Adventures in stock photos – Act 1: The credit union photography project

What types of photographs do credit unions use on their websites?  

I’ve been obsessed with this question for years not only because I’m a photographer and filmmaker, but because visual storytelling has never been more important in our collective efforts to differentiate and grow in a crowded marketplace.  

Eager to do my part, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to create some of our industry’s largest photojournalism projects that celebrate the everyday heroes at the heart of our movement.   

But it wasn’t until my February 2019 “What Will They See?” story, a piece about my collaboration with TwoScore to create a customized portfolio of member-centered photos for a small credit union in Indianapolis, that I started to dig into how people react to photos on websites.   

Put simply, we ignore stock photos. We reject them in milliseconds, preferring real images of real members and employees doing real things for and with each other, who have a real connection to the credit union whose site we’re visiting.  

Deep down, we know this. We realize that generic stock images cannot, by definition, capture any credit union’s unique value, story, membership, employees, and culture. 

Our industry still relies on them, though. I’m neither the first nor last to call it out, but complaining about this practice hasn’t changed anything. If we want to open eyes, then we must be honest about what those eyes will see when they visit the online home of our credit union. The time has come for hard data and harder truth.   

That’s why I started The Credit Union Photography Project in the spring of 2019. Our small team of volunteers from across our industry are visiting every credit union website in the United States, and classifying every photo on every page. When completed, CUPP will be the most comprehensive research project of its kind in our industry’s history.  

As of October 5, 2019, the CUPP team has visited 1,359 credit union websites and classified 51,548 photos. Some preliminary findings: 

Photos of real members are almost nonexistent, comprising only 3.5% of the total number of website photos we’ve classified to this point. Moreover, of the 1,359 credit union websites we’ve visited, 83.6% of them – 1,136 in all – don’t have a single image of an actual member.  

Photos of real employees are almost as rare, appearing in only 12.7% of the total photos posted on credit union websites. When we add in photos of board members and other volunteers, the result increases to 16%. 

70% of the photos we’ve seen so far – 36,316 to be precise – are stock. 90.8% of the websites we’ve visited contained at least 1 stock photo.  

These numbers indicate that we’re not spotlighting the employees we claim are our most important assets. Real members are invisible. And with every stock image we use, we miss an opportunity to establish a personal connection with current and future members. 

We can do better. You may not agree, though. You may think the pictures don’t matter, that stock isn’t a big deal, that your credit union doesn’t need to change. 

If so, I invite you to check out some reverse image search results from Google in my next article: Adventures in Stock Photos – Act 2: Free Love Dating with Pretty People

Andy Janning

Andy Janning

Andy Janning is the author of the books Heroes, Villains, and Drunk Old Men and The Breast Cancer Portrait Project, an 8-time state and national award winner for overall excellence ... Web: Details