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Advertising photography

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Advertising is the highest profile consumer of photography, with an advertising image typically reaching between 100,000 viewers for a local campaign, and more than a billion viewers for a global campaign by a major brand. Advertising agencies work hard to constantly create new advertising ideas, and are completely unconservative in their approach to what works. However, because advertising is typically a team effort, an ad agency will impose a very tight brief on a photographer, who may feel that he or she is doing little more than press the trigger.

Although every advertisement is different, the anatomy of an ad is almost always the same, and is governed by the formula 'AIDA', which stands for:

  • Attention
  • Information
  • Decision
  • Action

A successful advertisement leads the viewer through these four stages, resulting in some action, such as ringing a toll-free number, accessing a website, or buying a product directly. A clever advert can encompass all four of these seemlessly.

Although most advertisements use photography, photography is not essential to the ad, which may be typographic, especially when found in a newspaper.

The photography must do three things:

  1. Support the message of the advertisement — this generally sets the subject and treatment
  2. Support the brand of the product or company — this generally sets the style and colour
  3. Captivate the viewer in a way which words alone could not

At the high end, photography for campaigns is commissioned by the agency, and the photographer's contract sets out very clearly the ownership of the copyright, generally ensuring that the images can be used by the advertiser, and cannot be sold by the photographer to competitors or to the press.

At the lower end, photography is often purchased from stock agencies, sometimes as Digital Rights Managed photography.

Only at the very lowest end — for example, local estate agent (realtor) advertisements — does the client create their own photography.


In advertising photography, the ethic is that the promise made in the advertisement must be genuine and the advertiser must be intending to fulfil it in good faith. This is an ethical question for the advertiser, not for the photographer. Advertising photography employs the widest possible range of techniques, typically involving careful set-up of the shots, the hiring of models, exceptional attention to detail of props, especially the product itself, a large number of image captures, as a form of insurance, and also to give the layout artist a choice of variations, and very extensive postprocessing, often involving photo-montage and various types of image manipulation. Except where celebrities are involved, or members of staff or the public are being presented as celebrities, the agreement is that the models, scene and all other elements of the image are purely imaginary, and not representative of real life.

  • This page was last modified on 12 February 2009, at 12:34.
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