Shooting Product Photography on Location.
Why would anyone want to shoot on location if they can shoot in their studio?
Good question. Sometimes you just have to do it. If you’re shooting some sort of product that a client manufactures and it’s not too heavy or too big to transport, why would you agree to shoot at their location? You have to pack up all of your equipment: lights, light stands, backgrounds (maybe), tripod, camera gear, cords & cables, laptop, clamps, tape, and on and on - if you want to be prepared. So, you pack up your equipment and drive to the location and unload it all. If you’re lucky you might find that they have a large space that’s clean and empty - if you’re lucky. Most of the time they say they have space, but they really don’t for your needs. This is why it is important that you scout out the location if at all possible. It’s worth your time to see what you will be working with. Do not just assume it will be fine and that it will all work out. And then even if you do scout it out you may find that they only space they have is smaller than you would like. But, you have to work in that space and make it work.
Location photography of this sort is becoming more and more prevalent as the client wants to be available while you’re shooting. Sometimes that can be a plus - sometimes a hindrance, depending on the person you’re working with. I just returned from a location shoot where the product was just a little too big to move easily so an on location shoot was the answer. I’ve worked for this company for many years and I knew the location we’d be shooting - a large conference area with table and chairs but lots of space. The floor is an old, but in wonderful condition, linoleum surface which works great if you’re shooting the product on the floor. I brought my 9 foot roll of white seamless, set it up so the product rested on the floor and we rolled the product onto the seamless. Try to keep the seamless as clean as possible as you don’t want the dirt from your shoes, or wheels to leave marks. Lay down cards or different paper to keep it clean. Setting up takes about 20 minutes or so and you should be able to make your first test photo in about 30 minutes.
Question: How much time do you want to spend on getting the image “correct” and how much do you want to do in “Photoshop?” Since I come from a film background getting the image as perfect as possible is the best way to shoot. Don’t rely on “fixing” the image later in Photoshop. Learn your craft so that your lighting is as good as it can be. One of the most important parts is to CLEAN THE PRODUCT so you aren’t fixing smudge marks later in PS. If you’re being paid for being a photographer then be one and shoot as if you’re shooting film. Know your craft and take the time. I know that sometimes the person working with you from the company you’re shooting for a an art director may get impatient wanting you to hurry along and shoot, but don’t shoot before you know you are ready. Take the time and make the image look fantastic.
Are there times that working in the studio on the computer makes a little more sense than taking the time while shooting? Yes. You have to weigh the pros and cons of getting it perfect compared to what you can do in PS. My main mantra when shooting and what I tell my photography students - “Do not put yourself in a situation where you have to FIX IT.” Don’t make your life difficult by not getting the shot correct from the beginning. This is why it is so important to take everything you need to a location shoot. If you don’t need it that’s okay, but make sure you have it handy.
When I’m finished I ask the person who I’m working with, “Can you think of any other photos you might want?” You’re there - on location - shoot it. Even if they don’t need the photo it’s better to shoot than not. This just happened to me this week. We were finished, I asked if there were any more shots and sure enough they came up with three more simple photos they needed. Besides being a photographer you’re there to help them. You’re helping them but thinking what other photos might they need. It took only an hour more but we shot three more photos and they were so happy that we added them to our shot list.
Packing up is a great time for you to talk about the next project that they might have coming up. New product(s), photos of the manufacturing facility, head-shots of employees, etc. Sometimes they’ll ask if you need help packing up, but I always say “Thanks, but I’m good.” If they want to take some light stands down or something simple, that’s okay, but don’t forget - you know where everything should be packed.
Last thing, make sure to get back to your studio and download the images you made if you have them on a card and back them up. Or if you shot to your laptop, back them up. Yes, back the photos up on several hard drives.
There are other areas that you have to consider when shooting on location. How much do I charge for travel or am I close enough that I don’t charge for that time? Do I charge extra for shooting on location? Do I charge for seamless background use and how much do I charge? Only you can make those decisions but they are important ones. You’re not just charging for your time. Do you put some of those charges into your hourly rate? Sometimes it’s better to not have a lot of extra charges and put those charges into your hourly rate. You know what it’s like now-a-days when you fly and the airline wants to charge you for every little thing. I hate that, so I put some of my extra charges into my hourly or day rate.
Location shooting can be fun and you have to have the attitude that it’s just part of what you do. It’s how you make a client happy. It’s your job so be happy and smile and have a good time.