If editorialized photography is about creative exploration, then product photography is more focused on business objectives. From a client’s perspective, they’re looking for a number of shots captured in a defined budget, to be used in certain business materials - be it in a lookbook, in a catalogue, on their website, or wherever. This means efficiency trumps creativity. Less art, more science.
This isn’t to say product photography shouldn’t be creative; far from it: good product photography has a strong creative voice, providing imagery unique to the brand’s DNA.
But at the end the day, this is a functional enterprise that’s about moving product off shelves.
So, the more shots you can plan to accomplish on set, the happier the client will be - because it represents a higher return-on-investment.
Below are 5 tips on how to be a more efficient product photographer:
1. Light Needs To Be Down Pat
If the client has lighting references, definitely take a look at these ahead of time. If not, it’s important to align on lighting prior to the day of shooting. Make sure you know what equipment the client has, or what needs to be rented, so that you can achieve the light they are looking for and can give clear direction to your team on the day of the shoot.
2. Know The Naming Practices
Before the shoot, ask the client what their naming specs are for each shot and make sure they are given the appropriate title on set. If there are no naming conventions, find out what would be most useful for the client and try to help them establish some.
Accuracy is key. Bigger retailers - who shoot thousands of images each day - rely on a highly structured naming system to route, search and identity the image files. This is because the images will be used by lots of people on multiple teams, for various purposes. Inaccurate file names can cause huge delays and confusion further down the line, so be sure you are on top of naming and aware of what the standards are.
3. And Know Your Formats
Similarly, make certain you know what format your client wants the files in ahead of time. Understanding the expected color space, size, contrast levels and format means you can put the selects in a processing file as you shoot. Then at the end of the day you can just take all the processed files and upload them to wherever the client specifies. Both client and photographer dusts their hands and leave happy.
4. Be Creative With Your Timings
See if there are ways of minimizing the time between shots. For still-life this might mean having the stylist prepare the product for the next shot while you’re adjusting lighting and capturing the current shot. This can be done on a movable surface that can be carefully dropped onto the main set when you’re ready. It’s a time-saving technique that keeps everyone working efficiently - the kind of production-line strategy that would make Henry Ford proud.
The same approach can be applied if you’re working with models (although this is a little out of your direct control): a lot of clients will have multiple models shooting on the same day, so that as you’re shooting one model, the stylist is dressing the next model off-set. Another small adjustment we’ve seen work well when high shot counts are needed, is to move the dressing area as close as possible to the set. The model and stylists will have a shorter distance to walk back and forth, shaving off valuable minutes without impacting the stylist’s process.
5. Set Expectations At The Beginning Of The Day
Take a look through the product, make sure you understand how many shots you are expected to capture, and address any concerns, thoughts, or ideas at the beginning of the day with the client. Managing the client’s expectations is key – if you feel that what they are asking for is unrealistic, be sure to talk through why, what your concerns are, and how you can work towards getting them close to their goals. No client wants to find out at the end of the day that there is unshot merchandise when they planned on getting through it all. If they know at the beginning of the day, you can discuss whether they are willing to go into overtime, or if there is flexibility with the shot count, and everyone can be happy with the outcome.
Perhaps nowhere is photography being more commoditized than in the product space. It may very well be a departure from the type of photography you’d like to be doing; on the other hand, it pays the bills. Irrespective, it’s a competitive genre, so you need to be sure you’re bring your client lots of value. As Gilt Creative Director Bradley Browder told us in our interview with him:
“Don’t ever book a job and show up thinking it’s a day to collect a paycheck. If you take the job then you come in and give 100%. A client’s work is on the line, and frankly your reputation.”
What do you think? Are we missing anything? We’d love to hear your input.