Creating a Commercial Photo

Every now and then I’ll look at an edit and think to myself; “This could be an ad!”  But what really constitutes an ad, anyway?  What makes a photo ad or commercial-quality?  What in particular can take portrait photography to this new level?


The purpose of a commercial photo is to sell or promote something. To name only a few examples, you may be given the task of selling a dress, necklace, vacation destination, service, or perfume.  Sometimes the object of advertisement is visible in the photo, other times it isn’t.  Regardless, you still have the challenge of highlighting a person/object/place and making it appear desirable to your viewing audience.  Let’s talk about some ways this is done.

Incorporating the Object, Person, or Place

                  Simply put—show what is advertised.  Magazines are full of spreads where a model is splashing her face with water and a facial cleanser bottle is composited into the image.  Or, the model could be photographed walking up a set of steps in heeled boots for a footwear company advertisement.   The camera can be zoomed into the product, or offering a wider view of an entire scene.   Depending on the creative vision, the object may or may not be the main focus of the frame.  If you decide to use the object as small part of the total scene, it’s important that everything about the overall image is somehow telling the story and purpose of the product and brand.


Convey the Feeling You Want Associated with the Product

Is the campaign for an energy supplement?  The overall feel of the photo should exude energy.  Is the advertisement for a spa?  The overall tone should exude tranquility.  Be mindful of the message you are sending through color choices, the models’ posing styles, and lighting. Know the subconscious connotations every detail of your photo is sending.  Ideally, all of these little details should highlight the features, brand, and purpose of the product.


Modeling Tips

                  Now for my area of expertise…posing. I remember one particular studio session where I was posing for a new photographer.  The photographer instructed me to “sell him the dress,” and I began playing with the skirt while striking catalogue poses.  Next, he told me to “sell him the necklace.”  My neck lengthened, I used my hands to delicately graze the jewels, and I provided my best angled jawline. Lastly, he told me to “sell him a whitening toothpaste,” and I instantly began beaming a wide, happy smile.  This was such an excellent exercise, and I’m thankful he directed me this way.
This is how you should think as the model promoting a product.  While you want to look good in the image, this shouldn’t be your only goal.  The overall goal of a commercial image is to make the product look good. Even if you are wearing the product you don’t want to outshine it, you want to highlight it.

The first step to doing this is to research the product and brand you will be representing.  Know the company’s slogans and let this influence your expressions/poses in front of the camera.  If they have a slogan like; “Let the adventure begin,” (copyright of Gumbie’s footwear) you may want to look excited, energetic, and like you are trying something new.  Look up their past ad campaigns so you can get a feel for how they like their brand represented. The more knowledge you have of the product, the better able you will be to make it look good on-camera.

Here are some of my own examples of ads I’ve been able to do…


Model: Ashley BeLoat – – IG: @ashleybeloat

Designer: Inna’s Designs – – IG: @innasdesigns

Potography: Ina Pandora – – IG: @inapandoraphotography

Hair & Makeup Artistry: Maryam Douglas Nash – – IG: @makeupbymaryambahrami

These photos were a magazine spread for Inna’s Designs, a wedding gown and formal wear custom design company. Note how I highlighted the fullness of the skirt in the first image, while showcasing the lace detail of the sleeves in the second.  I also made certain to show my symbolic wedding ring as much as possible to complete the picture of the bride I was supposed to be.  For this particular shoot I didn’t make as much eye contact with the camera, because I wanted the star of the photos to be the dresses.

Model: Ashley BeLoat – – IG: @ashleybeloat

Photographer: Annette Batista-Day – – IG: @annettebatistaday

This image was from a series taken for Tampa Nails Salon.  The owner of the salon wasn’t present on-set, but I spoke with him personally before stepping in front of the camera.  I asked him his goal for the campaign, what he wanted it to portray… I was instructed to portray a stylish, powerful woman of today who makes the time to take care of herself.  While striking my poses I did my best to portray this confidence he desired – while still doing my best to showcase the nail polish with creative use of my hands.

Models: Ashley BeLoat & Derek O’Donnel – IG: @ashleybeloat & @derekod

Photographer: Justin Credible – – IG: @surfjunkiejustin

Product: Gumbie’s Islander Flip Flops – – IG: @gumbiesusa

In this shoot for Gumbie’s footwear, my good friend Derek and I were faced with the task of looking like two friends having an active, fun day at the beach.  This is by far my favorite shot from that day.  The moment I jumped onto his back and he started running, we got this absolutely perfect click. The shoes were perfectly in place, the key to all the energy and excitement in the image.

These are only some of the ads I’ve had the pleasure of doing, and I can’t wait to do more as I’ve been given a new brand deal with a New York boutique!  I hope you can find these tips and suggestions useful as you integrate products into your portraiture.  Have you photographed or modeled for ads before?  What suggestions and tips did you find useful at the time?  Let me know in the comments below!


~Ashley BeLoat

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