Why hire a professional product photographer?
So you’ve created a great new product line for the market. Or you’re cooking up culinary masterpieces that you want to publish to pump up the buzz for your restaurant. Maybe you’re an artist submitting to a prestigious call for entry, or maybe you’re an artisan specializing in handmade craftwork. For simplicity, we will call these all categories of product. You’ve done all the hard work and all you need is a great photo to show it off.
Fortunately, you have your own camera or a friend who takes photos as a hobby. So why consider contracting professional product photography services when you can get it done on the cheap?
Answer: Professional photographers enhance the value of your product to the marketplace.
Why isn’t a good picture good enough?
When a customer looks at your product on your website, esty account, or any place you submit your photos to, they are trying to see if the price you’re asking is worth it. They want value from what you’re offering. An art dealer wants to know if their buyers will raise an eyebrow for your work. A consigner wants to know how long your product will be in their inventory. The doting husband wants to wow his wife on their anniversary. The customer is weighing many value judgements when looking at your product photo. For one, they are judging whether you take your product as seriously as you’re asking them to. In today’s economy, laying down green is as serious as it gets to your customer. They are also looking at the picture to see if you look like you’ll be around a while. No one wants to buy from someone who’s going to be in a different industry next month.
Your product image speaks in more ways than you think. Your product is for sale, yet it’s the the image that is your virtual storefront, and customers are judging you by your window. Consider that you may be paying to place this image in a publication or on a website. You will want to get the most out of that ad buy and have your product stand out from the others. When you post an ad, you’re not just in competition with products like yours, you’re in competition with every company that’s fighting for attention in that publication. In art as well, the gallery owner will only use the best images from their inventory to promote their collection. If your image doesn’t cut it, they won’t promote it, and aren’t likely to sell your work and won’t ask for more down the road. Whatever your field, you cannot afford to lose these opportunities to put your absolute best foot forward. The value loss is major compared to the cost of hiring a pro to create a killer image.You made a decision to promote yourself because you believed that what you had to offer was valuable. It is important to remain steadfast in your commitment to your business, your craft, and yourself — in every aspect of that promotion process.
What value is being lost?
For starters, your own. You’ve designed this product we are talking about. Whether it’s a fine balsam wood chest with ornate inlay work, a sugary delight you’ve honed to layered perfection, an art piece you’ve worked on for the last month, or a game changing product that took you 3 years to design — your time, passion, and lifetime of skills have gone into it. If you’re not displaying photos that properly showcase your creation as masterfully as you created it, you’re throwing your own value away.How is that value lost? (aka What’s wrong with the pictures I’ve got?)
Often times when product makers want to get good pictures of their work, they look up terms like “how do I get a pure white background” or “how to avoid glare in product photos”? These are definitely things to know, but they are a small part of what makes a great product photo. Frequently the result is a product image with a background that is nearly pure ecru, with light bleeding all over the edges of your beautiful dish of pasta. More often than not there will be ‘hot spots’ in the photo and unappealing shadows. Shadows should be used to control the drama in the image, not to create chaos. All these now have to be addressed, leaving little time and energy to consider choices of composition, textural detailing through light, lens choice and color accuracy. So the product is propped dead center or slightly off, just like that picture from that great magazine you saw, and voila! You have a picture of your product. But it can be so much more. A pro knows how to enhance the value in your product through an image.
How so? To the bullet points!
A professional will:
- Customize the image to your needs. They have the experience to understand your directions, and the skills and equipment to execute it.
- Understand modern trends. They know nothing kills value more than a stale image style. They keep up with what looks are working today.
- Customize the lighting design to tell a story with your product. One that matches your branding.
- Accentuate the details of your craftsmanship through light shaping tools (like flags that withhold light to certain areas and mirrors that provide little catch flares adding pop to key areas).
- Choose a prime lens that works for your piece. Wide angle lenses might be great and dynamic for some applications, but straight lines are critical for others.
- Bring a creative eye to the table. Experience gives them the ability to use background, composition, styling, and depth of field to train the eye of your audience skillfully throughout the product photo.
- Have the software and training needed to process your images, edit them tastefully, and color manage them for web and various printing mediums, maintaining raw resolution. This results in a final image that says to your audience “This product is the real deal!”
- Take a personal interest in you. A pro photographer takes pictures for a living and has a vested interest in your success. They want to nail it!
- Have relationships with a network of stylists, artists, agencies, and magazines. They are a creative labor resource and a networking one as well.
What can’t you do that professionals can?
Like any professional, a photographer has extensive experience in working with light and it’s relationship with various materials. A photographer has also amassed a visual encyclopedia of composition styles and how they relate to different lenses. Cameras are the least important tool of photography. They are just the receivers and most are pretty good. The light, the lenses, and light modifiers (reflectors, mirrors, softboxes, grids, cutters, flags, etc.) are the transmitters and shapers of the light and they are the true tools the photographer uses to make the picture. Photography means “drawing with light”, not with camera. So while anyone can set your product up, shine two lights on it and snap a photo, only a person who has studied the effects of light in a multitude of scenarios and dealt with it in practice can really focus on elevating the key elements of your product. Not only that, a professional photographer is so comfortable dealing with these elements that they can apply greater creativity to the shot when it comes to background, props and styling.
In the end, a photographer can help you maximize the value you get out of your product in the marketplace. That value will greatly outweigh the cost of hiring them. It can be the difference of acceptance in a major art exhibition or not, the difference of being relegated to etsy and having your inbox full of requests to carry your jewelry, the difference of your product sold on your website to being sold in a major retailer, and the difference of your restaurant being busy on Saturday or every day.
So ask a photographer questions. Whether about jewelry photography, food photography, commercial product photography, or artwork documentation — ask and stop by their studio and see where they work. Judge their website. See how seriously they take their image before you let them manage yours. Don’t be afraid to ask about price and fees. And most importantly, invest in your product by investing in a professional.