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The importance of exceptional photography for your brand.

People say a picture paints a thousand words, it’s a phrase used very often and I can’t help feeling that its importance has been lost, or at least significantly diluted in the last 15 years. With the integration of great quality cameras in smartphones and the increased affordability of reliable digital SLR cameras the ability to snap images and use them within seconds has become second nature to businesses. Even without a marketing team in place new technology can show the customer a product in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.

"It is probably because we are so used to taking pictures in our everyday lives that we can so easily convince ourselves ... that a DIY approach will work"

So why should you use a photographer at all? After all its far cheaper to use the equipment you already have and its faster.

Having worked with one of the leading manufacturers for musical instrument technology I saw firsthand just how much of a difference working with a pro makes. Not only do you get quality images, but you get the eye and the experience of the photographer, and that is priceless. It is probably because we are so used to taking pictures in our everyday lives that we can so easily convince ourselves when building a marketing campaign or press shots that a DIY approach will work, but when you have experienced what a true professional can deliver it really changes your mind.

An image like the one below taken of a guitar says so much more that just describing the instrument. It conveys 4 key pieces of information, the location, the product itself, who the product relates to and the brand. The image is arguably an advert for the product itself needing little adding to inspire a customer to learn more.

Picture of Robin Trower's fender guitars outside a music venue

Think in terms of food, you might be good at cooking, you might have access to the best ingredients, and you might have the time to make a meal that you consider to be amazing, but how will it compare to the same dish from a really good restaurant? Probably not the same right?

So if your distributor or client was in town and you wanted to entertain them would you take them home and cook for them? Again, probably not. In all reality you would find out what food they like, establish which restaurants have the best reputation and potentially even check out the location to make sure the atmosphere was good. Don’t see the relevance of the food analogy then allow me to explain.

"focus on what you are good at, and if that’s building or selling product then use this experience and expertise to create a detailed brief "

If you are embarking on making an investment with your brand and need photographs you are far more likely to get the best satisfaction by using a professional. Not only does it remove the need for you to actually take the photographs, but it also empowers you direct the narrative of the images and more often than not get more content and better results. Often with images you hadn’t even thought about using in the first place.

In other words, focus on what you are good at, and if that’s building or selling product then use this experience and expertise to create a detailed brief for your chosen photographer. You will invariably get exactly what you want and a lot more from them, and it is not as expensive as you think.

Before I continue it is probably worth explaining how I came to this conclusion, I learned it from experience and its why I believe why it is so important for brands to understand.

I had the good fortune to meet a very reputable and talented photographer Matt York who makes his money day in day out taking pictures for Associated Press. Back then he was a close friend of the U.S artist liaison and marketeer working for parent brand of the one I was running. We had a big anniversary in the planning and part of the celebrations was to make a coffee table book of a large-scale concert we were holding at Wembley arena in London.

It was the who’s-who of the guitar world with the top A level singers, guitarists, bass players and drummers too. Matt flew in to document the event and spent some time at the UK factory where he also took pictures of people building products and going about their everyday business. I wasn’t working with the marketing team at the time, I was too busy with the other brand, but I did get to spend some time with Matt and he pitched me his business card, “Hey buddy if you ever need any pictures you know where I am” and we stayed in touch.

It is who you know.

I can not recall if it was a year later or perhaps more but I was working on rebranding another company and one of the stand out issues that was holding the brand back was its images. Or rather its image full stop. The brand had started in the 70’s and had a cult following but its products aesthetic and its identity had not really moved forward. Its success was the quality of what it made but getting people to pay attention was difficult. With little to no collateral available other than what the exceptional marketing team had managed to maintain in their Chicago office the brand image and identity was pretty stagnant. With no starting point to go from I decided that a good place might be looking at the values of the brand and trying to re-enforce what they meant for the customers.

American, Tough, Honest were the 3 words that really leapt out. So, I decided that we would bite the bullet and begin the evolution by getting inspiration from the brands roots.

The photography was done over 2 separate sessions. The first in Kentucky where some of the products were manufactured the second “glory” shots of finished products were taken around Long Island and Manhattan. By the end of the sessions, we had great pictures of products being made, parts being formed and products draped in the feel of America in batting cages, on (American) football pitches and with undeniably U.S.A centric backdrops. Every image provided was usable although I can’t recall if we got to using them all. But the thing that made the images better than expected was something I hadn’t consciously considered.

Art is Photography

Hiring a good professional will provide you with more than simply what you ask for. If you form a good relationship and they understand what you are trying to achieve they can add value with images you hadn't even thought about needing. The example below of a bridge in the USA was used to help convey the made in America message for people new to the brand we were evolving.

Picture of a bridge and traffic in New York going across the Brooklyn Bridge

A photographer can operate a camera and capture an image of what is in front of them. The image will be in focus and the object you wanted visible which will provide a picture which is useable. But the picture wont tell you more than simply describing the product in the shot.

A photographer is the perfect choice if you want to take a picture of something on a plain background and use it to sell your item on your website. Arguably you could do that yourself with the right training. A professional photographer however is an Artist, and they capture so much more than a microphone, or a goal being scored at a sports event.

Below the image uses movement and light to really set an atmosphere. in addition the crowd in the lower left of the image are visible enough to convey the sense of tension of the Florida Gators fans as the Louisville Cardinals close in on the basket.

Picture from an NBA game between the Florida Gators and Louisville Cardinals

The Results of the Project

When we went through the images from our brand shoot it was obvious every image had so much more than just the object being captured in it. The textures, the colours, the lighting and everything about what what was captured made it feel more real and drew you in, it was just like being in the actual moment. You could almost hear the industrial press hammering away in the background.

The images allowed us to tell the customer the true story of the brand and instill a sense of being there in the factory, and being part of the process. The images were used for advertisements, the website social media and on and on and on. I even had some printed large and put them in frames in my office. They were visually engaging.

In the last three or four years I have noticed a large number of manufacturer's in Asia try to emulate the technique used where a production line worker is pictured crafting a product. The big problem often seems to be that the images are sterile and lack any aspirational value. Backgrounds are cluttered and the focus is solely on the product in the image, everything around it seems to be a second thought. The images in terms of content look near to identical but the context and story element are missing.

The textures in this image, grease marks on the machinery and even the worn glove and safety glasses sat on the edge of the press all add to the image of a speaker being manufactured. You can almost smell the oil and hear the press working.

Picture of speakers being made in a hydraulic press at the Eminence factory in Kentucky USA

Save money by spending more

By engaging with a true professional, you open the door to get something so much more valuable than just pictures, and if you find the right person, they will get to know your brand. They translate how you talk and how the customer feels into images that not only grab someone’s attention but engage with them on a subconscious level.

In the modern age of social media people use the term engagement nearly every day, measuring the KPI’s of social media posts by the number of likes, clicks and comments they get from their posts. Arguably these engagements are fleeting and if the image isn’t “engaging” the chances of you getting results are limited. But an engaging image lasts in the eyes of the customer and if you have exceptional images people are much more likely to be interested in the call to action you are trying to execute in your post, because you have their attention.

So while it might seem frugal to DIY your image needs consider how much you will save in the longer term by investing in good art for your site and brand, it is the same as any other investment you make and buying quality lasts.

During the time of writing this article I decided to reach out to Matt and see if he would be able to provide some additional insight and advice for brands looking to take themselves to the next level and provide some answers in a Q&A interview. He was happy to oblige, hopefully you are already prepared to take your brand from good to exceptional, if you choose to engage with a professional then I would recommend taking to heart the invaluable feedback he gave.

Q- You have taken pictures for so many things over the years, is there an image that you have taken that stands out in your mind as being the most memorable to you (and why)

I’m in my 30th year as a photojournalist for the Associated Press so coming up with just one image is not an easy task. I’ve covered 5 U.S. Presidents, sport icons from Michael Jordan to Tom Brady and countless news assignments from U.S. immigration to mass shootings to Olympic games. I’ve had a front row view of late 20th and early 21st century history and made images that tell those stories. In all sincerity, it’s not the Kobe Bryant’s or the Barrack Obama’s of the world that motivate me.

Below, despite having taken pictures of some of the worlds sports superstars it is capturing everyday people that motivates some of Matt York's best work.

"The journalist in me wants to know who that unknown person is, ... Everyday folks who make the world run—those are the people I’m interested in knowing the most."

The world will always have those who rise above and demand coverage, rightfully so, but it’s the everyday people who excel at what they do or rise above their circumstances in pursuit of something better. The immigrant father and son moments after being apprehended by border patrol or the factory worker who motivates himself to clock in every day and produce a product for the benefit of other or the homebuilder who rises before the sun to create a home for others while providing for his own family.

The journalist in me wants to know who that unknown person is, how they landed in their career or position, what drives them, who are they? Everyday folks who make the world run—those are the people I’m interested in knowing the most. Let me loose in a factory with everyday folks or and I’ll be quite content.

Above, capturing context such as the construction worker working as the sun rises, or the look of deflation of being apprehended of an immigrant and his son trying to cross a border tells a story. Stories connect the viewer to what you are saying. Using stories to sell your products and brand is so much more effective to convey your values than trying to educate people on technical elements of your products. In todays society you have a limited time to communicate to your audience so using a visual that grabs their attention for your service, product or event written article is critical.

Q- When you took the pictures for the Brand project in Kentucky and New York what were the key things you were trying to capture?

I pursue brand photography, perhaps, in an unorthodox way. I’m a journalist first not a marketing manager. If I need to illustrate an item, I want to know the “who, what, when, where and why” behind it. What’s the history of this item, who are the people who make it? If my images can tell a story, I’ve done my job. Now there’s a difference between a brand “Beauty shot”, for example, a beautiful, shiny new guitar lit properly in the studio with a clean, dark background which is perfect for promotion versus the hard-working mom who is fastening hardware to said guitar in a factory all day long. Both images tell a story and both images have a proper place in advertising.

I prefer the behind-the-scenes images over the “beauty shots” but understand the need for both and this is where I believe I’ve been effective in marrying the two shots together— Beautiful finished product shots made on location and not in the studio. I began this combined look back in 2003 with Fender guitars over in California and feel it was quite successful.

The image celebrates the hard-working folks who made the product and highlights the finished product in the same way as a studio shot does. I see many forms of it today in advertising and I really like the look.

With regards to New York and Kentucky assignment, this was my approach as well. Showcase the product with the wonderful people who made it in the factory in Kentucky and then highlight the “Made in the USA” aspect of the product in America’s most iconic city, NYC. We were telling a story of and American made product and wanted that story to be told visually.

We utilized this same approach with the work we did over in England with Marshall as well and I’m very proud of that season of work of mine as well. Most folks never see where their item is made or by whom and that story should be told. You’re going to sell a lot more of your items of you can effectively show the humanity behind your product. Nobody really sees the speakers in their amplifier but you show a 68-year-old man with a white beard carefully assembling that speaker with pride you all of a sudden have a new interest in that speaker you just purchased. And if you’re a Joe over in Bletchley looking online at that “Made in the USA” product with scenes from NYC the imagination of someday owning that product becomes a little more real.

Below the image of a speaker cabinet being assembled. The image captures part of the creation of the product and is something that the customer might only subconsciously acknowledge when making a purchasing decision. Using Images like this convey the craftsmanship involved in building something and the highlight the value of what people are buying.

Picture of an eden amplification speaker cabinet being manufactured.

Q- If a business is looking to engage with a professional photographer to create images for their brand and products what are the key pieces of information you want to understand to give them the best results.

You can’t create quality imagery and tell a story over a weekend for 100 quid. And may I be candid for moment? Please don’t ask for pro-bono shoot so the photographer can “get experience”. That’s not good business for any profession. You get what you pay for. It’s been true for centuries and will continue to be long after we’re gone. Look at it this way, imagery is an investment and not a one-and-done cost. What do you want your R.O.I. to be in the long run? Spend 3,000 for improved sales or 500 and nothing changes much? Messaging is everything so find a photographer who not only likes your product but is willing to understand it’s importance or place in the marketplace. When you find that person, let them loose to be creative within the confines of your marketing strategy. You will get so much out of a photographer who’s interested in your product and people. If you find one who’s not eager for your product, keep looking for the right one. I’ve turned down jobs because I knew I’d struggle to be creative and that’s ok. It’s your investment, make it wisely.

Q- Some of the images you took in the factory setting added things like movement into them which made the picture so much more than a simple screenshot of what was going on, is that something that you do intentionally or is it second nature.

Photography is so subjective. Noticing movement in some of the factory images I’ve made makes me smile and thanks for asking. Yes, completely intentional. It all goes back to storytelling for me. When a series of amplifier frames on a conveyor are moving through a massive dryer, how on earth do you tell that story without shooting video? Show motion. Or for a tire distributor I’ve worked with here in Arizona, I’ll blur the wheels slightly to show the vehicle in motion and not just parked. You must be careful with motion though—To much becomes an out-of-focus picture and is worthless. It’s a style that needs to be used minimally to be effective.

Below, adding movement to an image instead of staging a posed scene not only provides context but also contributes to a more engaging image, the focal point is the speakers being moved in the Eminence speaker factory in Kentucky and the movement conveys to the viewer that the person pulling the pump truck is putting effort into what they are doing.

Picture of speakers on a pallet truck in the factory at Eminence in Kentucky

Q- If a brand is looking to get professional images taken what are the things they should consider when choosing the right person, are there different types of photographers?

If you have 5 photographers in a room, you’ll get 10 different styles. We all think we’re the best at what we do, and we’ll promise you we can get the job done. Be careful who you trust and hire—in a good way. Protect your brand and only let those who support what you’re selling be a part of it. A good photographer should tell you their limitations regarding your needs which leads to hiring the right photographer. If you’re selling widgets, you may not want to hire your friends’ cousin the wedding photographer.

Or the portrait photographer who can make you look even better then you already do but does not know how to work with multiple light sources outside his studio or how to capture a “real life” scene versus a “set up” one. Consider what you think your needs are before you hire and then talk through them with the photographer. Have you invested in a marketing company to shape your vision or are you just need “some shots”? The more prepared you are prior, the better your images will be. We can’t read minds any more than you can. Wedding, portrait, photojournalist, hobbyist, lifestyle, corporate, friend with a camera…they all can make good images but finding the right tool for the job is a must. A pro with an iPhone may be better than a pal with pro camera.

Q- How can someone find a photographer of your caliber online, is there a directory or agency they should visit which might help them make the right choice.

I’m a bit to old school. I don’t have an online presence because I’m a full-time photojournalist. My freelance works come from word of mouth from an established client base. I must be choosy because I have full time commitments with the AP. I don’t recommend this approach you’re a photographer trying to make a living solely on freelance income.

Or the portrait photographer who can make you look even better than you already do but does not know how to work with multiple light sources outside his studio or how to capture a “real life” scene versus a “set up” one. Consider what you think your needs are before you hire and then talk through them with the photographer. Have you invested in a marketing company to shape your vision or are you just need “some shots”? The more prepared you are prior, the better your images will be. We can’t read minds any more than you can. Wedding, portrait, photojournalist, hobbyist, lifestyle, corporate, friend with a camera…they all can make good images but finding the right tool for the job is a must. A pro with an iPhone may be better than a pal with pro camera.

Q- What you recommend a brand does in terms of questions to ask to get the best return on their investment when using a photographer?

Good questions to ask of a potential hire could be: Have you ever heard of your product? A no answer should not preclude them. Educate them and see if they are receptive to it. Have they ever shot images similar to what you are seeking? If you’re promoting a new country club and they only have shots of youth sports, they may not have the experience you need yet. Be clear on pricing up front and ask if you or the photographer maintain the rights to the images. This is critical. If you get a deal for 2 days’ work for 500 you will need to discuss if this is a one-time use price or indefinite. If you want to use the images indefinitely, expect to pay more since your company will be profiting of their work going forward. Not every shoot demands copyright negotiating. If it’s a grand opening at a pizza joint those images have a short shelf life. On the other hand, if you manufacture a quality product that will be around for a long time, be willing to compensate the photographer for promoting your product. IF time permits, take the photographer to the location of the shoot, show them your product or people you need photographed and let them interact with the subject and ask questions. Lastly, communicate well. The image in your head must be conveyed and replicated. Sometimes that can be a difficult process and often the photographers’ creativity will be better than your own. Other times, what you need is exactly what you need. Hire someone who is willing to give you what YOU need, after all, you’re paying them for their services and not vice-versa.

From the Author:

Depending on your budget, the size of your project and how you want to tell your brand story everyone's needs will vary. If you are looking to evolve your brand or create a new one that is engaging and exciting, why not contact us today for a free interview to discuss your needs. We can provide you with a proposal and quote tailored to your ambition to help you really stand out and succeed.


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