If you’ve decided to team up with a professional photographer, you’ve made a smart choice. Whether you’re marketing yourself, a product, or a service, a lot goes into the final image. Unlike real estate, where the three most important factors are location, location, location, a great photograph needs the proper subject, the correct lighting, and a final crucial element, the appropriate composition.
Again, unlike real estate, the best photographers can, to some extent, control and manipulate all three. However, doing so in a studio, versus on location, requires a separate set of skills. In some circumstances, the choice is determined by the subject. For large products, such as construction equipment, moving the shoot to a location will most likely be necessary. Smaller products, such as headphones, will lend themselves to studio photography.
In any photograph, without proper light, you have nothing. Light is the element needed to create the underlying structure of the object. The proper lighting will convey the emotion that the client wants to portray. Harsh lighting can be jarring to the senses or can be used to convey discipline. In contrast, gentle lighting may be used to suggest softness or delicateness.
Studio lighting is easiest to control, in that the photographer can manipulate the environment as needed. However, knowing how to craft the right lighting and actually pulling it off is the difference between good photography and great photography.
The subject of the photo obviously won’t change from studio to location, but this is where the technical expertise of the photographer becomes critical. The goal is to present the subject in the best possible way. A talented professional photographer must be able to draw out the client’s ideal representation. What would they like to see? What do they feel is most important for their customers to take away? What emotion are they hoping to create? The photographer must then interpret the client’s vision and make all the technical and artistic decisions that will bring it to life. It’s important to work with a photographer who isn’t simply taking a trial-and-error approach, but rather an informed, experienced methodology to create several options for their client.
The final element to consider is composition. This entails arrangement of the objects in the photograph, how the different elements relate to the subject, and how they accentuate it. Care must be taken to ensure that none of these objects distract the viewer from the subject of the photo.
For smaller objects, such as a kitchen towel, an in-studio setting is common. The photographer must determine what objects the viewer would expect to see in a kitchen. The placement and color of these objects must harmonize with the overall image without diverting the viewer from the subject.
When photographing in studio, rather than on location, the authenticity of the product must be maintained. A studio is just that – a generic space. Although the photographer has greater control over the environment, they must still create a “look” that is realistic and genuine. If we consider the example of kitchen towels, the viewer must believe that the towels are being used in a kitchen and the other objects in the photo must support this, without distracting from the product.
For some products, the location will be fixed. For other products, it will be at the discretion of the client and the photographer.
If photographing a parking garage, the location is static, but the other elements, such as lighting or composition will be available for manipulation. The client will want to promote the structures’ ease of use and efficiency as well as its aesthetic. Well-lit staircases and elevators, as well as other amenities will be important to a customer. It is the job of the photographer to create photographs that portray emotions associated with the product. In this case, the user of the parking garage will want to feel safe and comfortable. The lighting and composition should reflect these emotions.
A further element of composition is balance. Although the photograph may feature a specific product, there will be other elements to the image. Lighting and color, when used correctly, should draw the attention of the viewer to the product. Bright, saturated colors and high contrast will lure the viewers’ eye, so these elements should be used on the product, or an individual in the case of a professional headshot.
Balance also is displayed in the placement of the subject of the photograph. Some images may require the right and left sides of the photograph to be equal, portraying a calm and peaceful image. An unbalanced composition will attract more attention to one side, creating a dynamic that may be used to portray an emotion or a mood that the client wants associated with their product. A professional photographer has the experience to determine what may work best for the subject.
Finally, whether in studio or on location, the photographer should be looking to create interconnectedness within the photograph. This can be as simple as matching a person’s eye color with that of their shirt or capturing a reflection of the image in a pool of water. The viewer may not notice it, but subconsciously it is registering and making the image more impactful.
Whether in studio or on location, the goal of the photographer is to connect the image with the emotions that the client wants to communicate to the viewer. The art of product photography should surpass simple image capture and produce something that blends the technical and artistic abilities of the photographer with the vision and emotional objectives of the client.
Josh Edenbaum owns and operates a full-service commercial photography studio in Narragansett RI. He specializes in product photography, headshots, architecture and fine art photography. He recently celebrated 30 years in business. While located in the Narragansett, Rhode Island region of New England, and serving many diverse organizations in the Greater Providence and Greater Boston areas, Josh provides photography service to clients throughout the Northeast U.S. Many items can be shipped to my studio for photography, as well as shooting on location when needed.