Going Negative

Much is being made in the current U.S. presidential race about ads and emails that disparage the candidates with the use of innuendo and false accusations. The polls show that most Americans are opposed to such ads. In general, negative claims or images are not effective in any kind of advertising. However, sometimes showing certain social and personal ills is called for: health care facilities and pharmaceutical companies use illustrations of depression to educate and promote their products and services, for example.

Images of the causes and symptoms of depression such as insomnia, weight gain or loss and forgetfulness are important to informational publications provided by mental health services and other social and community support agencies. These topics and others such as drug abuse and gang violence are newsworthy too.

Websites and brochures use images that portray individuals suffering from the consequences of other social ills such as homelessness and domestic violence. Take care to protect the identity of individuals if you shoot street people and are not able to obtain a release. If you set up a shot using a model acting as a drug user you might want to add a note to the model release that states that the shoot will portray the model as an addict. Seems obvious but no harm done if you do.

Homeless shelters and soup kitchens can be photographed in a positive light by showing volunteers at work. Unemployment is still low in most of the western world but on the increase. No one wants to be photographed while on the dole or waiting for their unemployment check. It is the job of the illustrator to create these images most successfully. A special service is geared to the needs of soldiers returning from the war zones. We still need more images of military personnel in all manner of situations, especially in counseling.

© Qtrix

As unemployment rises so do incidents of domestic violence. Victims can seek help on hotlines and in safe houses. A good image for this kind of hotline as well as suicide prevention and teen issues departs from the pretty girl at a switchboard shot. A more appropriate image would be a serious appearing adult with a headset. Alternatively a sad or concerned expression on the face of a telephone caller is an effective image for call-in support services. The less posed and exaggerated the shot is, the more authentic it will appear. Very exaggerated expressions of fear or anger seem inappropriate on sites and printed pieces dealing with these very serious issues. Many of the images appear in black and white to emphasize the somber nature of the message.

© Nikitu

Don’t be mistaken…many programs that offer support to communities use positive images so to expand the versatility of a portrait shoot, show a range of emotions.

Keyword tips for this topic:

While looking for images to illustrate “insomnia”, I found quite a few images of coffee beans. Photos of coffee beans aren’t photos of an insomniac. Yes, coffee can cause sleeplessness but attaching that keyword to coffee is like using the word “drowning” with a photo of a sailboat.

Another error in keywording to avoid using opposites. I found several images of happy people reading in bed while searching for insomnia. Usually when someone is suffering from the inability to go to sleep, they look worried or harassed but not happy! A similar error was seen searching on “obesity”. A photo of a skinny model should never be keyworded, “obese’.

Prop tip: I noticed a few images during this week’s image searches that used prop money. Why did the bills look fake? Because they were in perfect shape. The money looked correct but all the bills looked as if they had come directly from the mint. Better to crumple up a few of the bills to look like they have been in circulation.

MODEL SHOUT OUT: Thornberry did a very smart thing for his image above of a gangbanger. He used a non gang guy and a fake gang sign and stated that in the image information.


*Unemployment. Use your imagination to reach beyond the image of the job seeker with classified ads. Shoot that one but get creative. Don’t most people look for work online these days anyway?

*Volunteers at work in social services helping in homeless shelters, soup kitchens or in elder care such as programs that bring dogs and cats to nursing homes

*Group therapy session-illustrators get to work!

*Helpline call centers with serious looking individuals under the headphones rather than the standard pretty young woman for suicide prevention and domestic abuse help lines.

*Needle exchanges using mobile vans like I recently saw on the streets of Hollywood.

Visit these sites to get an idea of how images are used to illustrate services and educational material about social issues:

Suicide prevention website with lots of images

Another resource for ideas

A website with articles on a variety of social issues using many photos here

And for a bit of relief from all the depressing aspects of this post go here to see a wonderful collection of Olympic images…thanks to Paul Melcher for the link.

Photo credits: Yevgen Timashov, Ben Goode, Studio Grand Web, Ioana Grecu, Qtrix, Thornberry, Tommounsey.

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I agree with Praise 139.

Children of all ages fighting (without laughing faces - as if they really mean it) - snatching another's toys - stealing - bullying - hitting - generally being unkind to one another - clearly disobeying an adult - lying.
I'm sure they'd enjoy acting these situations out!

Also upset children/teens being comforted by a friend.


Another subject that I think is not covered well enough is children misbehaving. I illustrate a magazine on family issues and I find about 100 photos of happy, smiling families for every photo of a problematic issue. Are you taking photos of a happy family in the supermarket? take a shot of the mom looking harrassed, the child begging for something he doesn't need, or excessive spending - I need these shots more than the happy family genre. My absolute favorite photographers have both - in this case I purchase two high-resolution images instead of one - one to present the problem, one to present the solution with the same models... I love this combination.
Children getting disciplined (in non-physical ways)? incredibly hard to illustrate. Help me out here, take photos of your nieces and nephews getting the occassional reprimand.
How about pregnant women suffering from nausea, weight gain issues, or discomfort? also not easy to find.
Thanks to those who post photos of the full emotional range - I really appreciate your work.

Oh, and please, please, please don't crop your photos too tightly!!! I generally spend about a day's worth of work re-creating backgrounds, tops of heads, edges of tables, etc. for a banner headings - details lost in most situational photos I download.

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