Things I Learned Doing Stock Photography Modeling

You don’t know me, but chances are you’ve seen me. I did some things I’m not proud of for money. I was desperate.

I was a stock photography model.

It was never a passion; I never had false illusions about becoming a model or walking down a runway or anything. I was an actor and I did it for a buck when I desperately needed a buck fifty. I would shoot, collect my money and be on my way. And most of the time those photos never saw the light of day. This all happened many years ago. But time, just like a well placed stock photo, makes fools of us all. Here’s a handful of gems I learned as a Stock Photography Model.

1. You Have Zero Control Of Your Own Narrative

The tricky thing about stock photography modeling is that you never know when something is going to surface and certainly not what it will be used for. Because of that, you can go years in ignorant bliss before the past comes back to haunt you. When it does, you can suddenly be the face of something you’ve never heard of or an embarrassing product you would never use, like a newspaper.

Me dying on the inside while print media is just dying

Most of the time these things are innocuous. But when you sign up to model for stock photography, you never know where your face will land, which means people can make assumptions about you that are often untrue. Professional models have the option of turning down work, or knowing what they’re signing up for when they go into a shoot. When you do stock, you can be anything. Which brings me to my next point:

2. You’ll Be Recognized For Random Things

As a comedian, I’ve been reading The Onion since high school. It’s my favorite publication anywhere. I’ve even appeared on their short lived Comedy Central show, SportsDome. Gracing their pages is an honor, which is why I was floored and excited when this ol’ stock photo hit the site:

On the phone while drinking coffee and carrying a newspaper?! I must be important AF

Do I want to be the face of gentrification? Not particularly. Am I cool with being the butt of a joke? Totally. Fun pieces like this can happen, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Remember, when you do stock photography anyone can control your narrative. Getting to punctuate a joke is amazing, but that fun can easily be offset by becoming the face of other things, like when a columnist needs a picture to highlight their deeply personal, yet trendy topic:

Huffpo confirming all of my family’s suspicions

Perhaps it’s the newspaper I’m reading, or the scarf, or the smile, but someone at Huffpo saw it and said, that’s our bisexual! Bing — I’m now fielding questions from everyone I know for a month because nobody these days reads past the byline. It’s a great article; it’s just not mine. When you sign a modeling release, you’re literally saying that you can represent anything. You’re a human emoji.

3. It’s Incredibly Easy to Get Screwed

I did one shoot for what’s known as ‘in-house promotion’ for a company, which is a fancy way of saying that it would only be used within company or to attract advertisers. I was even personally assured on set that nothing shot would be mass distributed. My modeling release stated that the company in question owned the rights to those photos because, hey, they legally have to in order to use those pictures for anything. That’s true of any modeling.

Me in the only multiracial configuration seemingly allowed for a white guy

One month later I found my face plastered on Newspaper ads, flyers, and yes, even billboards. Personal assurances mean jack when you’ve signed a release. The company in question owned those images. It was theirs to do with as they pleased. And it pleased them to lie to me in order to promote their brand.

The whole experience could have been amazing; my face was easily recognizable and everywhere. Typically that type of exposure usually nets you quite the paycheck. On the low end, I should have easily gotten several thousand dollars for that type of modeling. That wasn’t the case in this instance because…

4. It’s Just Not Worth The Money

Sadly, as that shoot was (falsely, it appears) for ‘in-house promotion’, I was paid less than an average Bernie Sanders contribution. And there was nothing I could do. I brought it up to my agent and was met with a resounding “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”.

Stock photography models are paid for their studio time, not their exposure. A quick few hundred bucks can be great if your photo winds up in a PennySaver, but if your photo gets wide exposure a company can make bank from you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So yeah, it’s kind of a mixed bag. I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing it for anything other than fun because it can really screw things up for you professionally. Also, you’re all but guaranteed to be depicted in a stereotypical fashion. For a straight white male like myself that means I’m often a doctor or the lost boyfriend. When I’m placed in an interracial couple my partner is suspiciously always asian, because the people who buy stock photos can’t fathom a white dude dating a black or latin woman (it’s still the 1950’s in stock photos).

Unfortunately some pictures of mine are still floating out there, and it’s just a matter of time before something else drops. I just hope I‘m not the next face of HPV, it could really conflict with that doctor picture.