How to properly plan a product shoot

A few pro tips before you let the genie out of the bottle on your DIY product shoot

Shooting product is a vastly different kind of gig than photographing people at large conferences and events.  Regardless of the sophistication level of your client, organizing and conducting a product shoot requires more technical ability, more equipment, and a lot more time than most clients anticipate.

It also requires a lot of planning, particularly if you are working with a smaller business or entrepreneur who may never have organized a professional product shoot before or ever hired a professional photographer to work with.

In the best case scenario, your product shoot plan includes:

  • Sample imagery of what you want your products to look like: These can be previous photos of your actual products if you are updating your website and sales material, or if you’ve never had a shoot done, photos of similar or equivalent products that you’ve found online or from another vendor.
  • All your products prepared in advance of the scheduled shoot: if assembly is required, this should be done as much as possible before the shoot to minimize (expensive) time wasted that your photographer spends waiting for the product. The same goes for any kind of staged set up or particular arrangements you’ve decided you need.
  • Hire or have available a professional stylist / stager if you can afford it: While this may seem like a nice to have if you are on a tighter budget, someone who knows the product/brand and can understand and help set up a shot that displays the key features thereof is invaluable on set and can save a lot of time (and money) before and after the shoot helping ensure the right kinds of shots get taken.
  • Avoid working with untrained models and non-actors if you can: while I am a big believer in natural photography and capturing real moments and interactions and engagements in event photography, a product shoot entails a much more scripted and controlled scenario. No matter how good looking your husband is, or how cute your pet dog looks, involving family and friends as models is rarely a good idea. There is a reason acting and modelling is a profession – because it takes training, skill and commitment to craft and to deliver on-demand, the look, feel and emotion you are looking for in a shoot. No matter how entertaining your friends and family are, this is not something that can be done easily, particularly when there is a cost to time spent on each shot.
  • Double your time and budget estimate: if you have never done a product shoot before, as a rule of thumb expect the shoot to take twice as long as you think it will and cost twice as much. And that assumes you’ve got a tightly scripted plan for the shots, a shooting schedule and your product is ultra-clean and ready to shoot. Add time and cost at every juncture if you’re missing any of these.
  • Have a detailed shot list: while this seems self-evident, I’ve dealt with numerous clients who have no clear idea of exactly what they want to shoot, at which angle, in what kind of lighting, against a white or coloured, or textured background etc. There are a lot of details to conceptualize before you ever set foot in a studio. Speak with your photographer or studio ahead of time to ask for help planning the look of the shoot if you are uncertain or need ideas (and be prepared to pay a consulting fee for the added service). Your shot list must include at a bare minimum, the number of shots you want, a description of how it should look, and any specific requirements in terms of size, crops, dimension etc.
  • Don’t assume that anything that goes wrong can be fixed “with a little Photoshop”: Photo retouching and editing is a skilled profession in its own right that takes time, technology, a patient eye and a steady hand. And it’s usually billed by the hour, or per image, or blended into a higher shooting rate.  Just because you can remove specks of dust from a  product in Photoshop, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start with clean product in the first place. Similarly, if your intention is to have your products shot so that they can be matted (cut out) and used as independent images for Photoshop montages, then plan your shoot accordingly.
  • Don’t treat your photographer like a tool: a little bit of courtesy and respect goes a long way, particularly when dealing with professional photographers. If you really only think you need “a few shots, it can’t be that hard, all you have to do is shoot it” than you might want to just try doing it yourself. Invest in a tripod and a decent camera and give it a whirl. If you don’t quite get the results you’re after, you’ll at least have learned a little about the skill and equipment needed to make a seemingly simple shot look the way it looks.

When a product shoot goes well, it can add tremendous value to your digital assets. You can populate an online store with beautiful images that will seduce and enchant your viewers and induce a much higher volume of transactions than you would otherwise. The bar is set high these days and customers expect to see top-quality imagery if they are even going to consider making a purchase.

Failure to do it right, however, winds up costing you much more money in the long run. You may require a re-shoot, much more editing time than would otherwise have been necessary, or simply short-circuit your marketing plan by not using great photos.

Not all bottles are created equally

Take the time to really think through your shoot, and have a discussion well in advance with your photographer to work out all the details so there are no onsite surprises. And if you don’t know what you are doing, find someone who does that you can work with or learn from. It’s much better to be up front about your inexperience and lack of knowledge on a given subject than it is to try to bluster your way through a shoot only to have your lack of preparedness and ignorance revealed when you’ve already started paying for the work.

Add instant prints to your next event

fuji-instax90_neoEverything old is new again it seems.

Remember the Polaroid camera? Remember how exciting it was to stand there and watch that little print slide out? It came out dark and you shook it until the image slowly appeared, like a ghost taking form. While the age of film cameras has passed, the thrill of the instant print has never really gone out of style. And now it’s back – in the form of instant cameras like the Polaroid Z2300 shown here, or one of Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo.

As someone who makes a living on event photography, I need to keep on top of the latest trends and this one is on the rise. A few years ago I set up a photobooth business (www.lepartybooth.com) seeing the rise in popularity of having a playful place for (mostly drunk) adults to wear silly hats, fake moustaches and pirate eye patches at parties. Regardless of age, there was (and still is) an excitement that comes from making outrageous poses in ridiculous costumes then eagerly picking up your print.

I’m now seeing the same rise in interest in having instant film cameras at events. Think of it as the photobooth gone mobile. And it fits the bill for what I call “fast food photography” which a lot of event photography is. It also offers a new area for forward thinking clients to extend the reach of their branding and sponsorship opportunities.

Few people meet as many event-goers as the hired event photographer. It is just part of the job to roam, interact and engage with as many guests as possible in order to really capture the vibe and emotion of the evening. Doing so with a standard digital camera set-up ensures the client gets a great range of images covering their whole event, but the guests are left hanging having to wait until the images get posted somewhere which may not always happen right away. Putting an instant print into their hands is one way of satisfying the instant gratification itch that our modern digital culture has fomented, and if you tack on a bit of branding to the print you’ve quite literally, left an impression with the attendee.

 

 

 

 

Leveraging the “experience economy” for your next event

We just met

We just met

You have to love marketers. Every few months a new catch phrase captures their attention and suddenly everyone is seeing the term pop up in their email subject lines like it’s a brand new idea, discrete and different from what’s come before and promising new riches to companies that figure out how best to leverage the trend for their wares. The “experience economy” is one of those terms being mooted as what the next big target – Millennials – is living in and how they are choosing to spend their money.

Waxing poetic in bed...

Waxing poetic in bed…

Because they’ve been saddled with student debt, and are priced out of the housing market in most places where they also stand a reasonable chance of getting a job (though probably not with much security) what this coveted and growing cohort of individuals likes to do is “have experiences”, hence the term. I would add that they also really like to share the experiences – of travel, shopping, going out, eating out or cooking at home with friends -across social media on the myriad platforms they engage with hourly.

If experience is the new black, photographic evidence of your experience is the new way to display your wealth. Despite another (complementary?) trend towards minimalism, judging from what is shared on Instagram there still appears to be a strong appetite for furnishing social proof of a non-materialistic, world travelling, lifestyle replete with lots of friends, good food and pithy moments of communing with nature. In the connected, sharing economy, one of the most liquid commodities is photography.

Let’s take a Selfie together

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Experiences today are easier to share than ever before. It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Selfie in front of a made-for-postcards backdrop (much easier than actually sending a postcard!) and post it online. I can’t really share my home with all 778 of my Facebook friends, regardless of how many dinner parties I want to host, but I can easily and quickly share photos of the meals I’m cooking and get almost the same level of neuronal strokes that make me feel good about myself as I would if I had actually invited them all over for dinner.

In fact, the sharing of the experiences seems as important – or more – than the having of it in the first place. Does a tree falling in a forest make any sound if no one is around to hear it? The enigma can now be answered in as much time as it takes you to open up Snapchat with your thumb: NO. For the digital nomads living and working in the experience economy, if you did something and didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.

We love ourselves

We love ourselves

The more images people have of themselves, preferably in exotic locales with lots of different (ideally good-looking and/or famous) people, the greater their apparent wealth. For businesses trying to decode this trend before it transmutes into something else, the trick is weaving your brand or product into these snapshots of shared experiences without it looking like crass product placement. Doing so successfully involves creating a lifestyle around your brand that your prospects – or the people who influence your prospects – accept as authentic and real enough to want to incorporate into their own stories. It also means giving them something fun to photograph.

I’ll add that to My Story

In the experience economy, where social media are the new nation states and the social proof created through photos and videos, the new global currency, creating opportunities for good photos can grab a lot of attention cheaply.

people-in-front-of-giant-wall-graffitti

It’s all about the backdrop

If you’re a brand hosting an event, this can be achieved by paying a lot more attention to lighting and the visual elements of your set up than you might have done previously. It also doesn’t hurt to offer good quality booze, hire local chefs and serve original and satisfying food as well but making sure you help people take, get and share great pictures of themselves is critical.

I’ve covered hundreds of events and I’ve observed that no matter what the theme, all people at events have one thing in common: they want to get past that awkward, initial standing around phase fast. Having something fun to do (and good to drink) – whether that’s an onsite photo booth or some kind of custom prop that ties into your brand – helps loosen up the crowd and gives them a chance to start generating and sharing photos of their experience.

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Are there fun props you can custom build that tie into your brand and are fun to pose with? Think giant shoes people can climb into, or maybe a couch shaped like a bra if you’re trying raise awareness for breast cancer. What about filling an old cast iron bathtub with your product…Setting up old school amusement park games with a twist? Anything normal turned supersized works, as would anything suspended or hanging from the ceiling. Can you implement a viewing platform somewhere higher up to afford interesting views or angles? Selling a tech-related product? What about setting up old style phone booths – the kind that used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. Irony is still in (sort of). I can think of countless more ideas for brands with photographable products or services that can benefit from the experience economy – anything from booze to insurance. (I love coming up with ideas like this – just get in touch)

The best stories are still unfolding

The best stories are still unfolding

In the end, having experiences is just shorthand for story, and everyone today is engaged in telling and retelling their story across varied social media channels in the universal language of images. Words are being replaced by icons, emotional responses measured by the size of your emoji and lives measured by the breadth and reach of social followers. 

Giving your audience/market something new, fun, and interesting to do, document and share is a powerful way to connect with and stay connected to the people who matter to your business most. 

If your company is in the business of putting on events of any kind (a product launch, sponsored reception, brand elevating evening, etc) you are now in the business of creating experiences. Get it right and one of those experiences everyone is sharing just might be a photo of them using something you’re selling.

Helping clients maximize event marketing budgets with video & photo coverage

Showcasing your brand
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He picked a winner

Many clients putting on branding or sponsorship events would like to have along with photos a handful of short video clips they can use to feed the social media beasts (You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, etc). As all high-end cameras used by professional event photographers have built in capacity to shoot high definition video, it is easy to provide a 2-for-1 service to help reduce the overall cost of event coverage.

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Everyone loves free giveaways

This type of service is really aimed at the client (or PR firm working on behalf of a corporate account) who will be able to take advantage of the video provided and edit according to their own needs. Often just a brief 10 or 20 second clip is all that’s really need to help provide texture and context for a lively event where the goal is brand promotion. I was recently hired to cover a marketing activation hosted by KIA at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014 (Germany won this one too!) in Montreal in our city’s much maligned Olympic Stadium. In addition to the standard set of images requested (see below for a sample shot list), I was also asked to include short video clips. Including video with my normal event photography helped me give my client everything they wanted, and saved them the added cost of hiring a videographer.

Most organizers staging a promotional event have invested a lot of money, time and effort in getting the event ready for the launch. Money is spent on promotional items like tents, giveaways, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, etc as well as a raft of (usually) locally engaged staff to man and animate the booth, interact with visitors and provide the key branding messages along with a smile and good time for people drawn to the event site. Adding video into the requested images from an event photographer makes sense in the context of the overall marketing spend. There may not be enough budget for both, and while a good photographer can provide both, the same is not necessarily true in the reverse where a videographer is using a purposely designed video camera.

The role of the combined event photographer + videographer is to capture images of all of these elements in place, as well as in action. Many times the corporate end client has outsourced the event to PR firms that specialize in promotional events, and it is part of the PR firm’s mandate to show the client just how their marketing dollars were spent and on the level of visibility they achieved through the branded elements onsite. A part of nearly every event photo shot list in these kinds of set ups include a set of images showing all the branded pieces in place and in use, as below:

  • Overall activation space
  • Consumer interactions – people smiling, participating in the kicking cage, getting their faces painted/tattoos applied, receiving a towel, sitting in the display vehicle ==> combination of staged (e.g. Consumers facing the camera and smiling at you) and candid shots (e.g. Consumers not looking directly at you)
  • Specific branding pictures: Staged photo of entire staff team – full body length as well as cropped at the waist
    • Tent
    • Tent walls (inside and outside)
    • Table skirt
    • Flags
    • Bean bag chairs
    • Kicking cage
    • Tattoos (preferably on people’s faces/arms)
    • Towels – people holding them up as well as on the table
    • Staff uniforms

These kinds of images are key to fulfilling the mandate, and are enhanced by subsequent video clips during the event of the articles being used. In the best case, a combination of video and photos will provide not only an accurate document of the event, but also impart the general feeling and a level of excitement that all marketers like to see being generated around their brands.

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It is important to note that a professional videographer may well be worth the investment, particularly for weddings and other personal milestone events that require a polished professionally edited video. One of the main differences in quality between shooting brief event clips on a camera essentially designed for stills and a professional video camera is the sound quality, with vastly superior sound quality available in the higher end professional gear built for that purpose. However, for many clients, an intensively edited, polished product is not necessarily needed. In this age of distraction where attention spans are shorter than the lifecycles of fruit flies, a quick flash of video showing the key branded elements of a sponsored marketing activation (in KIA’s case we had a fun kicking cage where visitors could kick a ball into a cage and have the speed of their shot measured and played back for them) may be all that is needed to help convey the fun, excitement and vibe of an event.