In October, in anticipation of the holiday season, Ritz revealed a new holiday campaign celebrating the diversity of traditions that define this time of year. The brand also partnered with Bon Appetit to create a recipe book and videos showcasing different cultural moments, passed down from one generation to the next among immigrant families in the United States.
In recent years, brands across industries have reminded us that representation and inclusion in advertising make a difference, especially around the holidays. Last year, Target focused on traditions, new and old, as part of a campaign featuring families celebrating Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas, all united by shared experiences and joy.
In 2022, it’s not enough for marketers to rely on stereotypical portrayals of the holidays; instead, today’s consumers crave advertising that reflects their own, lived experiences. For that reason, it’s vital for commercial photographers around the world to tap into their local communities and tell real, relatable stories that have historically been underrepresented in the commercial realm.
Tip #1: Celebrate your community
Whether it’s creating rangoli for Diwali, gathering marigolds for the Day of the Dead, eating puto bumbong for Christmas, making sufganiyot for Hanukkah, or lighting the Kinara for Kwanzaa, every family and every community has its own traditions.
Do some research into the events and celebrations observed in your neighborhood. Reach out to friends (and friends of friends) to see if they have holidays they’d like to share through photography, or put an open call for models out on social media. These are important memories, so many families will be happy to have them documented.
Once you connect with your models, ask them about their personal traditions: DIYing decorations, cooking a traditional dish, sharing stories, singing songs, and so on. What are their favorite holiday moments, and what do they wish they saw represented more in advertising? These questions will provide a solid point of departure for you to start building your shot list.
Tip #2: Plan ahead
Marketers start looking for visuals to use in their campaigns well before the holiday season, so be prepared and have your photos uploaded before they start searching. Keep a calendar with key dates you want to incorporate throughout the year, whether it’s the Lunar New Year after the winter solstice, Holi to mark the beginning of spring, Easter around the spring equinox, or Mardi Gras just before that.
Think about the lesser-known holidays as well as the major ones. You can highlight Midsummer celebrations, St. Patrick’s Day gatherings, New Year’s kisses, and Valentine’s day dinners—or you can raise awareness for World Water Day or International Women’s Day. You can capture your self-care routine for World Mental Health Day or highlight sustainable living for Earth Day. Feel free to think outside the box.
“You can start shooting upcoming events early, plan for others, and try to recreate holidays when possible,” the 500px team explains. Coordinate with your models to see what works.
Tip #3: Take a collaborative approach
When creating your shot list, consult your models! They might have ideas for photos that are meaningful for them—and will be meaningful to others—even if you haven’t thought of them. If you’re photographing a holiday you aren’t familiar with, research is even more important, so study the traditions and key moments, and then ask your models to weigh in themselves. You want to document how they celebrate, as authentically as possible.
Be mindful, too, of moments when you shouldn’t bring out your camera; for example, many holy places, including some temples, are photography-free zones. If you’re unsure, ask ahead of time. By doing your research and understanding the nuances of an event, you’ll be better equipped to understand what you can and cannot photograph. Respect for the family and the tradition they are observing should always come first.
Quick tip: Your models can also help you come up with keywords for inspiration, and you can later use those same keywords when tagging your photos to make them more visible to buyers.
Tip #4: Get some variety
Make the most of the time you have with your models by incorporating an array of their holiday traditions. Borrow decorations, or shop for some of your own to create more variety and interest in your shots. Consider different wardrobe options, colors, and textures.
Try to include diverse models, from family to friends, young and old, united under the same roof under the spirit of togetherness. Some might be new to the holiday, while others might be passing down their knowledge to the people closest to them. Include multiple themes in your shot list, such as gift-giving, decorating, cooking, and more. Perhaps you can even incorporate trending themes and movements like environmental sustainability.
Finally, think about various locations you can include to help tell a larger story: the living room, the backyard, the dining room, and so on. It could even be a public place like a park where the family sets up a festive picnic. When shooting in someone’s home, remember to get those property releases signed by the owner in advance. The more diverse your shoot, the more versatile your portfolio will be.
Finally, stay in touch with your models about future shoots to mark future holidays. A one-time session can turn into an ongoing collaboration.
Tip #5: Beware of logos
This tip is simple but easily overlooked: if you plan to submit your photos for Licensing, you need to avoid any branded designs or logos. That includes packaging for ingredients, logos on kitchen appliances and clothing items, and design elements on tech devices such as phones or computers. Touch base with your models, and help them select wardrobe and prop items that’ll work for the shoot. If a branded element slips through the cracks, you might be able to edit it in post-production, but planning ahead will save you the hassle.
Tip #6: Make it personal
In 2021, the Creative Insights Team at Getty Images noted that photographs celebrating Ramadan can (and often do) depict themes relating to food (searches for “Ramadan Food” increased by 101% the previous year). But true representation also means digging deeper and showing the bigger picture, and the team urged readers to “depict other aspects of the holiday, such as charity work and spiritual reflection.” Plus, everyone celebrates Ramadan differently, depending on their culture and where they live.
Within almost any holiday, there is no such thing as a “monolithic” experience, so take the time to learn about your models, the history of their traditions, and why they’re important. By personalizing your session to the people you’re working with, you’ll create a more nuanced portrait of the holiday. Those are the stories that break barriers, challenge stereotypes, and resonate with us all.
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