The Trendspotting Trend*

Traditional stock photo agencies are heavily vested in ‘creative research’. This is the stuff that informs expensive stock productions and drives editing guidelines. The biggest stock producers look for sociological and economic trends that will impact general image needs in the near future.

The on-salary staff that seeks out trends are called creative researchers. Their job is seeking out ‘cool’. They hire outside trend researchers or troll the internet looking for the next big thing. Along the way they keep their eyes open for the latest styles and colors in clothing and for cool props. The hope is that the images that result from this information will be sought out by very hip, highly paid art directors who will think the photos are supercool and cutting edge. Maybe they’ll buy them or maybe just look at them while they buy a photo of a guy on a cell phone.

But what if you aren’t in a position to spend money on expensive market research? There are many resources on the internet to help you. For big trends…just keep up on the news. It’s easy to see that there will be a continuing need for images to illustrate the burst housing market bubble in the US. Read the headlines. What is coming next? Olympics in China. The US election. Recession? War? Peace? Uncertainty often translates into a need for images of home, of traditional events and even home cooking.

Aside from the big picture issues, one aspect of your continuing education should be on what is new and current in photographic styles. Put the ring flash away for now…and if you own a lensbaby, toss that in the closet too for the time being. If you can adapt these tools to your own style by all means use them but generally the first thing photos shot with them says is, ‘I WAS SHOT WITH A RING LIGHT’ or I AM A LENSBABY’.

The top fashion magazines won’t be much help researching wardrobes. Who can wear those clothes anyway? You want to dress models to make them look authentic and real. What you are shooting for is clothes that have street credibility. It usually takes a while for the latest, latest thing in high fashion to make it to a real trend for real people.

© Maxfx

A better place to do your research is to check out the products at the stores in your city that sell gear to teens or displays at the expensive clothing department stores or boutiques. Sometimes, the clothes that a model will bring to a shoot will be right on. Or you could hire a stylist. (Well worth the money for a professional but sometimes the trendiest person you know will do the trick).

But you don't need to hire a consultant. ''Anyone can be a trendmeister,'' says Larry Samuel, a partner in Iconoculture and co-author of The Future Ain't What It Used To Be. In fact, says Faith Popcorn, chairman of BrainReserve and probably the best known of her breed, you might even outsmart the pros. ''Amateurs are actually better at it,'' she insists. They aren't ''restrained by the rigid structures of education and all of the false wisdom.'' In other words, they can often see the obvious more easily than the experts.-Businessweek

In broader terms, photo agencies have fallen into the planned obsolesce that abounds in a consumer driven society. Creative research isolates a trend and pushes that information out to all the editors and producers. They, in turn, get it to the photographers. Within a year the images become so copied that the trends are stale. The image “expires”.

Since all creative research departments in all the companies basically read all the same reports, subscribe to the same trendspotting blogs, one has to ask just how much really unique comes out of all this running around anyway?

© Key909
One stock agency even sells the results of its trendspotting which poses the question, why would they sell such important inside knowledge to their competitors? Is it stale by the time it’s for sale?

One point of creative research is so that when a light bulb goes off in an art director’s head, the stock house will have already thought of images to illustrate it. Or in the best case, the images will be smart enough to lead the marketplace to work a use around them.

My experience tells me that this just doesn’t happen all that much. After all stock photography is about filling a need that exists not about creating a need.

Take a look at some very recent trend news from some big agencies you have probably heard of: ‘Green is the new black’ So? We know that. ‘Boomers are a huge market about to explode the need for new, hipper products for oldsters and thus create a demand for photos of newer hipper oldsters’. Old news.

I was intrigued when I saw the following (ok I read the darn trendspotting things too) entitled, ‘Forever Trends’ from , I thought I should share since these trends could produce images that are “evergreen’ and never expire.Here they are: women, gays and boomers. Hummm? Do we see a trend here?

For ongoing trends prefer this site You can sign up for a free RSS feed that will send you tips all the time. It’s up to you to decide if they relate to what you want to do.

Later I’ll post about the kinds of images that are most likely to be used to target the gay and lesbian communities. I have already written about boomers:

Pay attention to store windows, keep up to date with what’s what in lifestyle and travel magazines, subscribe to Trendwatch’s feed or just keep track of what your friends or children are up to. You’ll have as good a chance as anyone of being a trendspotter.

I leave you with the following:

You don't need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well

Hang around an ink well

Ring bell, hard to tell

If anything is goin' to sell

-Bob Dylan from Subterranean Homesick Blues.


amongst all the strange and some X rated articles I found this one that is typical of the kind of information that is good to file away in your shooting ideas file:

go to ‘tell me about trendspotting’

* Where I swiped the title for this blog

Photo credits: Monika Wisniewska, Endostock, Gina Smith, Marco Poli, Maxfx, Photoeuphoria.

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Sorry I should have mentioned that you have to be a subscriber to read the article. The hard copy magazine is pretty available on big US newsstands but will be difficult to find elsewhere.


David Walker, PDN Editor, has just posted an article about do-it-yourself creative research and trend spotting. It quotes many of the industry experts on the subject and PDN was nice enough to include my comments in the article. Read it here.


Thanks again for the great tips! I am constantly scouring through magazines and online websites to see what images are being used for advertising, promotions, etc.

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