Discussion in 'Photographers' started by haring, Feb 24, 2011.
The question is simple. How does one become a product photographer?
You get an entry level job (like an English major might get) being a new guy/gal as an office worker somehow related to marketing at the business that makes or imports the product. When offered the opportunity to play with digital cameras and lights instead of other comparatively boring work projects you'll jump for it in a heartbeat. You get chosen because you're a better photographer than your coworkers, or perhaps because they are too busy. Whether this is the extent of the opportunity to be a product photographer depends on your local market, skills, etc... But it gains you some valuable work experience in this field and you get paid for it.
It helps to live places where there's a lots of ad agencies and commerce. Chicago, LA and New York are good place to do business. There are also specialized areas of product photography such as food, cars and beauty. I would suggest assisting for product photographer(s) to get an idea of what's involved. Take a look at Workbook. http://www.workbook.com. Usually smaller towns have general product photographers and bigger cities have photographers that specialize.
In my personal opinion still life/product is very challenging. In the older day most people would use a view camera set the background, etc. You needed to be really good with studio light. I remember when I was in college we lighted a car and it was very difficult to do. I am sure know in the "D" age you just use a white background and do the rest on the computer.
Learn how to make very good product photographs, then market the hell out of yourself.
you've got to produce
I am sure it is not easy to answer but how much is the general price range for product photography? Just a general idea...
Just to know whether it is worth it to invest time and money...
When writing up an estimate for a client, itemize the expenses you expect to incur (equipment rentals, new equipment purchases, expendables like film, assistants, insurance for equipment and liability, models, permits, etc.) then add your hourly rate plus taxes. Hourly rates for full time professionals run from $50-$175 depending on the market you are in. If they except your estimate and you are under, then pat yourself on the back for making a little extra profit. If you are over, then take the loss in profit and learn to judge the next job better.
Reminds me of the old line: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Answer: "Practice, practice, practice."
The first question though is whether there's a market. If you're not in a major manufacturing, distribution, or retail environment (location), I'd wonder about that.
Many years ago I did some subcontract work (aerial photography) for a photographer who specialized in product (catalog) photography for weekly ads. Then it was all about throughput at a reasonable quality level. When I spoke to him a couple of years ago, most of that work had dried up as manufacturers would provide digital images.
I used to work in a large car parts factory and up until around 2000 it employed two full time professional photographers who mostly did product shots (they also did corporate portrait stuff). They worked with large and medium format cameras and had a dedicated lab on-site, they produced good work. After 2000 the factory went through some restructuring and the place was bought by a US firm. The two pros lost their jobs, the lab equipment and cameras went and in their place came a Sony Digital camera than took 3.5" floppies which was used by whoever had a spare 5 minutes. The photos were crap, but no one seemed to care. Very depressing. If I was considering breaking into product photography, my first task would be to see if product photography still exists as a dedicated profession.
listen to greg ... he knows ... !
This is not a quick and easy profession to break in to.
First you have to learn how to photograph the products which you wish to specialize in . Hit the streets, knock on every door of every professional photographer who probably does product work and ask to become an assistant. By the way, thee are not interested in what you have done, they will teach you their way. Once you get such an apprentice position expect to spend a minimum of 3-5 years there. By the way, they pay little or nothing. Then you MAY know enough and have enough skill to strike out on your own.
Good Luck - you will need lots of it!
It's sure sad
It's sure sad to hear about what happened. I'm sure there will always be a need for high quality product photos. I think it's just a matter of being persistent and flexible. I still think assisting is one route to getting into the business. Lets face it, the world is changing, and photographers have to change with it. I wouldn't discourage anybody from giving it a try. I assisted for years and tried to make a go of it shooting tabletop product shots. Where I settled had little opportunities for product work. I figured I had to do something else. Besides assisting, I'd also recommend building a portfolio of product shots for the day when the assistant becomes a full fledged photographer. I wish him luck.
Learn all you can about lighting.
Then go to step 2.
You do not show your location - I would say location has become important in the current economy. In the US that would be New York or California.
Here in Michigan, commercial photographers have been for the last few years leaving the state to find work. Most work in the Detroit area has been
centered around car shoots. They don't shoot cars anymore - they use CGI. The big car stages in the area have either found another use for their
facility or gone bankrupt. Most have gone bankrupt.
BTW - almost all commercial work is digi - the clients have designed their publishing workflow around it.
Practice, practice, practice. Get good. Sell your services repeatedly. (In that order.)
I would start by putting the camera down and simply learning to manipulate light exactly and precisely in a controlled environment. I would also explore general artistic theory:composition, design, and color. The camera is the least of your worries. The technical considerations involved with the camera are nothing compared to all the other skills that will make or break you. A monkey can operate a camera if given enough time and practice. It takes a technician to do this. Easy. It takes an artist to control light, though. That is the hard part, and that is what you need to get really good at to be a successful product photographer.
You have to start somewhere. Just find any paying jobs that you can. If you are really good, work will lead to more work.
This is one area where I do not think assisting would really benefit you...unless you steal all of your boss' good clients in the end. Sounds silly, but you need to work really intimately and closely by yourself to practice this type of shooting IMHO. You are not going to learn a whole lot by moving the lights and carrying stuff for a product shooter the way I see it. It just needs tons of personal time and effort spent on practicing with light, which you will not get assisting.
FWIW, I did do this for a while. It was great fun, and I was pretty decent at it in almost no time. The pay sucked, though. I was a staffer for a small business, not a freelancer. I worked in the same spot every day. It had its good and its bad points, but I would say being freelance would probably be a lot preferable in the end. More money, more variety, more challenging.
A client is looking for a photographer and provides them with a few details about what they want, then asks them for an estimate cost of the job. The client will then chooses the lowest cost that gives them what they want, similar to a building contractor. So if they accept your estimate and offer you the job, then you do it at the rate you told them. It is very bad business to come back and say "the job cost more than expected, so cough up more cash." So learning how to provide the proper estimate amount to complete the job is important.
For example, if I am asked to provide an estimate for a job for an architecture firm to provide a spherical panorama of the hotel lobby they just built, then I would give them a list of expenses (insurance only, since I own the equipment and don't need an assistant for that) and hourly rate of $100/hr. It takes an hour to set up and shoot, and then ties up my computer for 4 hours to process, so 5 billable hours plus insurance for my equipment and liability should someone trip over my camera bag and sue me.
Oh wait, I see what you did there... except/accept. Good catch.
Along the lines of 2F/2F's suggestion, find an under-served market and start doing it. Mostly this means clients that don't have the money to hire full-time established pros. Unfortunately, this also means your rates are low. But it gets you the into the "learning experience", builds your portfolio of work that you can begin showing to clients that can pay better. And it gives you the experience of learning to accurately estimate jobs.
For me, this was doing a lot of work photographing custom furniture that fellow Art Department students were building for clients. They needed good photography of their work, but didn't have lots of money to spend. Some of my work from that time was published in Fine Woodworking magazine (accidentally uncredited though )
So, you could try looking to small businesses that want/need to improve the photography in their visual promotions, either on-line stuff or brochures and such.
Pottery, woodworking, stained glass artisans, perhaps painters too, but their needs don't rely so much on presenting a product in a setting or with flattering light.
Here's one think I found shooting products. The the best job you can for great clients and you'll get more work through word of mouth. You'll have to shoot products that is manufactured or grown in your region. Chances are, you'll have to shoot digital and do post production work. Don't short change yourself by working for cheap. It will only get cheap clients because you'll be know as the "cheap" photographer. It's hard to raise your rates if you're the cheap one. Don't be afraid to lose some bids. If you're getting every bid, you're rates are probably too low. Again, I suggest assisting for a photographer that has a good reputation to get to know the business.
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