One of the most sought-after genres in stock photography is that of lifestyle images, which are basically photos of people. A genre that wouldn’t exist without models, people posing for photos and agreeing to have their likeness used by others. They’re the essence of lifestyle stock images in more than one way.
Some of them –and their shots– have become so popular, especially in today’s Internet culture, that their faces are part of our daily landscapes. But unlike what happens in many other fields, in the case of stock photo models, it’s very common to recognize their faces, yet not their names.
Today we’ll talk about the world’s top stock photo models, how they got their fame, how they live with it, and why their images are some of the most perfect photos for marketing and visual content you can find.
Modeling for Stock Photos and What it Really Means
We all know what it means in general terms to be a model for photos: you pose for a photographer that captures your likeness in photos, and then those photos are used for different purposes. What not many are fully aware of is how all this is handled legally.
In concrete, every person who poses for photographs that will be used by others must sign a legal document known as Model Release, where they express their consent to have their likeness used in certain ways.
When it comes to stock photos, neither the photographer nor the model knows who will end up using the photos or how. All they know is it will be for some kind of commercial purpose, so models who sign the release do so “blindly” in a sense, without actually knowing where their faces might end up placed, or if they will end up being used at all.
In the same way, more likely than not they simply get paid for their work on the photoshoot but receive no royalties if pictures with their image become popular and sell well. Unlike what would happen if they were hired by companies or marketing creatives directly, to be “the face” of a particular product or brand.
World’s Top Stock Photo Models of Our Times
These famous stock photo models couldn’t really predict their fame, and they still mostly can’t control how their images are used. They all had different reactions to their popularity, and some of them actually made it turn their weird celebrity status into a bankable opportunity.
Ready to meet them?
Rebecca Ariane Givens – The Ultimate Overexposed Girl
You’ve got to be very oblivious to the world –and the images– around you as for her face not to ring a bell. In the last few years, Rebecca Ariene Given’s face and more specifically her bright smile and very expressive eyes have adorned the most various ads and blog articles. Brands from all the corners of the world, from the giants like Google Adwords to modest regional food companies, have used her image to promote their services.
The exposure was so intense that she became a stock photo celebrity on her own right, having Tumblr pages, Reddit threads, at KnowYourMeme and YouTube videos (like this song one) dedicated to her and featuring compilations of stock images and/or graphics featuring her, that basically shows her doing every possible activity and going through every human emotion we know. There are many fansites like this one here on Facebook as well.
Givens is a model, and interestingly these stock images that invade the web are the result of a joint project with her photographer boyfriend, and she actually participates in the production process as a whole. They create an average of 200 new images a month, which also explains the huge variety of pictures of her that are available for license at big outlets like Shutterstock and iStock.
That’s not all, though. Despite being portrayed as a businesswoman, a backpack traveler, or a freshman college girl, Ariane is actually a beauty and health blogger and writer, and a health coach. And yes, her face also dots her own blog site, The Radiant Peach.
You wondering how much her images are used in an advertisement? Check out a short video made out from hundreds of ads starring her:
Overall, Givens definitely seems to have a good grasp on the business opportunities branched out from her stock photo popularity, and is a good example of the positive outcomes of posing for stock photography. Now meet some of the most famous stock photography models!
Adriana Rodríguez – Top Stock Photo Model on Both Sides of the Lens
Porfolio of AndresR at iStock where he is exclusive.
Adriana Rodríguez’s bright smile is one you can surely recognize because it appears in ads and graphic designs all over the world. Not surprising, as she is a regular model in images shot by her brother, the renowned stock photographer Andres Rodríguez –or andresr if you go by his stock imagery brand– who sells his high-quality photos exclusive at Getty Images and iStock.
What is cool about Colombian-born Adriana is that she’s not only a recurrent muse in Andres’ pictures, thanks to her uber-commercial looks. She’s heavily involved in the production side of things, acting as business manager and second shooter in many of the photoshoots they do. Check out Andres fan page at Facebook and here on Instagram where you can follow his work.
Both the Rodríguez siblings are active on social media platforms like Instagram, where they share beautiful photos of their travels around the world, valuable insights on photography production, and the latest images they have up for licensing at stock photo sites. In her own Insta profile, Adriana from time to time shares fun selfies posing next to adverts that feature her – or well, that feature the stock photos she poses for.
It’s not hard to see this is a model is strongly committed with the stock photography industry, that she enjoys the exposure that comes with her popularity, and leads a very rich and fruitful career.
Jennifer Kind – The Everywhere Girl
Jennifer Kind was an aspiring actress back in 1996 when she modeled for some stock photos as a one-time gig. She posed mostly as a student in a campus-like setting. And boy, did her pictures become popular! At the dawn of massive Internet access, Jennifer’s face was used everywhere, from adverts and store decor to brochures and textbooks, and everything in between.
She is, in fact, the model in that controversial Dell-Gateway 2004 marketing faux-pas, where both rival companies used stock images featuring Kind in their ads. Her image was so widely spread across the advertising and publishing fields that in the early 2000s the media picked up on the story and she was dubbed “The Everywhere Girl”. Today, almost 25 years after the photoshoot –the only she ever took part in– her pictures are still up for licensing at stock photo sites and still in use all over the world. She is even in the Urban Dictionary here.
Despite feeling a bit conflicted with some of the ways her image was used –particularly regarding sensitive topics like politics or religion– Jennifer definitely saw this exposure as an opportunity and tried to bank on it. She took the “Everywhere Girl” label and tried to turn it into a brand: a blog, social media fan pages at Facebook, a YouTube channel and video about her experience with the stock photo business, and several interviews to media outlets here and there were some of her actions in recent years.
While today some of those projects seem to have been left behind, it does appear like Kind didn’t resent her stock photo fame at all.
Funny side note, you can still buy her image here on Getty Images.
Niccolo Massariello – When Stock Photo Modelling Goes Wrong
Niccolo’s story seems like the real-life version of the plot in an early episode of the popular 90s sitcom Friends –if you’re a fan, you’ll remember–: he posed for some photos that would be sold as stock, and next thing he knows his face is everywhere, but related to topics and situations he didn’t find flattering at all.
According to his own words in an article for Vice, Massariello was going through a hard time and took the offer from a photographer friend to pose for a photoshoot as a nice way to cheer himself up and boost his ego, which did the trick at first. Niccolo had fun, signed the model release, and went his merry way.
You can watch him here on his TED Talk explaining how it all started. Great video!
As the photographer uploaded the images from the shoot to (free) stock photo sites, things took a turn for the worse and the model couldn’t regret more to have taken part in it. Why was it so bad? Because something in his image and facial expression leads creatives in various corners of the world to use the photos in connection with sensitive and not very happy topics. He illustrated articles on abusive relationships, various delicate male diseases and medical conditions, low-budget sci-fi novels… to name a few.
In the end, Massariello felt his initial ego boost from the shoot was completely diluted by the fact different people across the world found him to be a good representation of such negative concepts, and the fact millions of others would associate his face to those concepts after seeing the ads, articles and social media posts certainly didn’t help.
It’s also worth mention that not making any money from this exposure was also a factor he brought up in his POV piece for Vice, and there are no known attempts from his part to try and cash on his unexpected popularity.
Funny is, that you can still buy his photos here at Adobe Stock
So, while his characteristic frown and mustache made him a temporary celebrity on the advertising sphere, it’s fair to say Niccollo Massariello was not amused about being a top stock photo model.
Anne Sofie – A Very Sought-After Face
Her most iconic images are those where she poses as a friendly call center agent: with a neat suit jacket, her hair tidily up, her headset on, and a gentle, refreshing smile.
But while different shots of that same setting are some of the most used in multiple ads and posts around the globe for years, the model known as Anne Sofie has posed for a huge number of photos that are here available exclusively on iStock. And they’re so popular that he even created a dedicated lightbox featuring the over 600 images starring or including Sofie.
It seems Anne’s face can sell anything, as she’s been portrayed in the most various scenarios, from enjoying a sunny beach day with friends or representing a couple in romantic shots alongside Jesper Bruum –another famous stock photo model– to being a serious businesswoman, a scientist, a surgeon, you get the point.
We don’t know much about Anne Sofie except for how commercially viable her image is as to have her very own lightbox at a major stock photo agency like iStock, and a reverse image search on Google or here at Tineye will easily show just how widely used her pictures are.
So we can know for sure the Internet exposure has turned her into a very sought-after and popular stock photo model.
Jesper Bruun – World’s Most Downloaded Man
Danish model and environmental engineer Jesper Bruun were once named “The world’s most downloaded man” circa 2012 here at Time. It was around then when he posed for Yuri Arcurs (aka Jacob Wackerhausen), one of the most successful stock photographers ever, and his handsome likeness —licensed and downloaded from iStock here— started dotting adverts and billboards everywhere one would look.
Bruun started his modeling days as a side gig while he studied multimedia design and later engineering. Interestingly enough, he used to struggle with weight and body image as a teenager, before blossoming into the slender and masculine looks that made him famous around the world.
He hadn’t taken modeling too seriously until he responded to an ad by Yuri Arcurs –the prestigious Danish stock photographer that made millions in the microstock business and founded his own stock photography powerhouse Peopleimages among other achievements– and posed for stock images that ended up in the libraries of the top stock photo sites.
Soon after that, he started seeing himself in graphic campaigns and adverts for anything from shaving cream to scuba diving or financing services. He even shared some couple themed photoshoots with Anne Sofie, the bankable stock photo model featured right above.
This overexposure, his label as the most downloaded man, and the implications it had for the marketing industry lead to another opportunity. Jesper participated in the film “Most Downloaded Man” by Brazilian photographer Fernando Martins, which documents his meeting with Bruum in seek for answers as to why this model was ‘stealing so much work from him’ –or more succinctly, why creatives preferred stock photos of Bruum rather than custom shots produced by Martins or other photographers like him–. Such film only fueled Jesper’s exposure online, making his face even more recognizable.
The once most downloaded man is still modeling, though for a while he’s represented by model agencies and managers to get a bigger chunk of the pie in terms of earnings from his likeness. As he claims to feel proud of his fame and consider it an achievement, he also expressed a desire for humility that leads him to not go about telling the world he’s one of the most famous stock photo models.
Here is a fun video Brazilian photographer Fernando Martins created after seeing Jesper everywhere.
Internet, Social Media and the Overexposure Effect
Stock photography is previous to the era of the Internet, and creatives were using them in graphic design long before digital visuals for online use became their number one commission. So, how come the top stock photo models have all risen from the late 90s and much more so in the 2010s?
Web 2.0 is responsible for that. Online communities, social media, and instant messaging installed a new way for people from all over the world to interact with each other through content sharing, and the Internet took place as one of the main mediums for marketing and advertising.
As a result, the web got flooded with stock-photo-based visuals for different purposes, eagle-eyed Internauts started to recognize faces in these ads and posts, compiling them and sharing their discoveries with each other or with large communities –Reddit, for example, has many pages dedicated to this–. Some even became extremely popular memes, a whole phenomenon in itself of which you can read more about in our article about the origins of your favorite stock photo memes.
This should make it obvious why in Stock Photo Secrets we constantly remark the importance –and the challenge– of being original and unique when using stock images in your work: we live in an over-visual, over-sharing, over-exposure ruled the world, and you need to really bring it to stand out! Choosing the perfect photos with the perfect models is a great way to achieve that.
Why Them? Stock Photos and the Faces That Every Creative Loves
Is it just random that so many graphic designers, marketers, advertisers, and publishers have chosen pictures of the same people to illustrate or promote such a huge variety of products, services, and concepts?
We don’t believe in random. There is something in these particular models that is alluring for creatives, and more importantly, that they deem will be alluring for their target audience. Considering how broad the topics and themes they work with are, that equals to saying these individuals’ images could sell anything.
You will notice there are some common traces to all of them:
- They’re attractive but in a “reachable” girl/guy-next-door kind of way. This makes people find their images appealing but not intimidating
- They’re expressive in a visual and straight-forward way. Their body language and facial expressions easily convey emotions –even in those overly posed, old-styled shots all the above-listed models have posed for– making them relatable and turning the message delivering of any graphic into a much more effortless task
- They’re ethnically ambiguous and/or inclusive, while most still lean towards Caucasian, these models have the particularity of fitting within the parameters of various regional looks. And some of them are modern, natural and authentic representatives of one or various ethnicities, which means they bring in social and cultural inclusiveness to the pictures in an effortless and casual way, something extremely desirable in today's visual world
All these are important pointers to keep in mind when selecting stock images to use in your designs. Whether you’re going after some of the shots from these top models, or you rather try and find a lesser-known face in a stock photo agency’s catalog, make sure you’re choosing a fresh face that will connect with your target audience.
Who knows, you might end up featuring the very next stock photo model star in your designs!