People don’t like labels, especially ones they don’t apply themselves. But in the world of stock photography, customers can’t find the images they need unless we label them. We call it keywording.
We accept images from both independent artists as well as large collections from around the world. Most modern collections tend to keyword in similar ways, although our lexicons (dictionaries) are not identical. Premium images are more likely to be keyworded in-house (by dedicated staff at a stock agency) than microstock (or budget stock) which is usually keyworded by the photographer or illustrator sometimes with assistance from special software.
Keywording images of people is a balancing act, one that’s changed substantially in the last few years. In the not so distant past, professional keyworders added words to describe an image based on what they saw or even felt when looking at an image, using their years of experience helping designers find images. While that process still happens, aided by technology that automatically suggests related words, it doesn’t happen for ethnic or racial diversity.
Today, in order to keyword images of people, we only use the information supplied to us in the model release to identify their ethnic background. This means we only use information given to us directly from the model (not the photographer or a third party), trusting that however the model chooses to self-identify will be the most accurate. (Curious about how the language around diversity is evolving? Check out the Ethnic Media and Diversity Style Guide - PDF.)
However, on most model releases, ethnicity is optional. Sometimes it’s a list of checkboxes; on our model releases, it’s actually just a blank box that the model needs to complete. And that’s why there are a lot of lifestyle images that don’t include any keywords that denote ethnicity at all: if the model provides no details, we have no details to share. We could guess, but that doesn’t actually help clients needing accurate information. But it also means if you’re searching with very specific words, you might not find the images you need.
We have hundreds of keywords in our lexicon, some extremely specific (like Ecuadorian ethnicity or New Zealander or Myanmarian ethnicity). Whether you’re looking for a diverse group of people or a specific ethnicity, we've included a short list here to get you started. And, as always, we offer a free research service if you need help finding the right image.
Hispanic or Latino
mixed race person
multicultural or multi-ethnic or mixed race people
variety of ethnicities