"Headless" Photos

Not a tech question, but something interesting that cropped up. I recently built an interaction using photos that came exclusively from the 360 Content Library. I sent to our communications team for feedback and they suggested changing all the photos that had cropped out the subjects' heads. It was then that I realized just how many of the Content Library photos featured "headless" bodies! I've attached an example for reference.

I'm not much of a graphics person, so the arguments for and against using these photos are lost on me. Has anybody else run into criticism for using these photos? Is there a reason why these are so prevalent in this Content Library? Is our approach to visuals just outdated? Curious what you all think!

4 Replies
Judy Nollet

Interesting. I use SL3, so I'm not familiar with what's in the 360 Content Library. I only use "headless" pics that are fairly focused in content, e.g., hands texting on a phone when discussing social-media use. There are pros and cons to both types of photos.

"Headless" pics avoid any issues with expressions. For example, in the pic you posted, we don't know if the women are happy, sad, tired, or frustrated, which means the photo could be used for multiple situations. Also, I'm guessing that, since they're not identifiable, there's less concern about model releases.

On the other hand, seeing faces seems like it would elicit stronger emotions. In other words, it'd be easier to empathize when we "look 'em in the eye" (or, at least, can see their eyes).

Ultimately, I think this comes down to personal preferences. In other words, you can't please everyone all the time.

Bryant Kuehner

Those both seem like compelling arguments! I imagine expressions could also distract from the primary focus of the training, which is the content and interactions. Our comms folks are probably more concerned with eliciting an emotional response than we as instructional designers are.

Michael O.

In recent years there has been a concern by stock photo models that their images are being used in ways that can cause them problems.  The classic example is stock photos used in STD public health messages. By having the faces cropped out, the issue is eliminated.  

Here are some great stories I recently came across from stock photo models finding their images in odd places:

BoredPanda.com: Stock Models Share Weirdest Stories Photo Use

Ulises Musseb

For as long as the photos are used in the right content, relate to the context, and are properly presented in the content, you can pretty much use any photograph (in good taste, of course). For example, if you are using that photograph in a course about structural engineering, it may not be too useful in adding to the learning experience since there's no relation between what is being taught and the content of the image.

Though there is not a 100% accurate answer as to how and/or how much a photo adds educational value to content (unless the lesson is about what is in the image, of course, i.e., a map), it is certain that the wrong photograph, an unrelated photograph, or a photo that is placed out of content can cause distraction or disengagement in the learning experience.

Whether or not the photos should show face depends on what is intended to be communicated, and the style of communication used (along with consistency in such communication style throughout the course).

Lately some people have become sensitive to what "type" of people are being displayed, and the selection of who is in pictures, for them, should reflect a diverse workforce. To avoid getting into endless analysis of who/what to include, many designers are opting for not including faces at all, or using drawings and illustrations depicting purple, orange, blue and green people. Hence, the type of photo that doesn't have faces are increasingly popular.

I still had a complain from a client that the skirt that the cartoon green woman in the illustration I was using in a slide was too short.