All Photos Courtesy of Alex Stone
Every now and again I have clients come to me asking to shoot off-model shots of products for their brand or store. One recent client was launching a vintage online store had a very specific look he was trying to achieve: natural hanging clothing with a slight shadow, consistent throughout a large variety of different garments. We were on a time crunch, and needed to get roughly 75 pieces shot in an evening.
I’ve been shooting eCommerce fashion photography for the past 8 years, from high-end fashion to telescopes. Over the years, my client list ranges from John Varvatos and Rag & Bone to SPY Sunglasses and Celestron Telescopes. While specific styling desired ranges depending on brand image, this specific client wanted a natural look to their hanging garments. When dealing with a client that knows what they want, it’s simple to tackle each step of the setup process. I knew I wanted to shoot on a sturdy wood background painted white to give us the ability to screw in a hook or antique screw to hang the t-shirts on. I knew he had hats as well, and wanted to do some flat shots with them, so having a broad light source and a seamless paper backdrop ready for them in addition to the wood wall was a must.
First things first… we needed to get the supplies to get our wooden background built. We headed off to the hardware store to get the wood, paint, rollers and hooks. You don’t need much to paint a large piece of plywood. Below are the supplies we used. With almost no painting skills at all, this can be done in under an hour, even with two paint coats.
Next came getting the studio ready to shoot. In addition to the natural, hanging tops on the wooden background, the client had informed me that they wanted to shoot large, flat product, including pants. Having the Savage Widetone Seamless Background Paper (#66 Pure White, 107″ x 36′) ready to go was important. We were also shooting some hats so the full 107″ wasn’t necessary, this is when the 53″ roll came in handy.
When it came to lighting, I knew we needed a large soft light source; I opted to go with the Profoto Deep White Umbrella XL. It would give us enough light to cover the bigger garments as well as a nice soft shadow. Shooting into this deep umbrella was Profoto’s super convenient B2 system. I didn’t want this shadow to be too harsh, so I placed a Savage 40″ x 60″ 5-in-1 Rectangular Photo Reflector to the right of the product to give me a little fill. This is essential when trying to light a product evenly.
Shooting tethered gave me the ability to look at the image with my client and make selections in real time. This is a great way to have selects ready to go once the shoot is wrapped. Once you start shooting large quantities of products, the last thing you want to do is go back and make your final selections, so tethering is a must. For this particular shoot, we were doing 75 garments with one front and one back shot per product. When shooting still products, you don’t need to be taking very many photos per view. It’s easy to get the perfect image within a few shots, especially if you know what style fixes you need to do between shots.
We saved the flat shots for the end of the session – these included the hats and bottoms. For these photos, I used the Savage Pure White Seamless Paper lying flat on the floor. The Deep Umbrella worked well to light up the whole product evenly, so we decided to stick to that.
Consistency is Key
This specific client was easy enough to tackle in an evening. Because the client was looking for a natural look, no stylist was needed, which expedited the session significantly. However, with much larger clients, launching an eCommerce store isn’t as easy or quick. This goes for site redesigns as well. Consistent product imagery is key for branding, visual clarity and shopper experience, and in order to keep that consistency, every SKU needs to be shot again with the new lighting and background that conforms to the redesign style. A SKU, otherwise known as a Stock Keeping Unit, is simply a product in inventory. It can range from a leather key fob to a pair of boots.
Utilize Style Teams for Large Store Launches or Redesigns
Last year I shot a full SKU list for a client that was doing a redesign, with 3,000 products in total that needed to be photographed. The client wanted to make sure that everything was consistent with lighting and that category pages looked seamless. The other hurdle in this shoot was that it was primarily a leather boot company, where every shoe needed 6 views. Over the span of 3 months, all current SKUs were shot, edited and ready in time for the re-launch.
For a big project like this, there is an army of people working behind the scenes to make this possible. You have people prepping the shoes, stylists getting the shoes photo ready, a stylist on set fixing the shoes, editors and retouchers. Photographing the product is only the first step; making sure lighting is consistent, styling is consistent and the color is consistent is huge. The color is important to the customer; imagine ordering a shoe online and receiving it only to realize that the color isn’t what was depicted online.
From small eCommerce shoots to large ones, your job is to make the client happy. Obviously, that can be said for any realm of photography. When you have a creative director that knows what they want, this journey will be a piece of cake. Though don’t be afraid to suggest new lighting setups they haven’t thought of or different views of the product that will show the end customer more of the merchandise. You’re on the same team, and the end goal is to create great images that show the product for what they really are.