Product Photography and Unicorns

I was recently checking craigslist’s “Creative Gigs” section for any potential professional photography projects that could utilize my expertise and maybe help pay a few bills. One ad caught my eye immediately:

Product Photographer Needed

Small start-up needs quality product photography for Amazon store. Please email with link   to your portfolio. Hoping for hungry, young talent at affordable price. :-)   — Dave

Unfortunately, this new business owner is in for a big surprise. The mythical “hungry, young talent at affordable price” is not nearly as common as craigslist ad posters appear to believe. If it ever exists at all, it’s certainly so rare that no one should ever count on actually locating such a person. I read his craigslist post and couldn’t help but think, “Get real, Dave”.

The problem for me is that there are a lot of “Daves” out there. They’re newbie e-commerce business owners who’s business plan and budget depend upon finding the urban legend of product photography — a yet-to-be-discovered, young photographic genius who has secretly devoted years to studying the world's best product photography, has spent countless hours privately mastering the fine art of product photography, owns professional cameras, studio lighting plus has expert Photoshop skills — and is still in the pre-professional (no fees or low fees) portfolio building stage of his budding career. Stop dreaming. Wait -- I think I once saw one of those guys riding a unicorn at the end of a rainbow.

To Dave’s credit, at least he's aware that he shouldn’t try doing the product photography himself. Believe it or not, a large percentage of my product photography clients got in touch with me only after they tried to do their own product photography -- and failed miserably. I’m sure it was a very frustrating and humiliating experience for them. Reality check: Quality product photography is much, much more complicated and difficult than it appears. A talented product photographer only makes it look easy. Creating impactful images that seem effortless is part of our craft. Don't be fooled. 

Professional product photography often requires specialized camera gear, lenses, lighting and numerous additional accessories to properly capture the subject. Then, the images must undergo skillful Photoshop editing — sometimes very extensive editing — to give them the magic that separates professional photography from amateur snapshots.

Often overlooked is the balance of various talents a product photographer brings to the project: artistry, psychology, extensive technical knowledge, etc.  All of these talents must be tapped to create effective “images that sell”. This highly specialized balance of varied talents can’t be found in just anybody off the street, and they probably don’t exist in a “hungry, young talent” either.