Advertising Photography

Singapore Airlines In-flight ServiceSingapore Airline in-flight service© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1986 – Singapore Airlines (Batey Ads)
Advertising photography was my specialty. This was and still is the most lucrative industry to shoot for. But not every photographer is cut out for it. It is an extremely demanding industry to work in. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s how things usually work.

It starts off with an advertising agency presenting a layout to their client of what the ad is going to look like. If a photograph is involved, a sketch of the image is drawn out by the art director. Once the client accepts the visual idea, it goes to the next phase, photography. It is at this point that I meet up with the art director. If the shoot is difficult, we’ll need to work out the details and added cost.

The image above is an example of the complexities involved. It’s an in-flight service shot. The visual that the client agreed on is a family of three seated in an aircraft with an air stewardess serving coffee. That is one huge challenge. Firstly, there’s no way I can shoot in an aircraft because there’s no space. Even if there is, no airline is going to ground an aircraft for photography.

The only solution is to build sets and shoot it in my studio. To create this image, I specified a four day production. In other words, the client is paying four days of my time. Day 1 is for delivery of sets to my studio. Day 2 is for me to arrange the sets and light it. Day 3 is for photography. Day 4 is tear down and removal of sets.

On Day 3, the day of the shoot, I actually finished the photo session in about 30 mins. I had to kill the shot fast because there was a child in the image. Once he loses interest, that’s it. In that short space of time, I blasted off 25 rolls of 35mm (36 exposures) film with my motor driven Nikon F3. That’s almost 1,000 shots. I was relieved that I had about five frames that I was happy with.

Oil Palm PlantationPALM OIL PLANTATION© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1987 – Bank of America (Batey Ads)

This second image is one in a series of shots for a regional campaign for Bank of America (BofA). I was told BofA was the lead bank in a syndicated loan for some projects in Malaysia. One of these projects was palm oil. That’s how the art director and myself ended up in an oil palm plantation.

Most of the time in advertising, the photographer has to shoot to the visuals because that’s what the client bought. That meant the scope for creativity is limited to what was sketched. However, in this particular assignment, I was given complete freedom to be creative because there weren’t any visuals. My brief was to work my magic.

On the day of the shoot, we drove into the plantation early in the morning and came upon a man and a woman gathering the palm oil. I framed the shot such that the emphasis is on the oil palm trees. Note the two dark trunks on the left and right tilting slightly inwards. This shifted the focus to the center row of trees which are brighter.

For perspective of scale, I positioned the man on the left carrying a rather large branch. The woman was positioned to the right with the palm oil. Behind her was a tractor. Against the backdrop of oil palm trees, we unconsciously see how tall the trees are.

To reinforce the trees further, the image is almost monochromatic. Green is the dominant color. There’s only a splash of red in the shot. And that red is concentrated on the oil palm fruits in front of the lady.

And lastly, I softened the image and created some rays of light streaming through the branches. The overall look is a bit dream like. The client loved it.