You probably see dozens of stock photos every single day. They’re on everything from the pamphlets you see in the doctor’s office, training materials at your place of business, on the covers of textbooks, and the many, many ads you see while browsing the Internet. But you probably haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that those photos are of actual people with real lives outside of modeling for stock photos.
The bizarre world of stock photography has resulted in millions of photos of thousands of different people doing everything — from chilling in a bathtub with wine and a latte to chopping vegetables with a man’s help. And let’s not forget all those pictures of women smiling while eating salad.
A recent AskReddit thread asked stock photo models to share the weird places they’ve seen their own pictures used. Their responses are seriously amazing (especially the one where a woman found her husband in a coworker’s Facebook cover photo)!
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.”
I ended up finding myself on one of those “Now Hiring” posts on Facebook… for a company I was trying to get hired at.
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.
That would be confusing.
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.
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 aisle 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.
I’m on the opposite end.
I’m a graphic designer so I spend a lot of time on stock photo sites and I have SO many questions.
Some of the photos I’ve seen….there’s no possible context that would make sense for them to be used anywhere.
My family did a stock photo shoot when our kids were young (like 1 and 3).
A picture they took on our porch ended up in the opening credits for The Americans.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
I’m in an ad 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 somewhere.
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.
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.
But what if he is?
I Googled my husband’s name and a picture of him has been mistaken and mislabeled as Ann Coulter’s husband.
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.
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.
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.
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 because of the diversity (Asian girl and a black girl).
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.
In college, a photography student took some pictures of me playing classical guitar.
I ended up in a viagra ad. I was 19.
One of my daughters has a few stock photos out there.
It’s always odd seeing her face unexpectedly. It doesn’t happen super regularly, but it makes me double take when it happens.
I was on a brochure to promote my company once.
It was the generic “Look to your left and smile at the camera while you work” type of shot.
A friend of ours was in a commercial for herpes medication a couple of years after we graduated from college, and we recognized him randomly while watching a show with my mother-in-law.
We were like, “hey it’s [our friend] from school!”
We went to a school with strong religious ties and my mother in law is very religious.
Right after we said this my mother in law was appalled and said, “wait, he has herpes????!!!”
When I was a senior in high school, I was chosen to do a stock photo shoot for a big health company.
They didn’t tell me what they were going to use my pictures for, I was just excited to get free clothes and a tiny bit of cash.
The way I found out how they used my photo was when I went to the gynecologist about a year later and saw my picture on the wall — I was the face of teenage pregnancy counseling.
The university took a bunch of professional photos of me and some friends for their billboards and campaigns.
I was pretty surprised to open a handbook and find out I was the face of their fine arts program.
Especially pottery. I was a neuroscience major.
My father is a photographer and so my sister and I were models for stock photography.
I was on shopping bags in Mexico, my sister was in a bank brochure.
My favorite though is when my sister’s high school science class was reading from a textbook and she sees a picture of me, putting mascara on in a mirror.
She yelled out to the class, “Hey that’s my sister!” Apparently, it gave everyone a good laugh.
My younger brother had his picture taken when he was about nine or ten for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
My brother was a really cute red-headed kid with freckles and they asked my mom if they could use his photo for their promotional materials. A few months later, we get a brochure in the mail with my brother’s face on it talking about the Big Brother’s program.
It was really funny because they had changed his name to ” Timmy” and in little kid handwriting written things like, ” I reely need a big brotha” and ” have you found me a big brotha yet?”
And then ended it with “Love, Timmy.”
My siblings and I laughed a lot over it and called my brother ” Timmy” for weeks.
My whole family modeled back in the ’80s.
Somehow my dad ended up in a brochure for some born again church that said he was a sinner and adulterer until he found Jesus.
My parents once went into a print shop near-ish to where they lived and saw a picture frame for sale with an oddly familiar looking stock photo in it for display.
You know how frames usually come with some flimsy B&W stock photo of a couple or a family or something.
Except it wasn’t a stock photo, it was them on their wedding day!! Apparently, their photographer had some kind of connection to the shop and had his photos on display there.
My parents were definitely surprised to see their wedding pics on public display, but they thought it was cute 🙂
Not me, but a colleague of mine.
He and his wife were given a bunch of outdoor gear to use for a climbing trip into a range in the Rockies. They were accompanied by a photographer and they used the gear all week while he took photos of them being outdoorsy in it.
They got to keep the gear in exchange for being used as models and they were pretty happy with that. The photographer sold some of the photos to the outdoor company and he got paid for those and they got to be in a few gear magazines.
You would think that was the end of the story, but… the photographer also put the pictures up on a stock photo website and basically forgot about them.
Sometime later, the couple is driving up a mountain pass and they get stuck behind a slow RV. They start looking at the scenery on the RV and they start to guess where it is. Then it starts to look really familiar… Then they both realize exactly where it is and then notice that the people in the all-vehicle covering photo is them (and their dog)!
Living in a tourist area, they continually see these Cruise America (or similar) RVs driving through town with them plastered all over them. They were one of the more popular RV wraps for several years and they always had fun pointing them out to their friends.
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