Blog Home Inspiration How to Better Represent Older People in Stock Photography

There’s so much more to a person’s golden years than sad, sick, or alone. Here’s how one stock agency is working to shift the narrative.

One day, if we’re lucky, every single one of us will be old. And, when that happens, we’ll want to see ourselves represented in the media we consume, not as lazy stereotypes or background players, but as the fascinating stars of our own lives that we know ourselves to be.

This means changing the way we approach representation of older people now in everything including TV, film, photography, and advertising. 

One of the companies pioneering this effort in stock photography is Wavebreak Media. “We try a more realistic approach, and more positive, which we hope has changed and improved the way aging is talked about in society,” says Theresa Van Renen, Wavebreak’s Cape Town-based operations manager.

Van Renen has a degree in photography and joined Wavebreak after fifteen years running the photo and video departments of various cruise lines and capturing content around the world. Today, she oversees the organizational activities of all Wavebreak productions, including those highlighting older models.

Here she shares some insights into better representing the demographic. 

Shutterstock: What is the secret to shooting older people well? 

Theresa Van Renen: Using real senior couples and friends to create intimacy that wouldn’t necessarily be there between professional models that meet on the day of production, especially during these uncertain times of COVID.

To create intimate photographs, it’s important to show genuine emotion and feelings as often as possible. We achieve this by capturing our subjects in familiar environments, like their own homes, which can help create a real sense of intimacy between them.

SSTK: What are some of the mistakes people make when shooting older people? 

TVR: Not showcasing the authenticity of the senior model. Senior models have so much character and experience, and sometimes photographers forget to utilize this experience and over-direct the scenes. Sometimes going off-brief and letting senior models direct themselves results in real emotions and authentic scenes.

SSTK: Beyond photographing older people, what do you think makes a good stock photo?

TVR: Besides being aesthetically amazing and pleasing, your images also have to be technically perfect and compelling. Factors that contribute to this would be great locations, authentic models, and the technical ability to create that authenticity you are looking for in every shot.

But, at the end of the day, it’s really all about emotion and intimacy. For a photo to succeed, it has to resonate with your viewer. That could happen for a number of reasons, ranging from your subject to your composition.

But, the strongest tool to capture emotion is far more fundamental than that—it is, quite simply, your light. In photography, your light should complement your subject and the emotions you would like to reflect.

SSTK: What do you feel older models bring to photos that younger models do not? 

TVR: Their life experience adds to the emotion of every scene. They are real, where younger models still need to be directed into knowing what emotions are needed for each scene. 

SSTK: How do you avoid falling to stereotypes when shooting older people? 

TVR: Don’t limit yourself to only depicting seniors later in life. Embrace the full range of ages among older people and put them in everyday scenarios at home, work, and exercising. 

SSTK: Are there any special considerations that need to be made when working with older models? 

TVR: You need to be sensitive to the aging process and understand the challenges the model might have. Also, keep an eye on the vibe between younger models and seniors on set. Make sure there’s mutual respect and the age gap is not shown in their interactions in front of the camera, making it real and authentic.

Cover image via Wavebreak Media.