Among advertisers it was considered a great coup to illustrate an ad with photos of the actual product, especially when the product itself was an innovative one, such as the latest model of a domestic washing machine, icebox or automobile.
By the 1930s, European advertisers were experimenting with photomontage and photo collage, which juxtapose photography, illustration and typography to derive a whole new meaning. European artists such as Man Ray, Piet Zwart and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy manipulated photographic images to sell chocolate, automobile tires and radios.
Advances in the use of color reproduction technology during this period also dramatically changed advertising, which came to be defined by its use of vibrant colors, with entire print campaigns beginning to be saturated in color.
In 1936, Life was launched, a significant event because the magazine's stories were heavily supplemented by photographs. Life's photojournalistic style was provocative and memorable, and it coincided with the public's insatiable appetite for images from around the world. The print ads that appeared in the magazine soon mimicked its editorial photographic style. In addition to Life, Look (in the U.S.), Picture Post (U.K.) and Paris Match (France) all created photojournalistic looks that were adapted for advertising.
During the 1930s, many renowned photographers—such as Herbert Bayer, Cecil Beaton, Walker Evans, Paul Outerbridge, Charles Sheeler, Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White—produced images for commerce.
After World War II, a number of photojournalists and photographers with artistic aspirations continued to be involved in the creation of advertising. The 1930s, '40s and early '50s are considered by many to be the golden age of photography.
One particularly notable effort, the Marlboro campaign from Philip Morris Cos., has always been photographically driven. Before the 1950s, the brand was packaged as a milder women's cigarette, and ads created by the Milton Biow agency featured straightforward photos of sophisticated, well-dressed women using the product. In 1954, Philip Morris decided to switch its target audience for Marlboro from women to men.
The new campaign, created by Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, centered on a familiar Western icon, the cowboy. The early close-up, portrait-style photographs depicted a handsome young man wearing the garb of a rancher and smoking Marlboros; in a bottom corner of the ad, a package of the brand was prominently displayed.
The campaign evolved visually through the years, coming to incorporate wider elements of the Western environment while maintaining the general character of the established campaign.
By the late 1990s, Marlboro print advertising featured only Western landscapes. Not only had the product disappeared; gone, too, was the lone macho figure of the "Marlboro Man," who had been replaced in some ads by still-life close-ups of ranch gear—horses, saddles, ropes and fences. When Advertising Age surveyed the 20th century's greatest campaigns, Marlboro ranked third behind only Volkswagen and Coca-Cola, and the Marlboro Man was ranked as its No. 1 ad icon.
The picture of fashion
Fashion photographers, notably Richard Avedon, one of the foremost fashion photographers of the 20th century, have played a huge role in shaping photography as both an artistic and a commercial medium, often employing the latest technological advances in the field.
Fashion brands compete avidly for top photographers. In the 1980s and '90s, Herb Ritts and David LaChappelle were two well-known fashion photographers with their own distinctive styles. Mr. Ritts used black-and-white photography in his advertising work, as in an image of a woman's nude, tapered back for client Norwegian Cruise Lines. In contrast, Mr. LaChappelle created photos for such brands as Keds, Est‚e Lauder, Volvo, Levi's and Diesel jeans using vivid, sometimes garish color and surrealistic references.
Fashion photography also influenced the look of TV spots, which seek to emulate the power of the still image by appropriating it frame by frame, sometimes lifting imagery directly from an existing print campaign. The fashion photographer Matthew Rolston gained industry fame in the late 1990s with his "Generation X" TV spots for the Gap brand, which featured groups of singing or dancing young people wearing the company's unisex clothing.
Advances in photographic technology have greatly affected the process of graphic design. In 1979, Scitex Co. introduced a computer-based system for the production of color separations and montages. This invention all but eliminated the painstaking process of color matching as it honed in on the true hues seen with the naked eye.
The advent of the digital still camera was perhaps the most revolutionary development of the late 20th century. The first digital camera was introduced in 1982 by Sony Corp. By the late 1980s, these cameras, as well as flatbed scanners, were allowing photographers and graphic artists to store and manipulate negatives, prints and slides on computers.
The software program Photoshop, developed by Adobe Corp., is widely used by photographers, ad agencies, art directors and graphic artists worldwide. Such photo software eliminates the need to retouch photos in the darkroom and substitutes digital methods to produce astounding results.
Digital technology also spawned advances in color reproduction. Whereas certain colors or shades (e.g., lime green) cannot be accurately reproduced with traditional printing techniques, digital prints can match exactly colors that appear in the original. In spite of the digital revolution, however, large format, medium format and 35mm photography remained popular with commercial photographers, and the digital and analog techniques continue to coexist.
Crafting a campaign
Because advertisers are selective about the values and attitudes to be associated with their product, the basic photographic image idea to be used in an ad campaign often is determined before a photographer is hired. It is the task of the photographer to translate the art director's pictorial scheme into the actual image (or series of images) used in a campaign.
The style of photography used plays an important part in bringing the theme to life. For example, still-life photography, in which the product is artfully arranged as part of a tabletop display, is often used in ads for liquor brands when a close-up "beauty shot" of the product is needed. Portrait photography is usually the preferred style when a model or celebrity figure is used to represent the brand. In some cases a specific geographic image, such as an aerial shot in the desert, is mandated by the ad's creative team to suggest a particular mood.
Logistics are discussed well in advance of a photo shoot. These business discussions between photographer and art director also determine the day rate the photographer will earn (per day of shooting) and set a budget for expenses, which may include the cost of hiring assistants, stylists and make-up artists, as well as equipment-related expenses (lenses, lighting equipment, etc.), studio rental fees or fees for location permits.