Three Reasons Why DIY Product Photography Doesn’t Work


Wonder Why Product Photos Shot by This Camera or Crud?

So, you’re launching your new brand and want to save money wherever you can, because launching a company and product is expensive. There are trademarks, prototypes to build, websites to build, marketing to do, and on and on. One area where brands often look to cut or eliminate costs is on product photography. I hear it all the time – “I just need 2-3 basic photos – nothing really critical.” Other brands even turn to do-it-yourself product photography – which would be fine if they knew what they were doing. Sometimes, I hear back from a person after having tried and failed – and wasted time and money – at trying to have done it another way. Other times the poor-quality photos go up and the product doesn’t fair too well. Here are arguably the three biggest reasons why – amongst many others that can be written about – product photography is not where you cut corners.

You’re Not a Commercial Photographer
Today more than ever, one might think to get a basic DSLR, set it to auto mode and click the button. Or, even worse, you might do this on your smartphone. After all, some smartphone makers would have you believe they produce tier-one commercial-grade photos. You then set the product on a background in some room and when done, the pictures look nowhere near as nice as the big brands you’re looking to compete against. The background isn’t as white as you want, or as dark, or as bright. The shadows are too dark, or the highlights are too bright. The colors are off. Zooming in looks awful. You see flaws in your product that needs post-production, and on and on.

Achieving commercial-grade product photography requires an understanding that it is a science and an art. The scientific (or technical) aspects include having a thorough knowledge of taking your camera out of auto mode and manipulating multiple technical settings. It requires an understanding of lighting on subjects and how to not just control lighting but transform it too. You also need to balance the two, your camera and lighting settings. Once you have an understanding of this it then takes study, practice, trial, error, more practice, trial and error to get good at it. Then, not all products are equal. They require different approaches. Some are shiny, some are dull. Some are big, and some are tiny. Some are flat, and some have significant shape – these all impact lighting, setups and more. Once you’ve gotten good at these elements, you can turn to the art part – getting creative with how you shoot your products.

All this and we’ve not even discussed post-production of photos – running them through complex photo editing software that is far more complicated than a DSLR or strobes. Sometimes, you can find yourself spending as much or more time in Photoshop, on one photo, than doing the actual shoot.

You Don’t Have the Gear
Bottom line, there is no device that can create commercial-grade product photography with a single click. The truth is it takes a lot of good gear. High-end studio setups for commercial photography are expensive: $3,000 for a camera body (we won’t count a backup, which you should have), $1,000-$2,000 or more for your lens of choice (again, we won’t count a backup), $4,000 for studio strobes (backup – you get the point), $2,000 for various other items, such as product tents or seamless, grids, barndoors, reflectors, c-stands, soft boxes, tripods, and various other goodies photographers have on hand to use as needed.

Yes, $10,000+ to start out with high-end commercial photography. It gets crazy more costly than this. There are some brands that work with photographers where the camera body alone is $20,000. Of course, it can be done for less. But, you should also expect far less in results – if that kind of thing is okay with you for the product(s) you’re trying to sell to make a living from.

Because Your Income Depends on It
Okay, maybe that sub-headline is a bit dramatic. Or is it? So, you’re launching your new brand or product, of which you want to sell a lot of. It’s undeniable the primary thing people are influenced by to decide whether or not to purchase your product are the photographs. How many times have you yourself bought a product that had crappy pictures? It’s rare if not ever. So, why would you ever risk doing that to your product?

Product photography is not where you cut corners. Image is everything. Make sure you have it done right, with a commercial photographer that has a portfolio to prove it, to make a great first impression.

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