Most of the time when you see photos in print or on screen today they seem to be a waste of paper, ink, bytes or pixels. They take up space and consume resources but the information they carry is pretty close to zero. They are merely there to catch the attention of people who are too lazy to read, to possibly set some mood or because the design guidelines for the magazine or corporate identity require there to be at least 1,3 images per page. I suppose that despite being mostly useless the advertising industry have done their research on this and ‘it works’ but that doesn’t keep the results from being crap. The results can be bad for two things: The images themselves being bad and the choice of image being inappropriate.
As for the image quality, there are again two aspects. On a technical level these photos seem mostly excellent. Many people must be slaving away hours after hours to create photos with just the right lighting with just the right non-existant backgrounds, with just the right amount of overly blurred background. And ever since I tried to just take a photo of a wine bottle, I am convinced that doing this well takes quite a bit of skill and patience. In addition to these skills, people making the photos will need a big collection of items to photograph and a collection of reasonably good looking smiling – and quite likely ‘diverse’ – people of varying ages in both ‘business’ and ‘casual’ outfits to include in their photos. Sitting at an airport, walking down the road in a group or cheerfully smiling into a headset while sitting in a call centre.
Which brings me to the negative side. Most of those photos just seem dead. There’s literally nothing in them. They don’t show anything interesting. They are inoffensive. They lack any character. In a way they are empty. Which of course makes them perfect for the corporate communicator but still makes them rather useless to person seeing them.
The other aspect is the use of images. And that is the bigger problem in my opinion (after all, who would make those wide aperture photos of ‘diverse’ groups of people in business attire of there were no demand for them…). These photos frequently seem to be used in the most mindless way possible. It appears that people start making a magazine or brochure and at the end some person fills in random images that fit into the layout and match a keyword from the text.
An example may be the following photo which according to its caption illustrates that gourmets pay high sums for special kinds of seafood (found in an article on the ecological effects of food production in some German eco-magazine):
All right, I can see the chain of thoughts that led from the expensive seafood topic to some drone typing sushi into a computer and using an image that came up in the results. But this is just wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start.
Interestingly this lack of co-ordination – or as I prefer calling it: ‘stupidity’ – also extends into actual ‘journalism’ by now. In reports that are based on interviews, for example, you will quite frequently find the author going on about what the interviewee is wearing – to establish some kind of credibility, proving they have actually met, I suppose – but then the photos that are placed next to the text will be from the standard press kit or something, showing the interviewee in completely different clothes and in a completely different environment. WTF? Either take your own photos or rid your writing of those details which hardly ever improve the article anyway.
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