Creative Media

How to Use AI as Reference Imagery for Branded Content

By now, you’ve probably played around with the various AI-powered image-generation tools available online. While they can allow digital marketing agencies like ours to expand their creative capabilities, brands still need to preserve the authenticity that consumers look for in their content. This is especially relevant considering 51% of consumers feel that less than half of brands produce content that truly resonates as genuine.

At The Influence Agency, our creative team utilizes AI to streamline various stages of the creative process. In this article, we’ll specifically explore how our brand photographers enhance the ideation phase by using AI-generated visuals as reference imagery. 

The Challenge of Finding Inspiration

When finding reference images for branded shoots, it’s pretty common to turn to platforms like Pinterest to gather inspiration. However, there’s a caveat when using Pinterest in this way. There is a risk of copyright infringement when referencing work someone else has created and posted to the platform—even when it’s not intentional. This poses a challenge for maintaining originality in our own projects.

Alternatively, AI tools generate images using an amalgamation of everyone’s work on the internet. They essentially synthesize a broad spectrum of creative styles, themes, and compositions. Since AI-generated reference imagery is not the work of one individual but a collective representation of ideas from numerous sources, one owns the copyright. 

AI empowers our agency to navigate the delicate balance of finding inspiration and respecting artistic originality. 

Conceptualizing With AI Tools

Before a branded content shoot, it’s standard to develop a creative brief to ensure all team members and stakeholders are aligned on creative direction and deliverables. At this stage, our brand photographers work with AI tools to turn rough sketches or ideas into more refined concept illustrations, springboarding the creative process. By doing so, we’re able to effectively communicate our concepts to our clients, helping them visualize what we’re going to create before we start shooting. 

Midjourney AI

Our creative team uses Midjourney—a generative AI that turns text prompts into images. Have an idea you want to bring to life? Type it into Midjourney and less than 60 seconds later you’ll have four versions of this idea on your screen.

From there, you have options to continue evolving the images it provides. You can choose which one you like the most, then have it continue to generate images in that style or go in a different direction. You can also play around with aspect ratios to get a feel for how the image you’re designing might look. 

However, as you might expect, Midjourney graphics aren’t always perfect. Some elements in the image aren’t quite right or don’t make sense at all—which is where Photoshop can be useful.

Generative Fill by Adobe

This AI-powered feature uses text prompts to add, extend, or remove elements of your photo without ruining the quality. It’s a beginner-friendly tool that delivers realistic and effective results within seconds.

Unlike Midjourney, where you can’t control what the final photo looks like, the Generative Fill tool in Photoshop is more flexible. You can select specific parts of an image and specify exactly what you would like to change. For example, we can stage a scene and then swap in one of our clients’ products to complete the shot.

AI Prompts: Generating the Right Imagery

When using generative AI tools like Midjourney, it’s easy to create results that are nothing like what you intended. It all depends on the prompt you use.

When it comes to prompts, be creative and specific. Clearly define the subject matter, style, or mood you want the AI tool to generate. Use descriptive adjectives or adverbs to illustrate the elements you want to incorporate, including colours, textures, or shapes. The more detail you provide, the more avenues the AI will have to pull from.

Don’t hesitate to experiment with different prompts to achieve your desired results. It may take several attempts and iterations to refine your prompt and get it right. This is the main reason why humans are irreplaceable no matter how advanced AI becomes: machine learning systems need to be told what to generate.

For a recent Aperol product shoot, we turned to Midjourney and used the following prompt to create a reference image.

AI Prompt Example:

/imagine bright orange alcohol product photograph with the bottle in the centre, surrounded by bar accessories and oranges, the angle is straight on

Four variations of still images of an orange alcohol bottle surrounded by sliced oranges

The Final Product

After developing a set of AI-generated reference images, we brought them to life through our own lens. The result? A beautiful feed-ready product photo.

An Aperol bottle posed against an orange background surrounded by oranges based on AI reference imagery‍

In this way, AI acts as a valuable ally—not a replacement—for our branded content services. It can provide inspiration, generate ideas, and suggest creative direction for a project, serving as a tool to augment human creativity.