A guide to commissioning product photography
In conversation with photographer Tara Liondaris to provide a little insight into the product photography process.
As a brand and packaging designer, I work with so many lovely products – and lovely products need brilliant photography! I’ve partnered with Tara since 2017 and most of the projects you see on my site have been a collaboration between us both. Over the years we’ve nurtured our approach and developed our processes resulting in what we feel like is the perfect partnership. Everything from the initial art direction and creating shot lists – to being on set and the final imagery delivery. Here we hope to give you a little more insight as to what to expect when commissioning product photography…
C: Tara, you founded your photography studio in 2015 – tell us a little bit about your business…
T: I am a commercial photographer who specialises in product photography across beauty and food, from young start-up brands to international household names. I have been known to also work with some very well-known drinks brands and shoot interiors for some beautiful locations across London. On a day-to-day I am usually creating images for social media, websites and commercial campaigns. I work with a small, trusted group of creatives including set designers, food stylists and beauty stylists to bring ideas to life.
C: For those who have never worked with a photographer before, what information is helpful at the beginning of an enquiry process?
T: I always say that’s a well constructed and thought out brief or style guidelines and a realistic budget are the pillar stones to a successful shoot. It’s also interesting to look at benchmark brands and have an insight into brand guidelines. Trusting your photographer and the creative team, giving them creative lead is when the magic happens and some of the best work is created.
C: Quite often we’ll hear the words ‘image license’ or ‘usage fee’ in the photography world, could you help explain what this means and how it works?
T: An ‘image license’ is an extension of my copyright that I retain as a creator of the images. The usage fee is a ‘rental fee’ of my copyright and determined by how the client is using the photographs – social, digital or commercial. For example, a photograph used on a billboard would have a much higher licensing fee than a photograph used on social media.
C: What steps do you go through with the client to define the brief?
T: Some of the first things we talk about are the purpose of the images, how they are going to be used, the type of images i.e. lifestyle or product, the location required to shoot them i.e. my studio or a studio kitchen, and the scope of work, so how many images. This is usually discussed at the very early stages of an enquiry as they are the easiest to define. Once I have officially been commissioned to create the images, we start talking more about ideas and concepts with the help of a stylist or Art Director who can really help develop ideas and concepts. I really try and make the clients put pen to paper with ideas so that the direction and purpose of the shoot is well thought out.
C: Any advice for creating a shot list or inspiration boards?
T: I always think of a shot list as a “wish list” and never a final or exhaustive list, it should very much be up for discussion depending on the budget, how many workdays we’ve been allocated and obviously the complexity of each shot. Thinking of a shot list as a wish list also helps prioritise what’s most important and this always helps direct the briefing process and then the shoot day itself. When it comes to mood boards this usually comes from a mixture of the brand guidelines and inspiration from other brands and even better some of my previous work or just completely outside of your category like looking for beauty inspiration in architecture for example. I always think it’s good to have image references but of course, we always create original work for each of the individual brands that we work with.
C: Who is usually responsible for sourcing the materials and props?
T: Once we’ve navigated through the enquiry process, decided on shot lists and created mood boards, I have a really good idea who I want to involve to be part of my styling team. At this stage are usually set up a call between the client maybe the product designer or Art Director and the Stylist to discuss the ideas and set responsibilities for the shoot prep. Shoot prep includes sourcing materials and props and turning on what type of shoot it is, it can be anything from fresh ingredients, set design materials to glassware or backgrounds and surfaces. Depending on the complexity and scope of work, shoot prep can be anything from 2-4 days.
C: You have a lovely studio in North London, do you work on location too?
T: I work from my North London studio which is perfect for product photography. My studio is very much a blank canvas set up, it is split into two areas, one daylight for natural light setups and one dark studio for flash and artificial light setups. Sometimes clients require lifestyle photography for example in a bar set up or in a home environment. Of course, this can all be set up in the studio however using a location can be more interesting, varied and cost-effective. Previously I’ve shot in bars across central London for drinks brands and location houses for beauty and lifestyle brands.
C: Talk us through an average shoot day…
T: An average shoot day starts at around 8:30am for me and my stylist who are usually the first ones on set. I get the bulk of the lighting and camera set up and the stylist lays out the props and any other prep. I always work with the clients on set so they normally arrive around 9:30am when we have a quick chat about the day over a cup of tea/coffee and maybe some breakfast, and we get started with the first set soon after. Because I shoot with flash lighting we don’t have to worry about the weather or sunshine; it’s a very controlled environment which can sometimes also mean we spend a lot of the day in the dark! My camera is connected to my MacBook which allows us to view the images as soon as they are captured so it’s a really interactive and organic process with everyone involved on set throughout the day.
C: After the shoot, what can the client expect?
T: I always aim to deliver the images within two weeks of the shoot date, but this depends on how many images we shoot and how much editing they require afterwards. I don’t usually limit how many images I deliver but during the shoot day we mark our favourite ones and these are the ones that are processed for editing. I shoot everything in camera without relying on retouching in Photoshop however there are instances where images will simply look a million times better with re-touching for example scratches, creases, reflections on products, or even colour corrections. When the images are ready to deliver, I send over high-resolution JPEG files via WeTransfer.
C: Lastly, do you have any secret photography tips?
T: If you are looking to create images at home, my number one tip would be setting up next to a large window with a background and surface size of at least 60 cm x 60 cm to work on. You don’t need to have bright, direct sunlight – in fact, I would actually avoid this, a bright window with some diffusion cloth-like thin curtains or tracing paper is the perfect home light set up. You can also purchase some really realistic printed backgrounds, such as marble and wood grain online or use good quality coloured paper. Consistency is key so if you keep a few of the same elements the same every time you look to shoot, it will make all the difference.
Interested in hearing more? Feel free to get in touch with me or Tara and we’d be delighted to chat further.