Newspaper Advertising - The Creative Potential: The Art of Photography

The most successful brands achieve fame through their use of iconic imagery, so it is essential to find a photographer with the skill to turn your advertising concept into reality. Mark Roalfe on why the perfect picture can be worth a thousand words.

Press advertising is not what it used to be. Long copy ads are a rarity nowadays. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with copy, but the photo has certainly become king. Many of today's press ads resemble posters in print.

Photography has become all important. Now, before we get too far into this, I had better own up to something about my tastes in photography.

I'm no fan of the flat-lit, slightly Swedish-looking stuff that's all the rage at the moment. It was quite interesting when one or two people were doing it. But now, quite frankly, it has lost its novelty value and I'm not sure it creates a world that anyone who doesn't work in advertising wants to aspire to.

I'm glad I've got that of my chest, but I think my taste may be the basis of one of my principles of press advertising photography - it is used to create desire. I know that sounds a little simplistic, but we have to create brands people want to be seen with.

In doing this, we must also have a visual "tone of voice" for the brands we work for. A lot is talked about a verbal tone of voice but I think a visual one is equally - if not more - important. Maybe one of the best examples of this is car advertising. What makes one marque different from another or able to command a higher price? It is not all down to the engineering; a lot of it is to do with the imagery we build around the brand.

In the early days of my career, I worked on BMW at WCRS. Robert Campbell and I had finally got a BMW press ad through. Being the young upstart I was, I thought I would try to do it slightly differently. So off I went to the Cotswolds with a BMW 3 Series and a photographer. I did what I thought was rather a good shot and trotted back to the agency with it. I showed it to Ron Collins and Robin Wight, who "politely" asked me what on earth I was doing. Why had I made their precious Teutonic BMW look like a Volvo? A few days later, I was in Milton Keynes reshooting the ad against a typical BMW background of steel and glass. It was a hard lesson to learn but a good one - and it was my first about the photographic tone of voice. It is not about your own personal choice of what you think might make a good shot, it's about what is right for the brand.

At Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, we handle Land Rover. The 4x4 market is a very overcrowded place these days. However, compared with Land Rovers, the other 4x4s are pretenders. So we set out to prove the brand's true 4x4 credentials. Land Rover is also a brand with a bit of a personality, so we wanted to give it a sense of warmth. Mike Boles' and Jerry Hollens' "hippos" ad brought these qualities together perfectly. I remember when I first saw the rough, it was brilliantly simple and brought a smile to my face. However, a lot can go wrong between a rough and a finished ad.

In the briefing for this article, I was asked to discuss how to get the best from a photographer. I suppose everyone has their own way of going about it, but I think Hollens sets an example for any young art director to follow. First, he always seems to work with the very best photographer the budget will allow. Then, he really plans the shot, drawing the roughs in different ways, finding scrap art to get the feel he's after. Then, on the shoot, he always covers enough to give himself options. When Hollens comes back from the shoot, he spends a few days in the studio with Lee Aldridge, making sure the shot works before it goes anywhere near a retoucher.

But throughout the process, his decisions are guided by the knowledge that the shot has to make the idea behind the ad work.

Now, I'm about to show my age. I worked on the launch of Today, Britain's first colour newspaper. At the time, it was a bit of a disaster. None of the colour shots were ever in register. There were sketches on Spitting Image about it and the phrase Eddie Shah-o-vision was coined. No-one thought colour repro would take off in the national press. The next thing we knew, The Sun's page three was in colour and the world had changed.

It was the fact that national press colour reproduction is now so good that led us to the Marks & Spencer press strategy. Women's magazines are crammed full of glossy fashion ads and we wanted a medium that would give us standout. Sadly, I don't think we claim to be the first to do this.

A few years back, I remember seeing some full-page ads for Prada in the national press. They stood out like the proverbial "dogs", not just because they were out of their usual environment but also because of their size.

Now, choosing photographers to shoot an M&S campaign is never as easy as one might think. M&S is not a high-fashion brand but it is the nation's favourite high-street fashion brand. Most of the top fashion photographers only really specialise in high fashion. Their shots usually turn the models into something quite cold, whereas we were looking for warmth and humanity for M&S. It all comes down to what I was talking about earlier in terms of finding a photographer with the right photographic tone of voice. This year we chose Uli Weber. In his work, Weber treats the girls he shoots like real people rather than clothes-horses and the images he produces are always strong and iconic.

With M&S, not only is the choice of photographer all-important, so is the choice of model. This year we chose four different faces to reflect the diversity of the clothing ranges and the store's customers. The models were Twiggy, Erin O'Connor, Noemie Lenoir and Laura Bailey. Twiggy, a national treasure, was to appeal to the older customer. O'Connor represented the other end of the spectrum to enhance the fashion credentials.

I wanted the shots to have a softness to them so we shot everything in natural daylight. It always produces good skin tones and creates a naturalness that I think suits M&S as a brand. This shoot was also the first time I have ever shot fashion digitally. I have to say I had my reservations at first but Weber, who had assured me I would not be able to tell the difference, was absolutely right. The results were excellent. There is one final ingredient that can turn what could be an ordinary shot into a great one, and that's a little bit of luck. Luck comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be that little burst of sunlight, that unexpected look from the model, or the suggestion you had not considered.

When it comes, grab it with both hands, it could transform your picture.

Well, that's my lot. I hope it was helpful in some way or other. Thank you for reading - and be lucky.

- Mark Roalfe is the chairman and executive creative director of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.

ULI WEBER PHOTOGRAPHER

With any advertising campaign, whether for a newspaper advertisement or a billboard, the final images have to have a lasting impact. You need to remember that the customer can simply glance at the picture or decide to stare at it for longer. The reaction you want is for your images to hold people's attention for as long as possible.

The current Marks & Spencer campaign involved a lot of teamwork. We took a good look at all the key elements: the product, backgrounds, lighting, models and poses,and came up with this solution for the shoot. It was a pleasure to have the possibility of working with Mark Roalfe at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R on such an exciting project.

I decided to shoot digitally, but to give the feeling of real film. The result is that the pictures do not appear too sharp or unreal, but have the natural look that film would create. Also, the advantage of working on digital is that you can see the images straight away on screen. This allows for a much quicker turnaround because you can pick and choose images as you go along, immediately after each shot has been taken.

Using famous models is not essential, but it has worked in this case to raise the profile of this campaign. The secret is always to make sure you pick absolutely the right model.

The images were shot on location at Hampton Court House next to Hampton Court Palace in July. The models used for the shoot were Erin O'Connor, Laura Bailey, Twiggy and Noemie Lenoir.

Working with all four models for this campaign was a pleasure. This particular shot of O'Connor has been popular because it is a classic portrait-style shot. This was achieved by using natural daylight, very little artificial light and a fairly long lens with little depth of field.

The beauty of these pictures is that even though the shots are about the clothes, they are also about the people in the photos - a representation of every woman is featured somewhere in this advertising campaign.

I take my inspiration from old photography books and I visit contemporary exhibitions in London and abroad whenever I have the chance. As a photographer I am able to turn this inspiration into something new in my work.

When the press ads appear it is very satisfying when the finished result is as you had imagined. But it is also reassuring when the product you are promoting sells afterwards - it confirms the success of the shoot.

I'm delighted with the pictures and I was fortunate to work with a great team of experts that ensured a fantastic final product.

NICK GEORGHIOU PHOTOGRAPHER

"Hippos" was the first Land Rover concept I was asked to shoot for Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and, although it looked very simple, I soon realised there were some technical complications to overcome if we were to pull off the concept. The fact that hippos are some of the most dangerous animals didn't make me feel any easier.

The layout that the art director, Jerry Hollens, had produced was a Photoshop comp, rather than the line drawings I usually receive. As such, it was more finished, so I was a concerned about how free an interpretation he might want.

Africa was the obvious location for the shoot, but our research indicated that a production there would be difficult to control in the time available, and too expensive. So my African adventure was over before it had begun.

So I thought we could build a set on location and I put this idea and its execution to Jerry. To my surprise, both he and his creative director, Mark Roalfe, agreed.

A set-building friend found an old airfield in Norfolk, close to where he lives, which gave us simple expanses of flat land and sky. A large pool was built, which ran from three inches deep at the back to one foot at camera position, with the car standing in a hole on a concrete base.

Another hole was made to accommodate a life-size model of a hippo's head, and the pool was filled with water. The model hippo was used to cast the reflections in the muddy water and also to provide an edge that a studio shot of a hippo could easily be positioned upon. The model hippo was so good, however, that we blended it with the image of a real hippo to achieve the right look.

Jerry, like all good art directors, is a luxury for any photographer to work with. He has strong ideas and is unafraid to select a photographer for what he or she can bring to the table, rather than simply selecting a car, still-life, portrait or baked-bean photographer. I remember a meeting for a VW Polo studio concept when an account person asked me if I had ever shot a car before. I replied: "No, but, up until last week, I hadn't shot a fridge either." This ad, like "hippos", went on to win Campaign gold and silver awards.

It doesn't matter what the product is or what techniques are employed, the buzz for me is the challenge of working on interesting projects and making them the best they can be; collaboration, which is a vital ingredient of a successful advertising campaign; 120 per cent commitment from the whole team; and fun. Like the fun of watching Jerry running across an African plain pretending to be a springbok being chased by a cheetah for a lighting test. But that's another story.