Professional Photography for Designers and Makers
Published by: Paul Taylor
Published: 7 May 2019
Why is professional photography an asset to you and your brand?
When it comes to selling online, the value of both your products, and the perception of your brand is based upon your web presence, and a large part of that is shown through your imagery. The images are not only selling aids, all of your imagery communicates to the consumer about you, and how you conduct business. They can help build trust and define your brand, an important part of online marketing. It also helps to improve your confidence in your own business, particularly important for small and startup businesses.
Look at things from your customer’s point of view, they can’t physically see your product in front of them, they can’t feel it, turn it or touch it. The photograph is one of the most important selling aids you have at your disposal.
The primary goal of the image is to accurately describe the product and convey the tangible elements it. This forms the initial part of the story, which is created in the mind’s eye of the consumer. It’s about communicating the feel of the product, does it have a smooth or course texture, is it glossy or matte. This also applies to products created by surface pattern designers and greetings card designers. Yes it may be a greetings card, the product really is much more about the artwork, not the card, but the customer still needs to be able to see any special finishes and the texture of the card.
The secondary goal is to place the product within a context, to help the consumer visualise your product or design in its natural environment. This image can be used to promote a lifestyle promise to the consumer.
In this image, a chest of drawers is placed in front of a large mount-board for Bespoke & Personal
Should you take your own or use a professional?
Having established the importance of product photography for your business to succeed, it then comes down to whether to have the photographs produced professionally, or to take them yourself. This will depend on a number of factors, including the type of products you create, how difficult they are to photograph, how often you create new products, the lifetime of the product and also your available budget. There’s also time to factor in, and whether you believe you can achieve a consistent enough quality. It’s worth bearing in mind that any PR campaign can be damaged having poor quality images. Having said this there’s still the mater of your budget to consider. I recommend a pragmatic approach, such as taking some images yourself, and leaving the really important ones that will be used in advertising, and primary points on your website to a professional.Some images are easier to create than others, certain product types are easier to photograph than others. For example ceramics and glassware generally need a higher level of technical skill, than some other products without reflective surfaces.
A simple lifestyle image for Lindsey Tyson Art & Design
When it comes to creating a setting there are two basic types you can either create. Either a lifestyle setting based around the use or placement of your product. As Shown in the two previous images. Or you could style it in more of a unique way, using various props such as found objects, craft supplies, art supplies etc, etc. There’s an example shown below, where I used some found wooden boards to give a weathered organic appearance, and things like conkers, and pine cones to reinforce the nature theme of the greetings cards.
Image created for New Leaf Cards
If you do take your own, here are some tips for you…
Tether your camera to the computer.
It’s tempting to make a quick decision about the image on the back of the camera. I know because I’ve been guilty of this in the past! It really does pay to be patent and view them on a larger screen, such as laptop, computer or tablet. It’s quite surprising how many issues arise when viewing the scene larger, such as something protruding into the scene, a distracting shadow running across your product. These really do get hidden by the small LCD screen on the back of the camera, as well as inaccurate colour depiction. This is why I shoot tethered, which is where the camera is connected directly to the computer via cable or Wi-Fi. This makes it instantly possible to check the focusing, sharpness, colour and the overall product and scene. Entry level DSLR’s are actually ahead of the professional models in terms of rolling out Wi-Fi at a reasonable cost, I’d certainly recommend looking into that if you require a new camera.
This is the Forever Creative studio, you don’t need this much space for your studio, access to window light is the most important factor for a diy studio.
Consider that sometimes it takes quite a while to get your scene setup, and to get the camera and tripod into the exact right position. Even if you don’t tether, why not have a cable connecting the camera to your laptop. Load up the image before continuing to check everything, which really is the least I would recommend. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a shoot and having to setup previous shots again, I hate that!
Create your own studio or work-space.
Something that can be useful, if you’d like to go it on your own, is creating your own work area, or a mini studio. This can be very useful, it can help your take images faster and more efficiently, and also create an overall consistent style, which is very important when creating or maintaining a brand.
Here are some of the essentials you may need, and alternatives that don’t cost the earth
- Camera and Lens.
I’m not going to go into much detail here as there are so many choices, you need a camera that will let you control it manually, preferably a DSLR or similar, where you can change lenses. An entry level DSLR (cropped sensor) will be fine for most uses. It’s really the lens that’s going to make quite a difference. I wrote about this above, in the section about achieving a ‘Tack Sharp’ image. Always have a second battery on charge so you can swap them over.
Really any roll of paper to use as a background, depending on the size of your products, you could even use a roll of plain wallpaper. There are so many options here, you can use fabric too, as long as you iron it enough first. Mount boards are available in large sizes, and various colours swatch out when reordering though as the colours don’t always tend to be consistent .
Quite often I have used old laminate flooring, or preferably real wood flooring. Gluing five pieces together gives a surface area of around 1.2m squared and you then have limitless possibilities in painting them. If you do manage to find some real wood, these can be painted, or stripped to accentuate the texture of the grain. You can even mix and match surfaces/backgrounds depending on what you want to achieve.
- Sprung Clamps.
Available in local hardware stores, or online. These really are so handy, it’s not possible to have too many of them.
You can buy tables specifically for product photography, by Manfrotto and other brands that incorporate an infinity curve shape in them, I’ve never found these to be flexible enough and prefer to use a standard square metal table, with the top removed, to allow for lighting from any direction. But basically any sturdy table, preferably on castors will do just fine. Such as the Ikea Melltorp table, it can be purchase without a top if needed, and is very sturdy. It’s also possible to buy replacement feet with castors attached.
Not really a piece of equipment, but some form of lighting is necessary. Never use your built in camera flash – there are very few applications for these in product photography, they’re simply too direct, too harsh, and too inflexible. Find an open area next to a window, preferably one with lots of natural light, indirect light is best for product photography as it gives the most soft and even illumination.
An example of using natural light in photography, for Hannah Marchant Illustates
White foam board is really good as it’s very lightweight and doesn’t damage other things while you’re moving it around. This is used to bounce light back into the shadows. Small pieces of white and black card are also handy for blocking or reflecting smaller areas.
Doesn’t have to be anything fancy, if you only have a light aluminium one, you can always use a sandbag or similar and hang it from the tripod to stabilise it a little. If you do a lot of overhead shooting, it will save you a lot of time if you have a tripod with a central column that can be moved to a horizontal position, these are generally manufactured by Manfroto.
My own Manfrotto tripod, shown with horizontal central column,
aid a sandbag attached for additional stability