For many photographers, it can be difficult to earn a living from taking the photos that inspire and excite them and therefore have to find other means to support themselves. However, sometimes the answer is closer to home than you think. Working as a commercial product photographer can not only provide financially, but also has it's own specific creative challenges and difficulties to face.
In the western world, we are surrounded by advertising. On every computer, tablet or smartphone screen we look at, in magazines, newspapers, at bus stops and train stations, we can’t escape it and yet it’s easy to forget that for a large proportion of those adverts, a photographer was involved in taking the shots in order to create that advertisement.
There are also vast amounts of product shots required for catalogues, both in print and online, take Amazon or eBay for example, each product requires it’s own photograph, so there is certainly scope for photographers to find a place within the commercial market and hopefully these simple tips will give you an understanding of how to best photograph a product.
Photo by Callee Cakes
Working with a Brand
Ensure you know what is required when you are assigned the job, it’s important that you build up a good relationship with the agency who has given you the work to ensure you have a clear understanding of what they expect from you.
It’s also vital to have a strong grasp of the branding of the product involved. They are placing the future sales of this product in your hands, so it’s important you get it right! What have their previous advertising campaigns looked like? Do they want to stick with that vibe or would they like to move into different territory to appeal to a different clientele?
Photo by Train Chartering
Studio Shoot or Location Shoot?
Deciding where the shoot should take place depends entirely on the product and what the requirements of the shoot. It may be necessary for you shoot the product in context or it might be required for you to photograph the product in a studio with a clean white background.
Choosing the right location will have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the shoot and it’s important that you work alongside the agency to achieve the right location and therefore atmosphere for the product.
Photo by Justin Lowery
To Demonstrate or Not to Demonstrate?
It’s important you think carefully about the context of the product. Where would it most commonly be used? Does the company want the product shot in a location that it would currently be found, or would they like to suggest an alternative use or scenario in which to use their product?
You have the option of demonstrating how the product is to be used, which would usually involved an actor or model, who would have to be carefully selected for the purposes of equal opportunities advertising rules.
You also have the option of simply photographing the product without any demonstration, which is often cheaper and easier. For this, your location and how you dress the product is vital, as you need to draw the attention of the viewer without them being able to engage with a person in the scene.
Photo by DullHunk
Obvious or Not So Obvious?
In many instances, the product that you’ve been asked to photograph will need to be placed front and center to ensure that it draws the viewers complete attention. If an advert is to be used for mass consumption, this is usually how it will work, as they company want the viewer to instantly clock what the product is and what it’s about.
However, there are instances in which the product wouldn’t necessarily be placed front and center and would appear more subtle. This is usually the case for high end products which might just receive advertising in fancy magazines.
For example, an expensive watch company may decide to have an extremely good looking person posing on a yacht wearing one of their watches. The majority of the scene will be taken up by the model and the surrounding location, but it is the suggestion that a person such as that in such a location would be a buyer of their products that they want to portray.
Photo by Hilmiloco
Particular Features to Highlight?
It may also be the case that the company involved doesn’t want to feature the product as a whole, but they merely want to highlight an added or interesting feature within the new product.
Take for example the adverts for the new Apple MacBook Pro with retina display. The whole of that advert is focussed on one thing, the incredibly high-resolution screen. Within photographic terms, this might be a slightly unnatural thing to do, as you’ll feel inclined to represent the whole product adequately, but try looking through some fashion shots. There will be some clear representations there of a shoot that may for example just involve a models legs and feet to show off her new shoes.
Photo by Shane Rounce
Representing the Branding
We’ve already talked a bit about ensuring you capture the product as the agency has required of you, but it’s also important that you consider the branding of the product.
Is there a distinct logo that you need to include or maybe you'll need to emphasize a certain shape to help affirm to the viewer the brand involved. Maybe there are simply motifs, phrases or locations that will offer a similar sort of suggestion.
Photo by David Maitland
Angles and Perspective
Think practically about how you might want to represent the product. Do you want it to look lifelike and therefore shoot it straight on, or might you want to explore angles and perspectives that will amplify it’s shape or features in a certain way.
For example, shooting something from below, looking up towards it will make it look larger than it is. You could also use depth to suggest that the product is more prominent and disproportionately larger than other items within the scene, therefore drawing attention to it.
Photo by WillVision
Gear and the DIY Way
Equipment wise, there are a couple of essential items that will make your life a lot easier. The first being a tripod, which allow you to station the camera in a set position, enabling you to move items within the scene without disrupting your whole composition.
You’ll also need a decent lighting set up. It may suit your product to be shot on location or in natural light, but in many instances, it’s necessary to shoot in the studio and have evenly spread light across the product.
It’s not too difficult to arrange a home studio set up for smaller product shoots. All you need is a clean white surface that has the ability to bend from a vertical to horizontal, like a ramp. Then, using your lighting, you can arrange the product accordingly.
Photo by Yunguyen666
It’s important that amongst all the practicalities and deciding how you should represent a product that you remember that it’s your shoot and to be creative.
I like to come up with a few varied ideas first, before whittling it down to one, or maybe two if I have time. Act as if you’re the art director for the shoot, don’t be afraid to make creative decisions in order to get the results you’re after.
Photo by Esther Gibbons
Don't Over Do It in Post Processing
With commercial work, it’s very easy to get into the habit of creating work that is extremely clean cut and in some instances, that is exactly what is required, but as far as i’m concerned, you often end up with shots that look extremely clinical and over polished.
I’d rather strive for something that’s engaging and excited rather than trying to achieve perfection. A photograph needs to have character and life, even when working with inanimate objects. So once you get to the post processing stage, don’t clean it up until it’s spotless, bring it to life!
Photo by J_Makk