Photography is such an important part of any product-based business. If you sell your products online, it is the only way your customers can see them and decide if they are going to pull out their credit cards. And if you have a brick and mortar shop, chances are you’re promoting your goods on social media.

At some point you will need to hire a photographer and if you’ve never worked with one before, it can be nerve-wracking. How do you make sure they understand what you want? What are you supposed to be doing to prepare? I asked photographer Lindsay Duncan to demystify the process.

What should you ask a photographer before hiring them?

First, think about what you want. Is it a lifestyle shoot? Product photography? A headshot? A lookbook? Be clear about your objectives so you’ll know if they can provide what you need.

Ask the photographer if they provide that type of work, their rates, and any examples of similar work. If you know that you need professional photographs to elevate your business, but aren’t sure which photos you need, be open to their input and experience! They may be able to suggest the types of photos that would work best for your product and budget.

Ensure you hire a photographer with experience in your area – different gear and skills are sometimes needed for different projects. For example, a jewelry photographer may have special lenses to ensure your pieces look their best.

Photographing landscapes and photographing product are entirely different areas (although some people may be great at both!).

How should a maker/shop owner prepare for a product shoot?

Have the products/looks you want photographed ready to go. If the photograph is of your space, have it looking the way you want. If the photo is of you, have your outfit ready. If this is a product shoot, have a list of each piece and the photos you need (top view, side view, detail of the clasp, etc). This will ensure the time with your photographer is used efficiently, and the resulting images are what you need. 

When do you shoot against a white backdrop and when do you take the product out into the wild?

That decision has more to do with your preference and branding. In my experience, lifestyle photographs of product (out in the wild) work best for a lookbook, social media, and digital branding. Lifestyle photographs are great for conveying the aesthetic and feeling of your brand, and communicating that to like-minded clients. These photographs may incorporate elements of your brand that are consistent over time, even as you introduce new products which makes them perfect for keeping on your website or using in print marketing.

White backdrop photos are great for selling product. They provide consistency online, so people can quickly see the product and aren’t distracted by the styling. In speaking with makers who sell on custom websites and Etsy, they consistently sell more products when presented on a white background.

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If there isn’t an art director planning the concept for the shoot, whose responsibility is it to do that?

This depends on the artist, the photographer, and the project. Some photographers may have experience in art direction, some may prefer not to. I’ve worked with clients who offer incredible art direction, some who defer to me, and some who treat it as a collaboration. If you don’t have a strong, clear idea of your vision, especially for a larger shoot, hiring a stylist can be a great investment. A good stylist works to coordinate your brand and vision, ensuring the photos have a strong voice in representing your product.

My clients receive a custom questionnaire that helps to clarify elements of their brand and of the shoot; the questions are designed to provoke thoughts on your ideal client, colours/moods, and flesh out key elements of your brand. This helps to get everyone – photographer, artist, stylist, art director – on the same page.

The most important thing is to communicate where you’re at with your photographer. Tell them if you have a strong concept and the elements you want to include; or tell them you really have no idea what you want! Everyone involved in a shoot is bringing a different experience – make use of their experience, and be honest about what you know (and what you don’t).

What are some “best practices” for working with a photographer? Any “worst practices”?

Best practices:

  • Have items prepared. Selected, cleaned, steamed, etc. Less wait time is more photo time!
  • Communicate with your photographer your expectations – the number of items, the number of photos and the angle/perspective. If you know you need the photos to be vertical, horizontal, square, let them know.
  • If the images are ever featured in a blog, digital or print publication, ensure your photographer is credited.

Worst practices:

  • Asking for all the images/RAW files after the shoot. The process of creating a photo encompasses the preparation, the photoshoot, and the editing of the photographs. Asking for unedited images is is similar to asking your favourite chef if they could just give you a bag of ingredients, or a half-cooked meal. What you receive is your final product – if you had a dress made, would you also ask for the excess material and cut offs? If you love a photographer’s work, trust them and allow them to produce the same amazing product for you. 
Lindsay Duncan product photography
What’s some photography jargon that a newbie should know before working with a photographer?

High res, low res. This means the resolution of the photo – basically, how big can you make it before it gets blurry/pixelated. High resolution photos are needed for print, advertising, anything where the image will be big. Low resolution/web resolution is perfect for your website or social media. Low res photos upload quicker, take up less storage space on your device, and cannot be taken from your website and blown up or printed illegally.

Perspective or orientation. Do you want your product photographed straight on (from the front) aerial (above), profile (from the side).

Lookbook. A collection of photos to introduce a new collection, usually with marketing purposes. Does not include white background product photography. Usually this is a styled shoot, with a strong focus on branding and aesthetic. A lookbook can be digital, or used for print marketing and trade shows.

What advice would you offer to makers and shop owners to bring their social media photography up a level?

Be consistent. If you’re taking photos on your iPhone or teaching yourself at home, that’s great! Try to be consistent with the look of your images, and let that look be aligned with your brand.

If you’re thinking of working with a professional photographer, consider how you’ll be using the photos. Photographs featured on your website will be viewed over and over again, and can be part of your packaging and branding as well. It’s worth it to invest in quality, professional photos, as this is your first point of contact with your existing and future clients. Social media photos, however (think Instagram) are fleeting. You may upload a new photo every day! If you’re doing this yourself, be consistent. Hiring a professional photographer for a photo you’ll use once may not be a good use of your resources.

However, if you want quality, consistent images investing in a camera and taking the time to do it yourself may not be the best use of your time. If you’re creating new material consistently (e.g. a new collection each season) consider working with a photographer who offers social media packages. I work with several clients on an ongoing basis; every few months I do a small product shoot to update their photographs. This ensures they have beautiful consistent images, without having to continually invest in a full photoshoot or lookbook.

Lindsay DuncanLindsay is a photographer based in Toronto, Ontario. She specializes in working with people at the things they make – jewellers, woodworkers, musicians, and more. She will likely pet your dog without asking, and is overly protective of her ’54 Gibson LG guitar. To view her work or get in touch, visit www.lindsayduncanphoto.com or follow her on InstagramLindsay took the jewellery photos featured in this post.

How To Get The Most Out of Working With a Product Photographer / Elise Epp Design

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