Advice for Product Photographers

I was asked to contribute to a blog posting about advice to product photographers…here is what I wrote:

A product photographer has to be skilled in at least four areas. You have to be technically skilled, artistically skilled, skilled in business and maybe the one that is mostly overlooked is people skills. Don’t be afraid to get help in any of these areas that you think you need help with.

People skills comes in when you are talking to potential clients, doing the shoot and delivering the images. There are many photographers out there that can do what you do. A client wants to work with someone who is easy to work with, communicates well and shows that her or she enjoys his or her work. You have to always treat people with respect, even those that work for you.

Business skills are important in scheduling, preparing estimates, keeping records, doing billing, and remembering to file your taxes on time. Invoices have to look professional. They need to go well with your website, business cards and all things that you do. These things represent you. How do you know if your business is making money or not? Can you buy that new lens or camera? Does it pay to get new props? You need to know what your income is and what your expenses are. When the time comes, you might need an office manager, bookkeeper or accountant.

Artistic skills are probably what got you into this business in the first place. Hopefully you’ve always enjoyed photography and have a sense of composition, color and lighting. This is one that you are the expert. As a product photographer, lighting is crucial. Remember, the most important part of a product shot is the label. For food (my passion) the food has to be fresh and look appetizing. Yet, my culinary skills are certainly lacking. You have to make someone want to eat it. You do this with your choice of background, props, lighting and composition. I often get the help of a food stylist and/or prop stylist when doing food shots. They are the experts.

Finally technical skills. The image that comes out of the camera is usually good but not good enough. Post production is always necessary. You need to be an expert in Photoshop or whatever your editing tool is. Many times, a curves adjustment and a few flaws with a clone tool is not enough. If a client asks for a white background, almost white is not good enough. You may have many shots that need clipping paths or color adjustment or something that takes just too much time and too much expertise. Don’t be afraid to seek out help by sending images out for these tasks. When I have one or two shots, I do them myself but, if I have many, or something I’m not confident with, I send them to the experts.

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Back from Costa Rica

I’m sorry that this post is not about food photography. I just got back from vacation in Costa Rica and had to share some of my photos with you. My wife and I had an absolutely great time and are already planning to return. We were on a tour with Collette and our guide, food and accommodations all beat our expectations.

I couldn’t believe the number and variety of beautiful birds. I spent most of the time chasing them and thoroughly enjoyed it. How could you not love sloths and monkeys. We saw three types of monkeys; white face, howler and squirrel. Unfortunately, the squirrel monkeys were far away and I was on a moving boat so I didn’t capture them.

When we were in the jungle (northern Caribbean coast) I went for a walk in the mud (lots of mud) to try and see animals. There were none to be seen. When I got back to my room and sitting on the porch with my camera still in hand, a white face monkey walked right passed us. He was actually too close to capture on my camera which had a 150-600mm zoom on so, I followed it in hope of getting a shot. The monkey headed straight for the back of the kitchen where he saw a papaya, grabbed it and ran. We were all hysterical laughing. The monkey stopped to take a taste of his booty and I got the shot.

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As usual, I made a vacation photo book with Adoramapix.com and wanted to share it with you. http://www.adorapro.com/JerryDeutsch/book/costa-rica/r9nzrqtgq5

OK…I can’t take the pressure. I have to put in one food photo. We had a cooking demo at our resort and here is one of the shots. It was at night and all I had was the on camera flash…sorry for the lack of creativity.

Cost Rica Cooking demo

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Holiday Photos

So, the Facebook group I am administering decided that this month’s challenge would be holiday food. What comes to mind? A plate of christmas cookies and a glass of milk on the mantle? A fruitcake? Stollen? An out of focus tree with beautifully colored lights as the background  for a dinner of Turkey or Ham?

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For me, there was only one thing that I can think of as holiday food. LATKES! Now the big decision was Applesauce or Sour Cream? When it comes to Latkes, I go both ways. First, I have sour cream and then I have applesauce for dessert.

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OMG It’s December

I can’t believe another year has come and gone. So, before I forget, I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Happy New Year Champagne

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Beautiful Food

When you get together with other food photographer, whether its for a workshop or a discussion, the topic of Ugly Food always comes up. “What do you hate to shoot?” It can be soup, potted meat, or curry. But whatever it is, someone always has something they struggle with. But what happens when the food is beautiful? This can be a problem as well, although it is a different type of problem.

When the food looks awesome, you want to keep shooting it. You want to do different angles, different sets, different lighting. The problem is, there is a shot list and a deadline and a client watching. I had that problem yesterday. I have a new client ready to launch a new Argentinian pastry business and the products were beautiful – Alfajores, caramels and lots of goodies. But, alas, there were at least 10 shots to get in 6 hours so, how much playing can you do? The playing is the best part of the day…we call it “Jerry Gone Wild.”

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Interview with a food stylist – Melanie Dubberley

This type-A has patience for minutiae, and she’s not afraid to use it. And yes, the girl colored in the lines as a kid. Some may call it OCD. Melanie calls it making things pretty. In fact, she has been making things pretty professionally for over 12 years. She styles primarily chocolate, cheese, recipes for kosher cookbooks, and alcohol–seems like anything with a “k” or a “ch” sound she works with, but in reality she styles all things food and yummy! Based out of New York, NY and Sacramento, CA, she happily travels to clients. She has partnered with Napa Valley Photographic Workshops for an upcoming Food Photography class Oct 27. Food Stories: the ABCs of Food Photography. Feel free to chat with her at contactme@melaniedubberley.com or visit http://www.napa-photo.com for more info.

chocolate cake1. Where do you find most of your food styling assignments? (Photographer, agency, clients etc.) When you first started, was it different?

I find most assignments through my existing clients who are either freelance photographers or in-house producers.

2. Who do you usually book with; the photographer, an agency or the client? Do you have a rigid fee structure or do you negotiate each booking?

I love food and making people’s visions come to life. I primarily book directly with the client and work to meet the needs of the job.

3. Do you work with an assistant? If so, what is the role of the assistant? Are you teaching on the job or is that reserved for another time?

Everyday is a learning opportunity for all people; I don’t believe that we can ever know enough. So to me, even after 20 + years in the food industry, every day, every job is a learning experience for the whole team, from assistants to stylists to art directors. The day I stop learning is a day, I am probably not on this earth anymore. I have learned much from young assistants and I have taught much to experienced ones. I think ego doesn’t belong in the studio, and that the creative process needs a team.

Red Velvet Cake4. I am sure that there are some photographers that you enjoy working with more than others. What do your favorite photographers do to make the day more enjoyable?

The best day at work is one where everyone buckles down, gets the work done and laughs the whole time through. Life is too short to not love what you do.

5. There is a protocol when discussing changes on set. Do the photographers you most often work with prefer that you talk just to them or engage directly with the client/art director? Which do you prefer?

Of course the client has the last say, and it is best to hear from them directly what it is they want to see or change. It saves time not playing the “telephone” game. I enjoy these scenarios when all lines of communication between all parties-photographer-client-stylist are open, honest and without pretense.

6. What type of food do you find the most difficult to work with? Why? What type of food do you enjoy working with the most? Why?

I love working with anything sweet; so yum, oops, I mean fun! Difficult items would be pot roast. Though that is still fun because it pushes the boundaries on how to make a big brown lump look absolutely mouth-watering!

7. When do you feel most creative?

I feel most creative when the team is laughing, having a good time and each member feels safe and free to say what they think. And where there are baked goods involved.

8. Have you learned anything about photography from working on set? If so, what?

All sorts of things, but mostly about lighting, and the way a camera sees.

9. What special concerns do you have when working on site at a restaurant? Are there any special concerns when working in the photographer’s studio?

Each job has a different requirement, what special concerns there maybe depend on job description. However, I do inquire about logistical things like parking, what door to unload through, and if there is a refrigerator etc.

10. What advice would you give to a photographer in terms of their relationship with a food stylist?

Find a food stylist that you can get along with in and out of the studio. The creative process happens when there is a bond. And at the end of the day, the point is to make a pretty picture, whether it is a product shot on seamless or a full room set with talent, the art shines through if the team plays well together.

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Back in the author business again

I’ve been involved in a community of food photographers on Facebook. We critique each other’s food images. The community is made up of about 1700 food photographers, stylists and bloggers from around the world at all different levels. I find that there are several things that less experienced photographers have in common. They are good photographers but lack the little details that make their images awesome. So, I decided to put my thoughts into a book that I have published on Blurb. I titled the book “Fine Tuning Food Photos”. It is not designed for the beginner but, instead for those that have have started their journey in food photography and want to bring it to the next level. I envision this book as being a great guide for food bloggers…those that do food images all the time but need a little push. Please check out my preview…

Fine Tuning Food Photos by Jerry Deutsch

blurb Food Photography

Fine Tune Food Photos

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