By Patrick Weilmerier | Imaging ServicesThis post answers 4 questions about product photography rates: 1) How do product photography service providers differ; 2) How are product photography services charged; 3) What additional charges should you anticipate; 4) What other project costs should you consider?
Are you looking for a product photographer that can not only take excellent high-quality product images but take them quickly? If so read on – it is not as easy as you may think.
The simple fact is that a good ‘production product photographer’ is hard to find. Trust me, I know. Over the years I have hired close to 50 product photographers for various projects, some were excellent hires and others were not.
What skills and experience should you look for in a good product photographer?
First look at their specific product photography and product image editing skills and second consider their general professional and managerial skills.
Below I summarize what to look for in each of these areas.
Photography and Image Editing Skills and Experience
When you are hiring a product photographer you need to first determine if they have the practical skills to do the job. Most of these skills are evident from their experience and work history.
1. Tabletop Product Photography
The best place to start when hiring a product photographer is their tabletop product photography experience. Most photographers will tell you that they have experience shooting products on a tabletop. When you dig deeper you may find that this experience consists of shooting a few jewelry products for a friend. Although this does constitute product photography experience it is narrow, to say the least.
If your business has products that vary in size, shape, color, and features you need a product photographer with broad experience. They need a deep understanding of how to light, prop, position, and highlight all types of products. These skills are acquired over time by completing numerous tabletop product photography projects.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that has experience working with many different product categories – the more extensive their experience the better.
2. Product Lighting
You will find that any photographer worth their salt has lighting experience in one way or another. What you are looking for is a photographer that has ‘product’ lighting experience in a tabletop environment. The photographer’s lighting skill has a huge impact on image quality and production – probably more than any other single element.
An experienced product photographer knows how to quickly adjust their lights for different products – size, shape, color, reflectivity etc. Conversely, photographers with limited tabletop lighting experience will take much longer to finalize their lighting and tend to make more lighting adjustments from product to product. In my experience, photographers with limited lighting skills can take more than twice as long to photograph each product.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that has many years of experience lighting a variety of products in a tabletop photography environment.
3. Production Photography
Not all product photography is “production” photography. If you are photographing high-end watches for print purposes, you will likely spend a lot of time on each image getting it perfect. This is not production photography. On the other hand, production photography is where you have thousands of products, each requiring multiple images, and you are required to take hundreds of images per day.
The key thing to look for is the photographer’s proven ability to balance image quality with production. The photographer’s tabletop and product lighting skills will help with productivity but the key is their ability to determine when an image is ‘good’ but not ‘perfect’. A perfect image can take 50% longer to create than a good image and 99.9% of people will never know the difference. Production product photography is about producing good images, not perfect images. If the photographer is always striving for the perfect image you will not achieve your production targets and your cost per image will be much higher than you budgeted.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that is NOT a perfectionist but one that has a proven track record (check references and authenticate claims) demonstrating their ability to produce high-quality images quickly.
4. Product Image Editing
Most photographers are advanced or expert Photoshop and Lightroom users and have extensive image editing experience.
In the majority of high-volume product photography projects, the photographer is not the person editing the images, this is the responsibility of the image editing team. Nevertheless, it is very important that the photographer understands the image editing process and captures images with image editing in mind. For example, adjusting lights and camera exposure can create an image with a clean background and therefore faster to edit. Another example would be to use props such that they are hidden and therefore do not need to be removed by the editor in post.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that has extensive Photoshop (4 to 6 years), Lightroom, and image editing experience.
Professional and Managerial Skills and Experience
A good product photographer must solve problems as they arise, communicate effectively with all project resources, manage assistants and others involved in the project, and stay organized.
Stuff happens on product photography projects all the time – software glitches, equipment malfunctions, product issues, etc. The product photographer is the person in charge at the studio and therefore the person who needs to solve problems as they arise. Many of these problems negatively impact production and must be handled quickly and effectively.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that can demonstrate their ability to effectively solve problems under pressure. It is important that they are confident and resourceful.
The product photographer communicates with the photography assistant, the person in charge of the warehouse or distribution center, the person(s) responsible for ordering and delivering the products to the studio, the project manager and other resources involved in the project. In order for the photographer to run an efficient studio, they must be a good communicator.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that has the ability to communicate to a variety of project resources at various levels within an organization.
The photographer typically has one or more assistants that they manage. Because efficiency and production are important elements in high-volume product photography, a photographer with good management skills is essential.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer with management experience specifically supervising product assistants.
The more organized the product photographer is the more productive they will be. There are many steps in the photography process including preparing products, positioning products, adjusting lights, working with the camera, entering product numbers into photography workflow software, packing products after photography, and placing products in the area for inventory return. To operate an efficient studio the photographer must be organized.
Hiring Tip: Look for a product photographer that has a proven track record of operating an efficient and organized studio.
What are your product photographer hiring experiences?
Share your opinions and stories on hiring photographers for your product imaging projects. We would love to hear them…