Commercial Advertising Photography – The Art Of Fooling The Eye

The first thing you notice about commercial advertising photography is the product, and how fantastic it looks. Successful and effective commercial advertising photographers will be able to create an image which stands out for all the right reasons, grabs the attention of the target audience and communicates the right message almost instantly.

But whilst it’s easy to admire the look of the product and the skill of the photographer, in most cases commercial advertising photography is not about what you see, but about what you don’t see. You might think that when you look at an advertising image what you’re seeing is what the photographer saw, but that is invariably not the case.

Of course, we all know that there are tricks of the trade and many people will immediately assume that any image will have been doctored using a graphics tool such as Adobe’s Photoshop, and whilst this may be the case, there’s far more going on than meets the eye. One of the first things to appreciate in commercial advertising is that what you see is almost certainly not quite what you would see if you were looking at the product yourself in a shop.

Lighting, the environment and many little known tricks of the trade all come into play, helping to create an illusion which doesn’t just look real, it actually looks more real in some cases than it would in real life. For example, if you were looking at a television in a shop then you’d probably either see a whole lot of distracting reflections in the screen, or the television would be on and you’d be watching a picture. In a product image though you’re either going to see a screen that doesn’t have any distracting reflections in it, or it will look as though it’s switched on and displaying a picture.

The trouble is that if you take a photograph of a television, either switched on or off, neither result will look very realistic. So how do product photographers make their images appear to be so realistic, whilst still being entirely different to how a normal photograph of a television would look?

In order to take a photograph of a television switched off commercial advertising photographers will either have a studio which includes a 360 degree backcloth to remove any potentially distracting reflections, or they will edit the image afterwards, replacing the screen with a shaded black rectangle which looks realistic, yet which doesn’t even exist as part of the screen in real life. But how about taking a photograph of a television that’s switched on?

If you’ve ever tried this you’ll know that the result will look terrible- very fuzzy and half missing. This is because the camera lens sees what your eyes and brain can’t see – the fact that the image on the screen is only an illusion created by rapidly flickering lights. So professional photographers will usually take a screen grab from a computer and then superimpose that onto the photograph of the screen to improve the quality. The final image will look just as you expect it to, even though you know that that’s not how it would really look if you took a photograph of it.

Effective commercial advertising photography allows us to be fooled, even when we know that what we are looking at can’t be real, despite looking very real. The art of illusion and of fooling the eye is a subtle one, because consumers will not be interested in a picture which has been obviously doctored, yet will be enticed by an image which they know can’t be completely real. If you’re not sure how to achieve the right balance then it’s far safer to leave it in the hands of the experts.