Advertising photography is not just about increasing sales for businesses. Choosing the right photos can help customers connect with your brand, build trust, and keep them returning. Take a look at the different types of photography used in advertising and see which one is right for your business.
What is advertising photography?
Advertising photography refers to photos taken for the purpose of promoting a company in marketing campaigns, print materials, and other promotional channels. Advertising photography is an umbrella term for any image commissioned and shot with the intention of evoking emotion and moving customers to buy into a specific brand, product, or service.
If you think of major brand photo campaigns, you may recall the color scheme, the mood, the background of the scene, or the models posing—all before you notice the product. The team selects each component to show the audience a particular aspirational lifestyle. At times, the photos don’t even feature any products at all.
With that in mind, each brand’s visuals will differ. They tell a different story, and their target audiences are unique. For example, you can display a smiling model using skincare products at home with a beauty brand like Bare Botanics. The photo tells customers about the indulgent spa experience they can have at home.
In the meantime, Leica’s acclaimed advertising campaign illustrates what photography means to those who use the brand’s high-end cameras to capture the world around them
Both brands use visuals to show what it’s like to use their product. But their approach to advertising photographs is different. It often takes a team of experienced photographers, editors, stylists, and marketers to bring together and shoot advertising photography campaigns to show how the brand can enrich customers’ lives or solve their problems.
Advertising photography vs. commercial photography
Advertising photography tells an aspirational story and sells a dream, a feeling, or a lifestyle promoted by the brand. It may or may not physically show a product. Commercial photography focuses on showcasing a product in the best possible light, and often involves a whole crew and healthy budgets. These images always feature the product, but not necessarily as the focal point.
You may have seen the terms commercial and advertising photography used interchangeably. There’s definitely a lot of overlap between the two, and many (most) commercial photos are also advertising photos. However, not all advertising photographs are commercial photos.
Commercial photography allows customers to learn more about the product. Whether directly or indirectly, the images depict the product. This could be a technical shot with white background and consistent lighting, as seen below for FICKS, a low-calorie alcoholic beverage brand.
In other cases, models may show the positive results promoted by the brand’s products. For FICKS, it’s an image of a woman enjoying a drink on a day out. The photo’s mood inspires positive feelings, while the product placement is subtle. This image technically also qualifies as an example of advertising photography.
Because of all the elements in a commercial photo, production often involves a team of experts—commercial photographers, editors, stylists, creative directors, and other professionals.
NOTE: There are also times when commercial photos use celebrities to create trust in a product or use specific colors to elicit a particular emotion from a viewer. If the images are memorable, persuasive, or attention-grabbing—the shoot has been a success.
FICKS also uses its website homepage to display several advertising photos. With just a simple image of the founders standing in front of the FICKS billboard ad, we can see how they grew their brand from the ground up to become the success it is today.
Meanwhile, a panoramic view of farm fields represents the brand’s values of sourcing quality ingredients from “America’s best farms.” Although the product isn’t visible, the advertising photo illustrates the brand’s mission.
In print and digital marketing, advertising photos like these can help make the company stand out against the competition by promoting the company’s unique selling points.
Benefits of advertising photography/Why advertising photography matters
Without good quality photos, it’s difficult for customers to envision how and why the product should be a part of their lives. Customers often make purchases based on emotional connections with brands, not just pragmatic factors like cost and product quality.
Unlike white background product photography, advertising images have more creative freedom, allowing brands to create emotional connections between customers and their products. This is important because emotion is at the core of decision-making—including shopping.
Consumers relate to brands similar to how they create connections with other people whose personalities they find attractive. This means people prefer brands with qualities more closely matched to their social preferences. Brands portray their personality using visuals, design, and descriptive text—all of which help consumers evaluate if the product is for them or if they want to give it a miss, similar to social situations.
A brand’s trustworthiness is also crucial in swaying a buyer’s decision. A recent study shows 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for something when it comes from a brand they trust. And, to gain shopper trust, brands need to provide a rewarding product experience, like accurate product descriptions and good quality photos—also one of the top reasons customers trust a product.
High-quality advertising photographs alongside human behavioral patterns can be a powerful tool for businesses. First, to attract attention, and second, to build long-term trust and inspire action.
Types of advertising photography
The types of advertising photography are as diverse as the businesses that use them. Each of them comes with unique challenges, which is why many professional photographers specialize in one or a few.
Product photography features images of items for sale. The product takes the center stage, usually shot in a studio to give photographers more control over the setup. Consistent lighting, technical precision, and accurate product capture are vital components of product photography.
Product photos can take different forms. They can range from standardized ecommerce photos with white backgrounds to creative images, like lifestyle composites or flat lay shots of products with diverse backgrounds and props.
Online store Full Circle, for instance, illustrates its eco-friendly home care products against white backgrounds and in real-life scenarios for its product photos. These images show close-ups of the brand’s products while also providing context—by including enough of the background—to enable buyers to relate to similar daily cleaning situations and how the products could benefit.
The clean and vegan-friendly Megababe sells personal care items like deodorant as well as products designed for aesthetic purposes like scented candles. The brand first shows candles in its advertising photos using white background photography and then in a contextual environment.
The product may not have the same utility as cleaning supplies. But the images have a harmonious mix of soft pastel colors and matching props to help shoppers visualize mindfulness and relaxation as a result of purchasing this product.
Food advertising images cover all aspects of the food-making process, from the fresh raw ingredients to the final dish or consumer-packaged goods (CPG) in its branded packaging. Ecommerce product-based food brands can use advertising photos highlighting any of these product stages.
Food photography can show consumers where the products come from, the quality care taken to prepare them, and how buyers can introduce them as part of a budget-conscious, healthy, or indulgent lifestyle.
For example, online food retailer Wild Fork stays true to its farm-to-kitchen values with its advertising shots. The brand depicts sustainability and product quality through photos of fresh cuts of meat and fish with a touch of herbs and spices.
The setting features a simple home kitchen, not a restaurant. That’s because of the brand’s target audience—people who want an affordable, high-quality selection of fresh food delivered to their door.
Similarly, Dandies sells healthier vegan marshmallows and describes its products as the perfect and guilt-free addition to campfire roasting and s’mores. The creative team put together a plate full of marshmallows and berries to show that in photos.
The juicy, fresh berries add to the healthy, chemical-free qualities Dandies promotes in its products. And a blurred-out branded packaging in the top left corner subtly reminds the consumer about the brand.
Architectural photography shows both interiors and exteriors of residential and business buildings. The primary clientele includes architects and their studios, the hotel industry, and real estate companies, but other businesses can also benefit from this type of photography.
For example, tourism and wellness businesses sell experiences, but photos of their facilities can help potential customers better decide if they want to spend their holiday there. If the goal is to portray blissful relaxation and alone time, architectural photos can use soft lighting and minimal props in the scene. Including more of the background—as long as it isn’t cluttered or distracting—also evokes feelings of calmness.
Even ecommerce businesses can use architecture photography to help grow their brand. Interior and exterior shots of the company’s facilities and headquarters bring transparency for customers who want to learn more about the company. Businesses can use these photos across online and print marketing materials to introduce themselves to customers—the same way a freelance talent would using headshots on their business website.
Similarly, photos of product manufacturing facilities can establish trust. If the facilities appear clean and modern, customers have more reason to trust the quality of the product.
If you also sell in physical retail stores, you could use architecture photography to showcase the storefront and lure online shoppers to visit you in person. This also helps with way-finding, making it easier for people to locate your storefront after having seen a photo of it. Boulder, Colorado’s downtown shopping website features images of many of the storefronts located there, like this one of Allbirds.
Businesses selling garments, shoes, and other outfit accessories use fashion photography for advertising and highlighting their products. The level of creativity and production involved in a fashion shoot varies significantly across different brands.
For example, ecommerce brands may use lifestyle shots of models with characteristics relatable to the target audience. In contrast, a luxury fashion brand may hire professional clothing photography services that use celebrities or professional models to create a series of elaborate shots that will grace the cover of a fashion magazine.
Fashion photography comes with endless creative possibilities. Having such extremes of style, from minimalist and clean to downright provocative, in this genre allows businesses to translate the brand’s message into a beautiful and often artistic visual.
Almost any leisure or hospitality brand uses travel photography to show consumers what they offer and how a purchase will make them feel. Through aspirational travel scenarios, this type of advertising photography often uses the fear of missing out to inspire shoppers to book a flight, hire a hotel, or pay for an adventurous experience.
Travel-related ecommerce brands use similar strategies to evoke emotion and make consumers imagine themselves in part of the depicted scene. When buyers see a travel backpack as an integral part of someone's adventure hike, it allows them to visualize their own future trips. And realize how much they need that backpack to conquer the mountain, too.
Event photography is a type of advertising photography which shows exhibitions, fairs, festivals, concerts, and other events. Event photography generally depicts the overall atmosphere visitors are likely to experience.
There are lots of potential uses for event photography when it comes to promoting your product-based business. Ecommerce brands can create, host, sponsor, and participate in in-person events. This could include pop-up shops, industry conferences and trade shows, sponsored events, networking, and retail store events.
Even if the artists or parts of the event will change the next time, the photos are a visual reference to what ticket holders will likely feel or gain when they attend.
Larger events with multiple businesses may hire photographers in-house to document the day and later share the images with the participants. If it’s a company’s event, the brand can hire an event photographer to capture certain aspects of what makes the company special.
For example, if a business organizes a networking event for industry professionals, photos can show speakers presenting, collaboration and idea exchange through informal gatherings, and the overall event setting which can support brand identity. Companies can use photos like these to assert authority in the industry and to show customers the brand’s dedication to innovation and collaboration.
Professional auto photography has become increasingly important. With car dealerships closing due to pandemic restrictions, consumers shop online instead. More buyers are likely to buy cars online over visiting a showroom than ever before, according to a study.
With this change in consumer behavior, car businesses stand to benefit from advertising photography to showcase their vehicles online. These images should answer most questions a buyer may have about the car's features without having to inspect it in person.
The exterior photographs of cars show real-life scenarios for which they are suitable. Hyundai Motor Group placed one of its khaki green hatchback models in an outdoor travel setting. The rooftop cargo box adds to the sense of adventure, while the two picnic chairs imply the car is well suited for a couple of adults who enjoy the outdoors, not a large family or urban dwellers. Advertising photography like this works well in both print and digital formats.
Car interior photos also show important vehicle features. These images highlight comfort, safety, functionality, and luxury features. The image below shows the black and orange details of a BMW sports car interior.
Photographers pay close attention to detail because every included element contributes to showcasing the car at its best. Even minute things like the choice of the song title—"Be Like Me"—on the dashboard screen are intentional and add to buyers' aspirations.
Examples of advertising photography
As advertising photography varies so much, it’s helpful to see real-life examples of brands using images in a marketing and ad campaign. We chose three different companies to illustrate their advertising photography.
The timeless boutique jewelry brand Rachel Lynn Chicago uses a mix of white background and contextual photography to show its pieces to potential customers. The brand’s jewelry photography features a model wearing not only the main product in the listing (the blue sapphire stacked ring on white background) but also others—another ring and a set of bracelets.
This type of advertising photography (product photography) can convey how customers can style the ring with other pieces of jewelry from the brand’s line. The red trousers also help the ring stand out because blue and red are complementary colors, which is a conscious styling decision.
You can use other items from your brand and link them together to see other ways customers can benefit from your products, without going to other online stores. Also, think about the background (in this case, trousers) and how its color or texture can harmoniously bring out the main focus of the photo—the jewelry.
The brand also uses other advertising photography types, including architecture shots to showcase its storefront.
When it comes to advertising photography, it’s essential to remember the product doesn’t always have to take center stage. You can omit the product altogether. Or, you can try placing it in a scene like the one below. The photo implies fresh, flavorsome food can be created with the help of the product, which in this case is Mina extra virgin olive oil.
Mina complements product shots with architectural and travel photography to help tell its brand story and reiterate the qualities of its products, promising customers a taste of Morocco.
Image from mina.co; not shot by POW!
Playing on human senses like touch, smell, or taste can help sell a product because the customer focuses on the end result—the fresh, glistening salad ingredients, coated with delicious olive oil. Although the product isn’t the focal point in these advertising photos, it’s still essential to the dining experience the brand is selling.
3. Hera Spirits
This next advertising campaign takes what traditionally has been seen as a masculine drink and flips the narrative by focusing on the softer, feminine qualities of the sophisticated Hera Spirits, like less alcohol, more natural ingredients, and a portion of profits dedicated to women in need.
This is expressed through appealing warm colors in the ad photos, as well as delicate details that add to the theme, such as mirrors, flowers, and a satin ribbon. The target audience is clearly at the forefront of the photographer and stylist’s minds.
Subtle styling choices will strengthen the visual message. You don’t need to use a lot of props to do it. It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to your props and accessories. Consider how each item you add to the shot contributes to the final frame.
Where to find advertising photographers
Here are some suggestions on finding an advertising photographer for your business:
- Know what you need. Consider the type of advertising photography that will work for your goals. As this guide to advertising photography shows, each type of shot has a different effect and use case. If you sell products online, you may want photos that advertise your brand as a whole, as well as shots of your individual products.
- Set a realistic budget. If you have complex requirements, you’ll likely need a bigger budget. Advertisement/ad agencies will help bring your vision to life for comprehensive advertising campaigns. The production will generally be more extensive and take longer, but the agency will find and manage an entire team of professionals. If you’re only looking for white background shots, you won’t have to invest as much. For example, you can use a niche service like POW! Photography if you need white background or 360-degree spin shots of your products.
- Search on social media. Sometimes you can see photographers who work for your competitors tagged in the posts. You can also use social media to explore via hashtags as well as discover other photography professionals, like stylists, who regularly work with photographers and share the shoot results.
- Browse industry publications. Check out popular printed publications in your industry. Architectural Digest, for example, shows the latest architectural designs. A large portion of the publication is devoted to photography, with photos from both established and new photographers.
Advertising photography is critical to business success
Human nature makes advertising photography so eye catching: We’re visual beings, hardwired to remember pictures better than words. It seems like such a simple concept. After all, product and brand photographs are all around us, and at times they’re so effective we don’t even realize we spent time looking at them.
But it’s not always easy to transform a great product into a captivating photo that communicates your brand’s values and sells—it takes time and investment.
FAQs about advertising photography
What are the types of advertising photography?
What do advertising photographers do?
The purpose of advertising photographers is to create compelling promotional photos that attract new customers, build a brand's credibility, and encourage buyers to take positive action. A business uses advertising photos for marketing its brand and products across online and print materials.
Is photography considered advertising?
Yes, photography can be considered advertising. Photography is a powerful tool for any business looking to advertise and increase sales. Photography should be part of any business’s marketing strategy because photos evoke an emotional response and drive action—they are more memorable and impactful than text.
What makes a good advertising photographer?
A good advertising photographer needs technical skills as well as creative abilities. To be a successful advertising photographer, the individual or agency must have a strong portfolio that demonstrates an ability to understand each client’s target audience, identity, and values.
What is the difference between advertising photography and commercial photography?
Commercial photography always focuses on the product and is more complex than advertising photography. Commercial photography is highly technical and shows products with clear detail, generally shot in a studio environment with multiple professionals. Advertising photography uses storytelling to sell an aspirational lifestyle or feeling by creatively incorporating the brand, product, or service in the photos.
Why invest in advertising photography?
Brands should invest in advertising photography so they can foster emotional responses, trusting relationships with their customers. You can use advertising photography across various formats, channels, and platforms to promote your brand and products.