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Stock Photos Show There's More To The Story

Jenifer Daniels

You may think of stock photos as cheesy. You know, the staged pose, the fake backgrounds. But Charlottean Jenifer Daniels is trying to change that. Her business is Colorstock. It’s a stock photo website that focuses on providing images of people of color.

When you go to the Colorstock website, big block letters ask, “Your customers are diverse. Why aren’t your stock photos?” Daniels has been on both sides of this question.

  She worked doing PR for groups with diverse clients, like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg libraries. When she looked for photos that she could use for the library’s rebranding, she came up short. “I would have the hardest time finding stock photos,” she says. Not because pictures of people of color weren’t there, but because they didn’t feel authentic.

That’s why two years ago she left her job at the library, started learning code, and then last June founded Colorstock. Now, Daniels regularly asks her customers, “What do you think is missing from stock photography?” She says, “The answers are all varied, but at the end of every month, we can actually put them in buckets, to say, here’s our senior bucket, here’s our children in school bucket.”

Then she passes those requests along to her 22 contracted photographers, who are ethnically diverse and live across the country. Daniels says that’s on purpose- it makes it easier to capture authenticity.

It’s not just generic photos that Daniels’ customers tell her are missing. She says they ask for specific stuff, like Hindu weddings in New York or interracial family reunions. Daniels says, “The way that people of color live in Charlotte is not the same way that people of color live in New York and LA. So for example, I don’t think we probably would have ever gotten images from a Hindu wedding here in Charlotte.”

Credit BeMe Photography / jeniferdaniels.com
Jenifer Daniels

Her goal is for her photos, which sell for between $10 and $25, to tell honest stories about the people in them. Like one photo of a young African-American girl who Daniels happens to know a lot about. “She’s on her laptop. That’s my daughter, actually, that’s my daughter,” Daniels laughs. Daniels often uses her family as her models.

She says, “She was at a coding class and the space she was in was interesting, and I could tell she was very focused on what she was doing, and I just pulled out my camera and started taking some shots of her.”

  With a national push to bring more young people into tech and the rise of groups like Black Girls Code, Daniels says timely images like that one of her daughter are in high demand. “That’s one of our highest selling images, because it’s a part of a story,” Daniels says. “Just something that was very intimate and personal in my space, that was part of a larger story that wasn’t being told visually.”

Her clients include a lot of startups, but also the YWCA, the Urban League of Central Carolinas, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

But quality takes time, and her stock photos are no different. Daniels notes, “Either my eyes or my chief product officer’s eyes sees each photo that is submitted. And we do that, probably, to the detriment of scale.”

But the most important thing to Daniels is that her photos be real. And real, to her, means everyone is represented.