Lots of people meet their future spouses in college, and many meet their prospective business partners in college too.
What’s more uncommon is when that person is one and the same. But that was the case for Forrest Aguar and Michelle Norris, the duo behind the exciting Atlanta-based studio Tropico Photo taking the branding world by technicolored storm with an aesthetic they describe as “bold, graphic, and vibrant.” Forrest and Michelle met at the University of Georgia while studying photography and have since become a creative power couple boasting an impressive slate of photography-based campaigns for top-tier brands such as SPANX, Allbirds, Mailchimp, Olly, Target, and many more.
The Tropico Photo vibe is distinctly eye-catching, with brightly saturated hues and color blocking up the wazoo. It embodies fun and joy while maintaining an editorial polish. Michelle graciously took a few questions from us so we could learn more about the duo's process. Check out her answers below!
How did you go about cultivating your distinct Tropico Photo aesthetic?
Back in college, we were very inspired by the artists we followed on Instagram (folks like @tinycactus, @collinpollard__, @noicemag, @teklan, @jimmymarble) that created bright imagery with hard shadows and strong color stories. That was the beginning of our interest, but as we began to travel together after college and take photo walks, we started cultivating our aesthetic. We essentially used these explorations as a way to "sketch" and figure out what we found compelling about color combinations, light quality, and compositions.
How has traveling crafted your style? What places have influenced you the most?
We're really inspired by coastal landscapes and architecture. Some of our favorites have been Italy, Spain, and Morocco. The Amalfi Coast was one of the first places that we traveled together, and that felt like a large part of what influenced our aesthetic.
How do you see your work fitting into the popular modern maximalist aesthetic? Why do you think bold, bright colors are rising to prominence in the branding landscape right now?
We don't see our style as maximalist. There is still a lot of finesse in honing and refining palettes, compositions, and sets to leave breathing room and create a rewarding moment. Bright colors have been prominent in advertising since the 50s, and this just feels like a new aesthetic cycle. Colors really catch your eye and have the power to be a tool for stopping the viewer in their tracks, so it's a great tool for advertising.
While the Tropico Photo aesthetic feels very contemporary and distinctly 2021, there are retro undertones too. Are there older styles/eras that excite you?
We're really into older styles of advertising and the richness of color film, especially from the 50s and 60s. From food imagery to more fashion-driven beach images, we love the technicolor look and the way that it feels like it borders on feeling like an illustration.
There's such playfulness and humor embedded into a lot of your photos and campaigns. Where does that tone come from?
We like to make our work playful for the joy of it and the interaction with the viewer. It's helpful to keep things light-hearted and leave the viewer with a good feeling or a laugh to make a campaign memorable.
How do you balance your own brand with your client's brands in your work? Your look and feel are so distinct. Do clients typically come to you specifically for that, or is there a process for blending what they want with the Tropico Photo vibe?
Clients do come to us for our look. But there is always balancing and honing that happens during the process of working together to make sure it's true to them. The process is collaborative and involves us throwing out ideas and presenting our vision. Then, we get their feedback to make sure it all lands in a happy place.
Of your recent campaigns, which has been your favorite?
It's so hard to choose because we love all of our projects and the creativity that they allow. One specific one that comes to mind is our campaign for Wealthsimple. With that project, we were able to brainstorm concepts with their team and get playful with them. It was so rewarding to see the project all come together in the form of a really beautiful short commercial. We also tried out a new way of making stop-motion that felt close to true video but had a unique flair. For a lot of our stop motion and GIFs, we will make an animation using a few frames, sometimes up to 10, which has a playful vibe but doesn't resemble true motion.
True motion starts at about 24 frames per second, and with this campaign, we figured out a way to rapidly shoot stills using our strobes and make animations that were about 12 frames per second which merged the looks of those two worlds.
What’s it like being business and creative partners AND a couple?
It's really rewarding to feel like a unified team in so many parts of our lives and to be able to share in our successes and communicate creatively. It can be healthy to strike a work/life balance with everything being so intertwined, but we work on it all the time.
What does the future look like for Tropico Photo in your ideal world?
More directing! We love the video projects we've started to work on and are thrilled about the idea of being able to communicate more narratively.