Skip to main content

Creating Diversity in Stock Photography

Lesson 6 of 6


Joshua Kissi

Creating Diversity in Stock Photography

Joshua Kissi

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

6. Q&A


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:03:40
3 Diversity in Who You Love Duration:04:09
6 Q&A Duration:21:59

Lesson Info


I think photography and stock photography could be a very powerful vehicle of change. Yeah. And you have a very interesting, compelling, stories with many of the images you make. When you market them on TONL, do you try to convey those stories, either through a series of photos or a story that goes with the photo to kind of guide how the photos are used to convey those stories? Yeah so, on TONL, I feel like I'm promoting it, but basically on a website we have a section called a narrative section, and that's pretty much where you have the images aggregated, and the stories of the people told, then you have the normal catalog which is just all of the images. So we do have a section where we kinda like categorize a story, the person, and you see all the images that apply to that collection, so it's like building stories within stock for the most part, yeah. Any other questions as well? Yeah, sure. Hi, I use to work in stock photography as a producer, only one year, one stint, but ...

to go back to what your question was, y'know, it was kinda starting there 10 years ago and now we have TONL. Yeah. Someone who's interested in taking their story, their environment, and saying oh maybe I wanna open the door with TONL, how would they go about that? For that type of opportunity, you would just email us. We have a ton of submission emails, but the thing is right now we're trying to build like a quality team, so we're like not taking all the submissions. We're accepting them and seeing like, in the future whether we want to take on that person or not, but everybody could submit basic notes, so if you're interested just drop us a email, your portfolio, and we'll take a look at it, so. And we're always looking here in Seattle, so, it makes sense, yeah. Any other questions? I'm curious about how you got your models, like, you just sort of explain how you started getting your models, like, how do you get models now? It's still that kinda way. It's interesting 'cause, it's interesting 'cause I guess people know I shoot for TONL as well. Some people just want a photo by me, and I'm like, okay. They're like I just want you to take my photo, like that's kind of the allure behind it, sometimes, but most people are friends of friends, or people that really want photos, or there's like, I want maternity photos, I'm like, I'll do it for free if you want this to go on TONL like just a way to barter like out your services as well so, a lot of it is people on social media just being like I want to model for TONL, which isn't the case for most stock photography companies 'cause aren't just like raising their hands and being like I want to be a stock model, like, no, but I think it's because it's the stories we represent and how deep we go into imagery that people will really feel like there's something more than just a photo itself, yeah. Yeah, sure. I just had a question, so you talked about kind of, the challenge for you when moving to stock photography and how to still convey your kind of brand in your photos and that feel, and I'm just wondering, now that you have photos out there in stock photography, have you ever had an instance where one of your photos was used maybe in a way that you didn't agree with and how do you deal with that or how do you balance that out with stock photography? That's a great question, so me and Karen have very different ways about dealing with it. I'm like cool, whatever. Karen's like we're gonna sue them, I'm drafting up an agreement, I'm like I don't even care. I'm like, 'cause I'm so busy, our friends are traveling in Haiti and they saw this big billboard and there was like a photo from TONL with a advertisement and I'm like, that's definitely not in the rights usage for them to have it like that, but at the same time I was just happy that people in Haiti were able to use an image that related to what they needed as a service, so, I was not too mad, but Karen was definitely like I'm gonna sue them, Imma find out who put that image, imma trac- I'm like, it's too much work, let's just keep takin' photos. So, another question? Yeah, thank you so much for sharing last time, excited to hear this, and I'm personally working on, it's just really important to me in my life to seek out ways to be inclusive and I'm trying to figure out ways to do that more with my business. And I'm trying to figure out, like I want to represent more in my portfolio, but I don't have a lot of clients right now, which is sort of a circular problem, right, because I'm not getting clients 'cause I'm not showing. So I mean, other than, I mean the few sessions that I've had, I'm a family photographer, sorry, I should've prefaced with that, but, the few families that I've had that are representational I've tried to share a lot of, but how would you like, do you have any advice for me in terms of like putting myself out there and acquiring these types of clients or maybe doing some extra shoots to get, to get that in my portfolio? That sounds like the kind of advice, okay, draft the exactly what type of client you want, and being able to take some test shoots with some friends or friends of friends, like hey do you know anybody looking for birthday shoot or whatever it is, being able to capture that from your perspective. Maybe catalog four five different ones, four five different types of families, different dynamics, and be able to like, pitch that, y'know what I mean? Then your portofolio be able to grow because once people see that they'll be able to refer for you for more work. So it's really an interesting situation but it's really about catalog and what exactly you want to capture, having that through friends of a friend, just test shoots, y'know, doesn't take too much time, and being able to give that to the potential clients that you're looking for, and that's probably through either email or contact or agency, it gets really really bloated on how exactly you get to the client itself. You have to see which PR agency they have, there's a lot of work into how you could actually contact your ideal dream clients, but for the most part, if you just continue that they'll be able to see the work ethic you have and kind of the vision, and if you don't get them, you'll pretty much get somebody else, so it's not about just only getting Huggies or whatever the case is, but being able to get the right type of client. Yeah. Got a couple good questions from online. Mary asks how would you suggest connecting with the diversity genre that you do not naturally have around you 'cause not everybody lives in New York City, right? That's true. How do you meet people? How do you network with people so that you do have a variety of diversity if that's the goal? Well if you don't live in New York, you have to take a flight there, no no, I mean diversity comes in so many different ways, I think people are thinking very skin deep. Which is one thing, but there's so many different ways that you could be able to tap into that. Once you have a conversation with a person you see that there are different sides of them, different types of ways where they have privilege, where they don't have privilege, and I think it's all about capturing like, I'll say now otherness? So, yes, it could be a Caucasian woman but maybe she's in a same sex marriage as well as been adopted or whatever the case is, all these different variations to who she is, so it's like, I think it's once you begin to learn more about people, you'd have that, but it's not like, hey I need to travel to Atlanta or DC to capture all black people or whatever like, it's just about like figuring out within your circle of people, like transitional networking so like, who are around me that I could be able to tap into that and be able to like find representation opportunities within that so, it's not about like, y'know, going to the place and capturing. Did she ask about not feeling a part of, like how do you document that, or she just... Yeah, or living in a place where there's not as much... Yeah, yeah, I think it's just about those stories again, those inner stories, 'cause there's still something powerful about that. I don't think diversity's just skin deep. I think that's so important, there's a question, actually, about that. It's delicate to cast for diversity, right? What would you, what would you do to suggest the best way to sort of word the casting that requires, like if there's casting that requires ethnically diverse group, how do you word that, and even to put it out into the world and ask for people? Yeah, I mean that's interesting. I'm not a casting director, but like, I think there's certain ways for people to know that, okay, they're looking for all types of people. I've seen different casting emails that say looking for racially ambiguous, y'know, XYZ, or looking for African American male, or Asian American male, or... So I think it's just about finding those right titles and just still opening it up enough where somebody else could still come in and apply to it so it's not super direct as well, so, it gets tricky though 'cause people are, people really get touchy about names and what type of categorization, what is black or African American. There's so much there but I think people could also recognize that somebody's just trying to do the due diligence of representing everybody, so, always look at the larger picture for sure. Sure, another question. So actually want to touch on that because I've been thinking about that, shooting stock, you keyword the people. So I take a picture of a lesbian couple or a black African American male. I put the picture online, and I tag them black, African American, lesbian, gay... So now I am putting them in boxes. It's not he or she, another person, like every other person any more. Now they're labeled. So, it can take away, I feel, from just being recognized as we're all people right? So I have black friend and she doesn't consider herself black because she's just, I have so many different backgrounds so even though my skin is black, being black is not really who I am, it's, y'know, I've come from, I have some native American ancestors, and so on which is such an interesting description, I've never even though of that before, before I met her. So how do you, combine that? The concept of everyone being a person but also labeling them different things? I know it's interesting, I think it's just become from person to person 'cause even for me if I'm like I think I'm African American, some African American people like whoa you're actually not 'cause your parents are from Africa, you're first generation so you're not actually like... It's so much like, it could go into so many different directions like it's so funny but I'm like, I'm literally African American, I'm an African born in America like, so there's that aspect as well, so it's just, it gets tricky. But for the most part I think it's, I think there needs to be more truth within it, because when it feels like this very sterile process that's when people feel offended like well you can't box me in or who I am and I get that, I definitely empathize with that but I definitely think that there still needs to be some sort of group and community thing 'cause we're all trying to feel this truth of who we are, and for your friend who's black while also native American and has different like... Yeah she's totally open to have those opinions about herself and identity and I think that's the beauty of identity as well, so for me it's not my job to categorize somebody, it's their own perspective of how they look at themselves, It's just for me to document their best vision of themselves, period. So do you have a conversation with your models, is every model like that? No, not really. Every model's definitely not giving me those type of conversations. Most people are like, hey this is who I am, this how I identify. Whether you're Ethiopian American or just from Thailand, wherever it is, like people are pretty much comfortable with the labels, unfortunately, that we have so, I think it's, it's just about more truth in the conversation 'cause it's still a very touchy subject for people. When people get uncomfortable about it depending on their experience. But through like more conversation and communication we'll get to a place where people will feel heard 'cause I feel like that happens when people are not feeling heard and that's when those feelings come about, yeah. Yes, any other questions? Some hard. I had a question about how you approached sort of communities or cultures that you're not familiar with or a part of in a way that's not exploitative or you're not appropriating, anything. Yeah, that's a great question, 'cause it's always like this online banter about appropriation like what can you can capture, what can you, what will you feel included in, what you don't feel included in. But even within shooting the organization UIHI in native American Alaskan Indian, I really got to ask myself am I the best photographer for this? I just really like be honest with myself. Like okay, yes, I'm African American living in America, I get that perspective but maybe we need to bring in a Native American photographer to get even more deeper and closer to how they relate to each other. And I think that's just something that's gonna be evolving as time goes on, but I was really able to like have conversation with them, see what they were comfortable with. Some people weren't even comfortable with the word Native American at all. So it's just so much there once you get to talk to them, you'd be like okay, I'm getting a deeper understanding where I have the pleasure of capturing this but it's not about me or my pen it's just about their story so I try to focus on their story rather than the fact that I'm African American male capturing a Native American story or narrative or portrait. But it's important to just hear them out. If I came and it's just like I know exactly who you are, just stand right there, cool, I'm going to shoot you how I want to shoot you, that's not the type of conversation or portrait session I think they would enjoy at all. So I think it's just how you go about it when you're having conversations like that, whether you feel included. You could still feel included and not be in the immediate circle, you could understand, you could empathize and capture, and I think that's what I did in that session so. That's a great question though, that's a touchy subject as well, people get so like, you shouldn't be a part of this and, it's a lot, it's a lot. Any other questions as well? Yeah. I got a question just about sort of the imagery you saw growing up and how you might see your work now impacting that community, that culture, and that. Again, like I'm from Ghana and the imagery I saw mostly was like the old photo albums your parents would have, like stacked up in some dusty corner or whatever. Like I'll have that to reference to, that was like the very first imagery and a lot of it was like photos of back home, photos of when they first came here like in the late 70s and things like that. So I was able to appreciate family immediately, community 'cause I saw like family occasions, maybe it was somebody's wedding, somebody's birthday, a baby being born, a funeral, all these big occasions and the traditions that go into them really influenced me to think like, okay like how can I capture that now that I'm living in New York and having the friends that I do have who're Puerto Rican, Italian American, Cambodian, Kor-, just like all types of friends so I was like, every week at school there's like you went to somebody else's house, you're able to have like somebody's like traditional dinner. I think that's a beautiful experience that everybody isn't afforded, of course, you're not in New York or L.A., whatever the case is, but there's opportunities like that that made me really think like, okay, this is a unique experience that I do live in New York. If I lived in Boise Idaho it'd be a little different, but being able to capture what I felt was beautiful within New York City was super important. So that started out from my family albums, to the friends that I had around me at school, the diverse group of friends, and that made me think like wow, this is actually valuable, like I'll lookin' at it like it wasn't but it's super valuable to the rest of the world, yeah. What program do you use when you're creating your vision boards? Vision boards. Photoshop sometimes 'cause you're able to also edit the image. There's also a website called Go Mood Board, so G-O Mood Board, and it's a online template, and you pretty much just drop all your photos in there and it aggregates everything for you and it's a live link, you could shoot to anybody like hey here's a mood board. Go Mood Board, so it's a really really great tool for like clients if you want to be able to have online links, it doesn't expire, it just stays there for as long as the internet will be here. But it's a great tool to use for clients if they want to see your mood board but then you don't want to send them a big PDF, like, hey just look online, this is it. So you literally just drop like 30 images and it does all the mood boarding for you, so it's pretty useful. It's a secret, now it's not a secret, but I was thinking like, it's not a secret anymore. Any other questions concerning something to photo? I know it's a touchy subject, yes. When I was looking at earlier when you would put up an image and you had three different edits of it, I was reminded of a shoot I did for a friend of mine who's very very dark skin and I had a really hard time editing it so that it was accurate to her skin color without changing the image in a way that wasn't the brightness that we wanted to convey for the mood of the image. Can you talk a little bit about how you go about editing particular skin tones so that you can communicate your mood without changing the authenticity. That's a great question. I know it's... That's a whole class just editing in general, especially skin tones, but depending on the variation of skin tone, if they're like me, of course I have a little bit of an advantage 'cause I've shot a lot of photos of myself, I edited a lot of photos of myself testing, so I'll like go into my room in my parents' house, put my camera on a tripod, shoot myself, and edit it and edit it until I got to a place where I was like this looks great, replicate that process and apply it to other people. And basically on how dark or light they were, I would just change the tones so the curves, so I'll just like highlight, shadow, lightness, darkness. But it's hard if you're shooting on set like you were, you have everything set up, everybody else is great, then it's this last person or the first person that comes in and just, you kinda have to move within the set and it kinda takes away from shooting 'cause now you have to like change the dials. But the best thing is like shooting raw as well so you're able to manipulate that image any way you can as well as just making sure there's a good medium for like how I was shooting earlier, I just made sure, certain people came in and it was a bit little too light, we had to adjust it, some people came in and it was a little bit too dark, but it's like finding that good medium and being able to like take advantage of that so, it's when you go for editing skin tone you just really have to look at highlights, shadows, it depends on what you're using, if you're using Capture One or Lightroom, I do you use Lightroom a lot and it's being able to like go right to that curve and start messing around a little bit and finding that nice spot and you could always find it when it's like the skin doesn't feel too like dull but it still has a vibrancy to it, like just finding that and it's like be super important, yeah. It's interesting. That stuff is deep. It goes really deep. There's a lot there like, it's not like I could just answer it one time. But if I had all the tools and I could show you exactly, but yeah. That's definitely an important part, because I see a lot of photos where it's like darker skin model but it's like edited so badly, you could tell like they just fumbled, like I don't know what I'm doing, I'm just gonna like submit this to the client and I'm like this is so bad, this is so bad, yeah like underlit, overlit, there's so much there. Any other questions? What do you think of stock photography looks like? Wow, what do I think it looks like? From a visual perspective, I hope it's even more diverse, you know I hope TONL births a whole bunch other like, just get people to be inspired about capturing how the world actually looks. And it'll be more and more impertinent to have that visual for the future generations to come. So for example there's companies that subscribe to TONL that are textbook companies, and they're like we have educational materials all around the nation and we need diverse imagery of people studying or people running or whatever the case is, and it's like I think back to my textbooks and I was like wow that's a whole mind trip, my mind's, I didn't even relate to anybody in the textbook, okay cool let me just get an A on this 'cause the words, but anything else I didn't really relate to. So imagine being able to open up the textbook and see yourselves in different facets, I just think that'll be super powerful. So from a young age being able to impact them from a textbook all the way to a magazine that needs imagery as well. So there's all these different worlds that stock photography could really play in so I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon, it's going to get more and more useful, but it should also get more and more truthful, yeah. Any final thoughts for people starting out in stock photography or...? Keep shooting, I don't know. Figure something out, no, I think it's just get creative with it. I think when people think stock photography they think the most lowest creative rung, but it's like no no no, like bring out all the tricks you have, bring all the things you would on a high client shoot, on a commercial shoot, on a creative shoot. Bring out those same type of mindsets because it's only gonna help push the bar for what stock photography is because people think it's the lady eating the salad and, so we need to kinda change that so stock photography at this point is like meme-able like, any time it goes up it's like it turns into like these funny internet memes and like it's not taken seriously so I think, as a photographer, just starting out in stock photography you should really come in with your creative edge, do not hide that away 'cause the industry definitely needs it.

Class Description

It’s important to have diversity in all aspects of our lives, and that includes stock photography. Those photos are used everywhere—from banner ads to websites to billboards—so it’s critical that they truly represent our diverse society. Joshua Kissi, photographer and co-founder of the TONL Agency, which specializes in culturally diverse imagery, will help you make your photos more inclusive and depict people of all walks of life.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Pose your subjects in unique ways.
  • Use different types of lighting, including studio and natural.
  • Evoke the expression you want from your subjects.

Stock photos don’t have to look the same. In fact, they shouldn’t! Learn how to add diversity and culture to your images so you can succeed in this burgeoning field.



This class is great for thinking about diversity in people for the subjects of photos. I would like to see the instructor come back to teach a class on lighting or editing people with various shades of skin color -- one of the questions asked in the video. I'm interested to see his methods.