FOCUSED – Ads in Black & White

FOCUSED – Ads in Black & White

Black and white images can lead the consumer to focus on the abstract, essential and defining components of a product.”
– The Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press

I have recently been immersed in two major automotive brand shoots and plunged into 2020 and the world of commercial automotive photography with a vengeance! One of the things I truly enjoy is the creative process behind the campaigns. As the photographer, or director, of either the still images or motion, even if the project has a defined direction before I get involved, I am always brought in to discuss the creative process of the project and, of course, the vision of the creative director and what they want to get across to the audience.

Naturally this focus is critical. How can an automotive company ‘sell’ their product effectively if their campaign is not speaking to their customers? Often in my career I have been asked:
Nigel, when do you decide to use Black and White imagery in your projects?

This ad has the kind of lighting, drama and landscape I like to capture in black and white”. – Nigel Harniman
[Subaru Impreza III]

This is a great question – but one I am not going to answer. I know, you may be a little taken aback but bear with me. Although this question had merit, to me it needs a little refinement. The key is that, rather than having become out-dated, as some artists feel black and white imagery has become, given modern technology’s enormous ability to reproduce colour, I believe that black and white imagery is still extremely relevant and so it is extremely important to keep using it as a tool in my work. So, for me, the question isn’t “WHEN” to decide to use Black and White imagery but rather “WHY” to use it.

JCB Press Ad – ‘Bigger’

The Journal of Consumer Research states that: “Color has become dominant in marketing because it attracts attention and promotes favorable attitudes. However, there may be times when companies might prefer to use black-and-white advertising. If a product’s primary features are superior, companies can successfully promote the product by using black-and-white images.” – University of Chicago Press
The ‘why’ I use black and white imagery is simple – FOCUS. Often removing the colour from an image can also remove unwanted distractions. The colour black can also be seen as sophisticated, luxurious, inspiring confidence and strength. When branding a product like a car, truck, van or motorcycle, (and based on the vehicle and shoot location) I will sometimes choose to use the medium of black and white specifically to focus attention to the primary features of the vehicle quickly and with dramatic impact.

Renault Clio V6 Press Ad – Agency: Publicis London

The medium of black and white means you are more conscious of the contrast and tone, shape, shadow and texture of the object you are shooting and those aspects combined with the features of a sweeping landscape in monochrome, I feel are a match made in heaven. Consumer psychology explains that black and white images can focus the buyer perceptions onto what is important in the product they are purchasing, removing the unnecessary or frivolous features.

My first international location shoot for Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (early ’90’s).
Alabama Hills, California, USA. Press Ad with agency Delaney, Fletcher, Bozell London

Now I’ve covered the why I choose to shoot in black and white I can share some of the ‘how’ although, it’s going to be typically my way. In the middle of the Alabama Hills, California, not far from the Mojave Desert I’d been commissioned to shoot for Jeep. Brian Connolly, art director for Delaney, Fletcher, Bozell was looking to maximize dramatic impact for the new Grand Cherokee Laredo and so I composed the project in moody monochrome. Beautiful, wild desert scenery as the backdrop to their sophisticated, luxurious yet capable 4-wheel drive machine made for a great visual project. While there, the crew and I stayed at a small Best Western on the outskirts of a small town, not far from the shoot location.

One morning, having pressed ‘snooze’ one too many times I launched out of bed and with a long day in the desert ahead of us, me and the boys decided we couldn’t show up without breakfast so I jammed everyone in my ‘90’s, rented gas-guzzler and literally flew it down the high street to a local breakfast joint for sustenance. While in line waiting on our orders someone noticed blue lights flashing in the car park and suddenly there was a large, gun-toting, sun-glass wearing, Californian State Trooper striding into the restaurant in full regalia. “Now which one of you cowboys drove that thing out there like a bat outta’ hell through MY town!” he demanded to the patrons while, to my horror, pointing directly at my rental car! It was futile to deny it was anyone other than me as, helpfully, my crew were all surreptitiously pointing their fingers at me, while trying not to make eye-contact. Cheers fellas. Costly job that….

Subaru Impreza III – All rigged up on the Race Track – Sapporo, Japan

Last but not least, on this project the earth quite literally moved. Out in Japan on a racetrack near Sapporo, I was taking the awesome Subaru Impreza III through its paces. Back at the hotel, one night I was awoken at 2 o’ clock in the morning by something banging on the walls of my room. At first, I thought, I didn’t want to know what was causing the ruckus but slowly the realization dawned on me that it was MY bed banging on the hotel wall and considering that I was alone and fast asleep, two options could must be considered to be occurring and that was either A) Poltergeist or B) Earthquake. As it turned out it was option B and so then my thoughts turned to emergency evasive procedures but by the time I’d dragged myself out of bed to determine where my most likely escape route would be, from the 14th floor and considering the lifts would be out of action, the main event was over.
Ever the pragmatist, I just went back to bed with the thought that while my art sometimes is, my life is never, ever monochrome! – Nigel

Subaru Impreza III With Rig on location – Sapporo, Japan

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