Since this post is innately meta, I am going to break the fourth wall and admit that one of my absolute favorite parts of my job is poring over stock photos in Shutterstock. There are few online activities that will boost me quicker than having a laugh at the outlandish stock photos, and wondering what photography director was spiraling as I peep the depressing results for every word search.
Outside of the oftentimes awkward posing of the photos themselves, the most fascinating aspect of stock photos is imagining the model origin stories. Are they professional stock photo models, was this a one time gig?! Have they seen any of the widely different articles and companies using their image, and are there ever pangs of regret or pride elicited by such use?
Luckily, for all of us who are curious, a recent Reddit thread asked this very question, and stock photo models from across the land shared the weirdest places they’ve seen their own face (or in some cases, photoshopped body).
1. chiefMNM’s mom accidentally posed them as an orphan.
“When I was a kid my mom took me for a photoshoot, then a month later I was on a pamphlet that said “Millions of children don’t have homes, adopt one today”
2. willardflame’s face was the hiring ad for a job they wanted.
“I ended up finding myself on one of those “Now Hiring” posts on Facebook… for a company I was trying to get hired at.”
3. tfurnzo was the face of an abuser.
“My cousin took a photo of me wrestling my sister at a family reunion a few years back and it somehow wound up on an online forum about domestic abuse, I had a few of my friends messaging me who were obviously very confused lol.”
4. mellotronplayer’s childhood photo is now on television.
“My family did a stock photo shoot when our kids where young (like 1 and 3). A picture they took on our porch ended up in the opening credits for The Americans.”
5. utsa7 is the face of their college.
“I’m in the header of my university’s grad school application. Whenever someone posts a screenshot of their acceptance email, Facebook facial recognition asks if I want to tag myself”
6. marshmallowskies ended up being high art.
“My ex used to work with a local photographer who is apparently pretty well known. He took a photo of me and my family and now it’s a permanent piece at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. So strange. I wonder how many people’s houses I’m in.”
7. skippinglives3’s friend became the face of anti-circumcision.
“My friend was in a stock photo where he held up a baby picture, and it got used for an anti-circumcision ad campaign. Was pretty shocked when I saw his face on the side of a bus.”
8. drilldor became the neighborhood punchline.
“I was asked to go to a big opening event party for a park in China. As a “foreigner” this kind of thing is pretty common, they want some white faces.
Free food & drink, all the other guests had to pay. But in the end they start guilt tripping me… “Put on this traditional Chinese costume” they say, some kind of kung fu looking robe thing… “let us take some pictures” they say… Fine, I let them do it.”
“A few weeks go by and random people start pointing me out in public. My students are giggling in class.”
“Finally when I’m out and about someone approaches me… “are you the guy.. from…” and shows me a picture on the phone, my likeness in chinese traditional wear has been printed on building sized billboards around the city. I look goofy as fuck. All around the city where I live and work.”
9. calcetina has had her face ALL over.
“I did a stock photo shoot about 10 years ago and my photos show up in the weirdest places: 3 ex-boyfriends have texted me out of the blue after my stock photo showed up in their work training modules.”
“Someone in my senior capstone class used my photo in their class presentation and didn’t realize it was me until everyone kept awkwardly looking at the screen and looking back at me. Every so often, my face pops up in a “sassy black lady” meme, paired with text like “DEVIL DON’T TRY ME TODAY!” or “TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED! TYPE AMEN IF YOU AGREE!”
“The weirdest in my opinion: My mom decided to join some crappy MLM makeup company because she was flipping through their catalog and saw that they had used one of my old stock photos as one of their makeup models. I was very obviously not wearing their makeup in the photos and my stock photo didn’t match any of the other models’ photos. Basically, whoever designed the catalog was like “oh snap, we need some diversity in here”, but they were too lazy to actually hire another model so they just grabbed a stock photo of a black chick and called it a day. The strange thing is that my mom joined the company because my photo was in the catalog, but she had to have known that I wasn’t wearing the company’s makeup….because she personally did my makeup for that stock photo shoot 5+ years earlier.”
10. Boris_art’s friend made it to Walmart.
“Not me but my best friend: He did a photo shoot in some construction-worker garb and a hard hat. We live in North Carolina USA. I’m on a business trip in Chicago, and I stop by a Walmart for some supplies. I’m in the men’s work clothes isle and there’s my buddy prominently on the wrapping of 50ish packages of work shirts. It was a weird “wait, where am I?” moment. I knew he did some modeling, but not specifics.”
“I sent him a pic, he had no idea it had been used. The guy is in every Walmart in the country and had no idea.”
11. kungfusyme encourages sobriety in fathers.
“I’m in an add campaign in my home state in Australia for the government. I’m the face of “don’t buy alcohol for underage people”. It’s just me looking like a Dad who’s thinking of buying a drink, obviously for a teenager some where. Ironically I don’t actually have my own kids. I get emails from people I haven’t heard from in years saying “I saw you on the wall of the bottle shop!” Which is kinda funny.”
12. SuRoAwAe accidentally became a sexual health PSA.
“This takes place many, many years ago when foreigners were a rare sight in Japan. I’m a big, friendly looking white guy, and I was asked to do some photos of “a couple on a date.”
So I go around to some scenic locals with a beautiful Japanese woman, the photographer, and his assistants. Fun day. Took tons of romantic photos. And that was the end of it…”
“Until a month or two later when my “date” and I showed up on posters all over the subway as part of an AIDS awareness campaign (because you can catch that from foreigners, y’know!)”
“Needless to say my friends and coworkers thought it was hilarious, and amazingly it didn’t have any noticeable impact on my dating life. Looking back my only regret is that I didn’t steal one of the posters.”
13. ScoobyDeezy’s friends became the stars of…a pillow.
“I have some friends that found one of their wedding pictures from Facebook somehow printed on a pillow in a market in a middle-eastern country. Like… they just randomly happened upon their wedding photo in a random street market.
They are from the U.S.”
14. sblade77’s husband is on demand in the stock photo community.
“My husband and I did stock photos when I was pregnant with our first. I ended up seeing myself later on the side of a bus as well as in a pamphlet for young moms (flattering!) at my doctor’s office.”
“The more interesting part, though, is that my husband took part in another “family” shoot, various poses cooking in the kitchen etc. Years later I was looking up a colleague on Facebook and her cover photo was her and my husband chopping vegetables in a stock photo.”
15. thecontinental80 found their t-ball photo at Sears.
“I didn’t even know I was in a stock photo until my Grandma bought a picture frame at Sears with my t-ball team picture in it.”
16. KReedDub lived a nightmare.
“I googled my husband’s name and a picture of him has been mistaken and mislabeled as Ann Coulter’s husband.”
17. Maximus_the-merciful got blindsided.
“I got used as a person with intellectual disabilities. I also did not know my photo was going to be used for anything.”
18. E-iz became the face of flaccidity.
“In college a photography student took some pictures of me playing classical guitar; I ended up in a viagra ad. I was 19.”
19. RattoTheRat’s grandma’s photoshoot was darkly prophetic.
“My nan was on an NHS quit smoking advert a few years back. She was a smoker for 40+ years. She died of smoking related issues 6 months ago.”
20. candy_apple_island was the face of reading.
“I had my photo taken in high school studying with my friend at the time. Almost five years later, my brother said I was in the county brochure for library services. The picture was most likely chosen cause of the diversity (asian girl and a black girl).”
21. Vict0r117 ended up in the news.
“In the military some cameraman tagged along on a mission. Like 4 years later I saw footage of me in a gun turret on the news. I guess news broadcasters often times just play generic combat footage and photos that look “middle-easterny” enough and rightly assume nobody will notice that the shots were taken months or years before the actual incident they are talking about.”