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Alex Davidovich
Guides
Jun 14, 2024
11
 MIN READ

How to Choose the Right Commercial Photography Studio for Your Brand

in this article

“A picture is worth a thousand words”.. and a good product picture can bring ecommerce companies thousands of sales too. This is why finding the right commercial photography studio is so bottom-line-critical.

Vendor hunting is somewhat tedious. And savvy entrepreneurs know the difference between a good supplier and a bad one. From their bitter - and almost always expensive - experience.

”I always compare picking a product photography partner to picking a hairdresser. If you pick wrong and get a bad haircut, you’ll have to live with it until it grows out. Just like you’ll have to sell your products with poor images, since you’ve already spent all your content budget. You can live with a bad haircut, but you definitely shouldn’t live with bad photos,” - says Pylyp Sukhenko, Squareshot’s Growth Manager

The good news is that we live in an era of next-day postal services. That is why companies don't have to choose from the local selection of product image vendors anymore. They can choose a company that will manage to deliver on every benefit of professionally crafted imagery. A company whose work will attract more clients, convert more visitors into buyers, and decrease return rates.

This insights-packed guide is designed to help our new and regular readers to choose the best commercial photo studio. Because every business has its specific requirements, volumes, deadlines, and budgets.

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT MY BRAND BEFORE CHOOSING A STUDIO

Selection of a third-party vendor is best begun with a revision of your own company’s requirements. Having a look at your current needs and status quo will help you get a clear picture of what’s important for your further growth.

Identifying your brand's unique aesthetic and visual identity

Startups and younger brands are always in search of what's working and what’s not. So pivoting is only natural for budding entrepreneurs. If a company doesn't have a brand book yet, starting the search for the right product photography company is a good time to bring all visual assets in one file.

It helps to have brand colors, graphic elements, fonts, references, and model requirements in one file. If there is a style guide - it is even better, this tool will help future photography experts better grasp the brand’s visual aesthetics.

Determining the types of photos you need 

While doing an inventory of requirements for the shoot, consider the types of images you will need. 

Answering the questions will help complete this exercise:

  • Which channels are the images for - social media, website product page or a physical bigboard?
  • How consistent do images need to be? Consider background, lighting, models, and composition. Our guide on the product photography consistency will come in handy.
  • Do you need models in your imagery or is it products only?
  • Is it in-studio, on-location, or an outdoor lifestyle shoot?
  • What angles do you prefer to shoot at or like when scrolling competitors’ feeds? (For more details read our in-depth guide on the best angles for ecommerce photography).
  • Do you need group images for category page design in an online store, or are they single product shots only?
  • Do you need flat lay, hanging, or mannequin images? (The answer to this question is mostly commanded by the product category. Browse our photo service menu to see common options).
  • Do you have any preferences in terms of shadows, props, or lighting?
  • Do you require any art direction or do you have your in-house art director to lead the process?
  • How many images and in which format would you like to get as an output?

Now, you should be ready to finetune your financial expectations.

Setting a budget for your photography needs

It’s natural for entrepreneurs to be in a saving mode at all times. But savings should never come at the expense of your higher profits. Product imagery done right is one of the ecommerce levers with the highest ROI for your online sales.

For budding businesses, having a smaller batch of products shot well is much better than having a bunch of products shot poorly. 

Set yourself a small, medium, and high budget before you venture to look for a commercial professional product photo studio.

Assessing the volume and frequency of your photo requirements

It’s also good to estimate the product imagery needs of a company in terms of quantity and frequency.

Many commercial photo companies have bulk discounts as well as loyalty programs.

For example, Squareshot offers loyal terms to its long-term members. Think reduced price per image, faster image delivery speed, and no minimum requirement for product images. 

The calculator on the Squareshot’s website that helps customers compare membership plans

It’s only natural that companies incentivize long-term relationships. Onboarding is time- and effort-consuming, and with every next order, things get smoother and more efficient for both sides.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT STUDIO: ASPECTS THAT DO MATTER

Portfolio: proven and tangible expertise

When it comes to ecommerce photography, this is the most critical and telling step in selecting a vendor - checking their past works. 

Do they come across as professionally executed? Strike you as impactful, and make you want to learn more about the product they portray? Good news then, you may have already found your commercial photo studio.

Looking out for these aspects in a studio’s portfolio helps to understand their level of expertise:

  • Variety. There are narrow speciality studios and full-service vendors. Check the portfolio and ask yourself if you are one of those ecommerce businesses looking for a one-stop shop?
  • Quality. Check the studio's works and start asking questions: is it going to work for my platform, my product and my customer? In Squareshot we like to use "most fitting" instead of "the best", as it's the most relevant approach to measuring quality of a product image. Then scroll the portfolio and try to dig deeper. Pay attention to resolution, format, lighting, composition and shadows. Our guide on how to measure image quality will help you with questions at this stage.
  • Domain expertise. Have they done images for your competitors, be it cosmetic photography, jewelry photos, or clothing shots?
  • Consistency. Are the product pictures for one brand consistent in terms of lighting, positioning, color use, and props?

Now, it should be clear if studio's style matches your brand's vision. Or if it has enough creative and technical expertise to execute a planned product photo shoot.

Process: simplicity of booking and outcome control

Even if you have done a few product shoots and have some experience, a new vendor will do things differently to a certain extent.

How the process is explained on the studio’s site and then flows into the actual order processing is critical. These aspects are worth good consideration during the selection process:

  • Speed of delivery

Is this information specified on the website? Is it part of the contract? Is the speed in line with your deadlines? Are there charges for express procession? What does a company promise to do if it fails to deliver on time? 

  • Simplicity of process 

Check out the ordering process as described on the vendor's site. Especially if you have to shoot frequently, you want to know how effort- and time-consuming it will get.

In Squareshot we manage the expectations of our potential clients by breaking down the process into stages. There are three of them: prepare, shoot and approve. Each one has it's own steps and detailed explanations on our website.

There’s a belief at Squareshot, that producing quality images is art - but there’s lots of thorough planning and discipline to it too

  • Tools to manage your shoot 

Automation is there to save time. In the photo production process, just as in ecommerce business, one can use lots of tools to improve the customer experience. For instance such parts of it as proposal request, payment, status check, quality assessment and content delivery. Ask the commercial photography studio for specifics.

  • Leverage and toolkit for creative control 

Do you have tools at your disposal to control virtual shoots? Can you be present physically? How would you request edits? What tools are used for creative briefing before the shoot?

A successful outcome at this stage consists of two statements. The process is clear and manageable. The turnaround time - fixed and predictable.

Pricing: knowing your final bill before you start

Product imagery pricing is complex, so we created a guide about every nuance: How much should I pay for product photography? 

Before you decide on which commercial photo studio to hire, it’s good to be aware of the pricing models. Most common are these: per image, per hour, and bundles (set of images or services at a fixed price). 

Keep in mind that prices may be affected by the volume, frequency, and duration of your partnership with the studio. Discover a Squareshot's membership model to learn more.

There is also a difference between upfront and custom pricing. Good to know it when discussing managing marketing budgets while ordering a commercial product photo shoot. Your image specifications fall outside of the readily-priced photography services? Then you can expect your order to be more expensive and take longer. 

The last point worth mentioning here is the hidden costs to watch out for. They usually appear for services such as retouching, resizing, adding colored backgrounds, saving files in TIFF or PSD, creating custom setups for oversized products, etc.

Pay attention to whether this is communicated on the website of your future partner. 

The spectrum of photography services: detailed expertise across the board

The range of services provided by a commercial product photo studio reflects the extent of the company's expertise. If you decide to diversify your PDP, can they still deliver or you’ll need to switch to another supplier? Are they doing videography as well? The behind the scene videos of a product shoot are a great way to announce an up-and-coming new collection shoot.

Also, it’s good to estimate the expansion of the assortment of services vertically and horizontally. Within a given service, how many adjacent services does the studio cover?

Let's take a look at the example of model shooting. Studio X delegates casting and usage rights negotiation to the client. Studio Y takes care of casting, contract management and usage rights negotiation. Which one suits you better now?

Or take outfits: some studios may ask you to provide outfits for the shoot to complete the look, while others will employ stylists to do that for you.

As a rule of thumb it’s much easier when a studio takes on the entirety of responsibility of the project, so you can focus on running your business.

Client reviews as the litmus for quality

Your future partner has a history of working with other clients. check out their reviews on Google My Business profile and social media. 

Pay special attention to the detailed feedback. It will provide a good understanding of what existing clients like and hate about a certain company. Don't be surprised if what a previous client hated in the photo studio turns out to be an advantage for your request.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS TO ASK THE SHORTLISTED CANDIDATES

It makes sense to speak to a few of the short-listed candidates, going beyond what’s available online. Especially if you have quite some significant volume of product photography to be produced regularly. A personal contact with the manager will also allow you to estimate the responsiveness of the business, and their interest in you as a client. As well as understand any loyalty and membership perks for your band of clients.

You may ask any questions about their process as well as logistical ones (don’t be shy to clarify any points that are not clear to you), for example:

  • What does your typical workflow look like?
  • How do you handle revisions and feedback?
  • What is the turnaround time for delivering images? If publicly declared turnaround time is for finished images or just for the shoot time? Does a X-hour turnaround time include retouching, edits, formatting, product delivery?
  • What is included in the pricing (shooting, editing, retouching)?
  • Do you offer any additional services (styling, set design, insert anything relevant to your business here)?
  • How do I know about the status of my order?

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO: LOCAL VS. REMOTE

As we mentioned, with next-day delivery services available throughout the country, clients are no longer tied to choosing their ecommerce product photography studio within a 20-mile radius. Here are the main advantages and aspects to be weary about when it comes to the local suppliers vs remote ones dilemma.

Local studios:

If you live in a larger megapolis, you have enough professional ecommerce photo companies around to choose from. Smaller cities and rural areas don’t have much quality supply to consider.

Benefits include:

  • easier communication
  • possibility of frequent on-site visits
  • possibility of in-person delivery (it may speed up the process and save on shipping)
  • quicker turnaround times.

Drawbacks, specifically in smaller markets:

  • potentially limited options
  • rigid pricing
  • limited services
  • subpar equipment
  • mediocre automation.

Remote studios:

If you sell products in the USA, outsourcing ecommerce photography to a US product photo company makes sense not only for postal fee considerations but for cultural and commercial fit reasons. A US-based company knows your customers and popular marketplace requirements (Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, etc) as well as you do.

Benefits

  • more full-service companies with a broader range of styles and specializations
  • better pricing
  • access to state-of-the-art equipment and creative talent
  • seamless automated workflows with bigger players.

Drawbacks: 

  • extra cost and effort to ship products
  • unable to be present physically, however solved by remote shoots.

That said, these tips for effective collaboration with remote studios will negate the second major downfall:

  • Conduct clear written communication and exchange detailed briefs with the commercial photo studio of choice.
  • Use project management tools and video calls to sync with your manager and creative talent for onboarding, if needed.
  • Take part in remote shoots if those are available.

Making the final decision

With all of the above-mentioned data points, you will be in a good place to choose the right commercial photography studio for your specific project. 

To finalize the selection process, you can make a comparative table with major aspects and color-code each of the factors according to their weight to your business. If you are a small budget-sensitive shop with limited needs, you may pay a lot of attention to pricing, but disregard the extensive portfolio. On the other hand, if you are a premium accessories merchant, you will pay attention to extensive expertise in shooting specifically these products - on models and isolated on a white background.

It’s also recommended to keep the comparison table detailed, which will help to prevent any unwanted surprises, as well as build a firm foundation to kick off cooperation with the chosen one. At Squareshot, we believe that preparation is half the battle won, so we arm our clients with a list of things they should know,- and let us know of,- before the shoot.

For ecommerce companies building a long-term relationship with the chosen product photo studio will save tons of time and money over the years. Look for studios that make an effort to build up their clients’ profiles with specific preferences and references. Every next project should be faster than the first. For example, Squareshot offers shot-list templates that can be reused for your future shoots. They also collect data on your lighting diagrams to mimic previous shoots for better visual brand consistency.

TAKEAWAYS

Cooperation with professional commercial photo studios in the ideal world is a seamless process with decreasing effort from the client’s side every following shoot. If you know your technical requirements, your candidates’ service pool, portfolio, online reputation, and pricing, you have done your best for smooth cooperation for years to come. That’s why it’s so critical to invest plenty of time in researching the market of commercial photographers and look into the process of shortlisted 2-3 candidates before you ink that deal.

If you find Squareshot in this list, it's worth booking a demo call to learn more about the product photography process for your business.

Naturally, ongoing collaboration requires good nurturing from both sides, but on the flip side, it’s a rewarding process that helps ecommerce businesses maintain a consistent visual brand identity - and hopefully their positive sales dynamics too.

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Guides
June 14, 2024
11
MINS READ

How to Choose the Right Commercial Photography Studio for Your Brand

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