Quality product images as the minimum requirement
As an almost professional shopper (thanks Instagram), I recon you too is a shooping pro and click away from overexposed / low res / poorly lit images, right?
The rise of ecommerce made out of all lucky 58% of humanity with internet access – real pro-shoppers, programmed to like high-quality images. Bright. Bold. Attractive. Neat. Visually appealing.
Brands that don’t bother to take product photography seriously, are risking to take a hit on sales numbers. 3 out of 4 consumers report relying on imagery to make a purchasing decision.
The importance of hiring a good product photographer
Ecommerce store owners face the dilemma at some point: “Do I outsource product photography?” vs “Do I DIY product images?” vs “Do I get the in-house photography studio?”.
Whichever way, it’s crucial to know what you are looking for when hiring a product photographer – either for in-house or on as outsource.
Photography is abundant with nuance. Technical nuance, mind you. There are so many tiny things to be taken into account. So many lessons to be learned. So many skills requiring years to perfect. To paraphrase the classic:
All good photographers are alike, all lousy photographers are lousy in their ways.
Below we are sharing our empirical know-how on how to pick the best talent in trade – so they can produce quality product photos day in day out with consistency, imagination and at a fast pace.
Differences between amateur and professional product photography
But should I hire product photographer?
Every business is tempted to try their hand at DIYing everything they can, when they start their business: from an online store on Shopify to SEO, SEM, modeling and doing the product photography as well.
With smartphones being able to produce hi-quality images and a myriad of YouTube vids on how to DIY your first product photoshoot, this is certainly a possibility.
In our experience though, the difference in the resulting product imagery is such, that affects the sales and conversions negatively. And lost sales is a commodity no ecommerce can afford.
Requirements & skills for a product photographer
There are 2 major skillsets when it comes to appreciating how good or how experienced a photographer is: the technical & creative skills and the managerial and administrative skills.
Our Lead Photographer Keith (yes that's him on the photo below – stylish as awlays) is going to help us sort everything out:
Technical photographer experience: photography and image editing skills
First, it’s good to make sure the candidate is skilled in tabletop photography and has some relative experience. Has he ever done product images? Who was it for? What equipment was used? How many images were provided to the client as a result? What was the turnaround time? What programs were used? All of those questions will lead to understanding the candidate's credentials.
Secondly, it is good to find out how the person measures the time spent on producing an image. Both ecommerce store owner and the photographer must understand the standard of the required result: do they need multiple images for website product pages in the short time of do they need a perfect image for the first page of the top glossy magazine? A candidate must know the difference between those 2 and be able to demonstrate a quick turnaround in his past professional life. A polished image is all great but takes 2-3 times as much time as a high-quality product image against a white background.
Thirdly, you may want to estimate the level of understanding of the role of lighting in photography and expanse of practical experience on the subject.
What equipment do you use for your product photography sessions? Do you own it or rent it? How do you avoid reflection of the source of light on jewelry pieces? What was the most challenging client in terms of lighting and why?
Photo-editing skills come under scrutiny last, but certainly are a major part of the competency of a photographer. Anything below a year of verifiable image editing experience in Photoshop is not enough, in the best-case scenario, your perfect candidate will have 2+ years full time working with Photoshop and Lightroom. The more the better. But the progression applies to rates too.
Keith, our photographer, mentioned below skills as primary ones, that he is looking to find while looking to extend the Squareshot team.
1. Patience, concentration and organization.
2. Technical background in-camera function and lighting design.
3. Knowledge of current capture software.
4. The ability to improvise and construct makeshift sets.
5. The ability to understand light and shadow.
6. Handling products with delicate precision.
7. Knowing how to properly use grip equipment.
8. The ability to focus on stack images.
– Keith, Lead Photographer
Professional and managerial skills and experience
The product photography session is a process requiring plenty of planning and a proper system to go smooth. Moreover, it needs adaptability to change and multitasking skills to be able to put all pieces of the session puzzle in place. You might want to ask lots of questions to check for organizational skills, inclusive of the following: Does he or she use photography workflow software? Do they have their intuitive App to place orders?
Ask about the organizational chart of the candidate. Are there any assistants involved? How long have they been a team? What is the hierarchy? Legal basis for cooperation?
You want to make sure your candidate has the managerial skills to complement the creative set for a smooth collaboration.
Handling force majeure and troubleshooting:
This one is optional but good to inquire if your products are out of the regular size, shape, behavior or need extra wit to handle. It's good to enquire what were the most unexpected turns in the experience of the candidate and how they were handled? Why delays happened and how they were reflected in the final pricing for the client.
You can pick up clues from the very first communication or correspondence. What is the response time? Does the person take advantage of modern technology to simplify routine? How is the tone of voice? Do they speak to assistants with the same friendly tone, as they use for the client? Do they spring into action or need to be reminded?
Complete algorithm of how to hire a good product photographer:
To find a good product photographer for hire, follow the algorithm:
- Decide on the terms and conditions you need a photographer for: is it project-based cooperation? an annual contract? a permanent basis with specific/unknown volume? Once you know how much of the volume you can offer, you can start negotiating your best terms.
- Look in all the best spots to scout a good photo pro as described in the next chapter. Compile an excel list of 10-20 product photographers, whose works you liked.
- Ask portfolio and send out an RFPs to all of the select candidates, specifying your needs exactly: volume, deadlines, complexity & size of products, shipment requirements, style and whatever it is known to you at the time.
- Work to narrow down to a shortlist of 3 top candidates, that are within your budget, shipment costs, match your quality expectations and style.
- Show the 3 shortlisted candidates to a couple of colleagues in your company – your superior and whoever will have to deal with them should be on the list.
- Send them all an item for a trial shoot – some companies, that are pretty confident in the results will do it for free, some will charge to cover costs.
- Receive the resulting trial images and chose your professional product photographer based on the trial images received. By the way – you can get your free images from us too! We know it's hard to trust someone right away with such an important task.
Where to look for to hire a good product photographer
- Google. For the smallest delivery fees, first check your area: "Product photography New York”. The ones that show below ads are likely to have been in the market long enough and are in all probability the market leaders – which translates to Clients’ Favorites status.
- Instagram. Similarly, search for #productphotography #productphotographynyc #productphotographernyc to find some candidates and check their bio for contact details.
- Competitor websites & social media pages should mention their photographer. Well, it's a free market. If they did a good job for your competitor, chances are they know your niche well and need to waste little time on introductions.
- Facebook groups. Search for “Product Photography New York” and filter by “Group”. Ask to join and post your short RFP with contact details for responses.
Questions you need to ask a product photographer candidate at an interview
What’s your background and credentials?
See if the candidates have been in the industry for long. Who do they consider their competitions? Who is their top client? How long have they been shooting? Did their works win professional awards? How big is the following on their Instagram account? What type of product photography do they enjoy shooting most: clothing, bags, shoes, jewelry, accessories – and why?
How many photos should we expect to get?
Ecommerce product page is the final step of the conversion, so lots of effort has been taken to drive a client all this way. Losing a client here hurts most, as the conversion is just one step away. You want to showcase your product at every angle and leave the customer well informed about every item of the collection. See how many images of the product is the standard for the photographer? It depends on the niche, but 3-5 images per product are the industry-wide norm.
Here's an example from well-known brand Allbirds. Exactly 4 shots + video.
What type of equipment do you use?
To be able to make any conclusions you don't need to be a pro really for 2 reasons: 1. you can always look up the models of sited equipment in a quick google search as you speak. 2. The confidence, detail, and arguments, that a candidate exhibits while speaking on the subject will give you plenty of idea of how well-immersed she or he is on the subject.
What’s included in your fee?
There are too many variables to account for in the product photography pricing. Make sure you always request a final price, that includes delivery, travel expenses, equipment, and studio rental fees, on-site handling of heavier items, insurance, retouching.
What is the turnaround time?
A busy photographer is a great news – he or she is in demand by other clients. A slow photographer is not great at all – you have to make sure: a) your order is not urgent and no looming deadline is in sight; b) you are not charged per hour or per day, but rather per image.
Ask to approximate the turnaround time to have a good understanding of the production level by a specific candidate.
Do you have backups?
Having backups is a professional thing to do. It’s a kind of insurance against technical mishaps, that happen all the time, specifically to those photographers, who don’t do backups.
What are the rights to the photos?
The topic is laced with legal nuance and differs across different countries. Deep dive or hire legal advice to ensure you get the rights you are looking for and not paying for the rights you are not looking to get. Intellectual Copyright is a complex subject and we don't mean to provide any legal advice here, but rather to point towards its importance.
What is expected from the client?
You need to ascertain your input into the deal and the extent to which you as a client are expected to be involved in the process of product photography. This question also points to your openness to participate and is a good pretext to start establishing a rapport with your potential supplier.
Keith’s list of questions to ask while hiring a professional photographer:
1. Can you light and shoot using techniques, uncommon to conventional photography?
2. Are you proficient with Capture One software?
3. Have you used focus stacking software?
4. Do you have experience in shooting medium or large format?
5. What kind of lighting have you used?
6. Can you shoot on a variety of surfaces including Plexi and optical glass?
7. Have you assisted still life or product photographers in the past? If so, who?
8. Do you have a personal forte of product imagery? If so, what is it?
9. Do you have experience in styling your images? Can you style soft goods?
10. Do you have experience in shooting products with highly reflective surfaces?
If you're hiring someone, make sure you asked questions about your type of category - refelctive, or the one that needs styling.
Freelance vs. Studio
There is so much reasoning behind whether an ecommerce store owner should be looking for product photographer on a freelance or a product photo company, that we wrote an entire article about it, called “xx”
In a nutshell, it is important to understand, that freelance product photographers may have a cheaper price tag with higher risks concerning the quality, consistency of production and keeping deadlines.
While a professional photo studio may mean higher rates (not necessarily, but likely) but also result in consistently high-quality images delivered timely.
Squareshot product photography: imagery that drives eCommerce forward
If you are reading this piece, chances are you need product photography services. Squareshot offers high quality product imagery with a quick turnaround time and very transparant pricing. Give our service a shot and see how your product will look through a professional lens and years of experience.