David W. Johnson Shoots For NWEA’s Marketing

Apr 8, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Chicago-based photographer David W. Johnson recently worked with NWEA, a research-based, not-for-profit organization supporting students and educators worldwide. NWEA first found David through a Google search, and the two have been working together over the course of two years. In the midst of rebranding their marketing material, the organization reached out to David to help them visually tell their story.

David Johnson, NWEA

The client was aiming for a natural, documentary approach to the style and feel of the images they would create, desiring content that would accurately communicate the importance of successful schools and how their product partnered with both teachers and administrators in delivering quality education to students. The photographs were made to feel authentic, conveying the organization's pivotal purpose: helping schools, teachers, and students succeed. David asked NWEA to select images from his portfolio as a reference point to their vision, leading the team to put together a customized aesthetic they thought would work well from school to school. As a combination of local school districts and educational partners, they felt it was important to know their audience, and took measures to gain a well-rounded understanding of the neighborhoods and schools they’d be working in.

David Johnson, NWEA

David shot a combination of both documentary style photos in addition to styled portraits. He selected the students he’d be photographing from designated classrooms, and with just four to five minutes with each kid, David got creative in the ways in which he’d elicit a genuine expression.

“As you can imagine, this was tough if the student didn’t feel comfortable, so I would do a few things to try to make them feel comfortable, like talking about music, their favorite meal, or what show they’re currently watching on Netflix.”

David Johnson, NWEA

What was your vision for this?

"I think my goal was to give you a small look into the world of your everyday student in America, and visually communicate something of familiarity and story about each of them. We tried to use as much available light as possible to give a natural feel to the images. We also picked out teachers and students from each school to make portraits of, so we had real creative control in those moments to select the people and faces we felt would work best in telling the story."

David Johnson, NWEA

What was your favorite part of this project?

“Honestly, it was working with a client that recognized and had faith in my creative process. There were moments when Kyle would explain his approach and the lane created by their new brand, and then gave me the freedom to run with that!”

David Johnson, NWEA

What can you say about the reception of these photographs?

“I was actually able to go to the brand launch party they had in Portland. There I was able to meet all the designers and creatives that worked on the project— they were all happy. It was great to see the work in action in all their brand material!”

David Johnson, NWEA

Is there anything else interesting that you can share about this project?

“I grew up in a home where my mom was a third-grade teacher and my dad worked at a local college, so education and its value was always at the top of my mind. It was interesting to see how education is impacting young people in our country. I had the chance to meet students who were coming from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, as well as the teachers and school board officials that serve them. It’s amazing how impactful the education that each student is receiving is on the rest of their life. Even though it may be impossible to change struggling or broken school systems overnight, I really enjoyed working with an organization like NWEA that is working to create tools to help push students and teachers, regardless of the system that they are currently in.”

David Johnson, NWEA


Client: NWEA
Project Manager: Kyle Schaeffer

Check out more of David Johnson at dwjohnson.net!

Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page.