she picked up to weed her garden.

6. Safety first

"Safety first"
Getty’s iStockPhoto: “Safety first”

The trends in stock photography show that “we can expect more men actively participating in fatherhood, women leading, teaching and showing strength out there in the world,” said Swift, who pointed to the popularity of images of strong women and nurturing fathers. This is the ultimate feminist image, possibly only topped by this.

7. A creative environment

"it's a Creative environment"
Getty’s iStockPhoto: “it’s a Creative environment”

Look, this is how millennials like to work: in big, open-plan offices with large Mac computers and plenty of people leaning over your shoulder to watch as you concept and ideate the next great creative idea. It’s OK if you don’t pay them much — they’re doing this for the experience.