Due to an increasing demand for product photography, my office/studio is more or less permanently setup with studio product photography lighting gear.
Those who know a bit of my shooting history would know that I spent too many years shooting fashion runways. Why bring this up? I wanted to highlight some differences between the two: end of runway photography vs. studio product photography.
Fashion runway is fast, adrenaline pumping, and bursts 1000 frames for half an hour kind of shoot. On the other hand, studio product photography, especially when shooting small, delicate and fine reflective jewellery pieces, is agonisingly slow. When the lighting takes a long time to set up, I could get perhaps a handful of shots after an hour.
After spending years at the end of catwalks, I’m now spending a lot of time in my studio working alone to shape tiny bracelets. Some of them are so small that I cannot even see my own finger prints (need to wipe pieces clean each time even if I cannot see any). Earlier this week, I had an assignment to take product images for Grace + Scarper for a new collection which will be available in a couple of months (so I cannot actually show you what I’ve been shooting until then). Their gorgeous Stirling silver pieces are very fine and delicate. As you can imagine, they are quite popular among many women (young and old). What you see in the image above is from their classic collection. The circle shape is only about 5cm across, with each charm less than about 5mm wide, and the G+S clasp hangtag is about 5mm. We are talking tiny!
After delivering photos for the recent set last night, I wasn’t quite happy with one of the bracelet images (I couldn’t shape a proper circle) especially after seeing a different version I shot in April. Knowing that I was perfectly capable of shaping the same piece only in a different colour (multi-charmed design) I had to re-shoot.
There I was in my studio crouching down shaping a tiny gold bracelet. Spent a good five minutes untangling and untwisting a tiny chain and I was then able to form a decent looking circle. I made a couple of frames, downloaded images, then went through a quick post-processing and it was time to go into some cleaning in Photoshop. Looking through the image in 100% view, and (put your favourite curse word here), I had placed the bracelet wrong side up. Yep, it’s hard to see at the real scale without a magnifying glass but it’s easy to see in a computer screen when blown up. I had to go back to the shooting table and start all over again.
Ah, the joy of product photography. At least, I was able to re-shoot and I made my client happy. Most of all, I can sleep well tonight knowing that I did a good job with that tiny gold bracelet :) One of my clients told me that a well known product photography studio in WA charges $100 per piece for fine jewellery? You would think that is a lot of money when considering the range of products typical e-commerce sites have these days. However, I understand why. It can get very technical, very finicky and quite specialised.
I certainly wouldn’t charge my clients as much as $100 for each piece because I price and work according to the value of these photos in the overall scale of a client’s website and their business. For a small business selling pieces that are less than AUD$100 each, it is simply not viable spending thousands of dollars (and thousands more each time new products come in).
The key is to have a repeatable lighting set up, an efficient workflow, a good measure of patience and a sense of humour. That makes my work affordable for my clients and equitable for me to continue my work as a commercial photographer.
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