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.