5 Tips for Good Product Photos

Getting high-quality, print-ready images from our clients is consistently the greatest challenge we face. Usually this is a problem because they don’t have a photo library for their products, or they do but it was “drive-by shooting” using a camera phone from their car. Having the photos ready to go also positions you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, like magazine covers or product features. Hiring a professional photographer is often a wise investment, but for companies on a DIY budget, here are five key steps to get you started:
  1. Invest in a camera: I don’t care how much you spent on your new cell phone or micro-camcorder; go invest in a good digital camera (I like the New Yorker's take on camera phones). Read online reviews to find one that fits your style and needs, but as long as they shoot 5 mega-pixels or better most of the current offerings will work.
  2. Shoot raw images: Many cameras now have a raw or digital negative mode; in this mode the camera captures all available data in the image, rather than filtering or compressing the file. This is a huge benefit when it comes time to retouch the photos because it gives the graphic designer a lot more flexibility to crop, adjust brightness, reduce static, etc. These files are a lot larger, so carry extra memory cards.
  3. Get all stages of a project: This includes before, after, and process shots of the project. It can also include testing, R&D, demos, and trainings; it’s amazing what shots can wind up being useful down the road. Some designers may just be interested in the “after” shots, with the pretty, finished product, but specifiers and engineers are more technically minded and will be interested in the details, and contractors will appreciate the “how-to” shots.
  4. Get a variety of angles: Wide angle shots show the product in context of the project as a whole while close-ups highlight specific details and benefits. Having a mixture of both is very valuable. Shoot ing the installation from all approaches and different elevations can also produce some startlingly useful results. If you’re using a digital camera, there’s no cost for extra shots. Take a bunch, then sort through them and keep the best ones. Better yet, buy a new external hard drive and keep them all.
  5. Look for related stories: Surprisingly often, the problem is not that we lack product or project shots, but rather the shots of raw materials used to make the product – which can be very important if you use recycled material – or the unique and challenging environment surrounding the project. What’s so special about this project? What about it changed because they used your product?
Once you have your photos, make them work for you. Use them in product literature and articles. Create an online gallery, and give the photos useful names, tags, and alt text. Architects tend to be visual learners, and respond strongly to stories told graphically. Properly developed and maintained, your photo library will become one of your best investments.