Photo Buyers Looking for Human Touch

Photography: © LWA-Dann Tardif/Corbis

Corbis Creative Research’s  second macro brief of the year, released recently, suggests that image buyers are moving away from pictures of technology and gadgetry, and towards photos of human interaction. The brief aims to identify the cultural trends and behaviors that the company expects to influence imagery over the next two to five years. Corbis has now launched a new collection, called “The Human Touch,” to meet the expected demand.

The root of the trend, says Amber Calo, Senior Manager, Creative Intelligence at Corbis, is the recession, which has sparked a backlash against consumerism and conspicuous consumption. Individuals and society are taking a second look at the things that matter most in life, she explains, and are discovering that human connections and time spent with friends and family are more precious than material goods. Technology has given the trend an additional boost, providing channels of communication over long distances but at the same time, isolating the people who use them.

“It’s become cliché to see a group of people on any given street, each talking on a cell phone but not to each other,” says Amber. “While our use of technology shows no sign of waning, our desire for connection has made us nostalgic for real, human contact.”

Images About People and Simple Pleasures, not Objects

The images the collection contains cover a number of different topics, including human relationships, wellness, escape and leisure, and even handicrafts. Couples are shown holding hands, walking along the beach or cuddling on the sofa. Children play under water sprinklers, a biker takes off down a dirt track, a woman practices Yoga. Families stroll through parks, gardeners dig up allotments, and painters add the finishing touches to a community mural. It’s all simple, joyful stuff in which the most advanced piece of technology might be a paint brush or a pencil and the emphasis is on emotion, creativity and relationships. The models might be happy and smiling — as they usually are in stock photography — but the pleasure comes from time well-spent rather than from objects or achievement.

So far, “The Human Touch” has picked up more than 2,000 images that fit the theme, supplied by more than 100 commercial and editorial photographers. Corbis issued a call to action and the photographers brought to life the concepts described in the brief.

“Photographers see the value in this information and are eager to shoot content that’s based on trends, research and analysis,” says Amber. “As a result, we’ve received a lot of interest from photographers interested in shooting content that reflects Human Touch values.”

Corbis Creative Research uses two sources to identify buying trends. Internal analysis looks at the images provided by top sellers and analyses the most popular searches. External analysis examines tearsheets and reviews trend research to predict the way the market is already moving, and where it’s likely to go in the future.

The collection is new, so it’s too early for sales figures to confirm whether the predictions are accurate but Corbis generally expects content submitted for macro briefs to outperform “non-macro” content, says Amber. A quick glance at the top-selling images over the last 30 days on Fotolia, however,  shows a mixed picture. Alongside images of nature, families and children that might be loosely said to come close to “Human Touch” values are plenty of images related to technology —  exactly the sort of tools against which Corbis is describing a backlash.

It may be that microstock’s part-time sellers have yet to catch up on the new trend and aren’t supplying the images the market needs. It’s possible, too, that microstock’s budget buyers are late with the public’s new mood and will only follow once they see that advertising companies are already using the higher quality “Human Touch” images available on Corbis.

It’s also likely though that in addition to a new rising trend for shots of simpler pleasures, the backlash isn’t total. Some buyers are still interested in shots that show technology, suits, offices and success even as others are looking for pictures of handicrafts, hugs and hikes with the family.

Corbis Creates its Own Trend

What should be clear though is the importance for photographers of trying to predict the direction of the market, and supplying images that don’t just match what has sold in the past but which are likely to sell in the future. That’s not easy to do. If it were easy, Corbis wouldn’t need a dedicated team to plough through site stats, leaf through magazine ads and read through research reports. While social media sites like to talk of their ability to reveal trends, the kinds of short-term discussions that can dominate Twitter or Facebook for a day or two aren’t worth shooting when images need to earn revenues over a number of years. Long-term trends are much harder to predict.

It helps too that when a company the size of Corbis says that it has identified a rising trend, its heft can help it to fulfill its own prophecy. In addition to noting what buyers are now looking for, the company promotes a product that it hopes will deliver what they want, and pushes it with some heavy marketing. The Human Touch collection is accompanied by a research report that describes the trend rather than supplying figures to prove the trend exists, and offers stationery to encourage purchases. Buyers aren’t just being told that human contact is the new advertising fashion; they’re also being informed that if they don’t use these images, they’re going to be behind the times. If “macro content” outsells “non-macro content,” it might be as much to do with Corbis’s canny marketing as its ability to spot a need and meet it.

Independent photographers don’t have that kind of clout. But they can hang on to Corbis’s coat tails. Even if they can’t supply their images to Corbis themselves, they can create images that help to promote the trend, that encourage buyers to use them, and which make sales. Then they can get ready for the next trend, which, says Amber is likely to be education and science.

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