In 2020, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, brands around the world are facing increased pressure to put social responsibility above profit. Customers are demanding more transparency, honesty, and action from the businesses they support, and as companies look for better ways to connect with and support their communities during this time, we’re witnessing a sea of change in the world of advertising.

As brands search for photos that not only promote their products but also align with and illustrate their core values, these cultural shifts translate into a new era for commercial images. For a while now, themes relating to health and wellness, diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability, and technological innovation have been redefining stock photography, and the events of 2020 have put many of these ideas into sharper focus.

Earlier this year, as part of their Visual GPS report, the Creative Insights team at Getty Images drew on 25 years of trend research—and partnered with market research firm YouGov—to determine some of the key “forces” shaping today’s visual culture. These are the defining trends of the new decade, and they’re also terms marketing agencies use often during their image searches. Read on and refer back to them when conceptualizing (and adding metadata to) new shoots for your Licensing portfolio.


The wellness force might have traditionally been associated with physical health and fitness, but in recent years, it’s expanded to include themes like mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. Research suggests that 91% of people believe that it’s important to talk about mental health, and 90% try to take care of themselves emotionally, so these are all concepts brands are looking to bring to life through images.

Commercial photographers can tap into the wellness movement by capturing families practicing mindfulness and meditation, or by highlighting healthy friendships, meaningful relationships, and moments of kindness and joy. Think about ways to visualize a sense of belonging and the celebration of life’s little moments, whether it’s brunch with friends or a yoga class.*

Wellness during the pandemic has also posed new challenges and opportunities; for instance, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence named digital spas and one of their trends for the year, citing wellness brands that are offering their services—from meditation sessions to yoga tutorials to homemade therapeutic recipes—online. Self-care activities like taking a bath, practicing spirituality, or simply taking time for oneself pose manifold opportunities for shooting commercial content that incorporates the keyword wellness.

*The top-selling photo on Getty Images in 2018 was a group of senior women doing yoga together, and customer searches for the word “belonging” also went up by 3,400% that same year. Tap into real, genuine emotions as you look for ways to combine the concept of wellness with themes like friendship, community, connection, and kindness.


The technology force centers around our relationship with tech, whether it’s in the form of mobile devices or electric cars. Especially during this pandemic, these kinds of commercial images reveal the positive possibilities of connecting through technology. According to a report from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, 88% of people say they have a better appreciation for the role that technology plays in helping society during the coronavirus crisis.

Ideas for photoshoots include video chats, food delivery, working from home, home-schooling, selfies for social media—the list goes on. They could also extend to include emerging trends like AI and VR. Technology can easily factor into any kind of lifestyle, business, or family photoshoot, even in subtle ways.

It can be aspirational and futuristic (searches for “technology innovation” are up on Getty Images) or accessible and relatable (the search term “humanizing tech” emerged on Getty Images in 2018). The 500px Content Team says, “By using technology as a keyword, even when it’s just a person using their phone, you’re making a broader statement about everyday activities and how humans connect.”

With 79% of people saying that technology makes them feel connected and 74% saying it helps them track their goals, it’s important to focus not only on the devices themselves but also how we use and integrate them into our everyday lives. In fact, 62% of brands want to depict technology benefiting and working alongside humankind.

As technology takes on a larger and more important role in our lives, we’re also seeing an interest in visuals that represent “unplugging” from our devices; for that reason, images relating to themes and keywords like digital detox and disconnecting are also trending, especially in the age of “fake news” and misinformation.


As brands are held increasingly accountable for their environmental impact, sustainability has emerged as a driving force in the commercial world and society at large. Single-use plastics (straws, bags, cups, bottles, toothbrushes, coffee pods, etc.) are out, and reusable eco-friendly products are in.

With 92% of people believing how we treat our planet now will have a large impact on our future, 87% saying they are concerned about our oceans, and 85% feeling worried about air pollution, the sustainability force, as defined by Getty Images, is all about connecting with the natural world—and preserving it through the choices we make in our everyday lives.

As noted by the 2020 Topics and Trends Report from Facebook IQ, the movement towards more sustainable lifestyles has led to the emergence of new trends globally, from the rise of beekeeping in Canada to an increased interest in sustainable fashion throughout Sweden and the United Kingdom.

For commercial photographers, tapping into this force can be as simple as swapping harmful props and products with sustainable ones (80% of people actively try to reduce their plastic use), or showing the small changes we can make to reduce our carbon footprints, like biking to work rather than driving or decluttering our lives and reducing overconsumption.

Even a metal straw or bamboo toothbrush here and there, incorporated as part of a larger lifestyle shoot, can signal to customers that a brand is serious about incorporating more sustainable practices. If you’re a travel photographer, use your work to promote sustainable travel, without plastics or air pollution. Connecting with a volunteer cleanup community or local farm can also pose the perfect opportunity for capturing in-demand commercial content.

Think about ways to visualize an ethical, sustainable lifestyle through the use of plant-based foods or beauty products, as searches for veganism are on the rise on Getty Images. Facebook IQ confirms it: people in the US and Germany are looking for plant-based alternatives and reducing their consumption of meats. As Getty Images notes, even holiday-themed lifestyle content, like photos of families enjoying dinner together, will increasingly include sustainable, vegan-friendly products.


“Authenticity” has been a buzzword in commercial photography for years, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. The realness force, like wellness, centers around themes like empathy and acceptance. Customers are fed up with disingenuous marketing; instead, they crave relatable, real-world images featuring people who share their experiences and perspectives.

This movement emerged in part due to our changing relationship with images in the age of social media; because people can now create their own content, they’re looking for commercial images that make them feel seen and heard. “Brands are now looking to connect to people on their level, not present them with some commercial fairytale,” the 500px Content Team tells us.

With 80% of people saying companies need to show people with all body types and shapes, many brands are moving away from over-edited, retouched, and manipulated images. Instead, marketers today strive to be honest and transparent, and that means representing their customers and their communities in a way that feels truthful and genuine.

On Getty Images, the search term unretouched was the fastest growing in 2019, and the Creative Insights team named skin positivity as one of their emerging trends. Realness also extends beyond appearance to include genuine emotions and connections between people; it means embracing individuality and self-expression over the pressure to conform. In many cases, professional models might be replaced by family members and friends.


With 57% of people saying they’ve personally been affected by bias, the realness force goes hand-in-hand with a growing movement promoting inclusivity in advertising, as people who are passionate about realness are also likely to work toward equality and against discrimination.

More than two-thirds (68%) of customers across generations say it’s important to them to buy from companies that celebrate diversity of all kinds, and that number increases to 76% among Millennials and Gen Zers.

For photographers, that means making a continuous and conscious commitment to highlighting, celebrating, and collaborating with people of all ages, gender identities, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, abilities, body shapes, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more—and representing them truthfully and authentically.

With 33% of people having boycotted a brand that went against their values and 34% having started purchasing a brand that supported a cause they believed in, this movement is about action, not empty promises. Recent research from Visual GPS by Getty Images revealed that eight in ten people expect brands to be consistently committed to inclusivity and diversity, but only 14% believed they were accurately represented in advertising images.

Meanwhile, searches on Getty Images for terms like body positive, diversity, inclusion, and diverse community have all gone up. “Brands are finally wising up that the idea that no one demographic is a monolith and there is a spectrum of unique identities within any kind of identifiable group,” the Content Team at 500px explains.

It’s not enough to simply include a diverse group of people and call it a day; you must also ensure that you’re accurately representing the individuals in front of your camera, their lifestyles, their cultures, and their values—without reinforcing stereotypes. Invite collaboration and participation from your models and crew members.

These five “forces,” as defined by Getty Images, are both timely and timeless, so they can and should make their way into almost any kind of commercial photoshoot. They’re also overlapping and interconnected; a photo of a family hiking in nature, for instance, could be tagged families practicing self-care, unplugging from technology, living a sustainable lifestyle, belonging to a community, or any combination of the above.

Apply these sought-after keywords when uploading and submitting your existing photoshoots, and then consider brainstorming and planning new ones as well—with these forces at the forefront of your creative imagination. Remember to keep a running list of ideas and concepts to explore throughout your Licensing portfolio this year, and add any new keywords you see gaining in popularity on 500px as you go; we frequently publish new articles about emerging trends, so stay tuned.

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