When Clients Want Visual Storytelling

March 3, 2016

In today’s advertising world, the most successful brands appeal to consumers by promoting experiences, rather than products, using compelling images that have the feel of authentic moments. They’re commissioning visual stories to be used on a variety of platforms: online, in catalogues, on social media, or as advertorial content placed among stories in an editorial publication. To land these advertising assignments, photographers have to show more than an ability to create single great images. They need to demonstrate that they can conceive, art direct and shoot believable and engaging stories. These excerpts from interviews with advertising clients are drawn from PDN’s archive. Subscribers can login now to PDNOnline to read the full stories.

The Big Ask: What Art Buyers Look for in Image Libraries

“Now clients need volumes of images and video that they can cycle in and out, mostly because of social and digital media,” says Susan Cartland, an art production manager at mcgarrybowen.

Library shoots generally require photographers to follow talent and action by shooting on the fly, and the images in a photographer’s portfolio can hint at that skill. Lindsay Tyler, senior art buyer at Havas Worldwide Chicago, says she hired Ryan Heffernan to shoot a 25-image library for a pest control company because she could tell he could think on his feet. “He’s shooting stills in an almost cinematic way, and I think that lends itself well to getting a lot of images.” She adds that it’s important that shooters can work with talent, “making sure they can catch that right angle in a sort of rolling shoot style, rather than a very set up, stringent shoot style.” Kevin Arnold, who has shot libraries for MillerCoors, Sperry Top-Sider and other clients, says he creates stories by shooting both the requested images and unplanned moments: “I use the storyboarded shots as keystones to the shoot that I then shoot around.”

How Photographers Land Assignments Shooting Sponsored Expeditions

For outdoor companies like Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, Black Diamond and Smith Optics, action-sports images that capture the thrill of outdoor adventure are essential to their brand marketing. “To me, authentic storytelling is the best brand marketing,” says Jane Sievert, director of photography at Patagonia. “We’re far more interested in the spirit of the photo than if the person is wearing our latest style or the logo is apparent.” Chatham Baker, creative director at Smith Optics, hires photographers to shoot for point of sale, catalogues, websites and social media. He needs  images “that are almost journalistic—[that] capture genuine, amazing moments.” Outdoor photographer Garrett Grove says that when he’s shooting sponsored trips or following athletes supported by brands, “I guess about 70 to 80 percent of the time you’re just going with the flow, shooting from the hip; 20 to 30 percent of the time you’ll see a moment that fits with [the clients’] branding, then you’ll set it up [again] and make sure it works.”

How Totem Creative Makes Editorial-Style Catalogues

The design agency Totem Creative has carved out a niche producing catalogues and marketing materials for retailers that feel like editorial products. Creative directors Geraldine Hessler and Robert Festino work closely on the Lord & Taylor account, and bring years of experience designing magazines to their roles. In planning a catalogue, Hessler says, “we’re looking at the clothes first, seeing what kind of stories we have, putting the stories together and approaching it in a very editorial way. So we’re looking at a cohesive fashion story with a point of view.” Festino says that when they’re working on online banner ads or email blasts, he and Hessler are “trying to do things in a more editorial way so you’re not just getting ‘woman in a dress against white or against cream or against blue.’” Photographers they’ve hired include Patric Shaw, Jason Kim, Plamen Petkov and Bill Diodato.

Working With Tourism Boards to Make Visual Travel Content 

Alex Strohl and Maurice Li, the photographers behind Stay & Wander, a Vancouver, B.C.-based creative agency that specializes in pairing Instagram influencers with brands, have worked extensively for tourism marketing agencies. The work has provided them, and the photographers they hire, opportunities to go and shoot in amazing locales like Canada’s Yukon territory and Alberta’s Jasper National Park. Those commissions—which are largely based on producing social media content—have increasingly led to traditional commercial licensing deals. They pitch tourism agencies ideas for storytelling about custom trips designed “specifically to create visual content,” Li explains. “It’s not a cookie-cutter concept that they’ve selected for us, and then they’ll go do it with another tourism board,” says Rishad Daroowala, a photography and creative media producer for the Canadian Tourism Commission. “Our needs are considered, and they show that something custom has been created for us.”

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