Getting Started with Collaborations
Collaborations are a creative entrepreneur's best friend. For small business owners with handcrafted items, it is invaluable to show catalogue caliber photos of your products. However, not just anyone with a DSLR and an editing app or software will have the know-how to photograph your products in a way that sells, and you may be in over your head if you plan to purchase some starting photography equipment and attempt your own product photos. For this reason, small shop owners will often choose to either invest in a product photoshoot, or collaborate with a professional photographer who genuinely enjoys the products.
Photographers benefit from collaboration if they enjoy supporting small businesses, if they could use the traded product in a styled shoot or for personal use, or if they are building a product photography portfolio to offer the service to others as a source of income in the future.
Collaboration is not necessarily a good fit for every photographer and shop owner, but there certainly are a lot of advantages if it's something you're considering. With that said, both shop owners and photographers can benefit from a contract, whether it's legally drafted or casual in nature. I recommend The Lawtog as a resource for an air-tight contract to use again and again if you plan to collaborate often.
My Personal Tips on Product Photography
I got started with collaborations by reaching out to a handful of shops that sell unisex children clothing, since I'm already an expert at photographing my son and he is always available. I recommend starting with something you know how to do. If you are an experienced wedding photographer, you already routinely photograph floral bouquets, jewelry, and dresses. Why not approach a vendor with shots from your portfolio showing similar items? You can offer to bring the products back or work out an agreement if they are still a little weary to collaborate with a newbie. Don't take rejection personally, like I've said before--collaboration is not ideal for everyone's business.
When I plan for a collaboration, I explicitly state a range of time they can expect to receive photos, how many photos, the setting/location, and then I ask whether they have a particular purpose for the photos or a specific vision. Vendors like to have their work displayed with accurate coloring, so editing, white balance, and lighting are crucial no matter the product. But sometimes a vendor will actually prefer that you edit with a moody tone, deliver black and whites, etc. So always peek at their website for the look and feel of their brand, and always ask for their preferences.
When it comes to shooting products, I always aim for showing variety. I give a minimum of 6 photos per product, but ultimately I give as many photos as it takes to show variety. I have found that simple is better for most setups, but that careful attention should be paid to what context you display it in. If it's a cat astronaut design on a children's romper, it's totally acceptable to surround the clothing model with bubbles, and photoshop in a digital galaxy wallpaper in the background. But even with a bit of whimsy, the product should always be the first thing you notice.
It's tempting to use a shallow depth of field when shooting products, but beware that it's not always appropriate. You should always be cognizant of the details of the product itself, and be sure that your aperture is high enough to retain all the fine print and craftsmanship. Adding some wide aperture shots can be both interesting and marketable, but always showing details. If you're shooting a flatlay, there isn't any reason to shoot wide open. You could easily end up shooting anywhere between f/5.6 and f/11, and that is t otally okay. If you need it (and I always do this), use a reflector and diffused off camera flash. Using artificial lighting is a great way to help eliminate shadows in your clean flaytlays, but it also allows you to shoot at narrower apertures and higher shutter speeds. Best of all, adding light will mean the colors are more vibrant and accurate. It's not always as easy as setting up beside a large window.
Go out and purchase an extra large white foam board to place products on for flatlays. You can use fabric, wood or laminate paneling, marble slabs, textured paper and so much more. But just trust me on this, buy a foam white board from Hobby Lobby and start there. Every shop can use a true white background on their products so they can appear as if they're floating on a white website. It's clean, its appealing, and it's versatile. Shops will always be glad to have them. To achieve an all-white background, focus on blowing out the white areas of the foam background all the way to the edges of your image. What you don't want to do, however, is blow out all of the whites on the product as well. So prepare to spend a bit of time post-processing your image to achieve this.
Tips from Experienced Collaborators
hear from both shops and photographers
Interview Several Photographers
Put your branding information (target market, tagline, color palette, fonts, etc.) into a one or two page document to share with your photographers to help them understand more about your company. For a specific project, put together a mood board using photo editing software or Pinterest to help the photographer learn more about what you are trying to achieve. Host a video session with Skype, Facetime, etc. before you ship your products with your photographer to show the product in action, brainstorm ideas for staging, outfits, etc. Don't be afraid to interview several photographers for your project so you can find the best partner for your brand AND so she will be happy working with you, too.
Treat Shops as Repeat Clients
Spend time asking questions and getting some feedback from the shop you are collaborating with. Try to understand their branding & their target market. Then, plan your shoot for their style, so that it makes it amazing for everyone! Also, treat them as if you want them as a repeat client.
Plan your shoot with a list
If you don't have your own child, always have a model release form for yourself and the vendor. When shooting children's clothing and accessories, remember what you are shooting. Sometimes it's really hard for me because, hello, I have mom-goggles. But I always make sure to have a plan. Sometimes I even write down the shots I know I need. For example, if I am shooting a dress, I know I need a flatlay with some girly accessories, a shot of the dress moving, a shot of the dress from a few different angles, maybe I need a close up for a specific reason, and I will list possible locations. This keeps me on track because I know I will be distracted by my own daughter and instinctually want to shoot her face and not the item - and let's face it - in this situation, the clothing or accessory is the subject here. Nothing is more frustrating for a vendor than sending an item at their own cost and receiving photos they can't use because the photographer didn't represent the item properly.
Create a Beautiful Instagram Feed
Having a professional photographer allows a small business to share not only high quality individual photos, but to create a cohesive and beautiful instagram feed. I would recommend that the shop provide the photographer with as much information as possible on the customer base, brand vision, and products as possible so the photographer can artfully match the vision with the client and customer base.
Incorporate More than One Brand
I like my collabs to incorporate as many brands as possible without being overbearing and taking away from anything. Make sure everything in the photo is potentially for sale. Nothing is worse than seeing the really cute sunglasses but finding out the dress that matches perfectly isn't for sale!
Capture the Experience
I like to think of my brand as very bright and vibrant. When a customer sees or uses my products I want them to have this same feeling, so it is very important for the photographers I work with to understand this concept. I love our pictures taken in natural light, a very clean yet vibrant shot. Since I create bath & body products lifestyle shots work best- having the human element in the photos is always a boost. Sarah captured this perfectly as she indulged in the face butter. Our soy candles are also phenomenal and the way Lindsay was able to place them in the home and shoot them was perfect! I mean who doesn't enjoy a relaxing afternoon sipping on tea with a candle burning. It is always fun to shoot the candles since there are just so many ways they can easily be placed. In the past months I have been really working to capture these elements in our shoots and was blessed to come across some amazing photographers who were able to express what I am trying to convey to my audience. The small details do matter, especially since we are primarily online. Essentially the aim is to capture an experience. I enjoy working with photographers who can incorporate our products into their real life shots and show them in use - this is golden!
So, Let's Collab!
You have an arsenal of tips to get started as either a shop owner or a photographer, so get out there and collaborate! I created a community of creatives on facebook specifically for professional collaborations. You can click the link just below, or you can search for it by name: "Let's Collab - Professional Photos for Small Shops". We support and encourage each other, and we ask specifically for collabs based on our own vision or unique brand. As a bonus, you can find most of the creatives mentioned in this article there.
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