When is a Big Smile a Bad Thing?

When is a Big Smile a Bad Thing?

The content of a message is often composed of both words and images. Image searches are a part of a graphic designer’s life. Here at BMC we find ourselves at stock-image sites, dutifully pecking out requirements into the search field, hitting return and then sorting through page after page of offerings looking for something that hits the mark. So what are we looking for? What do we find? And why is it so hard to come up with that right image?

Let’s say we are looking for a colorful image of people shopping for healthy food that we need for a client's website. A quick search at any of the major stock sites will yield hundreds of results. Surely there's something here that will work for our purposes. But as we sift through the candidates, most images get nixed and few make the cut. So what kinds of images end up in our reject pile?

Category 1: Obvious models

This woman could be selling makeup, hair coloring, or a vacation in Tahiti. She’s experiencing a moment of something here, we just can’t understand what that moment might be by looking at her surroundings. Even her bulging bags of groceries are models in the brown-bag world. The bread is in touch with its earthy heritage backed by wheat grains jutting artfully up and out of the sack, and the unbagged lettuce and strings of garlic and tomatoes spill over the edge of the second bag. Personally my grocery bag looks nothing of the sort and I can't recall the last time I purchased stalks of wheat to go with my dinner that night.

Category 2: Obvious studio shots

These individuals look like real people — they even look like a real family — but they have been placed in a ridiculous pose and the photo was either shot in a studio, or has undergone Photoshop masking (probably masking out the studio). Also included in this category of rejects, are shots where the background is say, lime green, or images that have been shot with extreme angles or overdone special effects.

Category 3: Something is just not right here



a) that kid is way too big to be in a shopping cart, b) dad looks a bit intimidated and is holding a full grocery bag, and c) pineapples are pretty prickly for kids to be hugging.

It can be the loud shirt, the big earrings, the smirk on the subject's face, the unnatural body positioning — anything that makes you look at IT rather than the overall picture means your image search is still on.

Category 4: Subjects are not engaged (with what they are doing)

I like this couple, they are cute, but not so cute that they don’t seem real. Their cart is not a silly cornucopia full of natural and nutritious goodness. The background is colorful and items are not perfectly stacked. I don’t even mind that they are pushing their cart together. Why I can’t say yes to this image (besides the tilted camera angle of the shot) is because both subjects are looking straight into the camera and smiling. Hey, if they don’t care about their healthy -food shopping mission, why should I?

Category 5: Subjects are too engaged

Yes, we all agree that this is the lettuce the whole family can discover together and celebrate! These kind of images just scream “Staged!” We have all seen shots like this in advertizements, but instead of drawing us in with a clever or creative take on the subject, they are hard to take seriously and whatever message they are meant to convey is easily lost in the spotlight.

So, what are we looking for?

We appreciate the variety of stock image sites and the wide range of shots to chose from, and each one of these images could be just exactly what someone else is looking for. But we are are looking for something authentic. We just want to find real people, in a real environment, pleasantly engaged in what they are doing. After we have collected images that have made that cut, we can consider the photographer’s eye for composition, colors, lighting etc.

The search for the right image takes way more time than you would ever think, but the right image can make all the difference.

Which one would you choose?