Picture Perfect: Great Photography Is Key To A Great Campaign

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road. Celebrities with milk mustaches. The GEICO gecko standing on two legs. Photos may be worth a thousand words, but they can also be worth a million bucks. That’s why it’s so important to invest in great and creative photography for entertainment PR and marketing campaigns. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years (sometimes the hard way).

  • Hire the right photographer for the job. This sounds obvious, but too often a photographer is chosen for cost, proximity, or availability—not because he or she is truly the best one for that gig. Is your project a special event, perhaps with a red carpet? Are you taking a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a movie? Shooting head shots for an actor? Or product shots? Different photographers excel at different types of assignments. Every photographer has a website; look at samples of their work to see if their expertise fits your project.
  • Consider hiring a photojournalist. If your goal is to get your photo placed in newspapers and magazines, then why not hire a person who is used to shooting for those media? I’ve had excellent results when I use photographers who freelance for AP or People magazine, for example. They not only shoot fabulous photos but sometimes they will even distribute your photos to their media clients.
  • Retain more than one photographer for big events. You may need one photographer to shoot the action on the red carpet and another to shoot the party inside. Or you want one photographer for portraits of the party guests and another to capture the atmosphere. One person trying to do everything will probably do none of it very well.
  • Shoot in clean, high-resolution color. Changes—such as converting to black and white or adding special effects—can always be made later in PhotoShop (even if Ansel Adams would kill me for saying so). But you won’t have that flexibility if you don’t shoot in high-quality color, either digital or film, to begin with.
  • Develop a shot list. I’m always amazed by publicists who come to the set of a photography session without an initial shot sheet. Sure, candids are great, but you still need to have an idea of the “hero shot” you’re looking for. You can also get so caught up in the moment that you forget to shoot a critical image if you don’t have it written down. Or you may need more than one set-up in order to provide exclusives to multiple media outlets.
  • Choose a neutral setting. Unless the location is the shot you’re trying to capture, it’s best to keep the environment simple with good lighting so as not to compete with the subject. 
  • Invest in hair and make-up. Even (especially) beautiful people know they need hair and make-up expertise to create a great-looking image. As they say, it takes a lot of work to look that natural.
  • Have changes of wardrobe ready. You never know when an outfit that looks terrific in person may appear strange or unflattering in a photo. Safeguard against that by having a variety of wardrobe changes on hand.
  • Provide props. While you don’t want to overshadow the person you’re shooting, the appropriate prop(s) can add personality to a photo. Annie Leibovitz is the master of this—think of Bette Midler covered with roses, or Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk. Consider what your subject is known for, and give it a creative twist. A Lego executive swimming in a sea of little plastic bricks? A pop star with a toy piano? A famous athlete reading a book (or the Wall Street Journal)?
  • Keep shooting. Some photographers will tell you that they’ve “got the shot” in the first couple of attempts, but I like to have a variety of photos and different set-ups to choose from. As long as your subject has the time and is still enjoying him/herself, I say, shoot until the cows come home!
  • Discuss photo ownership upfront. Most photographers today like to retain ownership of their photos. But from your and the client’s point of view, it’s better if you can pay a little extra upfront to own the photos, so you don’t have to keep going back to the photographer for permission every time you have a need.
  • Don’t give originals to talent. Digital photography today has made this less of a concern, but I’ll never forget the time Whitney Houston did a photo shoot for Coca-Cola, for whom she was a spokesperson. I gave her team the original slides for approval, and they took a pen and scratched up the images they didn’t like to ensure that they would never be used.



The right photo will not only capture a moment in time with beauty and precision, it can create an unforgettable image in consumers’ minds. And that is priceless.

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