You don’t have to be a professional commercial photographer to know how difficult it is to create images that standout in a sea of commercial images that are constantly in circulation. However, creating effective commercial photographs is not all about being unique, but being effective. And being effective comes down to using technique to capture a product to the best of your ability. In this article, we’ll take a look at the fundamental steps and techniques you should consider for every commercial photoshoot you have.
Commercial photography jobs
Work with your client
When working in commercial photography, it’s important to get on the same page as your client right off the bat. Meet with your client and ask questions that will give you a clearer direction and understanding of their expectations.
What kind of product photography do they like? Where will these photos be used? Do they expect a variety of product shots? Who is their demographic?
Understanding the marketing side of things will also give you better direction on how to shoot the product. For example, a health product geared toward thirty-year-old gym fanatics will need to be shot differently than a health product geared toward middle aged adults who work 9-to-5 jobs and don’t have time for the gym.
Keep in mind that your client will be hiring you because of your creative ability and portfolio. Although they might lack any creative direction, understanding who their product is geared toward will create better results.
how to shoot COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Choose the right equipment
In commercial photography, clients will expect a certain professional quality to the final images you produce. A key aspect of producing high quality commercial photography is choosing the right types of camera equipment.
Another piece of equipment you will need to be intentional in choosing are your camera lenses. When it comes to product commercial photography, you will want to experiment with getting close to your subject.
When it comes to lighting, gear definitely matters, but not as much as technique. Having some sort of lighting equipment is without a doubt beneficial. That being said, work within your own budget since getting creative with light sources you do have can still produce great photos.
Check out this video by B&H Photo that shows three ways to use different lighting gear to photograph a watch.
Once you’ve gotten a tripod, chosen your camera lens, and have your lighting equipment, it's time to think about what falls within the frame and how you will compose it.
WHAT IS COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Set the mood
Because there is so much product photography out there, it can be difficult to create images that really create an impression on consumers.
Understanding what mood to set will come from conversations with your client. Is the branding more vibrant and lively? Or is it edgy and mysterious? Determine the mood of your product photoshoot early on as it will inform you on how to light, style, and compose you shots.
Take a look at this sample product photoshoot by Peter McKinnon for example. Because he is photographing a pack of Star Wars playing cards, he leans into the sci-fi mood of the franchise. As a result, he uses specific props, lighting, and compositions to set this mood.
Understanding the mood you want to create in your images is important not only for branding, but also for capturing the attention of consumers.
Commercial photography examples
Keep colors in mind
Like we mentioned above, when it comes to commercial photography, it’s important to try and capture consumers' attention immediately. A great tool to do this is color. Color theory and being intentional with a photograph’s color palette is a means of directly triggering a psychological effect in a viewer.
This image, for example, utilizes monochromatic colors within the styling, background , and product itself to create a rather vibrant yet cohesive image.
Although monochromatic colors can be cohesive and alluring, they run the risk of having the product blend in too much with the other elements in the image.
Complementary colors, however, allow certain objects to pop. This image uses the complementary colors of orange and blue to have the product pop against the background of the photo.
Think of color theory as a tool rather than a rule when creating the color palette of your commercial photography. Different products and shoots will benefit from different types of color styles. This is all the more of a reason to understand colors and how they work together to create an impression on both your client and consumers.
commercial photography techniques
Stylize with simplicity
Once you understand the mood and color palette of your shoot, you’ll want to start thinking about how to style your photos. Begin with thinking of what you want consumers to associate with the product that you are shooting.
For example, if it is a healthy product, you may style the image with fruits and vegetables. If it is a beauty product, you may use things like water or flowers to associate the product with freshness. The point is to use styling to build the product up further.
When styling your commercial photography, it’s important to keep it simple. Afterall, the subject should be the product you are shooting, not what you use to style the image. Limit your styling and if at any point you wonder if the styling is too much and competes with the subject, pull back a bit.
Stylizing with simplicity can be as easy as finding common household items, things in nature, or getting creative with your resources to create an interesting image. You don’t need huge budgets to style a commercial photo professionally. Just check out this video that shows how you can shoot beauty products using resources in and around your home to style the image.
Once you’ve found the best way to style your images, it’s time to compose your shot. Keep in mind that you may want to mess around with the styling of the image for different compositions.
composing commercial photography
When composing commercial photos, one of the best things to experiment with different types of camera angles. This will help you add some variety to the photos you present to your client. It may also spark some ideas on how to better style your image based on the angle you are shooting at. Here are 3 basic angles to try in your next shoot.
Shooting a product "head on" is the equivalent of shooting a human subject at eye level. This angle typically tends to draw more focus onto the product.
It also creates a better opportunity for depth since the product isn’t laying flat against a table.
Next is the high angle in which the camera is slightly higher than the product angling downward. The benefit of this angle is that you basically get a compromise between a head on shot and a completely overhead shot. It allows for a bit more depth and a bit more room for styling. However as with any compromise in compositions, it is a jack of all trades, but master of none.
The overhead shot has become increasingly popular in product photography as it allows photographers to get more creative with how they style their images as well as the background they are able to utilize.
The downside of the overhead shot is the lack of depth in the image since everything must fall flat against a surface.
Remember that everytime you switch your composition and camera angle, you may want to adjust your lighting or styling of the image. Especially if you are utilizing our next tip of experimenting with light and shadows.
adding depth to commercial photography
Experiment with light and shadows
If you’re in love with the overhead shot for commercial photography, but still want to add a bit of depth to your image, experiment with light and shadows. Harsh lighting from a side angle can create dramatic shadows that add interesting depth and dimension to otherwise flat images.
Harsh lighting that simulates sunlight can also add the vibrancy you are looking for in your product images.
If you’ve experimented with lighting and are happy with the shadows and composition of your shot, but still feel like something is missing, odds are our next tip will help.
WHAT IS COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Introduce a human element
When consumers see an image of a product, they are more likely to imagine themselves using it or consuming it if there is a human element in the photo. This works in the same way mannequins have worked in retail fashion. Rather than just hanging clothes in a window display, mannequins enable consumers to imagine what the clothing would look like on themself.
Having action shots of people interacting with products, holding products, or using products can be the missing factor in your commercial photography that makes it more engaging and effective.
Commercial photography can be a tremendous challenge due to the overwhelming amount of commercial images circulating. However, honing in on your own style and combining it with that of your client will enable you to create effective commercial photos.
Keep practicing and experimenting and trust your instincts. At the end of the day if you find yourself lost during your shoot, come back to the question, “Does this capture my eye?”
How to Start a Photography Business
If you’re thinking about starting a career in commercial photography but are overwhelmed with the business planning aspect, check out our next article. We take a look at both the creative and business sides of starting a photography business and everything you should consider when starting your own.