Show Me the Pretty: An Interview with a Brand Storyteller
As a Marketing and Branding Specialist for almost a decade, I know how incredibly important it is to have access to creative, high quality product shots to sell. They are pivitol to the success of any advertising campaign. You can be the most bad ass marketing expert, but if the company or product you're marketing is using canned, uninspired photos for ads you're fighting an uphill battle.
I'll admit- I have attempted to take some artistic photos of products and even people for various projects over my career. I also can freely admit I failed. Miserably.
I learned a long time ago that visuals for advertising
-much like its content counterpart- is an art form. It's arguably as important as the content used for a campaign. To better understand the unique "eye" and talent for this specific type of photography,
I wanted to get the perspective of a photographer who specializes product photography.
So, I reached out to a gal who is absolutely killin' it in the brand storytelling game: Award-winning photographer ( who just so happens to be my friend) Rebekah Hlasny of R. Gonzalez Photography was generous enough to indulge my curiosity and delve a bit deeper into the tricky but oh-so-important world of product photography. With hundreds of weddings and lifestyle shoots under her belt, Rebekah recently branched out into the world of product photography. Rebekah Hlasny of R.Gonzalez Photography
She was met with fast and wide success,
elevating several start up
brands through dramatically increased sales
and brand awareness in a matter of months.
Rebekah brings her eye for the softer, subtle beauty in everyday life to the often stale world of product photography.
Here is a little insight from our interview:
You made quite a name for yourself as a wedding and lifestyle photographer; earning some of the top awards in your industry. Why are you changing lanes into advertising photography?
I still very much love wedding photography. I've done hundreds of weddings at this point in my career, and it's what put me on the map, so to speak. I'm fortunate that I can do both-I can capture these beautiful, romantic moments of a wedding and later that week shoot a very elaborate, strategic ad for a company. It's the best of both worlds!
Who wants to join this jam sesh? Courtesy Wild Tonic and R. Gonzalez Photography.
What's been your favorite part of commercial photography so far?
I really enjoy working with the development teams to help get these companies setup with a clear brand message through imagery. Having high quality ad images is seriously the best initial chance for success for any company. In addition to the satisfaction of seeing companies and their marketing teams thrive using my work,
I also get to have creative control in many instances. That creative freedom has really helped me learn so much about myself and how I love creating stories for brands to tell.
When a client comes to me looking for the “face” of their company, I really get to collaborate at a level I haven't experienced in my other photography categories. I get to develop a voice and a presence for their business-whether they are established or just a start up. That voice makes their product suddenly tangible, relatable and appealing to the potential consumer. Making something relatable requires you add a human element to the image. I also love the opportunity to have my hands in other areas too like hiring the models, setting up the styling, scouting locations, etc. I regularly get to collaborate with extremely talented stylists and beauty teams like Mikhel Marie - it's such a fun, creative process each time.
A little behind-the-scenes staging action for her client Smarter-Seal
So, when a company hires you they're getting like 5 positions in one! What a deal!
( laughs) Yes. Absolutely! I'm a full service photographer!
You mentioned you feel like you've found your niche in product photography. How did you get to that realization?
In mentoring entry level photographers, I often tell them it takes a while sometimes to figure our where your niche is- what makes you stand out as a photographer. While you're searching, go where you are the most uncomfortable. Do the things you don’t think you'll want to ever do because it's there you build confidence and become well rounded.
It's there you will find a way to make ends meet doing what you “love” while growing your business.
For several years, I did high school football photography (ugh!!) during the off season to pay my bills. I honestly hated it. But I did it because I needed it. Little did I know chasing that football around with my camera on dark nights on a ball field would make me a sharp shooter at weddings and chasing kids around on family sessions. You just never know where your career may go.
One of Rebekah's most successful clients, CozyPhones in "Ohm"-azing action.
Tell me about your first job as a product photographer.
When my ( now 10 year old) daughter Lucy was about three, I was approached by the owner of this cute little mom -owned boutique across the country that needed some photos done for her website. She offered to barter clothing for photos and I was so happy to oblige. I wrangled a couple of cute kids from my circle of friends and did my first ever small production shoot . That ad campaign is still one of my favorite professional memories because it's one that made me start falling in love with commercial photography.
What do you think is the key to a successful ad campaign in terms of effective images?
As a consumer, my eye is ALWAYS drawn to the advertisements that “humanize” the product; making almost any product tangible and relatable. I want to see how that product might look on my body or in my home, and there is nothing that sells me faster than seeing a product in action. I try to focus on those elements when I'm shooting for a commercial job, like " How would this product look in real life?"
Most shoots are styled in a way that's organic to the product. One of my clients ,Wild Tonic, makes an innovative product that's fun with a healthy twist. When I was hired, I knew I wanted the images captured in a natural environment to represent the quality and freshness of their products. That concept was organic to the brand.
That said, some products require a more traditional aesthetic. I regularly deliver studio images and lifestyle images within the same campaign. It's all about appealing to the right audience in the right way.
A 2-in-1 ad campaign for clients Wild Tonic and Enchantment Resort
What do you say to companies who don't see the value in hiring a professional to take photos for their marketing materials?
Quality is king. Companies selling on Amazon must have good quality images that match certain criteria and standards in order to list or to be “Amazon legal". I have quickly become pretty knowledgeable in Amazon -friendly photography.
As a company, you really can't cut corners with your advertising and marketing materials. These images are what customers use to determine whether they want what you're selling. It takes real sincerity from the model's interactions to get exactly the vibe you are going for as a business. Ever see a product image where they “tried” to fake happy. Its obvious right?! It's really hard to get that genuine look you are going for without experience. That is why booking a professional photographer who specializes in branding, commercial or lifestyle photography is 100% worth the investment.
How are you acquiring clients ?
Right now referrals are on the rise. Most of my clients hear about me through other clients or see my work online. I also rely heavily on blogs and social media posts. I'm a big go-getter when It comes to approaching companies. Many companies don’t even realize how high quality photography can help significantly improve their business. It's been pretty amazing watching some of my clients grow over the years.
Photo courtesy of Smarter-Seal and R. Gonzalez Photography
How is product/commercial photography different than your previous experience?
Although I do still love weddings very much, it's a totally different animal. For the most part, weddings are a production that is already set in place when I arrive. I have minimal contact with the bride and groom afterwards unless their is a life event and I am their family photographer. Commercial photography is typically an ongoing relationship, As a client grows and evolves, it's my job to make sure their imagery does as well. Even though I’m contracted privately I consider myself a team member with each company and advocate for all my clients.
How have you increased sales or brand awareness through your images?
One of my biggest clients CozyPhones has seen the most dramatic sales increases when ads featuring my images are used. When we started working together, CozyPhones was selling roughly 200 units a month. Very shortly after using my services sales sky rocketed! Fast forward nearly 4 years later and this brand is an international product with multiple big name licensing agreements ( like Paw Patrol and Jo Jo).
CozyPhones was named one of the top 10 products at the New York City Toy Fair last month and grossed over $5 million in sales last year!! My images have been used in all of their marketing, website and packaging materials. It's been a crazy ( and quite lucrative) journey!
Long-time client CozyPhones featured at the 2018 New York City Toy Fair
Product photographers like Rebekah have more than just a good "eye" for taking pretty pictures, they can translate a brand's vision into something tangible to sell. Most marketing and branding professionals would agree that when we have an idea for marketing a product we have a vision- even if it's just a random flash. That random flash can become a polished, cohesive spread in a magazine or on a website with the help of experienced product photographers. The results are worth the investment.
Okay, I know what you're thinking- Enough talk, SHOW ME THE PRETTY!
Photo courtesy of CozyPhones and R. Gonzalez Photography
Photo Courtesy of Smarter-Seal and R. Gonzalez Photography.
Retro cuteness. Photo Courtesy of Bing's Burgers and R. Gonzalez Photography.
Courtesy Wild Tonic, Enchantment Resort and R. Gonzalez Photography.
Um..yes, please. Courtesy Enchantment Resort and R. Gonzalez Photography
To see more of Rebekah's bea-utiful work or to book a shoot visit rgonzalezphotos.com