Brand photography is the art of visually capturing a brand identity. It’s about telling a brand story in an authentic and visually compelling way that speaks to your consumers on a level they will respond to. Brand photography is used by companies around the world to communicate their brand values, mission statements and product offers through careful art direction. This article will explore the history of brand photography, how it is used and how it can bring authenticity to your business.
Brand photography is a discipline of both brand identity and content creation. It is used in two main ways: to communicate the brand values and purpose, and to show product/service offers that add value for customers. While there are many types of brand photography, we largely split our photographic work into four main categories:
Brand photography can take many forms including the use of photographic composites, computer-generated imagery and 3d photography. All of these have a role to play in modern brand building and we often try to find a balance of styles to build new and unique brand identities. Each style also requires careful photographic art direction to ensure the imagery communicates the right message. This is often where a designer, art director and photographer will collaborate to define the final image.
Brand photography is important for any brand wanting to build its own world and connect with consumers on a deeper level than just showcasing products or services alone. By bringing together visual storytelling, authenticity and human emotion into the mix, brand photographers can create powerful imagery that helps brand owners communicate their brand values.
Brand photography is a staple for brand building and can be used in many ways to help build brand awareness, including advertising, product photography and marketing.
Although it can feel like a recent invention, brand imagery has been employed for more than a century. During the late 1800s, the development of commercial advertising transformed how companies interacted with their customers, promoting new ways to capture and share their products and services. Early examples of branded photography include:
Coca-Cola first used brand photography in the mid-1890s. Art director and photographer Jacob Riis was brought in to help create a new vision for the brand and was tasked with capturing the products through reportage-style poses for use in advertising materials. Although this style of imagery is commonplace today, staged use of the product was an innovative concept and helped to drive new levels of brand exposure and recognition.
Ford Motors were also an early adopter of brand photography, hiring various photographers to capture its new factory and cars. This was one of the first examples of branded photographic content being used to tell a story about both its people and products. The art direction demonstrated authenticity by showing customers a side of the Ford brand that they were not usually exposed to.
In the brand photography of the 1930s, we see an increase in compositional elements that are used to attract attention and communicate brand values. This is most often seen through careful cropping or strong symmetrical compositions as shown with Campbell’s soup brand photography. Campbell’s also used brand photography as a way to tell the story of its brand and products through reportage like Coca-Cola had done decades before.
During the 1950s and 1960s, branded photography was often used to communicate authenticity through a rugged, masculine style. By the 1970’s we begin to see more storytelling in brand photography with images that tell stories and evoke emotion. This is most apparent in one of Marlboro’s branding photographs, where we see a cigarette smoking cowboy against a brilliant brand colour under a bright skyline.
Brand storytelling has become an essential part of brand building as customers are looking for brands that stand for something. While well-produced brand photography can shine a light on a companies values and its products, it can also help build an emotional connection that is difficult to achieve with illustration or typography alone. Photography can offer a level of personal brand experience that is difficult to communicate with other brand-building tools. When marrying this effect with a trend towards authenticity in brand communication, it’s easy to see why brand photography has become so prevalent in the modern marketplace.
Recent examples of brand photography include Halley Stevensons, The Feather Company and Max McCance.
There are countless types of brand photography. Every variation brings its own distinct style, so brand owners need to work with their agencies and production partners when deciding on the type of brand photography that would suit them best. The most common types of brand photography that we use in our practice are:
In a brand setting, reportage images can be used to build a brand world that customers connect with. For example, companies like Coca-Cola will show consumers drinking their product while enjoying themselves and in a positive setting.
‘In the moment’ photography — this photographic style looks to capture real moments of interaction. While these can be planned, all reportage imagery needs to look and feel natural. This often works best when the subject is looking away from the camera.
Live-action photography — this type of brand photography focuses on live-action, for example during sporting events or musical performances. Live-action photographers will again encourage their subjects to go about their business naturally to ensure the images feel authentic.
‘Behind the scenes’ photography — can be used to give an insight into how a brand works. For example, a product brand like Dyson may commission a behind the scenes shoot to show how their products are made, shining a light on their factory and workforce. This is an important technique in creating consumer loyalty as it helps build transparency and shows they are the real deal.
Professional portraiture is used to showcase the people within a business. This can be direct staff (for example captured through professional headshots) or brand ambassadors, advocates and consumers.
Beauty photography — this type of brand image is often used in the luxury industry to showcase products and clothing, sometimes with a fantasy twist as seen by Dolce & Gabbana’s brand imagery. These images are usually bright, colourful and glamorous which helps them stand apart from other types of brand photography that can be seen as less glamorous.
Professional headshots — these brand images are used to show the people behind a brand. They work best when they capture personality and expression, so brands like Apple would often use these types of images with their employees to build an emotional connection between the company brand and consumer brand experience.
Lifestyle portraiture — this brand photography technique is used to show a brand in a lifestyle setting. For example, an outdoor clothing brand like Berghaus could use images of people wearing their clothes while hiking or skiing. This type of photographic style can build brand values around adventure and exploration which are key for outdoorsy brands.
Interior photography — this brand photography technique is often used to showcase a brand’s physical location and the atmosphere it provides. For example, you could use this type of photography for your brand if you run an art gallery or hotel.
Exterior photography — these images show off architecture in its purest form, looking at buildings as both design objects and spaces that people live or work in. Brands like Apple do this to showcase their brand architecture and the office space it provides for employees, often looking to use buildings that have a strong architectural aesthetic themselves.
Environmental photography — this brand type is perfect for brands who sell food or drink, with images showing how their products are made in a natural environment. For example, outdoor brand Gore-tex could use environmental shots of people wearing the brand’s clothing while being exposed to nature and adventure sports activities.
Product photography — brand photography that showcases products, either on their own or in use. Brands like IKEA often do this to showcase how people might use the brand’s furniture within a home setting, while outdoor brands will show off technical equipment and clothing in motion.
Packshots — these brand images are used for catalogues and online directories where you need to show a brand’s packaging, design and logo. They can also be used on retail websites or for brand listings in magazines to help the brand stand out from its competitors. These are often shot against a white or neutral background to focus on the products themselves.
Product in the environment — brand photography that showcases a product in its natural environment. For example, an outdoor brand like Berghaus would use this type of photograph to show off their clothing and equipment while they are being worn or used outside. This can be achieved by shooting on location with models (as seen here) but it is important to make sure the brand’s logo and brand values are still visible and used in the final edit.
Detail and material photography — these brand images are used to show off the detail of a brand’s products, especially for jewellery and clothing brands. For example, you could use this photographic style if your brand sells luxury watches or bags that have unique details like engraving on them worth showing in photographs.
If your business would benefit from a fresh approach to content creation, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that a strong brand identity is defined to ensure all printed, physical and online materials are unique, consistent and effective.