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Secrets of Brand Photography

Bob Brock

Think photography. Leaves turning, campus buzzing, activities a-poppin’, marketing materials to plan. Ahhh, time for fall photos! We’re there, too, planning brand photo shoots for clients.

What makes a photo shoot a brand photo shoot?

We find it helpful to think about marketing imagery in four categories:

  1. Snapshots—Taken by a pro or an amateur of whatever is happening on or around campus. Opportunity shots captured in the moment, with no planning or strategy. The only criteria is that they be technically sound and well-executed.
  2. File Images—An official visual record of events, athletics, traditions, speeches, presentations. They are important mostly for news value and the historical record.
  3. Strategic Images—Well-planned and well-executed images taken by a pro that immediately communicate a key brand message or an important campus facility or amenity. These images exemplify a brand driver such as “hands-on experience” or “student-faculty interaction” and illustrate the campus, facilities, and students.
  4. Brand Images—Painstakingly planned and executed to illustrate the institutional brand promise and brand personality, with careful attention to detail, composition, style, tone, and technique. They convey the brand narrative and a unique brand personality. They communicate the brand promise without words, through subject, composition, expression, and emotion. They cement brand recognizability and messaging in the minds of the consumer. They’re hugely important.

Brand images are the primary images used on high-profile covers, in advertising materials, as section headers, and in other prominent venues. They are most effective when they not only tell the brand story, but differentiate the organization through “trademark” use of a distinctive style, technique, tone, and composition.

Considering that brand images can make or break a campaign, getting just the right feel and messaging mix is a big deal. It’s worth the investment to have a crew on hand: creative director, skilled shooter specializing in your particular image style, and several assistants for lighting, wardrobe, props, and make-up.

With all of those resources devoted to the shoot, meticulous planning becomes critical. To maximize the time and investment, we develop a detailed shot sheet identifying schedule, subjects, location, back-ups, wardrobe, and props for each and every shot.

Then it becomes a matter of artistry and interpretation. Brand differentiation in imagery can be achieved in any number of ways:

  • In-camera techniques such as selective focus, “Dutch angle (tilted camera angle), depth of field, blurring, fish-eye, and black-and-white formats
  • Careful choice of subject matter such as interesting or quirky individuals, faculty-student pairings, evocative or explanatory backgrounds and props
  • Composition factors such as shooting against a white/green screen, portraiture style, action shots, in-camera cropping, camera angles, and perspective
  • Lighting effects such as backlighting, spotlighting, shadow lighting, wash-outs, color-gel backgrounds
  • Environments such as contextual environments, and unique or interesting backgrounds
  • Photoshop techniques such as blending multiple images, adding or deleting features, or spot color

Just the right combination of such techniques can create a style that becomes unique and recognizable representation of your brand. Some examples from EMG brand photo shoots with different photographers are below (All are uncropped raw images).

Brand images for Clarkson University combined team portraits of students and faculty members to convey the highly professional and entrepreneurial nature of the “Defy Convention” brand.

Brand images for Washington State University combined color-gel backgrounds, Dutch angle, and student/faculty composition to convey the “World Class. Face to Face” brand story.

Brand images for Dalhousie University used emotive and searching student portraits of carefully identified subjects in distinctive settings and dramatic lighting to differentiate the “Inspiring Minds” campaign.

Brand images that launched Virginia Tech’s “Invent the Future” campaign blended introspective portraits of faculty and students with the same subject’s hands-on work creating innovative solutions.

All of these campaigns have been enormously successful in generating ROI, and a lot of that success is due to the distinctive brand imagery.

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