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Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started with Retail Photography

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Retail photography may not be something you’ve ever considered as a photographer, but it covers a lot of similar ground to commercial shoots, so if you’ve ever worked commercially, then these simple steps may well help you convert your skills to the retail market. I was recently asked to photograph the opening of a new coffee house in Manchester, so I’ll be running you through my experiences step-by-step as I go.


Build a Portfolio

Your first job when looking to enter the realm of retail photography is to find some products to photograph, which can be much easier said than done. To begin with, you’ll need to build up a body of work that demonstrates your abilities to photograph produce and retail items.

Think about the type of work you’d like to be doing for others, maybe fresh food, technology or jewelry, then find some examples and photograph them yourself. This might require you building a mini table top studio in your kitchen, but all you really need are some plain surfaces and a couple of light sources, just as you would for any still life project.

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Finding Clients

When you feel ready, go and visit local retailers. Independent stores are more likely to be receptive as they’ll be making their own decisions about publicity and money rather than having to ask the head office!

Be sure you take business cards, leave contact details and have your online portfolio or website up to scratch with examples of your work so they can see what you are able to offer. Try to avoid talking about money at first. You want to build relationship, foster sense of trust and encourage the interested parties that it will be of benefit for them!

For this shoot, I was asked by a friend to photograph the launch of the new coffee shop that he was opening. I didn’t have to work too hard to get the shoot, but now that I have this body of work, I’ll be able to approach future potential clients.

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Research Your Subject Matter

Once you’ve secured a shoot, it’s important that you understanding the subject matter that you’re working with. As well as understanding the photographic side such as form and shape, it helps to know where the product is from, how it’s made, what it’s used for and what sort of people buy it to give you the best chance of taking relevant images.

For my coffee house shoot, I took time to learn the coffee making process that the staff go through in order to understand how to best capture it photographically.

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How Will the Images be Used?

When discussing the shoot, ensure that you understand what the retailer plans to do with the images. Are they to be used for advertising, a promotional campaign, their website, social networks or a printed publication? Do you need to try to sum up the whole business in one image? Do you need to leave a certain space in the images of products in order for text to be placed in?

I knew that my shots of the coffee house would be the first public images and therefore I needed to cover all the elements involved, the staff, the physical building, the decor, the coffee, cakes and the guests.

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The Style of the Shoot

Understanding what the images will be used for and learning about the products will go a long way in informing the style in which you shoot everything, but it’s worth establishing with the owner the feel and mood that they’re after.

Some will want a very formal and structured shoot that captures the shop and produce in a straight forward manor. At the opposite end of the scale, some will prefer a more reportage style shoot that captures the store in a more relaxed and spontaneous style.

If you’re shooting within the context of the store, that will automatically lend itself to a more informal style, but it may be that the owner wants certain products shot on their own, for which you’ll need a more structured set up.

For this shoot, I discussed with the coffee house owner what sort of images they were after and considering it was the opening night, there wasn’t really scope for any structured shots, so I took a reportage approach and worked through my shot list as the evening went on.

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Focus on Branding

In a photographic sense, you need to consider how you’re going to make the store and product stand out compared to others on the market. It’s important to give a strong sense of the brand, what they stand for and the key elements of their products that set them apart.

This could involve including the brand name or logo which would immediately identify the brand, but this doesn’t have to be done in an obvious or blatant way. Think about ways to include elements that are creative and interesting. Certain design or decor features may set this particular brand apart from others, which you can look to highlight and emphasise in your images.

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Summary of the Shoot

For my coffee house shoot, there were certain elements which informed my decisions behind the shots I made.

It was important to get images of people enjoying the product, which is vital for consumables and food. This would be different for something such as fashion, as you’d have a dedicated shoot. For something like a technology product, you’d want to display someone using the product in a certain context.

I made sure I captured the architecture. The building had been converted from a pub for this specific purpose, which had taken months of work. It was important for the local area and for the new owners to have the building captured in it’s new guise.

One of the most important things about the service industry is the staff. I wanted to ensure I had shots of them in their new home looking relaxed and happy at work!

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What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

Considering the informal reportage style of my coffee house shoot, I was very pleased with the images I was able to get, but I wished I’d gone in an hour earlier to get some more formal shots of the product, the decor and building without the staff and customers rushing around!

I’m also still learning that I need to take more time with each shot. Due to the environment and the feeling of having to photography everything in a short space of time, I rush around capturing images, but then when I get home to look through, wish I’d taken a minute or two more with some of the key shots to get them just right.

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Taking on Your Shoot

Retail photography can be challenging at times, as each shoot will pose different difficulties depending on the product, the requirements and what the images are to be used for. However, I’d say that it’s a challenge worth embracing.

It will force you to think creatively and can be a good earner if you build relationships in the right areas and gather a solid portfolio and recommendations from businesses in your area.

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