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How to start a career in product photography

Taking photos for fun and doing it professionally has a world of difference. You can make regular photos look good, but chances are that even your casual photographer’s best won’t hold a candle to the average a skilled photographer produces daily.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to reach that skill level if you plan to do it professionally. So, let’s take a look at one area of photography that requires both considerable technical knowledge and plenty of additional know-how: product photography.

What is Product Photography?

Photography is a passion-fueled craft, where technical skill and an eye for angles and detail come together to form the perfect picture–quite literally sometimes. Effective photography tells a story in just an image, though sometimes it is just to make something look good (or better).

When it comes to product photography, you aren’t just taking pictures. You need to control the lights, shadows, and colors, and there is plenty of retouching after the fact. However, the camera isn’t your only tool. From different light conditions to using techniques to ‘enhance’ the products you shoot, the camera is just one small part of your professional life.

The purpose of product photography is to sell the product, so, of course, it takes center stage. Your responsibility, however, is to make it look as good as possible.

Narrative Through Stills

It may come as a conflicting statement, but in photography, looks aren’t everything. Every product can be shot to look good, but the best photographers do a bit more with it.

Take a simple picture of a natural landscape as an example. You can have a forest or a mountain landscape, greenery or snow, lakes and rivers, lush grass or sandy beaches. Whatever you do, there is a certain serenity and calmness in nature, the green and blue hues pointing towards something raw, powerful, yet calming and relaxing.

Now, add a product, such as a clothing item, that was made with sustainable materials, and suddenly, you are communicating everything all at once.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Clothes, textiles, and garment manufacturing are some of the most environmentally harmful industries active today, so switching to sustainable clothing is progressive towards a better future, responsible and ethical. It represents environmental sustainability, and using nature as the backdrop is as simple as it gets to communicating the message. It shows the product championing sustainability, and everything else is just a picture, and we have only talked about the most basic aspects here.

It does serve as an excellent example of how to showcase narrative through pictures and how photography can tell stories or present their entire message through simple yet effective communication.

Understanding Metaphors

Metaphors exist everywhere in media, but especially in creative mediums that let their artists and creators present thought-provoking ideas through their craft. It is a simple yet effective way of adding layers to film, TV, and photography. It is not as present in product photography–depending on the industry–but it can be, and it can be very effective, too.

You Don’t Need to Make It Complicated

Metaphors aren’t always direct, but that doesn’t mean they must be subtle. Put your energy drink product outside, next to grass and some brand-new kicks, and you have a direct metaphor for freedom. Put your sustainable and environmentally friendly product beside a mirror to symbolize self-reflection. Use stairs to emphasize growth or a journey up the metaphorical ladder, or even use a literal ladder to show it.

The possibilities are endless, and all you need as a product photographer is to connect the product message to the metaphor.

The Technicalities of a Career Product Photographer

Of course, building a career in photography requires plenty of technical know-how as well. How well you use exposure, shutter speed, ISO, lighting, cinematography, light hierarchy, contrast, white space, frame composition, depth, the field of view, and many many more aspects, all have their place in effective photography.

Learn the Art Before Becoming an Artist

Remember, even as a product photographer, you might need to be an artist first, but that still means that you need to know which brushes to use (pun intended!).

For example, if your client needs the product to have its colors ‘pop’ more, this is pure gibberish from a technical standpoint. However, a photographer who can manipulate various technical aspects will know exactly what to do.

However, before you do any of this, make sure to grab a camera and shoot things as they happen. After all, the best way to learn is to practice, practice, and then practice some more!

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