Product Photography and Unicorns

I was recently checking craigslist’s “Creative Gigs” section for any potential professional photography projects that could utilize my expertise and maybe help pay a few bills. One ad caught my eye immediately:

Product Photographer Needed

Small start-up needs quality product photography for Amazon store. Please email with link   to your portfolio. Hoping for hungry, young talent at affordable price. :-)   — Dave

Unfortunately, this new business owner is in for a big surprise. The mythical “hungry, young talent at affordable price” is not nearly as common as craigslist ad posters appear to believe. If it ever exists at all, it’s certainly so rare that no one should ever count on actually locating such a person. I read his craigslist post and couldn’t help but think, “Get real, Dave”.

The problem for me is that there are a lot of “Daves” out there. They’re newbie e-commerce business owners who’s business plan and budget depend upon finding the urban legend of product photography — a yet-to-be-discovered, young photographic genius who has secretly devoted years to studying the world's best product photography, has spent countless hours privately mastering the fine art of product photography, owns professional cameras, studio lighting plus has expert Photoshop skills — and is still in the pre-professional (no fees or low fees) portfolio building stage of his budding career. Stop dreaming. Wait -- I think I once saw one of those guys riding a unicorn at the end of a rainbow.

To Dave’s credit, at least he's aware that he shouldn’t try doing the product photography himself. Believe it or not, a large percentage of my product photography clients got in touch with me only after they tried to do their own product photography -- and failed miserably. I’m sure it was a very frustrating and humiliating experience for them. Reality check: Quality product photography is much, much more complicated and difficult than it appears. A talented product photographer only makes it look easy. Creating impactful images that seem effortless is part of our craft. Don't be fooled. 

Professional product photography often requires specialized camera gear, lenses, lighting and numerous additional accessories to properly capture the subject. Then, the images must undergo skillful Photoshop editing — sometimes very extensive editing — to give them the magic that separates professional photography from amateur snapshots.

Often overlooked is the balance of various talents a product photographer brings to the project: artistry, psychology, extensive technical knowledge, etc.  All of these talents must be tapped to create effective “images that sell”. This highly specialized balance of varied talents can’t be found in just anybody off the street, and they probably don’t exist in a “hungry, young talent” either. 



Architectural Photography 101

Architectural photography is significantly more complex than it may appear to be. If your goal is to get “Architectural Digest” quality images, it requires an "artistic eye" to recognize the various vantage points that will showcase a property best, using quality photographic equipment and mastery of a specialized photographic technique known as HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR is a photographic technique that involves "bracketing" -- shooting the same image at various exposures which are later composited into a single, tonally balanced edited image. There is a lot more involved than just owning a nice camera, snapping away randomly and hoping you get a few good shots out of it. Talent, the right equipment, technical skills and Photoshop expertise all have to come together just right to produce quality images.

Taking all of that into consideration, it puzzles me why so many realtors and property managers treat their all-important real estate photos as a weekend DIY project. I find myself telling them, "The iPhone is a remarkable device, but it's not going to produce professional quality real estate photos!"

When budgeting for architectural photography, it’s very important to recognize all of the hours of work and expertise that are required to produce professional quality images. For example, a typical 3 bedroom, 2 bath house takes me at least 2 hours to photograph, plus about 4 to 8 hours of Photoshop time. If there are a lot of view windows to composite, it may take much longer. Yet, when I speak with realtors for the first time, they often assume the photography will take only 45 minutes, with no consideration of the Photoshop/post-production time, so their photography budget reflects that misconception. I'm hoping this quick lesson in architectural photography will help to educate my future clients about the work I do and they'll adjust their budgets accordingly.


BEFORE. Multiple exposures are shot to capture the proper lighting for exterior and interior.

BEFORE. Multiple exposures are shot to capture the proper lighting for exterior and interior.

AFTER. The multiple exposures are combined, the vertical lines straightened and the overall exposure and light levels are corrected.

AFTER. The multiple exposures are combined, the vertical lines straightened and the overall exposure and light levels are corrected.