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Visual Narrative: How to use product photography to build a brand.

Visual Narrative: How to use product photography to build a brand.

Visual narrative is the art of storytelling through product photography, confused? It’s simple. Take the shot below. You see the story in this product photograph, French’s mustard murdered that poor fry! You know that instinctively without being told, that’s because of all the visual elements: the lighting, the camera angle, the colours etc. They have all been crafted to evoke the appropriate emotion so that you instinctively understand the story.

Food and Drinks photography
Product Photograph of French's Mustard

Every photograph has two parts. The ‘visual’ part, is what we see and the ‘narrative’ part, is the story that we are being told. It's like the difference between the words on a page and the story that plays out in our heads.

How do we use visual narrative to build a brand using product photography? It is all about creating a strong identity that reflects a brand’s values. You want to tell your audience who you are and what you stand for, but rather than writing it out in plain text (that will get ignored), you convey it through photography. If you want to be seen as a fun and inviting brand, then you had better hope that your imagery is fun and inviting.


Picture of splashing cocktails
Drinks Photography

Step by step:

We will invent an imaginary coffee shop that sells beans online to help with this exercise.

Firstly we need to outline our brand and its values. Once we outline our brand and its values we need to translate those written values into visual ones. Sadly there is no Google Translate for this. The value of a professional product photographer like me is that we understand what makes a photograph not just how to use a camera. Sadly explaining each visual element and how we can vary them to evoke certain emotions and thoughts isn’t possible in a blog post. I will offer a brief overview instead.

Visual elements in a photograph:

  • Light

  • Colour/palette

  • Contrast

  • Line

  • Shape

  • Perspective

  • Depth of field

  • Space

  • Pattern

  • Balance

Outline the brand

First, you need to need to understand who you are. Write down all of the things your brand represents. You must be precise, the identity needs to be narrow and well-defined. If you try to be everything all at once you will be nothing at all.

Our coffee brand is:

  • Passionate about sustainability

  • Colombian

  • Energetic

  • Fun

  • Cheeky

  • Mid-market

  • A hang-out of creatives

Identify the visual elements that define our imagery

Now, we take our brand values and turn them into a consistent set of ‘rules’ that each future image should abide by. This will help us form a consistent identity. You can think of this as our visual language.

Light: Bright, outdoor feel, hard. This style of lighting will appear natural but energetic.

Colour/palette: Yellow, hints of blues and greens. Saturated. This will reflect our Colombian origins. Very saturated colour will evoke a fun energy in the imagery. The predominately yellow palette will infer creativity.

Contrast: High contrast. The use of high contrast in our drink photography will ensure that images feel impactful and align with our energetic feel.

Line: Defined lines, some swirling but not complex. The swirling and curved lines will make our product photographs feel fun and cheeky. Avoiding anything overly complicated will ensure that we don’t stray into trying to be a luxury brand, cementing ourselves as mid-market

Shape: Defined shapes and geometry, graphic style instead of photorealism. This will again push us into feeling like a creative brand rather than an overly mellow, typical coffee brand.

Perspective: The camera angle always with a flat horizon but the use of extreme angles looking up or down in our food and drink photography. This will create a cheeky sense of high energy.

Depth of field: Sharp throughout. This will ensure that our images look more graphic, and it will help to make them feel more like cheeky pop art rather than gooey food photography.

Space: A slightly cluttered composition. Making the images feel quite busy will elude to the maximalist art of Colombia

Pattern: Afro-Caribean patterns. This will again help us to place our brand in Colombia.

Balance: Well-balanced imagery. This will ensure that the photographs don’t have any unwanted tension and can be.

Come up with image concepts:

We established our ‘visual language’ above. Now we need to come up with image ideas that convey our brand. The stories that we want to tell if you will.

Let’s start by setting out what we want to achieve with our image. Let’s say we are announcing our new Colombian roast beans being available online. Then think about how we want our audience to react. On this occasion we want them to be intrigued to learn more. Finally, we want to think about where the image is going to be distributed. We are going to use the image on social media ads.

Brilliant. The story I am going to suggest here is that we get a sneak peek of the coffee before it drops.

The product is peaking into the frame, at an angle with some of the key branding showing on the label. But you can’t see everything. This establishes the story.

Now, the visual language we established earlier is going to inform how the image actually looks. This will ensure that it is ‘on brand’. If we stick to our visual language we will quickly become an instantly recognisable brand!



Unless you just happen to be a professional product photographer as well as the director of your company, you probably aren’t going to now start shooting your own photos. However, you should now have an understanding of what to expect from a competent visual artist and understand the basic principles of how to use photography to build a brand.

I suggest you look no further than Blank Canvas Ink. My Manchester product, food and beverage photography studio is the perfect solution for building your brand.

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