Manufacturer Roundtable: Brand Ambassador Programs

Manufacturer Roundtable: Brand Ambassador Programs

Creative Photography in the Spotlight


Our Manufacturer Roundtable looks at brand ambassador programs. These powerful programs benefit not only the manufacturer but also the photographers themselves, as well as photo dealers and the consumer.

When a photo enthusiast sees a collection of stunning images, one of the first questions is always, “What camera and lens did they use?” It’s natural. Enthusiasts are not necessarily looking for a magic product that can turn them into a pro. They’re searching for implicit—but trustworthy—recommendations to help them make purchase decisions. Or, at the subconscious level, they’re looking for reassurance that the gear they already bought was a smart choice.

For the photo dealer, this is the nidus of a powerful opportunity. And that’s because a motivated photographer is a motivated customer. Seeing brilliant work inspires camera enthusiasts to take more pictures and, in many cases, add to their gear list. After all, camera buffs rightfully assume that gifted photographers choose capable equipment for their own. Why wouldn’t they?

Companies in the photographic industry gently leverage the power of implied third-party endorsements by working with groups of talented people who use their products. Through this process, gifted professionals and creative artists are nurtured and supported in various ways. All of which promotes great photography as well as inspires others to enjoy the hobby. It’s a win-win-win proposition: a win for the artists, a win for manufacturers and a win for photo dealers.

Identified by various labels, these company brand ambassadors lend more than just their names and testimonials in return. Depending on the sponsor, ambassadors represent companies at consumer and trade shows; evangelize online on their personal blogs and sponsors’ websites; write first-person reviews; as well as lead the cheers on YouTube.

Manufacturer Roundtable: Inside Five Brand Ambassador Programs

To unpack the specifics of some of the brand ambassador programs currently afoot, Digital Imaging Reporter gathered the inside stories from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sigma, Sony and Tamron. Here’s what we learned, in alphabetical order by company name.

Canon Explorers of Light

We spoke to Taylor Leventhal, marketing specialist for ITCG Brand and Campaign Management at Canon USA. One of the longest-running programs, the Canon Explorers of Light launched in 1995. Moreover, it currently has 37 ambassadors in the U.S. However, Canon sponsors similar ambassador programs in other countries.

“Explorers of Light are chosen by a committee consisting of Canon executives, and becoming a member is by invitation only,” Leventhal told us. “EOLs are typically renowned photographers in their respective genres and have worked in the field for several years. Former EOLs include Harry Benson, Sarah Moon, Greg Gorman and Art Wolfe, to name a few.”

brand ambassador programs Taylor-Leventhal-Canon
Taylor Leventhal

Of course, potential EOLs would already be using Canon gear or switch from the camera brand they are currently using.

“More than talent is considered,” Leventhal added. “Canon also considers their level of participation within the photo community; for instance, mentoring and such, as well as their involvement with instruction. This could be either as a formal teacher or through workshops and other presentations, especially as it relates to working with the next generation of photographers.”

Because Canon Explorers of Light have made a profound impact within the photography industry and are mentors and teachers to the next generation of creators, Canon uses them for speaking engagements at trade shows and schools; creating educational content; sharing behind the scenes looks at how they work; and participating in content creation for new product campaigns, as well as social media campaigns.


EOLs also have guidelines that allow them to contribute their specific skill set. For example, EOLs are extremely valuable for product feedback and often recommend future features and products.

“Some are good public speakers while others prefer to mentor smaller groups,” Leventhal said. “Others are really good writers and producers of video tutorials. Collectively, they represent a wide, diverse set of skills (beyond being exceptional photographers) to offer the industry, on behalf of Canon, a wide array of creative opportunities to share with the photographic community at large. The work they produce using Canon gear is promoted and publicized in various outlets to showcase how they use our products’ unique feature sets.

“Over the past several years, Canon is proud to have increased the diversity of the EOL program to better reflect the current climate of photographers,” Leventhal continued. “Our goal moving forward is to continue in that direction and find new and upcoming photographers to celebrate and elevate while maintaining the level of support and education for our customers and anyone who has an interest in photography.”

Nikon Ambassadors United States

“It all begins with a trusted relationship,” said Michael Corrado, senior manager, NPS and Pro Relations, Nikon Inc. Nikon’s ambassador program began in 2013 and currently counts 33 members.

“When selecting ambassadors into the program,” he said, “we consider talent, social reach, reputation, diversity and personality. Nikon and our ambassadors understand the value of a mutually beneficial relationship; therefore, they are required to have a solid investment in the brand. We feel this is a point that makes the Nikon ambassador program unique among manufacturers.

brand ambassador programs Michael-Corrado-Nikon
Michael Corrado

“It is critical that ambassadors own their gear and use it with trust and confidence for the work they do. That builds a genuine trust and confidence with our customers. In a world filled with imagery, it takes talent and hard work to stand out. Moreover, Nikon ambassadors have what it takes to be seen with the most compelling content.”

Feeding Social Platforms

Most of the ambassadors’ activities are within Nikon’s social platforms. This includes continuous posts of content and activities as well as live video opportunities for discussion. Nikon also features ambassadors on Instagram live sessions in conversations about their work, plus live and prerecorded interviews intended to educate and inspire Nikon users.

In addition, Nikon relies on their brand ambassadors to record real-world experiences with new products and to create genuine, authentic content for advertising and promotional activities. The material is used locally and globally to help support the launch for product web pages, social posts and other engagements. Consequently, these ambassadors are often among the first to test and try new equipment before it goes public. Thus, they provide Nikon management with valuable insight and testimonial before a product ever hits the market.

“The Z 9 is just one example where our ambassadors and professional photographers went on assignment with the camera and new lenses before they were unveiled,” Corrado told us. “Not only did this provide us with myriad marketing content, but we were also able to create authentic, unscripted conversations with these ambassadors, helping our customers learn how products fit their needs and exceed expectations.”

Nikon ambassadors are selected based on talent and their contributions to the growth of photographers everywhere. “One of the most important considerations for selecting the ambassadors is that they have a natural engagement with their audience and are always looking to mentor, motivate and inspire their social or workshop audience,” Corrado concluded. “By continuing to create incredible images and content, we know their talent lends credibility to the capability of our products.”

OM System Ambassadors

“OM System ambassadors are at the heart of everything we do,” said Jennifer Colucci, senior marketing manager for OM Digital Solutions. “They build awareness and credibility for the brand; along with providing rich content experiences to inspire other professional photographers and the Olympus community.”

After separating from Olympus Corporation in January 2021, OM Digital Solutions was newly formed. Its mission was to infuse its 85-year-old imaging heritage—including its technologies, products and brand legacy—into an agile, globally-aligned company, and thereby unleash the full potential of its business.

Jennifer Colucci

Part of their strategy was the creation of a brand ambassador program to meet mentorship, educational and business needs worldwide. Numbering more than 200 members internationally, there are currently 20 OM System ambassadors in North America.

“Ambassadors are selected once a year, by a global committee of marketing executives from OM Digital Solutions,” Colucci said. “Some of the requirements of new brand ambassadors include a strong love for the brand as well as the use of OM System/Olympus gear as their primary camera system. Additionally, they must consistently post new, high-quality work and be active in the OM System social community.”

Inspirational Imaging

OM System ambassadors influence other photographers by advocating for the brand and developing brand content. This includes the creation of inspirational image content and educational content for a variety of marketing uses. They also represent the OM System brand at events and trade shows. What’s more, they participate in speaking opportunities; press opportunities; product testing; and reviews. They also provide R&D product feedback and support the brand’s affiliate program to drive sales.

“Over the years,” Colucci added, “these ambassadors have been indispensable. Our Photographer Stories Project is a great example. We invited five brand ambassadors from around the globe, who specialize in five different genres of photography, to partner with us and celebrate the benefits of the Micro Four Thirds system. We placed the OM System OM-1, which was not yet introduced publicly, into their hands. Then we asked each photographer to share their journey with photography, as well as their connection and commitment to the OM System, while conveying one of our core system benefits.

“As a result,” Colucci concluded, “45-second video teasers from the project were released in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the OM System OM-1. The full-length videos of their journeys were released following the announcement of the OM-1. These projects promoted the ambassador, our core target genres of photography and core technologies that support the promotion of the new camera.”

Sigma America Ambassadors

Sigma’s ambassador program began in 2011; it currently features nine extraordinarily talented professionals who, as a group, represent every important aspect of photography.

“Ambassadors are truly the best way to inform, teach, explain and visibly—and tangibly—demonstrate what Sigma products are capable of and the ultimate end result,” said Christine Moossmann, director of Marketing at Sigma. “They do this through storytelling and educating by way of their experiences and speaking with the point-of-view of a photographer. They are also capable of resonating beyond what we can do from behind our desks.

brand ambassador programs Christine-Moossmann-Sigma-too-SMALL
Christine Moossmann

“Ambassadors are our boots on the ground. They connect with photographers, no matter their level, with their genuine, honest and generous personalities and perspective; thus, they form connections on our behalf. They are genuinely one of our main connections to photographers who are seeking credible, honest and objective information.”

Sigma’s main purpose for having ambassadors is to represent the Sigma brand in a skilled and professional way for in-person events and trade shows, as well as for content creation. Moreover, they are chosen based on the quality of their work created with Sigma products. Sigma also considers the candidate’s social media audience, because one of Sigma’s goals is to build awareness organically. “And if that can be done through our ambassadors promoting the brand and the product through their channels,” Moossmann continued, “we consider that a win.

“However, we also are aware that other talents serve our brand well, including having strong photo education skills to support dealer events; an engaging personality and a high-impact presence necessary for trade shows; as well as strong writing skills for social content and blog articles,” Moossmann added.

Ambassador Profile

“One great example of what ambassadors mean to us is Meg Loeks. Meg’s a longtime Sigma ambassador and a truly valuable member of our team. Since she joined us in 2018, Meg has grown as a photographer, an educator and a mother; her fifth child came into the world just this February!

“Meg has contributed greatly by testing and experimenting with countless Sigma lenses, working seamlessly with both DSLR and mirrorless platforms,” Moossmann told us. “She writes about her experiences for our blog and travels to trade shows and photo dealers across the country to help educate photographers, and so much more. She is one of the few American ambassadors featured in Sigma worldwide marketing materials. Further, she is a wonderful brand representative on her various social media channels. From her delightful images that capture a nostalgic view of American family life to her always-positive and professional personality, Meg brings so much to the table; she is an indispensable part of our team.”

Sony Artisans of Imagery, Sony Alpha Collective

Sony has more than 100 photographers and videographers as part of our ambassador partner programs,” said Matthew Parnell, director of Marketing, Sony Imaging Solutions. “We sponsor the Sony Artisans of Imagery as well as the Sony Alpha Collective. These programs are core components of the marketing strategy for Sony Imaging Solutions. In addition to representing Sony in various arenas throughout the industry, our ambassador partners promote the brand on their personal social media platforms as well as YouTube. They are also featured heavily on our community website, Alpha Universe.

brand ambassador programs Matthew-Parnell—Sony
Matthew Parnell

“Our ambassador programs support our dealers, our brand and our user community. Sony’s ambassador partners are featured often across our entire marketing and media platform; we like to channel their voices to share creative experiences and advice with our community,” Parnell continued. “Our ambassadors represent many different types of photography and video audiences. And they possess a high level of talent and skill in their respective crafts. Our programs span all of North America and, via Alpha Universe, help educate, enlighten and inspire all types of modern creators.”

Alpha Universe

Sony’s website describes Alpha Universe this way: “Alpha Universe is here for the makers, the doers, the people who dream in colors. You bring your curiosity and ideas; we’ll provide the knowledge, the inspiration and the state-of-the-art imaging tech to help you make dreams reality.”

Visitors to the website can peruse an extremely broad array of content on Sony Alpha Universe. It ranges from utilitarian topics like firmware updates all the way to podcasts, video and imagery created and narrated by Sony ambassadors. For example, one can enjoy a topical Sony Alpha Photographers Podcast hosted by Tony Gale as he chats with Berlin- and Cairo-based filmmaker Khalifa. They talk about how Khalifa got started with filmmaking, his go-to gear and more.

Another tab where Sony ambassadors, and other talented contributors, share their photo know-how is in the Behind the Shot section. Interested readers can learn firsthand how a wide assortment of images were captured. They comprise everything from exotic cityscapes to wildlife, landscapes and all the way out to astrophotography of literally the center of the universe.

Tamron Image Masters & Ambassadors

“Educating and helping others understand and explore photography comes natural to Tamron’s Image Masters & Ambassadors,” said Stacie Errera, Tamron USA’s vice president of Marketing & Communications. “Our Image Masters are educators in the field. So, being able to teach and help other photographers are their core duties in a sense. Sharing knowledge and experiences really just comes naturally from our pros. They are very active on social media also; in addition to influencing their followers, they keep creative photography in the spotlight.”

Tamron has 29 ambassadors in their program, which began about 15 years ago. Tamron Image Masters are required to be full-time photographers and only use Tamron lenses. “Of course, excellent work is a qualification,” Errera added, “but a great personality goes a long way! We find our ambassadors through social media searches as well as referrals and meetings at trade shows.

Stacie Errera

“Tamron ambassadors also provide peer-to-peer information about and credibility for our product performance through their excellent imagery; this is either through direct contact or through the ambassador’s own social media, website, blog or other content vehicle. Or through featured content in Tamron’s website, social platforms, YouTube, eNews, blog, etc. What’s more, their direct connection to users, existing or potential, is an extremely important part of our overall marketing communications strategy,” Errera continued.

Tamron Magazine

One differentiating feature of Tamron’s program, one that specifically benefits Tamron dealers and all photo retailers in general, is Tamron Magazine. This thrice-per-year online publication began in 2017; it serves as an enduring inspiration to photographers and videographers of all levels. Moreover, every edition is a visual feast filled with great art plus tips and how-to stories. For example, the 51-page autumn 2021 issue includes a cover story that offers pro tips for close-up photos; travel photography (Smoky Mountains, Andes, Iceland); and a great image of a primate taken by Australian photographer Alex Cearns, creative director of Houndstooth Studio and a Tamron ambassador.

“In addition to being featured in editorial and video projects, Tamron ambassadors are sponsored speakers at events, including trade shows and retailer workshops. They are also featured in sponsored content projects,” Errera said. “For example, David Akoubian is one of our Image Masters who has spoken at numerous Tamron-direct and retailer events. He also leads workshops and seminars for photography groups around the country. In addition, he conducts his own tours where participants try out his gear. He is a prolific social media poster and engages with our VIP members frequently. His images have been showcased in Tamron Magazine and Tamron’s eNewsletters.”

The Takeaway

What does all of this mean to photo retailers? Perhaps Stacie Errera of Tamron summarized it best when she said, “…in addition to influencing their followers, they keep creative photography in the spotlight.”

By keeping creative photography in the spotlight, our industry thrives. Contact your vendor representatives and ask how you can leverage the power of their brand ambassador programs to drive your business.