Now that nearly everyone carries a phone with a digital camera and apps for sharing content across global social media platforms, people are increasingly becoming adept photographers and image-makers. But little of that amateur skillset has influenced corporate photography in the architectural design and construction industries. Even visually oriented consumer-facing businesses like retail outlets often struggle needlessly to turn images into assets.
Marketing professionals in the retail sector should recognize social media’s influence on public sensitivity to photographic style. While most corporate photography stays within a very narrow stylistic range defined by modernist composition and lighting techniques, social shooters live by the moment and prize authenticity above all else. Budding retail photographers and Instagram marketers can benefit by following their lead and developing broader image-making range.
Most importantly, loosen up! Retail customers are primed for more than the typical “glamour shots” that architects and advertisers favor, and they are drawn to imagery with a more emotional, personal feel. Remember that it’s the story the image tells and the conversation it inspires that matter more than the pictorial content of the photo itself. Here are some ideas design professionals and retailers can use to better leverage post-social photography.
Put the differentiators in frame. When planning shoots, think about what makes your firm or retail experience special. Perhaps it’s the culture, the process, or a particular service. Whatever it is, there’s a way to illustrate it. Ask yourself what you’ve bought in the last month sight unseen…almost nothing! You must show what you sell. Your differentiators will win you work and customer loyalty, and photography can bring them to life for your audience.
Proactively build your corporate identity. Photography is writing in light, and the photos you create today are the primary source material for future brand building. Instead of thinking of photography as a process of documenting the past, you should reframe it as an intentional act of composing your future corporate identity. Tell yourself that you can’t be what you can’t see, and today you are illustrating who you want to become with a camera.
Promote a hive mind toward imaging. Even while everyone has a high-powered phone camera in their pocket today, mobile photography is still seen as less legitimate than ‘pro’ photography with a dedicated manual camera. That’s missing the point. Access is what’s expensive…access to people, moments and places. You can’t pay a pro photographer to witness more than a small fraction of what you sell every day. Instead, train your staff to see the unmatchable power of 100 collective hands and eyes harnessing their phones to capture authentic moments that are unprompted, spontaneous and believable.
Learn your phone. Photography with a mobile phone is fundamentally the same as with a pro camera system: you frame, focus and shoot. And the best camera is always the one you have with you. Today, that’s your phone. But you can do a lot to improve the performance your phone camera offers out of the box:
- Use a dedicated camera app that provides RAW output as well as more control over compressed file formats like JPEG and HEIC.
- Learn simple post-production techniques with apps like Photoshop Express, Lightroom, or Snapseed.
- Use flash outdoor in bright sunlight and turn it off indoors in dim spaces (no, that’s not backwards!)
- Take advantage of close-focusing (macro), panoramic stitching and time-lapse software algorithms.
- Learn what metadata can be included with your photos and how it can be leveraged (location for mapping, voice audio annotation in the field, etc.)
Crowdsource imagery from the web. Marketers should regularly scour social channels for images of their products or spaces in use by real people showing authentic personal moments. Contact these people directly to ask if you can acquire usage rights or craft digital interactive experiences that display public social feeds of your product or services. Not only can you find images difficult to stage yourself, but you also engage with your end users, and word gets around that you care enough to do it.
The glossy flash-lit studio style of typical advertising photography stands in contrast to most amateur snapshot photography produced on mobile phones today. But there is sneaky power in the raw and unfiltered window it offers into the lives of your clients and customers. It’s relatable in ways that more sophisticated sales imagery isn’t, and now that your target demographic is so adept at image-making themselves, they can smell marketing BS a mile away.
Conversation killed the glamour shot and made us realize that the fundamental reason we make imagery today has shifted away from gathering our life memories to relive them later. Now we put our life experiences out in the ether to gather feedback that gives us thousands of data points with which we formulate our modern identities. Tapping into that deep motivator driving post-social photography can reap great rewards for retailers and designers in every industry.
Darrin Scott Hunter, Assoc. AIA, is Senior Design Manager (Digital, Visual, Brand) for Dyer Brown Architects. With over 20 years of experience as an architect, educator, photographer and experiential graphic designer, Hunter provides design consultancy that includes branding, identity design, experiential and environmental graphic design, digital and wayfinding design, typography, video and photography. A recognized thought leader, he is a regular speaker at regional and national design conferences.