Why Photographs are Worth a Thousand Words, with Henry Phillips

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The art of finding the perfect shot to represent a brand or a product has forever been a challenge for brand marketers and publishers alike. AW360 sat down with Henry Phillips, Deputy Photography Editor at Gear Patrol, to discuss the finer points of Product Journalism and the importance of effective, impactful product shots when it comes to branding strategies and advertising efforts.

Q: What role do product journalism and product shoots play in a brand’s storytelling strategy?

At its core, a good editorial piece relies on both text and image to create an immersive story articulated around a cohesive narrative. If done right, the editorial piece becomes fully immersive content. And if the piece is about marketing a product (or range of products), there is no reason the approach should be any different. We call this approach Product Journalism—where marketing editorials are first and foremost stories.

It really should be no surprise to some that the best editorial photography actually follows a lot of the same guidelines the best editorial writing does. Even a photo needs a hook, a strong thesis, and convincing resolution that is both satisfying and memorable. Product shots, especially when used in a marketing campaign, should follow the same rigorous principal. When done well, a product shot can say more about a brand than a long-form write-up.

Say you have to market a luxury tool-watch—the sort of ones used 60 years ago to go up summits or track lap times. Sure, beautiful photography can be created in a studio with perfect lighting and staged to show off every feature of the watch. But that would not really convey its history, nor its brand value.

Q: So how should a marketer go about it if a perfect shot in a studio is not enough?

We’ve learned early on that just harping about the product doesn’t cut it, and actually feels disingenuous and fake to readers. That’s what led to our mantra of Product Journalism. While the product—the watch in this case—would be featured on several of the shots, it shouldn’t be the primary subject. By incorporating it within landscapes, portraits or even other product shots, the watch becomes part of the bigger adventure depicted both by the images and the story itself. It appears to the reader as a necessary product for that dreamed-of adventure and escape.

Through that subtle placement on the story, the product shot can create an effective blend between marketing needs and viewers’ expectations of an editorial story. This way, the brand doesn’t have to shout in order to be noticed, as the audience is sucked into the storytelling already.

Q: If there is one thing marketers should particularly pay attention to, what would it be and Why?

Something that is often overlooked is the importance of light when it comes to product photography. Not only in terms of lightning basics to make the product look the best it can, but to truly express a narrative look and feel that is specific to the brand and represents it best. Emotions such as happiness, sadness or love can all be communicated through the quality, quantity, shapes and color of the light used. You’ll find that the best photos are usually not overlit.

Q: What are the skills to look for when hiring a product photographer?

Marketers put a heavy emphasis on product shoots and for good reason. But having great photography often requires an equally great budget. But depending on the audience, platform and the purpose of the campaign, there are ways to produce amazing photography on a small budget.

The best product photographers are usually also great set and prop stylists. They are pros at lighting and can make even the most unorthodox conditions work. Instagram is usually a good place to find these types of talent. The platform allows photographers to showcase both their personal work (usually produced on a small or no budget at all), as well as professional work.

Listen carefully when interviewing a product photographer. Are they as passionate about the light setup and styling as they are about the shoot itself? If yes, you have found someone who will be willing to roll up their sleeves if the budget requires it.

That being said, there has never been a better time to pull out all the stops when it comes to product shoots. While the number of do-it-all photographers for hire increases every day, the number of incredibly talented stylists, photo assistants, retouchers and set designers has also increased. There is an amazing pool of talent out there can deliver amazing work.

Q: What else should marketers know before going into product shoots?

When preparing for a product shoot, marketers and photographers should keep three principles—narrative, light, and budget—in mind. They should ask themselves, what is the narrative we want to weave around the product? How can light help convey that narrative? Does the approach chosen fit into the allocated budget and the desired impact of the campaign? With these questions answered, you can confidently say to any product photographer that they’ve “got this.”

Henry Phillips Bio

Henry Phillips serves as Gear Patrol’s Deputy Editor of Photography, where he oversees the look and feel of Gear Patrol’s photography as it appears on the web, print magazine, and all social media.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in Economics, Henry considered pursuing a career with Commercial Real estate but came across a job posting at Gear Patrol. As an avid fan of the journalism with a side hobby in photography, Henry put together a portfolio and soon started as their photography intern. Since then, he’s held numerous roles and has worked his way up during his 5 and a half year tenure at Gear Patrol.

His work at Gear Patrol has won a numerous number of awards, which includes winning the Ozzie Overall Design (Single Magazine Issue) in 2018, Best Web Photography 2015 Finalist and more.

Outside of work, Henry’s hobbies include cycling and wine.

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