A man wearing a non-surgical face covering and a grey t-shirt, looks out of the window, towards the sky. The glass reflects the outside world, other houses, trees, a fence and the sky.

Created by one, chosen by many

Stock images are almost ubiquitous and can be seen pretty much across every media we consume today. For content creators, they can be a quick and affordable way to add visual interest, offering a welcome break between paragraphs. They are widely found in advertisements, blogs, social media and even presentations, but you’ll have also seen stock imagery in the editorial world, accompanying news stories and magazine articles.

In both respects, stock images play a big part in reflecting and shaping our view of the world, so, it stands to reason that they can also function as a data point. After all, the most popular photos, purchased for use, have been selected because they are the right for the job, yes, but also because they respond to the mood of the audience at that moment in time. Of course, this past year has been quite the rollercoaster ride of extraordinary, to say the least. And while powerful photojournalism has packed a punch, as it always does, these most popular Canon-shot stock photos from Getty Images show something gentler. Some are unsurprising, others feel hopeful, but all mirror some very welcome values.

An older woman with her arms crossed, wearing a smart white t-shirt and beige waistcoat. Her hair is shoulder length, dark with some grey and pushed behind her left ear. She wears black rectangular glasses and raspberry lipstick.
Image by Morsa Images, courtesy of Getty Images

Female leadership

The numbers aren’t quite as impressive as the column inches might suggest, but the profiles of women in roles of importance have certainly soared over the last twelve months, with extraordinary amounts of coverage devoted to women such as Jacinda Ardern, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Angela Merkel. This image is tagged ‘Female CEO with arms crossed’ and speaks to the opportunity brands and media have in breaking stereotypes and visualising mature women in executive positions.

Themes: women in business, female CEO, women in the boardroom, leadership, empowerment

A bearded man in a blue shirt and large headphones sits on a stylish leather office chair at a home office desk, working on his laptop. The room around him is white walled with pictures and shelves, and plenty of natural light.
Image by Eva-Katalin, courtesy of Getty Images

The ‘new normal’

2020 is not just the year that most of us became home workers, but the year that many people had to learn how to work from home. The media was awash with advice on the best ways to maintain a work-life balance, replicate your usual desk and not get caught in an uncompromising position on Zoom. This image sits right at the top of most people’s home office aspirations, with a dedicated space, natural light and furnishings that most could only dream of as they uncomfortably hunched over laptops on the couch. It’s something of a surprise not to see a yoga mat tucked in the corner of the office.

Themes: Working from home, home office, new normal, the future of work

A man wearing a non-surgical face covering and a grey t-shirt, looks out of the window, towards the sky. The glass reflects the outside world, other houses, trees, a fence and the sky.
Image by Justin Paget, courtesy of Getty Images

Staying safe

With a huge part of the year given over to lockdown, it pretty much goes without saying that there would be plenty of shots on Getty Images where a mask is worn. However, this is a photo that is less about the mask itself and more in how it conveys the familiar sense of social isolation, anxiety and uncertainty that we have all felt in the last months, particularly among those who are most vulnerable. This image truly captures the essence of a longing we all have for better times, past and future.    

Themes: Covid 19, loneliness, social distancing, lockdown, pandemic, mental health

A father and daughter touch noses and laugh. The father, left, wears a grey sweater and his daughter wears a striped t-shirt if pink, yellow, green and blue. She has a pink bow in her wavy brown hair.
Image by MoMo Productions, courtesy of Getty Images

Dads representing

Look at those smiles and try not to smile yourself. Absolutely impossible, isn’t it? In a tough, tough year, there are many good things to smile about here. It’s a photo that can tell a tale of parents working from home and spending more quality time with their children, or simply an adoring father and his equally delighted daughter. That it is one of the most downloaded Canon-shot stock images also shows the increased responsibility brands and media feel in representing Black families in their storytelling.

Themes: Father and daughter, parenting, happy families 

The bodies of two surgeons, wearing blue scrubs and PPE. one is helping the other to adjust their surgical glove.
Image by Morsa Images, courtesy of Getty Images

Above and beyond the call of duty

In 2020, any pictures of doctors and nurses, especially those in personal protective equipment and scrubs, are loaded with new meaning. Through news bulletins and social media images like this one became a familiar, almost daily, sight, and our healthcare workers took on hero status as they worked tirelessly at the front lines during the peak of the pandemic. What’s really fascinating, however, is that this image was taken well before anyone had even heard of Covid 19.

Themes: Doctors, nurses, key workers, healthcare heroes, Covid 19, PPE, scrubs

Overall, the five shots above paint a picture of an unusual year – a mixture of togetherness and loneliness, achievements and adaptations, and a new sense of what matters. Who knew we could learn so much from the downloads of so many? But as Prof. Elizabeth Edwards said in her recent interview with VIEW (‘What lies around the edges: the unseen value in our photos’), “Every photograph is an experience that somebody lived through.” Every one of these prepared images has been created by one photographer, but chosen to play its part in many, many stories.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

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