- June 24, 2015
- by Charlie
- 8 minute read
You have your product shots ready. But how do you engage customers, encourage people to talk about your brand and share your pictures and blog posts? Is there a way for start-ups and smaller labels to create stand-out images on a budget?
When you are putting together a photo shoot consider what locations are at your disposal. Renting a studio is expensive, so you may need to get creative.
Not everything is going to be appropriate to your brand’s style and vision, but even a location that is minimal and has plenty of room can be really useful. It could be somewhere you need to ask permission to use, but you might be granted that if you're friendly and explain what you have in mind.
This image was shot in the lobby of a hotel. I didn’t have any budget but I was patient and made an appointment to meet the hotel manager at his convenience, showed him my work and assured him we wouldn’t disrupt his guests and staff. He liked my work and approach, and allowed me to shoot there, where I benefitted from the stylish interior and lighting.
If you can’t get access to locations like a hotel, look at other places where your presence might be less intrusive. If shooting there doesn’t pose too many safety issues you may get permission to use.
We shot this image in a car park. It was perfect as we wanted a minimal environment, and it was also warm, clean, quiet and spacious. And it didn’t cost anything.
2. Choosing and looking after your team
Getting the right people together is essential. Try to find people who are excited and motivated by your brand and the direction of the shoot. Ideally you are going to work with them again in the future, so think of building up a great team as a worthwhile investment that is going to save you time and energy in the long run.
Avoid asking your team to work for free, even if the budget is low you will get better results giving everyone something. If you can’t pay much be upfront about that and take care of them in other ways. Give them products, and make sure they are looked after on the shoot.
I once witnessed a crew offering crisps and croissants to feed a team for a whole day. It's insulting and you end up with a grumpy crew who want to go home. A nice pesto pasta salad keeps everyone happy - I actually got an email from the owner of a model agency once, saying how much the model enjoyed the shoot and that she was ‘raving’ about my pasta salad!
While product shots tend to be most effective when they are set against clean white backgrounds, you need other styles of photography to really let your products come to life. Something classy, colourful and dynamic will inspire your customers and help you to stand out from the countless other brands out there.
Whether you want to go all out and create something really artistic, or you want a simple minimal approach, it always helps to have ideas of what you are looking for, and then develop them into something special, yet manageable. Having a mood board, reference images, and a list of points that you want to get across will really help. Think it through to avoid starting something you can’t finish, or something that is overly fussy that might miss the point and leave your customers feeling cold.
This shot came from a very minimal concept, which involved having the model in various positions that seemed odd but still looked flattering.
4. Planning and timing
Spontaneity is great in the framework of a plan. But a schedule helps. A last-minute, rushed shoot will look weak, so creating a coherent plan and keep your team in the loop. The results will be much stronger, with a lot less stress.
A list of shots with the time allocated to each one will keep you on course and avoid getting to the end of the day without having achieved what you needed. Shoots almost always take longer than expected, so allow for that in your schedule.
Choosing the model is really important. The look and the energy they put across reflects on you and how people see your brand. However a good image is not just about the model's looks. Some models need a lot of direction, whereas others are more lively, naturally improvise and have ideas how to bring life to the concept.
Much like location scouting, a lot of stress can be avoided by planning ahead. Choose a couple of model agencies and introduce yourself and your brand to the bookers. You can explain the budget issues, your ambitions for the brand, and express an interest in working with them long-term. When you come to plan your shoot, you will know who to contact at the agency to explain exactly what you have in mind. This will avoid a last minute panic. Model agencies are less likely to be able to help you if you leave your requests late, they won't be open to someone expecting them to drop everything for a last-minute job.
It can also be worth talking to people who are interesting-looking, have their own sense of style and who would enjoy being photographed. They might not have as much experience as professional models, but they may be really enthusiastic and still bring a lot to the shoot.
For my shoot in the Ólafur Elíasson-designed Harpa building, I really wanted someone who could bring something different. I thought a friend of a friend I saw on Facebook would be perfect. After a coffee and a chat it transpired that she was a fashion student, keen on the project and not put off by the low budget. The results would have been so much less impressive without her.
Collaborating is one of the things I enjoy most about what I do. It gives me the chance to work with artists whose work I admire, and expands the project's scope. Whether it’s a hair stylist or make-up artist with real vision, a set designer, a stylist or someone who works on the images after the shoot, such as an illustrator, retoucher or a graphic designer, collaborating can be exciting and leave you with something really original.
This sort of approach sets you apart from the competition, and also helps with inspiring people to share your photos on social media. Also when a blog or magazine is looking to do a piece on your brand, being able to give them really amazing photos means they are more likely to give you a bigger slot, as those images will interest their readers more than product shots.
The image below is from a collaboration with graphic designer Matthew Williamson.
7. Special Projects
Brands use a range of side-projects to keep themselves visible and relevant. These can take the form of collaborations with other companies, artists' commissions, exhibitions and all sorts of other things.
This can seem out of reach for smaller brands who can’t afford to endorse well-know artists, but there are lots of things you can do with a smaller budget that can show your brand in a whole new light, and with social media you already have a low-cost marketing channel to share the results.
A well thought-out art project could gain your brand exposure and attention from otherwise unattainable sources, a new, larger audience and a whole other level of interest and sales.
This image was shot on the Langjökull glacier in Iceland as part of a special project I created using designs from Comme des Garcons and Raf Simons that I exhibited with Comme des Garcons. I wanted to do something new with the brand, which was difficult given how popular it is with the top photographers and stylists, but it had never been photographed on a glacier and that fitted in with my use of nature in my work.
8. Introduce your team
You have a good website and nice product shots, but you still need to connect with your customers. This is even more important when you have an e-commerce business without a physical shop, as your customers don’t often have the chance to meet you in person.
You can introduce yourself and your team on the website with a series of portraits. You can decide if you want to use quirky and fun photos or something more serious, depending on the brand and the message you are trying to get across.
A great addition to a set of portraits is to include images of you at work in your natural habitat. It might be shots of you and the team in the office, or more specific to the production side of things. As well as putting these images on your main website, you can use them to show your audience what you do on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms.
Conclusion - and a special offer
Hopefully these tips will give a bit of insight into how I create exciting and memorable images for brands regardless of the budget. I’m always keen to hear from ambitious new clients looking to create fresh content so please get in touch and let's make something stunning!
And if you're a WeMakeWebsites reader, you can take advantage of special rates:
- Half day - £300 for up to four hours shooting time and two hours of editing and clean-ups.
- Full day - £500 for a full day shooting and a full day of editing and clean-ups.
Sessions can be used to shoot working portraits of the team, showcase new products, cover a promotional event or anything else you might need.
Charlie is a photographer and director of The Image Associates, a creative studio specialising in imagery for fashion and luxury brands. He has also published two photography books worldwide and has been featured in Sunday Times Style, ID Magazine and Dazed & Confused.