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Vote for iStock Comedy

December 17th, 2009 by Liesl received 2 Comments »
For the uninitiated, iStockphoto is the blessing and curse behind many of the graphics (and some of the video) scattered across the series of tubes. It is a blessing, because it’s easy to use and makes royalty-free stock photos simple to purchase and work with, and a curse because it is almost single-handedly responsible for the proliferation of clichéd web imagery, such as:
  • Green apple in a sea of red apples = standing out from the crowd
  • Man on top of cliff with outstretched arms = freedom
  • A bigillion generic (but culturally diverse!) pictures of business people

Every now and then, you’ll perform a routine search for images and a little iStock gem of WTF comedy gold springs up on your screen. I am certainly not the first to identify silly stock photos, but these will be my methods:

  1. You get to vote for your favourite! (Poll closes on Dec. 24 at 11:59 PM). Post your reasons/debate the virtues of your pick in the comments (or suggest your own contender, if you dare).
  2. Images that are flagged as “silly” (e.g. people making stupid faces) cannot count.
  3. I purchase the images (where I can, “Eat” being a notable exception) because stuff this awesome deserves to be freed of watermarks.

So without further ado, here are five of the strangest iStock photos I’ve seen in recent weeks. Bear in mind that the funniest are the most random or obscure because contributors want these images to be profitable and sell, why else would they be on iStock? (Note: the download count includes my own.)

Sad Orange

Sad Orange

Name: Sad Orange

iStock Photo Description: Fork put into an orange with sad face.

Downloads: 5

Select Keywords: Orange, Depression, Sadness, Metal, Pierced, Aggression, Problems, Peel, Fork …

Why Vote For It:

  • It’s having a bad day
  • Literal description
  • Highest number of downloads = most profitable
  • White background for easy editing & manipulation
  • Fork = maverick utensil for orange consumption

What’s Holding it Back:

  • Clinical depression
  • Nasty wounds
The dragon has three heads

The dragon has three heads

Name: The dragon has three heads

iStock Photo Description: Three headed dragon made of sausages.

Downloads: 2

Select Keywords: Sausage, Isolated, Food, Fun, Dragon, Food And Drink, Meal, Meat, Snack, Humor, Food And Drink Industry…

Why Vote For It:

  • Horse, yes. Dog, sure. Dragon: bit of a stretch.
  • Regardless, “The dragon has three heads” is a kick-ass name!
  • Wiener Cerberus = Trailer trash spin on classic mythology
  • No expense spared: multiple sausages used to create masterwork of wurst (masterwurst?)

What’s Holding it Back:

  • Uninspired keywords (could corner the ever-popular “tri-headed sausage” search)
  • Vegetarianism
  • Second head infected with Beeblebroxitis



Name: Eat

iStock Photo Description: Happy future of food industry and general consumerism.

Downloads: 1

Select Keywords: Pharmacy, Eating, Futuristic, Thinking, The Future, Healthcare And Medicine, Concepts, Risk, Table

Why Vote For It:

  • Cryptic yet accessible name & ironic description bring much-needed pretension to iStock
  • Polarizing political stance, without pesky “insight”
  • Candy, Cake, Doughnut… Marzipan? (Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Lübecker, but that’s pretty specific)
  • Exclusive: XSmall version costs 20 credits! That’s 20 sad oranges!

What’s Holding it Back:

  • Why so serious?
  • Expensive: XSmall version costs 20 credits! That’s 20 Carnivore Dominance vs. Vegetarian Submissions!
Oh my gosh!

Oh my gosh!

Name: Oh my Gosh!

iStock Photo Description: A young woman gasps in shock as another kisses a bear.

Downloads: 4

Select Keywords: Homosexual, Bear, Mascot, Sensuality, Leather, Little Girls, Alcohol, Touching, Ohio, Female, Women, gosh

Why Vote For It:

  • Most humorous use of keywords (when I search for “Ohio,” this is definitely the photo I want to find)
  • Behind only Sad Orange in number of downloads
  • All the prudery of “Gosh” and “gasps in shock” with the twisted kink of “Homosexual, Bear, Mascot, Sensuality, Leather, Little Girls”
  • Equally ridiculous companion pieces available
  • Goldi-dreadlocks wearing stuffed bear head = deep social commentary
  • Classy!

What’s Holding it Back:

Carnivore Dominance vs. Vegetarian Submission

Carnivore Dominance vs. Vegetarian Submission

Name: Carnivore Dominance vs. Vegetarian Submission

iStock Photo Description: A man wearing a tiger mask (masculine carnivore) holds a raw steak in his hand, trying to force a woman wearing a rabbit mask (feminine vegetarian) to eat meat. Dominance concept.

Downloads: 2

Select Keywords: Tiger, Mask, Rabbit, Slavery, Eating, Vegetarian Food, Men, People, Aggression, Meat, Steak, Kitchen Counter

Why Vote For It:

  • Mixed Metaphors = Value-added imagery
  • Kicks a single-concept shot’s ass! (I’m looking at you, “Freedom”…)
  • Descriptive… description
  • Gender war + masks + raw meat = Kitchen counter Lord of the Flies

What’s Holding it Back:

  • Poor composition & weird perspective
  • Restrictive mask mouth holes complicate raw steak force-feeding
  • Kitchen ecosystem cannot sustain delicate balance of tiger-steak-rabbit

And that’s it (for now)!

Cast your vote: cut-off is December 24 at 11:59 PM, because all I want for Christmas is a winner. And a pony.

Update 25/12/2009: Thanks for voting!

The poll is now closed and it’s ‘Oh my gosh!’ FTW

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Posted under: Design, iStock Comedy, Weirdsies

2 Responses to “Vote for iStock Comedy”

  1. Sarah says:

    This post reminded me of a recent example of a corollary to the “bad stock photo” problem: stock photos used in disturbingly inappropriate contexts. See the linked article from a popular law blog regarding a criminal defense firm’s use of stock photos to illustrate its practice groups.

  2. Liesl says:

    I’ve re-read Texas Criminal Defense Firm Can’t Defend Its Photos about three times and still can’t believe it. Worse still, while I find it difficult to believe it was accidental, I can see how it may even have been an oversight.

    When designers are briefed they often get limited information about the client’s role, target audience, sector, etc. When they look for stock photography based on certain keywords, they attempt to encapsulate a broad range of functions, practices, etc. into simple, powerful conceptual statements. If the distinction had not been made 100% clear to the designer that this firm DEFENDS people charged with these crimes, rather than simply handling these sorts of cases, this kind of problem would easily crop up.

    So while it is tempting to blame the designer for their stock photo choices, project managers should have given clearer direction, and certainly should have caught and corrected the conceptual error in layouts. It’s mind-boggling that neither the agency nor the firm thought twice about this, but certainly possible given certain (easily avoided) pitfalls with vendor-client communication.

    Of course, the cynic in me thinks this was no error in communication or judgment, but an attempt to shoot for visceral (if grossly inappropriate) imagery.

    If that is the case than the law firm (and their design agency) were truly myopic. Taking the extremely sensitive subject matter out of the equation for a moment, why would someone choose to be represented by an organization capable of misrepresenting themselves (or their client) so terribly? Definitely a contender to rival BNET’s worst branding blunders of 2009!