How To: Shooting Product

When I'm not busy being "blackprints" and touring with musicians, I'm living in my home in Portland, Oregon. Being a photographer in Portland means a crazy busy season in the spring/summer, and then a lull during fall/winter when it's pouring rain and no one wants to shoot. So, in order to fill some of my time, I shoot for a lot of brands on the side. Brands love outsourcing content photography because they'll get a new perspective (aka what their in-house photographers maybe can't do), or maybe they just don't have in-house photographers to use for a certain project. But even beyond the paid aspect of shooting for a brand, learning the art of taking good photos of inanimate objects is a huge skill to have as a photographer. I know so many people who can slay a portrait, but can't understand the nuance of "anonymous model" shots (will explain this below). I've done about everything from clothing to cars to food to makeup and hair products, and here are my top 5 tips when shooting products!


1. Perfect The Flatlay
Being able to take thoughtfully arranged, well-lit flatlay photo will get you far, both with picky brands and followers who appreciate an aesthetic image. Flatlays are honestly not my favorite, but it's something I've had to do a lot of because companies love images like this for their socials, since they illuminate product more directly. The best flatlay is subtly branded, with coordinating colors and even lighting. In the photo I took for Hail Merry above, they had specifically asked for a pop of red to match their packaging (which luckily, that month's Vogue cover had the perfect shade for). This is a simple "what's in my bag" style photo I laid out on my bed and shot from above. To minimize shadows and get natural even lighting, I often shoot on my white duvet, in front of the window by my bed.


2. Focus On What Matters
This image was for Devacurl's holiday campaign, and I used a prism and Christmas lights to get those fun rainbow/bokeh effects. However, something to always remember, especially with such a "busy" image, is to make sure that the branding is sharply focused. Especially for items with text on them, blurriness can completely ruin an image. Take your time and make sure text, logos, texture, or other important product features are legible.


3. Anonymous Modeling Is Something You NEED To Learn
I first came across the term "anonymous model" when working with Urban Outfitters. If you take a look at UO's Instagram account, you'll realize that in almost 90% of their clothes-on-model shots, you can't see the model's face. They may be tagged, but if they weren't you wouldn't be able to tell who it is. Anonymous modeling is when the photographer makes the model naturally unrecognizable - this could be through hair flips, cropping, having the model's back turned, etc. These shots are super popular among clothing and jewelry brands (such as the above image I shot for Paul Hewitt), to keep the image's focus on the product, rather than the person wearing it. 


4. Lifestyle Product Images
These are kind of like if a flatlay didn't have to be flat. Lifestyle images show products in use and in a natural environment, but still in a way where the product is the focus of the image. The above shot I took for The Bouqs Valentine's Day campaign was taken in my living room, with their flowers being the main focus but still incorporating other objects and pieces of my life in the photo to give it a more personal vibe. Color matching is huge in product imagery; notice how the pink on the pillows on my couch and Yves Saint Laurent cards on the table match the hue of the roses, and the glow of the candle is similar to the yellow tones in the roses as well. The rest of the image is pretty neutral, to make these colors pop.


5. It Doesn't End With Shooting
Alright, so you've shot your product photos, and you're ready to post them, or send them off to a brand. Uh, no. Editing is a major key of this whole thing; edits should be sharp, clean, bright (unless you've been directed otherwise) and should have that semi-unprocessed, edited-but-not type of finish. Normally I create a set of Lightroom presets for each project I work on, to ensure that all of the images feel cohesive as a bundle. If you're working for a brand, make sure your edits match their style, otherwise they'll probably ask for revisions.

Leave a comment below if you have any more questions related to this topic! :)

Frequently Asked Questions

Look at me, starting a blog. I felt like I should put my writing skills to something so I don't become completely illiterate from lack of use. Haha. No, but really, you all know how bad I am at being consistent with YouTube, so a blog is something I really felt like I could at least semi-regularly keep up with. Or, it could just be another started-and-never-finished project to add to my resume! I guess we'll see.

For this first post, I wanted to address some of those commonly asked questions I get regarding careers in photography, building a business, and establishing your brand. I get SO many people asking me the same stuff over and over, and while I don't mind answering, it's so much easier to have all of these answers in one place.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
- I always say this: KEEP SHOOTING. You'll never find your photography or editing style by doing the same stuff over and over, or by leaving your camera at home. Take your camera everywhere, take pictures of everything. Experiment to see what you really like shooting and hone your skills to perfect that. Editing is the same thing; mess around in Lightroom and Photoshop to find what looks aesthetically pleasing to you.

Should I go to school for photography?
- Short answer: no. Long answer: sure, if you have a ton of time and money on your hands. Here's my opinion (and this is an OPINION) - anything you can learn in photography classes now, you can learn on Google. YouTube tutorials are out there for just about every style, technique and topic you may be interested in. You can befriend other photographers and they can teach you the ropes too. Honestly, I'm pretty much self-taught with the exception of two years of film photography class in high school; my college degree is in sociology and look what I'm doing now. A photography degree is just SO specialized to the point that if it doesn't work out for you, you're thousands of dollars down the drain. You're better off getting a degree in a social science, business, education, etc. and having photo as a side hustle until you can afford to make it into your main hustle. That way, if you go another career direction later in life, you have an awesome liberal arts or business degree to fall back on. I know that's not the answer everyone wants to hear, but it's the realistic one.

What camera do you use? What camera should I use?
- I shoot on a Canon 6D (upgrading to the Mark IV soon). I love my 6D to death, and I'm only upgrading because I've had it for like 5 years and it's just time. What camera should you get? I don't know. To be blunt, your camera doesn't make your photos good; you do. Talent over gear, people.

How do you meet the right people and make connections that get you jobs?
- Be nice. Be a nice fucking person! I don't know how much I can emphasize this. I've gotten so much work by just befriending people and being genuine. As far as meeting people, go to events in whatever realm of the industry you're interested in (concerts, parties, store openings, etc.) and just talk to people! Take business cards. Learn to pitch yourself without sounding too braggy or desperate. It's actually really easy. I know these days we all stare at our phones a lot and find it hard to speak words to other humans, but I'm sure it'll come back to you.

How do you get press passes?
- Again; talk to people. Email the venue or an artists's management, and you'll usually get a response. If you can't find an email, a DM never hurt anyone, just be professional and maybe ask them for a business email you can reach out to.

How do you find models? How do you pose models?
- DM's are great for finding models. If you see someone online and you like their look, ask them if they'd be interested in shooting. Chances are they'll say yes! If they say no or don't respond, no sweat. There are literally millions of other people out there you can shoot with haha. As far as posing models goes, I normally try to keep it pretty natural. I honestly don't go into shoots with poses already planned out. People look their best when they're not trying, so just tell your models to move around and do whatever feels natural to them, and keep snapping shots. If you have a direction you're trying to go in though, just tell them exactly what you're envisioning.

How do you make a website?
- Squarespace is the BEST! Not even sponsored, I just love this platform :)