Part 1: What is a commercial/advertising photographer?
The simple answer is, they are “Visual Communicators and Problem Solvers”.
Commercial photographers don’t only take beautiful and creative photos; they also understand great design and the psychology of selling. They are business owners, critical thinkers, managers, negotiators, legal counselors, visionaries, artist, scientist, retouchers, software experts, image asset managers, producers, directors, time managers, researchers, trend analyst, marketing experts, lighting experts, etc. etc. A professional commercial photographer is so much more than someone that takes pictures. They have the knowledge and experience it takes to create images that will help convince the target market to make a purchase. Let me give you a couple of examples to help illustrate this.
Example 1: Let’s say you sell beef and beef products. You decide you need some photos for the web, a flyer, and some recipes. Let’s say this is an all-natural grass fed beef. Our job is to creatively visually communicate what you want your audience to know about your product. If you haven’t already clearly defined this, a good photographer will need to ask you a number of questions to find this out. If you’re selling an all-natural grass fed beef you most likely will want to emphasize that it is healthy. Years of research have shown that a light and bright food photo will communicate healthy better than a rich and moody photo. What is the audience demographics? Why does this matter? You’re going to use different props for a 18 to 35 year old audience than you do for a 35 to 55 year old audience. Do you want it shot on location with models to show a person enjoying your product? How many locations? Do you want to shoot in the kitchen and dining room? Do you want the location to have a country look and feel or a contemporary look? Do you want it to look upscale or authentic and approachable? The stylist will need different food for side dishes and will style the food differently depending on the answer. Are you selling to a retail consumer market or a food service, restaurant market? Answers to each of these questions determine the course of further research, refining the nearly limitless variables and resulting in a carefully defined and effective intention for the photographs to be made. As you can see there is a lot of thought that goes into a photo shoot so you can create the right “Visual Communication” to market your product. Commercial photography is way more than “I have a product, what will it cost to take these photos? The cost of a photo shoot will be covered in Part 5.
Example 2: Let’s say in this example you need 5 to 10 lifestyle shots of a jet. First, there could be a huge cost difference between 5 shots and 10 shots (it is, after all, twice as many). Let’s say, if we shoot 5 shots they will all be on the inside of the jet. If we do 10 shots, 5 will be on the inside and 5 will be on the outside. Even a large jet is a very confined space. This makes production logistics more difficult and work move slower. Most likely, you will have to light the interior from the outside of the jet. This means lots of lights and lots of power. This means lots of set-up and take down time - extra-height stands, scaffolding, and communications requirements between the photographer inside and the crew members outside. Do you want models in the plane? How many? What ethnic model mix do you want? You will need at least one hair and make-up stylist. What kind of wardrobe do you want? How many different wardrobe choices do you want per model? How do you want the jet propped? Do you want it to look casual with food and wine or do you want it to look all business with papers and laptops? Do you want it to look like the middle of the day when they are flying or are they flying at sunset? Let’s discuss the exterior photographs. Are these static images of the plane in the hangar or is the plane moving? On the tarmac. Taking off and/or landing? Do you need air-to-air shots of the jet flying? This involves a second jet, lots of coordination, and special equipment and insurance will be needed. What background do you want behind the plane? Will it be stripped in, in post or shot on location? If stripped in - will you purchase stock imagery or do you need us to shoot unique images specifically for the backgrounds so you don’t see them in your competition’s photographs? Costs vary dramatically depending on your answers Will you want sports cars, models, pets, and luggage? Are we shooting at sunrise or sunset? Will we need special insurance and permits? How long will it take to get these permits?
We could, and will, go on and on with additional detail questions - we have to in order to define your “Custom” photo shoot. Some answers lead to new questions - and often these are elements that a client has never considered, but about which they have definite opinions. Commercial photographers need this detailed information and communication in order to provide you with the best “Visual Communication” possible. In addition, we need it to be able to provide you with an accurate cost for the project. The more information we have the better we can come up with creative solutions that help reduce costs and streamline the project.
Last but not least, we all know that emails can be the best and worst way to communicate. We recommend that you, at minimum, schedule a phone meeting with the photographer, and better yet, schedule an initial in-person meeting to establish a meaningful overview of the needs of the project. We understand everyone is very busy, but this is where you’ll get a better understanding of a photographer’s passion for their work and their problem solving abilities. This will make a huge difference in how smoothly the project goes, how closely it meets your needs, and the eventual success of the final images.
Our ad agency friends in Chicago have a BBQ client. The art director on the project asked around, "where can I find the best BBQ photographer?" David Morris Photography was their choice. It was a two-day project to get all the styled food shots and product packaging completed. For the styled food shots they wanted a warm dramatic editorial look. This seems to be the food photography trend currently. The end results were pleased clients, some great photos, and a fun shoot. What more can you ask for?
When you shoot commercial and advertising photography, it is all about the details. One needs to pay attention to the little things to produce an outstanding image.
Although it isn't evident to most people at first glance, you can tell the difference between an image where the details were focused on and one where they weren't when you view them side by side.
Why is focusing on the details important you ask?
1. In many cases, an expert eye up front will save time on back-end post production.
2. Details can help showcase the quality of a product.
3. Details play a part to help differentiate one brand from another.
Some of the details we pay attention to when food is involved are:
1. Ensuring the background and serving ware are clean. No dust, drips, spills, etc.
2. Making sure the design of the food is pleasing. No faces in the food, no tangents, etc.
3. Confirming the correct number of food items called for in the serving size.
Having emphasized the importance of details, you must remember to have some fun on set too.
David with his magnifiers ensuring the gumbo mac & cheese dish is spotless.
Is David making sure the plate is clean or David mooning the crew? You decide!
Our Food Stylist topping a shake with whipped cream. A little photo bombing by the Chef, too.
The sushi is on set and ready for its close up!
Cheesy biscuits. Nom nom nom.
David working with our Photo Assistant while focusing on the lighting details.
Crew & clients on set.
David and the Art Director getting photo bombed by our Photo Assistant!
Looks like the Art Director is brewing up something new for the shot.
You can tell it's the last shot of a project when the wine glasses and beer start appearing.
A toast to a great shoot!
Most photographers can count on one hand the number of times they pitched an idea to an agency and the client went for it. This project was just that!
Our friends at Woodruff Sweitzer came to us because one of their clients wanted to shoot of all the ingredients that went into their product. "Do you have any ideas?" they asked. We said we'd think about it and get back to them in a couple days.
After doing a little research on the product, it seemed to have a very Alaskan wilderness feel. David called the Woodruff Sweitzer team and suggested creating a set similar to a rustic Alaskan hunters cabin, with an appropriately rustic table on which to place all of the ingredients. "What the heck!" David said. "We might as well go for broke and make it look like an old Dutch Masters painting!"
Well, to David's surprise, both the agency and client loved the idea!
Now what? How do we pull this off?!?
Fortunately, the final deadline allowed plenty of time to gather all the props and get the food products researched, ordered and assembled. It goes without saying that adequate time to prepare upfront really makes a difference to the final outcome of a project.
We ordered a rustic wood background, fresh salmon and trout flown in from Seattle, smoked leg of lamb, wild boar prosciutto, venison, turkey, berries, flowers and so much more. We researched and locally sourced the perfect table to shoot on. It just so happened though that the day we went to pick the table up, it was on sale, and all three Kansas City stores were sold out. Fortunately, we were able to find a similar table available in town. Wowza, that was a close call!
On shoot day, everything went flawlessly. The creative team's direction along with David's vision and our food stylist's top-notch styling resulted in a final image that everyone was elated with. We collaborated well and had fun along the way.
David didn't have anything in his portfolio that looked at all like his vision, yet the agency and client trusted that we could pull it off. He will be forever grateful for their trust. This project specifically reinforces that just because a photographer doesn't have an image of a red shoe or kid playing basketball or a "__fill in the blank__" in their portfolio, doesn't mean they can't shoot exactly what you need and make it look awesome.
We truly believe that if opportunities for photographers and agency creatives to collaborate happened more frequently and sooner in the creative process, there would be more innovative and eye-catching advertising imagery in the marketplace.
Please keep throwing challenges like this at us, and we'll keep knocking them out of the park!
David adding some finishing touches to the set.
Our Food Stylist unpacking the white quails she sourced that morning in Nebraska.
Sarah Hunt, aka "The Fish Whipper."
Fresh trout, anyone?
Nothing like a little jump rope with the sausage links!
Putting some final touches on the image in post.
A little input from the creative team.
Working with the wild-life painter to makes sure the colors look right on the new packaging.
We were thrilled to have our friend Steve Sweitzer on set a few weeks before he retired.
David and Sarahs version of the final image.
Thanks for joining us for our final installment in this three-part series on launching a new brand. If you've followed along, you know that we've discussed what it takes to prepare for a large photo and video shoot, how many people it actually takes to pull off a production, what factors are taken into consideration when planning and prepping and how decisions are made on set.
One of the components of this multifaceted project was a video to announce the launch of the brand into the marketplace. Our client challenged us to capture all of the following in a two-minute video – the ease with which a number of their products could be prepared, customers in a restaurant enjoying the prepared products and multiple testimonials from actual brew pub owners talking about why they liked and used the products.
Add to that a script that was still in flux days before the shoot began, some extremely short deadlines, the logistical aspect of shooting at four locations, confirming models, extras, food recipes, props, etc...you get the idea. While it was a lot to wrangle, capture and edit, it was a challenge we were totally up for!
Shooting in the studio and on location in Kansas City, Grand Rapids, MI and Springfield, MO, we captured days of video footage. We can't say enough about how wonderful the video crew, food stylists, production coordinators, talent agency, and others we're surely failing to remember were, and how they were the ones who really made this large production come together.
A special thank you to Isaac Alongi who DP'd, edited and colored this video project. Without his talent and flexibility, the end result would not be nearly as beautiful as it is.
It truly takes a village, and we've got a great one surrounding us!
Be sure to check out the final video.
Our Assistant Food Stylist making sure we have enough fries in the bowl before shooting begins.
Getting the thumbs up from talent!
Our Food Stylist putting the final touches on the hero plate of food.
The Associate Creative Director reporting back to his team at home on how the shoot's going.
Making sure everything is lookin' good on location in Grand Rapids, MI.
We used a two camera set up for the Brew Chef interview videos.
Q&A with a local Brew Chef about why he uses these products.
A fun little clip of David directing the talent...or was it him just saying out loud what he needed his assistant to bring him?
Click on the image to play the launch video.