Stock photos are omnipresent. You see them on websites, billboards, ads, and packaging. They’re so common that you probably don’t give them much thought. But behind every picture, there are photographers and models hard at work trying to anticipate the needs of consumers. To better understand how (and why) these images get made, we spoke to several people in the business.
1. Photographers come up with their own ideas.
For the most part, photographers will snap their own photos and sell them to agencies. Everyone has a different method for thinking up new ideas. Photographer Sean Locke and model Emily Shearon will bounce ideas off each other and try out different scenarios as they go along. For example, during a wedding shoot, Shearon spontaneously decided to be an angry bride. The picture ended up on a package of tattoo coverup. “It’s me looking all pissed off with my arms crossed, with this huge snake tattoo on my arm,” Shearon says. “And in the next picture it’s me smiling and the tattoo is gone. It’s absolutely hilarious.”
Photographer Lisa Young says that she keeps a notebook by her bed because the best ideas always come right before she falls asleep.
Some agencies will hold weekly challenges for commonly searched for words, such as “garden,” or—more abstractly—“sparkle.” The challenges are just for inspiration, but sometimes entries do get posted on agency blogs.
2. Most models are acquaintances.
Lisa Young, iStock
There are a number of websites to help photographers connect with potential models, but often, photographers don't have to look any further than their friends and family. “That way, I know I can trust them, and I can get a good idea of what they look like in a normal environment from their images on Facebook,” Locke says. Explains Young, “I have tried working with aspiring professional models, but for my shooting style, it works better if I have a personal connection to the models."
When a photographer and model have a good rapport, it’s easier to find pictures that really work. Young's favorite shoots are the ones she does with her husband: “When it's just the two of us it doesn't feel like work. We have a great time and usually end up laughing so hard and so much it's a miracle we get any pictures done."
3. Stock modeling is not a full time gig.
No matter how often you pose for pictures, mugging for stock photos isn't likely to put food on the table. Usually, stock photo shoots are just side gigs, or favors for friends. Occasionally, regular models will seek out stock photo jobs as a way to build their portfolios.
4. Finding a set can be challenging.
Lisa Young, iStock
Stock photographers primarily work in studios. But when an assignment calls for an on-location shoot, it helps to have connections. Often, there's a rental fee to use a space, and photographers are usually required to get insurance. To save money, photographers will sometimes offer to trade free stock images for use of a space.
For studio shoots, models will often pose in front of a white background and hold blank signs so that the art directors who purchase the photos can manipulate the images for their purposes.
5. You never know where your work will end up.
Stock photos pop up in all kinds of places, all over the world. (Photographers and models say they're frequently tipped off to uses of their images by friends and family.) Stock model Jeanette Kozlowski once found herself grilling hot dogs in a Vienna beef ad, despite now being vegan. Young’s daughter, who is a psychology student, found a picture of herself in one of her textbooks.
6. Modeling for stock images can make you famous …
Shearon is considered one of the most downloaded faces of all time. After working with Locke for years, her face became so prevalent that there’s an entire Facebook group dedicated to finding pictures of her.
“Every time I start a job at an agency, I kind of wait to see how long it’s going to be until one of the art directors looks over and goes, 'Is this you?’” Shearon says. “It’s happened at every job I’ve ever had, where people randomly recognize me.”
Says Shearon, “I’ve never done an inappropriate shoot, or something that I’m not comfortable with, but the problem is that once my face is out there, I lose control of it.” The model notes that she has unwittingly appeared in sex toy catalogs with a personal lubricant Photoshopped into her hand. She’s been portrayed with different colored hair, different eyes, and once with man-hands.
“I ended up in a commercial for CougarLife.com, which is a dating site, and my boyfriend at the time had employees that saw the commercial,” Shearon says.“I actually hunted down the guy that produced it.”
Legitimate agencies do have stock agreements intended to protect their models. These documents state that you can't use a model's likeness on dating sites or represent the person as real. But in the Internet age, misuse is unpreventable, and photos tend to spread like wildfire. “Once it’s out there, it’s out there,” Shearon says.
8. Sometimes the pictures are too convincing.
Kozlowski once ran into some trouble during a shoot at an airport. “We had people dressed up as gate agents and passengers,” Kozlowski says. “Some passengers were trying to change their flight, and came up to us while we were trying to shoot.”
9. There’s a lot of competition.
With so many available options, users searching for a stock photo often pick the first picture they see on the first page of results. The increased competition translates to lower earnings for photographers.
“Each year for the last four I have earned 20 percent less than the prior year, despite continuing to work and upload images and growing my portfolio,” Young says. “Soon it will not be worth doing professionally.”
10. Those pictures you think are weird aren’t strange to everyone.
Occasionally, you might come across a stock photo that is nothing short of baffling. The weirder stock photos that exist (see: the senior citizen superhero snapping a selfie) are usually a result of trying to capture something abstract and not quite getting there. “Sometimes, you have a concept in mind and try something, and you think you nailed it, but out of context, it may just look silly,” Locke says.
Last year, more than 964 million people boarded airplanes departing or arriving within the United States. Barring any special security clearance, virtually all of them were filtered through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a federally operated branch charged with screening passengers to ensure they’re complying with the rules of safe air travel.
Some travelers believe the TSA’s policies are burdensome and ineffectual; others acknowledge that individual employees are doing their best to conform to a frequently confusing, ever-changing set of procedures. We asked some former TSA officers about their experiences, and here’s what they had to say about life in blue gloves.
1. CATS ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS.
According to Jason Harrington, who spent six years at O’Hare Airport as a Transportation Security Officer (TSO), rogue felines have created more havoc and confusion than any suspected criminal. “Cats are a nightmare,” he says. “They don’t want to come out of their carriers, they scratch and claw, and they don’t come when you call them.” A cat that’s made a break for it and who hasn’t been patted down to check for weapons is technically a security breach, which a TSA supervisor could use as justifiable cause to shut down an entire terminal.
Dogs, however, are no problem. “A pat down on a dog amounts to going over and petting them,” Harrington says. “That’s actually pleasant.”
2. THEY HAVE CODE WORDS FOR ATTRACTIVE (AND ANNOYING) PASSENGERS.
Because TSOs are usually in close proximity to passengers, some checkpoints develop a vocabulary of code words that allows them to speak freely without offending anyone. “Code talk for attractive females was the most common,” Harrington says. An employee might say “hotel papa” to alert others to an appealing traveler heading their way—the “h” is for “hot.” Others might assign a code number, like 39, and call it out. Harrington was also informed by a supervisor that he could signal for a prolonged screening for an annoying passenger if Harrington told him that the traveler was “very nice.”
3. FANCY HAIRDOS ARE A SECURITY RISK.
Any passenger coming through with an elaborate hairdo—either carefully braided hair or the kind of up-do found on women headed for a wedding—means additional inspection will be required, because piled-up hair can conceivably conceal a weapon.
“Just about anything can set off an anomaly in the head area, from braids to a scrunchie to a barrette to a bad hair day,” Harrington says. “And those body scanners are especially fussy when it comes to the head, giving false positives there more than any other area.”
4. THEY LIKE YOU BETTER WHEN YOU’RE EXHAUSTED.
“Tina”—a former TSO in the northeast who prefers not to use her real name—says that travelers taking evening flights are typically more cooperative than morning passengers. “People are actually much nastier when they’re flying out in the morning,” she says. “The really late-night travelers are the best ones to be around.” (Also on Tina’s naughty list: business travelers. “They’re generally meaner.”)
5. THEY SOMETIMES LIE ABOUT WHERE THEY WORK.
Because public criticism of the TSA is so pervasive, Harrington has found that many employees stretch the truth about where they work when asked. “If I had to admit it, I’d say I was working for the Department of Homeland Security,” he says. “When I made mention of that on Facebook, I got a ton of officers who said they did the same thing.”
6. CHEESE CAN LOOK JUST LIKE A BOMB.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
That giant wheel of cheese you’re bringing back from the holidays? It’s going to cause a lot of agitation among employees monitoring the x-ray machine. “A block of cheese is indistinguishable from C4,” Harrington says. “There is no difference on the screen. Meats, too. All organic products look orange on the display and similar to explosives.”
7. YOUR GENDER CAN CONFUSE THEM.
When a passenger enters a full-body scanner, the device operator hits a button to tell the unit whether it’s a he or she. It makes a difference, since a female passenger’s anatomy would raise a red flag when the machine expects to see male-only parts, and vice versa. If a person's gender isn’t easily ascertained on sight and a TSO guesses, a pair of breasts could initiate a delay. “The machines detect things under clothes, and if it doesn’t match what’s been pressed, it means a pat down,” Harrington says.
8. THEY DON’T DO THE SAME THING ALL DAY.
TSOs typically get assigned to different stations (ticket taker, x-ray operator, shouting-at-you-to-take-your-shoes-off officer) at the security checkpoint, and never for very long: 30 minutes is typically the limit before a new officer is brought in. According to Tina, the revolving schedule is to avoid employee error. “After 30 minutes, you may begin to miss things,” she says.
9. OPTING OUT GETS THEM ANNOYED.
Harrington’s security checkpoint had a code word for passengers who “opted out,” or refused to submit to the full-body scanners—they were “tulips,” and they proved to be an annoyance.
“It slows down the whole operation and a lot of guys would hate it,” he says. “Now that it’s millimeter [radio] waves and people still opt out, they get annoyed, thinking the passenger doesn’t even know what they’re opting out of.”
10. THEY’RE WRITING ON YOUR TICKET FOR TWO REASONS.
John Moore/Getty Images
Policies can vary by airport, but generally, security officers sitting up front and checking tickets are looking for irregularities in your identification: If something causes them to be suspicious, they’ll write something on your ticket that would prompt a more thorough inspection. “They’ll also write their badge number and initials,” Tina says, “so the airline knows they’ve been through security when they board.”
11. “CREDIBLE THREATS” STRESS THEM OUT.
According to Tina, turnover rates for TSOs can be high, and that’s due in large part to the perpetual stress of preparing for a hazardous situation. “In 10 months’ time, we went through active shooter training three times,” she says. “Another time, we were told there was a credible threat against the airport and not to wear our uniforms to or from work.”
12. THEY HATE WHEN YOU ASK THEM TO CHANGE GLOVES.
“The most common complaint [from TSOs] is when passengers ask them to change their gloves before a pat down,” Harrington says,” because we change them all the time. We might have changed them just before getting to someone and passengers will still insist they use new ones in front of their face.”
13. IT’S REALLY HARD TO GET FIRED.
TSOs undergo regular training and performance reviews where they're expected to simulate a screening in a private room for supervisors. After two years, the probationary period is over, and employees are generally set. “They’d call it being a ‘made’ man or woman,” Harrington says, referring to the mafia term for acceptance. “It’s really hard to get fired at that point. The only way to lose your job would be to commit a crime.”
14. THEY DON’T GET AIRPORT PERKS.
As federal employees, TSOs don’t enjoy any perks from airlines: Accepting a gift could be cause for termination, according to Tina. “But there’s a loophole,” she says. “If you’re friends with a pilot or have a personal relationship with an airline employee, you can accept it.”
Around the world, over 600 million people live near one of 1500 active terrestrial volcanoes. Who's keeping them safe from potential future eruptions? The women and men who study these gas-and-ash-and-lava belching windows into the center of the earth: volcanologists.
You might not be sure what volcanologists do or why they matter—especially if you live thousands of miles away from one of these fiery mountains. So, Mental Floss went searching for answers from four volcanologists working in various capacities around the country, who shared their experiences in the field, under the ocean, and gazing far out into space.
1. THEY STUDY EVERYTHING FROM MAGMA COMPOSITION TO VOLCANIC GASSES AND BEYOND.
"When I tell people what I do, 95 percent of the time they ask, 'What is that?'" says Arianna Soldati of the University of Missouri, who researches lava flows.
Volcanology is the study of how volcanoes form, what they're made of, and what they eject, among other areas of research. Many volcanologists have degrees in geology; some, like Soldati, are physical geologists, collecting samples on site and then analyzing them to figure out their composition. Others are geophysicists who study tectonic plates and their role in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Geochemists and petrologists study volcanic gasses and minerals, and geodesists look at deformations on and around volcanoes to figure out if magma is pooling up underneath them. All these disparate disciplines work together, Soldati says, to "understand how the planet works, so we can understand how eruptions work."
2. THEY WORK WITH OTHER VOLCANOLOGISTS AROUND THE GLOBE IN THE NAME OF SAFETY.
Jacob Lowenstern is Chief of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a government agency that monitors our country's 169 active land volcanoes, largely via observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. But it also offers assistance and training to volcanologists in other countries because, as Lowenstern points out, an active volcano system respects no human borders. The program helps keep people and animals safe from the destruction wrought by lava flows, mudslides, and gas: When eruptions happen, localities issue alerts based on data from USGS.
Underwater volcanoes can create shipping hazards, like floating chunks of pumice, but a land-based volcano can create serious chaos worldwide. When Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, its miles-high ash cloud grounded aircraft to and from Europe and Britain for about a week. "We didn't even know what concentration of ash it was safe to fly through, because no one had studied it before," Soldati says. (They do know now, although the answer depends on how long the aircraft is aloft [PDF]). Back when Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, it kicked off the Year Without a Summer, as ash circled the globe and blocked out the Sun, resulting in crop failures, famine, and a total of 100,000 human deaths. "At some point, something truly global [like that] is going to happen again," Lowenstern says. Volcanologists aim to be prepared.
3. SOME OF THEM WORK UNDERWATER ...
An estimated 80 percent of eruptions happen beneath the oceans' waves. It hasn't been easy for volcanologists to research them—for starters, there was no comprehensive map of the ocean floor until just a few years ago. And not being able to see a volcano that's 3000 feet underwater makes observation … challenging. Historically, scientists mostly monitored underwater volcano activity using fickle, battery-operated equipment installed on the seafloor, which could only store (rather than transmit) data. The first complete footage of an underwater eruption wasn't captured till 2009.
William Wilcock says technology has finally caught up to the thirst for information. He studies the Pacific Ocean's Axial Seamount—the most active volcano in the Northeast Pacific—via the Cabled Array ocean observatory, 550 miles of fiber-optic cable equipped with sensors that allow scientists to to monitor the Juan de Fuca ridge off of Oregon's coast. Using the array, they can monitor the chemicals and temperature in the water column, measure the volcano's magma chamber, and keep tabs on earthquakes, which could signify an eruption.
The array sends underwater volcanologists data in real time—fast enough that they can sometimes deploy autonomous vehicles for a closer look at eruptions as they happen. In April 2015, the project's team was able to witness an entire eruption of Axial Seamount from start to finish, leading to “the most detailed observations ever made” of an undersea volcano, as Wilcock toldThe Washington Post. The data they gleaned helped them understand how the seamount's caldera falls during eruptions and then reinflates with gases and magma before reaching a particular threshold, at which it erupts. Understanding how that inflation works is important for land volcanoes too, which is part of why data from the array is posted on the internet for scientists around the world to use.
4. ... AND SOME STUDY VOLCANOES IN SPACE.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
The only scientist NASA sent to the moon was geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who flew on Apollo 17. (All of the other astronauts were military men-turned-NASA test pilots.) Schmitt—who was actually allergic to regolith, a.k.a. moon dust—helped prove that the moon was once volcanically active. This fact makes NASA's Alex Sehlke incredibly proud—and envious. He's a volcanologist who conducts research in Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument in preparation for the agency's planned return there in a few years. Craters of the Moon is geologically similar to our actual moon, in part because it was formed by lava erupting from the middle of the continent, not a juncture where two plates meet; moon volcanos were likely formed in a similar fashion, since the moon is covered, basically, by a single giant plate.
Volcanologists like Sehlke usually play supporting roles in space exploration. They test equipment and speculate about how, say, Craters of the Moon's lava tubes are like those under the surface of the actual moon and might make for a good base of operations. "Imagine looking at the surface of the moon [from Earth] when you're planning a mission and saying, ‘Hmm, looks alright,'" Sehlke says. "But there are questions we need to answer before we go—maybe the terrain is treacherous."
They may also offer guidance from mission control to astronauts (often about areas that look like they might be interesting to explore), and analyze data from probes—like the first images of an ice volcano erupting on Saturn's moon Enceladus, captured by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005.
5. SOME OF THEM ARE LOOKING FOR THE BEGINNINGS OF LIFE.
Hydrothermal vents—openings in the seafloor where water enters, becomes heated, then spurts back out—support a lot of weird microbes that Wilcock says may be similar to the first organisms that ever existed on our planet. Studying them and the conditions that created them may help us understand how to look for life on other planets and moons—one of NASA's primary objectives. But Sehlke and others are also looking for life by scanning data from probes exploring our solar system: "Wherever volcanoes sit, on Enceladus or elsewhere, there is heat or fluids that maybe provide the necessary environment for microorganisms like the ones we know on Earth," Sehlke says. Volcanoes like these "give us the highest chance of finding life" out in space.
6. THEY ALSO WANT TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO SUSTAIN THE LIFE WE ALREADY HAVE.
While volcanoes created Earth's original atmosphere by emitting the carbon dioxide and nitrogen necessary for life, other volcanic gasses, like sulfur dioxide, increase the ability of our current atmosphere to retain heat [PDF]. "Learning how these things balance out is hugely important to understanding our future" on the planet, Soldati says. That's why new studies are looking at the links between volcanic activity and climate change, and how they may exacerbate each other.
Some volcanologists are particularly concerned about Iceland, where melting ice caps may be releasing pressure on magma chambers, contributing to more—and more explosive—volcanic eruptions in the future. The effect of the reduced pressure is similar to how “the cork of a champagne bottle flies into the air when it has loosened sufficiently,” geophysicist Magnus Guðmundsson toldHakai magazine. Another new study urged those making models of our climate future to include volcanic eruptions as a variable, which they find are under-sampled in such models but can have big effects on temperatures, sea levels, global radiation, and ocean circulation, among other key elements of the climate.
7. THEY GET TO USE A LOT OF COOL EQUIPMENT ...
Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images
Volcanologists use a lot of very high-tech equipment in their line of work. Seismometers measure earthquakes on volcanic slopes. Infrared cameras measure the heat of lava flows. Correlation spectrometers measure the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air, which is released when magma is rising to the surface (and so can signal when a volcano might be ready to erupt). Tiltmeters measure, literally, the tilt of the land around a volcano. If instruments like these, having been mounted on a volcano, fall apart during an eruption, "we sometimes use helicopter drops to put new equipment on the ground," Lowenstern says. More and more, though, volcanologists monitoring land volcanoes rely on equipment mounted on aerial or space-based unmanned craft, "so we don't put people in harm's way." This includes technology called InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar), which, from a satellite in space, can measure a volcano stretching and contracting. That helps scientists keep tabs on just what the magma inside a volcano is doing—and whether it's about to come up.
8. ... BUT ONE OF A VOLCANOLOGIST'S MOST IMPORTANT TOOLS IS A ROCK HAMMER.
Out in the field, Soldati says, her most important tools are her notebook, for jotting observations, and her steel rock hammer, which she uses both to chip away at rock and to gather samples of molten lava. To grab a sample, she swings into the lava with the pointed end of the hammer, then drops the molten material—which is around 2000°F—into a pail of water; quickly cooling the lava in this way turns it to glass (slow cool it, and it becomes rock), which she transports back to the lab.
Once there, Soldati relies on machines like a concentric cylinder viscometer, which melts lava samples so she can measure their viscosity—which tells her how explosive a volcano's eruptions are. Less viscous lava trickles out of a volcano, while more viscous, and hence more explosive, lava can blow out the whole side of a mountain, sending burning lava, rocks, and other debris flying.
One thing field volcanologists almost never use: those clichéd silver flame-proof proximity suits. "They're heavy, and since you usually have to walk hours to get to your field site, no one wants to carry all that weight," Soldati says. Besides, "heat is almost never the hazard that matters in the situations in which we work," writes Aaron Curtis, a volcanologist working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (You have a greater chance of "being hit by ballistics, or getting gassed," he notes.) "The reason you see those suits so often is that they look really cool on TV."
So what do they wear? Jessica Ball, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey, writes that "sturdy boots, hard hats, work gloves, rip-resistant clothing with long sleeves, and sunglasses or safety goggles are pretty standard, and I will add a gas mask if I’m going to be in an area with lots of fumes. Also, sunscreen is always important, because I’m often out in the sun all day."
10. SOME OF THEIR WORK IS DANGEROUS IN UNEXPECTED WAYS.
Lava and flying debris aren’t the only hazards during fieldwork. Tina Neal, a volcanologist with the USGS, has reported that she’s had several encounters with bears while working at Ukinrek Maars in Alaska. She also says, "I think the aircraft work of volcanologists is as dangerous if not more so than the active volcanoes we visit and study." Geologist Christina Heliker has described the most fearful moments during her time on staff at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory as being those that involved flying in a helicopter over continuously active Pu`u `O`o. Once, while trying to return to camp after mapping lava flows, “It was almost dark, and we were sandwiched between an incandescent field of `a`a [lava] and this thick layer of clouds that were glowing orange from the reflected light of the lava,” she told an interviewer. “I was plenty relieved when the pilot decided to give it up and fly out to somewhere else.”
11. THEY WANT YOU TO KNOW: VOLCANOES AREN'T ALL BAD.
Volcanologists aren't drawn to their work only because of the destructive power of their research subjects. "[Volcanoes] also have a positive impact on our life," Soldati says. She points out that volcanoes fertilize the soil—some of the most productive crops on our planet are grown in mineral-rich volcanic ash. They also create new land; the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea has added 500 acres to the Big Island since 1983. So don't say volcanoes never give back.