In the winter of 2020, amid the global coronavirus pandemic, 60% of Americans reported that they would not be traveling to see friends and family for the holidays. But at the same time, many of us longed to reconnect with those closest to us, found new ways to communicate, and made plans for the future.

A 2020 study of more than 2,000 Americans revealed that half had reached out to a family member or friend with whom they’d previously lost touch. Three in four said that human connection had never been more vital, and 63% looked forward to the holiday season more than ever so they could spend time with loved ones, whether it was over a video call or at a socially-distanced event.

In 2021, this desire for reconnection has become a significant theme in the world of marketing. Michelob Ultra’s Super Bowl ad featured photos and video of athletes like Serena Williams and Anthony Davis cherishing joyful, ordinary moments with friends, while a commercial from T-Mobile showed the actor and comedian Anthony Anderson playing touch football with his mom and their extended family. Huggies’ Super Bowl ad celebrated family by showcasing photos and footage of real babies born that day, submitted by their parents.

After months of stay-at-home orders, customers are craving messaging that aligns with their values and priorities, and in turn, brands are looking for visuals that tap into relatable themes like reconnecting and coming together after time spent apart. This cultural trend poses a significant opportunity for commercial photographers to explore through authentic lifestyle images.

Of course, this trend will also influence what travel photography looks like in 2021. In the past, commercial photographers might have flocked to trendy, faraway tourist destinations, but this year, image buyers will continue to search for pictures that celebrate small but meaningful moments with close friends or family. A recent survey from Airbnb revealed not only that travel has been the activity Americans have missed the most during the pandemic, but also that reconnecting will be a top priority for many when planning trips.

Airbnb research indicates that mass travel is unlikely to return this year, but people are still optimistic about personal trips with family and friends in safe, familiar settings. 51% of people surveyed said that the first people they plan to visit are immediate family, and 32% want to stay close to family during subsequent trips. 41% said that this kind of travel has become “much more” important to them, and many (37%) say reconnecting with family and friends is a leading motivation to get vaccinated. Think fewer landmarks, more quality time.

Commercial photographers can illustrate these moments of reconnection by documenting their own family and friends, capturing hugs in doorways or time spent preparing a favorite dish together. At the same time, reconnecting can also mean connecting with meaningful places or embarking on journeys of self-discovery and self-reflection.

In January, for instance, The New York Times reported that more people are forgoing luxury trips in favor of mission-driven trips designed to help us reach our goals, meet personal challenges, or reconnect with our history, identity, and heritage. Many are planning trips to the places where their parents, grandparents, and ancestors grew up. Some are planning the road-trips of a lifetime. When approaching travel-themed photoshoots, keep those concepts in mind, and think of ways to represent family traditions and what they mean to you.

Today, consumers value connection and community more than ever, and they want to see the same from the brands they support. The Future 100, the annual report by the global marketing communications agency Wunderman Thompson, named “branding together” as one of their trends to watch in 2021, with 80% of US Gen Zers saying that brands should help make people’s lives better and 82% believing that brands should leave aside their differences and work together for the greater good.

At the same time, the team at Wunderman Thompson observed, advertisers and brands can visualize togetherness by touching on themes like wellbeing, support, and connection. Large gatherings and crowds are still a long way away, but pictures with smaller pairings of immediate family, partners, and “quarantine pods” will continue to be popular. Among the campaigns they cited as inspiration was Amazon’s ‘The Show Must Go On,” which followed a young dancer as she performed for family and neighbors.

One powerful way to illustrate reconnecting is by photographing people giving back and supporting each other, even in small ways like cooking a meal. According to Mintel’s Global Consumer Trends 2021 report, 46% of US customers feel giving back and helping others is one of the top five values that Americans live by; 41% of UK consumers say they feel more connected to their neighbors during COVID-19, and 80% of Chinese consumers say it’s important for them to feel like they are part of a community.

This focus on community and togetherness coincides with a major push for more transparency, kindness, and positivity in advertising. Last year, research from Twitter revealed that 70% of respondents said brands should share positive stories and boost positivity amid a challenging time, while 74% said brands should showcase acts of kindness. When planning photoshoots for your Licensing portfolio, look for real-life stories that resonate with you and make you smile, whether it’s curling up to watch a movie with family or devoting a day to baking with friends.

These shoots don’t have to be complicated. When creating this kind of content, consider taking a cue from Coca-Cola, whose campaign The Great Meal celebrated the return of family dinners across cultures, featuring thirteen real households. The people in the film cooked and styled the food themselves, using their own recipes, so everything you see feels natural and genuine.

Instead of hiring professional models, you can collaborate with people you know who also love to create photos with a similarly authentic feel. Let your camera fade into the background, and capture spontaneous, candid moments, expressions, and details as they happen. If 2020 taught us to appreciate the little things, 2021 will be the year of returning to the activities and people we cherish most.

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