FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY: Spotting the creative way of appealing to visually
PICTURE PERFECT: Action shots, celebrities or just a dash of
imagination can make your product pictures sing
PHOTO LIBRARIES: Four agencies are put to the test with a brief to
supply visuals to sell a life insurance policy
How do you make a packet of biscuits look sexy? Peter Robinson talks to
the experts about how they turn potentially dull product shots into
While agencies may dream of product shots featuring Elle Macpherson in
the surf on a Caribbean beach, the low budget reality is usually far
But with the need for creative visuals permeating all areas, from
specialised trade to consumer press, the low-budget product shot cannot
afford to continue as the industry’s dowdy relative. As Tan Harrington,
managing director of Richard Mulcaster Associates, points out: ‘It’s a
much more visual society now, particularly for the younger generation,
and product shots must be up to speed with advertising and the
But translating ideas into images depends crucially on a creative
relationship between agency, client, photographer, photo library and
post-production facilities. There appears to be a wide variation in the
harmony of this amalgamation.
Alex Price, new business and marketing manager of Burson-Marsteller,
believes that creative opportunities for product shots are too often
squandered. ‘My own opinion of many of the product shots that I’ve seen
is that they’re really boring. They are just not creative enough and too
careful about adulterating the product. Clients often impose how they
want their product to look. But you’ve got to choose the right
photographer for the product and give them some leeway.’
However, photographers are often only brought on board in the final
stages of a campaign. Steven Dunlop of Thistle Photography explains:
‘It’s usually a tight brief on product shots and nine times out of ten
times it’s on a plain background. There is never enough time. The
product comes around in the morning and they want the prints that
afternoon not allowing for any creative input.’
Allowing photographers to meet the client at an early stage can help,
according to Lisa Brill, manager at Simeon David Photography. ‘We always
want to speak to the client and find out what the company is trying to
say and then, through association, you can add something completely
different. Once you have a good relationship with the client you get
Cost is always a crucial factor and photo libraries and post-production
are increasingly being used to transform product shots. For instance,
instead of sending a crew to the south of France to photograph a car
outside a casino or on a winding country road, photo-libraries with
post-production facilities can combine the two on computer and digitally
enhance images. Not so interesting for account managers, but cost-
Editors voice a common litany of product shot criticisms. Sue Barnard,
marketing editor of the Grocer, sums it up succinctly: ‘We need choice.
Sometimes we are sent just one photo which is not suitable for cropping,
or the product may be too small in the picture and we have to increase
it many times. A choice of shots, with one straight pack shot, one with
interesting things around it and another with a person in it is best.’
But sometimes consultants do not push clients hard enough to spend time
and money on product shots. Nick Hindle director of Countrywide says:
‘There is always a dichotomy between brand managers who want to see
their product right up front, and journalists who want something that
looks attractive on their page. You need to think how you want the shot
to look on the page and push the client to invest in the time and money
There remains a great difference between the approach of clients in
different sectors, with the consumer market being predictably more
visually oriented than trade. Food companies in particular place great
importance on product shots. Anne Laudage, marketing manager at Fox’s
Biscuits explains: ‘Creative values are changing and becoming more
visually literate, so a naff shot of a biscuit on a plain background is
no longer going to get any coverage.’
To satisfy a more sophisticated audience, Fox’s Biscuits has crossed
mediums using advertising visuals produced for its pounds 1 million TV
advertising campaign for Montana chocolate biscuits as a PR product
shot. It features a mock TV reporter, Bonnie Stefano in humorous news
scenarios. Stills are being used in younger women’s weeklies.
However, there can equally be the danger of going over the top in your
artistic endeavours as Penny Clifton, associate director, of Munro and
Forster points out. ‘Sometimes product shots are just too arty without
rhyme or reason, it’s always important that the picture tells a story.’
But there is one area where rhyme and reason seem to play no role at
all, that old chestnut which regularly wins even coveted national press
coverage: the celebrity product shot. A star of Coronation Street or The
Bill gamely clutching your product will always excite the paparazzi.
It’s cheesey, easy, expensive and of course, nothing to with the product
Case study: Conjuring up magical visuals
Agencies are involved in a rich wave of creative solutions for even the
most intractable product shots.
Generating press interest in electric plugs and sockets when there is no
news to communicate is the sort of nightmare from which consultants
might wake up screaming. However, Jonathan Hemus, director at The
Reputation Managers came up with some unique photo shoots to illustrate
the durability and strength of Duraplug’s range. Ms Fitness, Emma
Hagans, flexed her muscles around the product; Britain’s world middle-
weight karate champion, Wayne Otto failed to crack it and ace banger
racing driver, Alan Tarn, attached a two-gang socket to the bonnet of
his car and failed to prang it. These graphic illustrations managed to
achieve wide-spread trade press coverage.
One way of avoiding modelling fees and creating an interesting news
angle is to get the client in the frame. Munro and Forster’s brief was
to launch new easy to open packaging for Ryvita, focusing on the sesame
variety. Since it was the pantomime season they came up with ‘Ali Baba
and the Open Sesame’ theme. M&F even managed to persuade Chris Sebire,
Ryvita’s marketing manager to dress up as Ali Baba and ‘levitate’ the
pack. The picture reached 550,000 trade and consumer press readers.
Healthcare can be a difficult sector for product shots. While the trade
press may be happy with bottles of tablets, the consumer press wants
more, though a degree of sensitivity is required. For instance, what
visuals can you come up with for diarrhoea tablets or threadworms? For
the latter, Beverley Benson, director of healthcare at Charles Barker
came up with The Early Bird Guide, a booklet getting the message across
that early treatment catches threadworms and a good visual for product
Simple customising of product shots for different outlets have also
charged Jane Howard PR client, Energizer batteries which now have the
first on-battery testers.
Jane Howard explains: ‘We took 12 different consumer shots of the same
battery, each one relevant to a different end user market. It was simple
but effective, to date the product shots have appeared in over 100
Photo libraries: Putting them to the test
We approached four photo libraries with a brief that was intentionally
difficult: People moving their life insurance policies from one provider
to another. The abstract nature of the brief was designed to offer scope
for creativity and illustrate the subjectivity inherent in such a
Each of the participating photo libraries emphasised that a general,
unspecified brief like this could not convey the complexity of working
with and interrogating a real client. The libraries all submitted a
selection of shots and they would be likely to submit many more for a
real brief. They all specified their preferred images, which were as
follows: Man on side of building, by the Image Bank; Roller coaster, by
Robert Harding Picture Library; Fish, Images Colour Library; Trapeze,
Tony Stone Images.
The lively diversity of this selection is immediately apparent. The only
perameters in a choice like this are the boundaries of the imagination
itself and similarly everyone will respond differently to this choice.
Each of the images will depend on a good caption or headline to set them
off and tie them into the purpose for which they are being used.
Interestingly, all of these images steered clear of the real business of
moving insurance policies - filling in forms and premiums. That would be
a real turn off.
The Image Bank
Founded in New York in 1974, the Image Bank is the largest stock image
group in the world and has 71 offices. It is run on a franchise basis
and the UK operation, set up in 1979, has offices in London, Manchester
In 1991 The Image Bank became an independently operated subsidiary of
Eastman Kodak. It has over 20 million contemporary photographs with work
by over 500 photographers, 400 illustrators and 200 film producers. It
specialises in up-to-date life style images and its latest catalogue
includes a CD-ROM.
The Image Bank submitted a selection of illustrations and digitally
created images. ‘Man on side of building,’ comes from its Warner
Brothers and Columbia collection of pre-1960s films.
Partner, Mark Cass explained: ‘The brief was about why you should
consider changing your policy. We associated life insurance with fear
about what happens to family and friends when you are gone. How you need
to be sure. In this shot you are on the precipice and thinking ‘I wish
I’d chosen the right insurance company’.’
Robert Harding Picture Library
This 22-year-old library has over two million images and over 600
photographers worldwide offering general files and special collections.
In 1991 it opened a syndication department specialising in exclusive
photography and features from magazines. This year it has opened a new
department servicing the commercial sectors including advertising,
design, corporate and public relations. In addition to its eight
catalogues it offers a CD-ROM containing over 8,000 images. It is about
to launch a nature catalogue.
The library submitted a selection of images including a child being
swung by an adult, a man crossing a river on a rope, and a relay race.
The roller coaster image comes from its catalogue of images from Liaison
Assistant to head of marketing, Chana Musakanya, chose the roller
coaster image. ‘It’s a contemporary approach, sourced from our
advertising and design department, and shows movement, risk and
dynamism. The brief conveys the idea of movement, the fact that though
you have to move, you don’t know what you will meet,’ she says.
Images Colour Library
Founded in 1983 with offices in Leeds and London and over 40 agencies
worldwide, Images Colour Library is an independent library specialising
in contemporary photography with general and specialist catalogues.
During this autumn another five catalogues are being launched and at the
beginning of next year it will launch the first catalogue of an American
photographic collection for which it has sole UK rights.
Images Colour Library submitted a black and white and colour choice. The
black and white photograph was of a bungee jumper and its colour image,
the lone fish swimming in a different direction to all the others.
Interestingly, another library also contributed an image of a fish
swimming in a different direction.
Diana Leppard of Image Colour Library’s Leeds office stressed that this
brief was very much an initial, undeveloped concept. Working on this
basis, for her the fish image suggests ‘making a move in the right
direction, the fact that all life insurance policies are not the same,
and moving to a policy that stands out from the crowd’.
Tony Stone Images
Tony Stone Images was started by photographer Tony Stone in 1962 and
presently supplies images in 60 countries. It has over 1,000
photographers, ranging from editorial and advertising to science and
It began operating in the US in 1988 and in March last year Getty
Investment Holdings took a majority interest.
Tony Stone submitted images in several different categories, including
shots of a human sperm penetrating an egg. The low angle trapeze shot by
Frank Herholdt was created by merging a shot of a dancer on a trampoline
with the shot of the man in the circus.
Senior picture researcher, Gail Brody, also found it a difficult brief
because it was so open. She says,: ‘I chose the trapeze shot because
it’s a very strong image. It conveys the idea of reaching out for
something, going from one security to another. Its that important in-