The beginning of photography in advertising
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The beginning of photography in advertising

Advertising was largely dominated by illustration until the 18th century

The beginning of photography in advertising

A few years after the photographic process was announced in Paris, a London magazine read, “Photography is a young art but from its present aspect we can judge what power it will have in its maturity.”

In the course of its long history, advertising has continuously evolved to new developments and continues to adapt. From papyrus to stone tablets to billboards, radio, television, and the current targeted advertising on the internet, the journey has been interesting. Advertisements up to the 18th century were largely dominated by illustrations by artists to give the audience an idea of the product. This continued until the camera changed the face of advertising forever.

The early days

An advertisement of the dagguerotype (

Louis Daguerre's method of recording and fixing an image on a silver plate in 1837 was soon practiced throughout the world. In June 1853, a firm selling men's hats advertised its product by saying that it would print a free picture to every buyer which could be placed in the hat line. “This is a great convenience in indicating one's own hats.”

In 1840, the Englishman Thomas Talbot patented a technological process called calotype. The Talbot process consisted of applying silver chloride on a paper sheet, with the aim of creating an intermediate negative image. The first attempts at product photography in the textile and fashion industry date back to 1890 when a product catalog of the American company Munsing Underwear appeared. The catalog contained over 70 product images of the company, and in the sub-headline of the catalog, it was stated that the company ensures that all the goods are exactly as they are shown in the photos.

Camera comes to the people

Light and affordable Kodak cameras (

Everything changed when a small factory called Eastman Kodak Company appeared on the world stage that made the cameras accessible to ordinary people in 1889 when George Eastman patented the first celluloid photographic tape and the first Kodak camera. The advent of Kodak's camera in 1901 marked the beginning of modern photography.

The birth of product photography

Steichen's experiment in fashion photography

After realising that the drawings used by firms in magazines were only appealing to a few people, photographer Edward Steichen made his first serious attempt at advertising photography in 1911. He shot a fashion session that is printed on the Art et Decoration page.

Steichen's experiment was very successful. It was immediately followed by a small company called Conde Nast, buying Vogue, a small social magazine at the time. Thanks to the photographs printed on its pages, Vogue rose to a world-class fashion institution, as we know it today. The first appearance of models dressed in the clothes of the small fashion factory, the advertising (commercial) photography began.

Industrial revolution and proliferation of photography

Iconic ad of Chanel from 1920 (Chanel)

It was the industrial movement in the 1920s that led to the emphasis on advertising and exploration of new methods to make products stand out among the newly competitive consumer market. Product marketers began to understand the psychology behind consumption and found photography a means to project the highly coveted messages of realism and truth. The Photographers Association of America explained that people “believe what the camera tells them because they know that nothing tells the truth so well.” Photographic imagery began to emerge as the most persuasive sales tool and thereby the preferred medium moving forward in the print advertising industry.

Color arrives

Creating brand image with advertisng: Virginia Slims (Pinterest)

The emergence of colour photographic tapes in advertising photography in the 1950s entered all spheres of life. At that time, the first attempts were made for product food photography, interior design, and all other kinds of goods and services that producers want to promote and introduce to the already modern consumer society. The 60s and 70s of the last century are years in which advertising reaches very high levels. Advertising campaigns were aimed at the middle class and the main part of attracting the interest of the average families was advertising photography. Marlboro ads famously conveyed a sense of the American 'cool' and masculinity.  Women had their own Virginia Slims campaign, which depicted the beginning of the gender equality movement; women in these ads were portrayed as confident, powerful players in society.

The digital age

Credit: Pedigree

Commercial Photography was completely changed by the use of digital technology in 1985. Digital images were easier to use, manipulate, and store on the computer. These digitally produced photos can be instantly reviewed as there was no need of waiting to get them developed. This led to the evolution of image manipulation and extensive usage of the green screen to isolate products digitally and create complex compositing. The use of portable light equipment enabled the artists to shoot the imagery and products outside of their studio. The artists were not anymore confined to their studios.