By Susan Saldibar

I must spend a good hour or two, every week, combing through hundreds of cringeworthy stock images just to find the one or two that don’t look quite as “stock-y”. It’s a lot of time invested for very little return. In fact, every time, I find myself saying, “Why am I doing this?”

Who out there can relate? Tom Sanders of Senior Stock Photos (a Senior Living Foresight partner) not only can relate, he started a company to do something about it. I caught up with Tom last week to do a Q&A because I think he has some fresh insight and a cool story behind his photography and film work with seniors. His work has taken him around the world, and he has published several books with a focus on the amazing faces (and voices) of veterans of World War II and Vietnam. He’s also a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

But here’s what I really like about Tom. He is the antithesis of everything we hate about stale stock senior photography. In fact, he is known for revealing authenticity in his photo and film work. Something we could use in this industry, right? So, now that I have your attention . . .

Q: First, you have a really interesting story, Tom, about how you got into the area of senior photography. Maybe you can share that with us.

A: So I had a homework assignment in college, when I was twenty-two, to do a portrait photograph, and I photographed a WWII veteran who told me a really dramatic war story. My grandfather was also a WWII veteran. That assignment triggered an idea to travel the country and photograph WWII veterans. Then Belmont Village became aware of my project, which led to an interest in senior living. So when I was about thirty, I thought, why not just start a company that solely creates photos and films for senior living? 

Q: What are the main issues your clients tell you they have with accessing quality images?

A: There’s a big gap between paying for an on-site photoshoot and settling for what’s available on stock photo sites. Photoshoots are great, I do them all the time, but you need the budget to support them. The problem with stock photos is that you often have to spend hours finding one that works, and most are of baby boomers, not seniors in their 80s. Plus, if a senior living company is buying cheap stock photos, there is a likelihood that they’re on competitors’ sites, which is a complaint I have heard from sales and marketing VPs.

Q: So how are you bridging that gap?

A: I’m bridging it by bringing together the quality of a custom photoshoot with the convenience and affordability of stock photos.

Q: What is your delivery model? 

A: You can access and purchase photos either on a one-off basis or on a subscription basis, which is what I usually recommend as the most economical. To make it easier, we have 5 general categories of images; overview, fitness, caretake/medical, baby boomer, and holidays. And I’m adding to these photos and illustrations every week, so there are hundreds to choose from.

Q: Why aren’t we hearing about more services like yours?

A: Well, first of all, it’s hard to find models over the age of 75. That’s why photographers end up using so many baby boomers. They are more accessible. I photograph mostly real residents. These are older people who can’t stand long, can’t hear, and may have dementia. They aren’t actors or models. So it’s more challenging. Many photographers aren’t up to it. But I enjoy celebrating aging and capturing authentic seniors for companies so they have authentic advertising that contributes to bringing in new move-ins. So it’s well worth the extra effort.

Q: So what do you recommend for senior living communities that like this idea but are facing tighter budgets these days?

A: First, these photos are in the price range of Adobe and Getty Images. And the subscription makes it even more economical. But you also need to stop and think about those hours your marketing staff spends pouring over stock photo sites. Their time is much better spent in more strategic areas. Then, think about what you want your photographs to say about your community? Do you really want to be settling for photos that don’t look like your residents?

Also, activity directors need quick access to photos/illustrations that they do not have to search for, for promoting activities within communities. The subscription also works for associates outside of marketing.

Okay, so regardless of whether you are a senior living marketer, activities director, or just the assigned person to blog and do social media, you have to admit, this makes a lot of sense. You can check out Tom’s work on his Senior Living Photography website. And let him know what you think, he is always open to stock photo concepts that he is happy to shoot. And here is a link to Senior Stock Photos.