Tech + Money

Meet Jenifer Daniels, CEO of Colorstock, a company transforming online culture starting with stock photos

"Other stock photo companies may show people of color, but they are showing them in false light," says Jenifer Daniels.

Need a photo of a woman’s hands holding a phone for your blog or your brand launch? It’s as easy as typing your search into Google.

Want a photo of a Latina woman’s hands holding a phone? Even if you’re lucky enough to find a photo, the nuance, quality and visual diversity are suddenly nowhere to be found.

One startup is “destined to change the face of stock photos” by solving that issue, according to Colorstock CEO Jenifer Daniels.

Colorstock is one of a handful of emerging stock photo libraries like Black Stock ImagesCreateHer Stock and Getty’s LeanIn Collection that aim to provide content creators – particularly those of color themselves – with authentic and nuanced looks into the lives of people of color.

A Detroit native now teaching communications and public relations at UNC Charlotte, Daniels’ experience as an award-winning brand strategist made the startling lack of diversity in stock photography painfully clear to her. Daniels, a 37-year-old communications professional based in North Carolina, launched Colorstock in August 2015 with the help of writer James Stewart Jr.

The company provides photos of “black, Asian, Latino, and other ethnically diverse people at work and at play.” Photographers include Casha Dees, Sabrina Holder, Shea Parikh, Brandon Benjamin and Daniels herself.

We spoke with Daniels to found out more about how Colorstock is working to provide authentic depictions of people of color.

The Tempest: How do you tackle diversity in stock photos?

Daniels: We tackle diversity and stock photos by implementing a customer feedback loop. We listen very closely to what customers (and potential customers) say they want to see in stock photos. We then address their need by conducting a call for images. Photographers answer with specific images based on customers needs.

We are addressing the absence of authentic images of people of color. Colorstock exists because other stock photo companies may show people of color, but they are showing them in false light, or over-posed, or not reflective of the cultural nuances of one’s life.

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What does a lack of diversity in stock photography mean for content creators and online culture?

The lack of diversity in stock photos bears much implication on content creators. When your audience does not see itself and your blog posts, ebooks, webinars, or marketing materials, they think that you and your product are not for them. And that isn’t fair, nor is it reflective of today’s society. People are unique and that deserves to be illustrated in the products and the services that they utilize.  

How did you decide to begin filling this niche?

Stock photos – as a niche – was compelling to me because it was a pain point of mine. I have been a communications professional for over 15 years and whenever I would look for images like this I couldn’t find them. Luckily I was creative enough to create these images on my own but everyone doesn’t have that luxury.

The biggest turning point in the business was the first purchase. Click To Tweet

Another problem is the abundance of images available online – copywritten, illegal, or Creative Commons–  that hasn’t been curated. What content creator wants to spend hours searching for an image that ‘sort of’ looks like what they want?

What reaction were you expecting when you launched Colorstock?

I don’t know if I was expecting a specific reaction, per se. I definitely expected sighs of relief as well as “why is this here?” And I’ve received both. The thing is, I have never once regretted doing this. I’ve learned so much about myself, my professional capabilities, as well as my perceived limits. I’ve learned that my dreams have application.

The biggest turning point in the business was the first purchase. This let us know that people have a need for this service.  

What’s the toughest lesson you’ve learned in creating this small business?

The toughest lesson that I’ve learned in starting a small business is that patience is a virtue. And that’s the hard one because startup culture says ‘do it fast and do it now.’ While you can execute fast, you have to be patient to see results.

Purchase royalty-free photos from Colorstock starting at $5. Follow Daniels on Twitter @jentrification and @getcolorstock. This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.

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Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan has worked as the Tech + Money editor and Culture + Taste editor at The Tempest. She's a journalist based in Baltimore, covering underrepresented communities and digital culture. Find her work on her website.

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