Identifying & overcoming the photographic challenges of a high-end product shoot
Below I’ve broken this process down into three sections:
I often get asked how I come up with ideas for shoots, but as a commercial photographer I’m often tasked with working to a brief, rather than creating my own concepts. For this Clinique shot, although it wasn’t for a particular project, I went about the shoot in the same way I would have had I been working with a client.
Generally, on commercial shoots, your client will provide you with a sketch of their idea along with a mood board (a collection of similar or relevant images that further demonstrate the concept). In this case, I didn’t have a client providing sketches or mood boards, but I knew Clinique has a very distinct advertising style. Before I started shooting, I collected a number of adverts which would help guide me throughout the shoot. I knew I could use these to determine my composition, identify what lighting I would need and what type of splash shot I was looking for.
Having these reference images meant I was able to identify what challenges I could expect to face, which meant I could immediately start thinking about how I was going to overcome them.
NOTE: You can find a full tutorial on working to a brief in our Business section.
Planning for a commercial product shoot
From studying the reference images I collected, I could immediately identify a number of problems I would have to solve to get the right aesthetic and feel of the image. These included:
1. Getting a white background and base surface
2. Graduated lighting on the silver caps with black edges
3. Backlighting through the bottles with high contrast on the edges
4. The logos on the products needed to reflect black, even though they’re silver
5. Getting the right splash shot with high contrast edges
6. The smallest bottle had a different texture which meant it had to be shot separately
Photographing & lighting a high-end advertising image
By identifying the points above I could start to think about my setup and lighting and what equipment and accessories I may need. Below I’ll discuss the basic process I went through to solve each problem. Remember, you can watch the full shoot in our product section.
For much of my work, my shooting process starts with my background light(s) and this shoot was no different. With my acrylic base surface and products roughly in position, I used two lights on the background to achieve the even white light I needed for the shot.
Graduated lighting on the silver caps
From there I added a light on the left of the products to create the gradient lighting on the silver caps. This took some time as I experimented with the position of the light to get the right gradient. I then had to replicate (and sightly adjust) the lighting on the other side.
Backlighting through the bottles
Initially the lighting through the bottles was achieved from the white background, but on further inspection I realised the original advertising images were much brighter, which meant I had to modify my setup. To achieve the brighter inside of the bottle I introduced a silver reflector from behind. This, combined with black tape on the back of the bottles, gave the bright, punchy look to the bottles that I needed.
Although the logos on Clinique products are silver, they are always shown as black in their images. This was a major part of this shoot, one which I could not ignore as it was key to producing a final image that was in keeping with the brand. To reflect black into the logos I simply placed a black reflector in front of the products. This could easily have been switched out for a white reflector if the logos needed to be white.
The splash shot was another crucial step and there were a few steps I followed to maximise my chances of getting a good shot. I’ve outlined these below, but you can read about how to photograph splash shots in much more detail on our blog.
See also: How to photograph liquid splashes
To start, I introduced black polyboards to add additional contrast to the flying liquid. Shooting on white meant there would have been very little contrast in the water otherwise and it would have appeared almost transparent against the background. I then glued the products to the base surface. Although we weren’t throwing huge volumes of water, I wanted to eliminate the risk of the products moving. I also had to adjust my lighting to allow me to get a fast flash duration and enable Mirror Lock-Up mode.
It took over 200 attempts to get the right splash shot, but perseverance paid off. Many liquid splash shots are created from a combination of splashes, but by taking the time to get the right splash shot, I was able to greatly reduce my post production process (which I knew would take some time anyway). You can see the final splash shot in the image below.
The final stage of this shoot was photographing the small bottle on the right. Because this had a different texture to the other bottles, it required completely different lighting and treatment. The matte surface required a more specular light to bring out the shape and form and I also needed to apply some extra moisture to the product to create some shine.
This brings me to my next point — how much would it cost to do a shoot like this.
“How much should I charge for my photos?” Is a common question I get asked and it’s not without good reason — putting together quotes for clients can be a tricky process if you’re just starting to do paid work.
I’ve outlined the key points to think about below.
- Day rate
- Outside services
- Set building and props
- Equipment and studio rental
- Usage fees
This shoot was fairly straightforward in that it didn't require any outside services, set building or props or additional equipment. Had this been for a client, I would have simply charged my day rate for the time it took to shoot the products and do the post production.
I cover this is much more detail in my blog Photography Pricing - How to charge for your photography. You can find out more about my own day rate and pricing in our Business section.
As you can see from the process above, working on high-end advertising campaigns often involves a lot more work than you may initially think. Whether you’re working for a client or producing images for your own portfolio, it’s important to always keep the identity of the brand and the purpose of the image in mind.
Use mood boards and reference images to get the right look and feel and take the time to plan what you’ll need and how you’ll light the product. Don’t cut corners — if the image requires different lighting or extra attention, then take the time to get it right. In the end, the extra effort could save you time in post afterwards and will clearly show in your work.
If you’re wanting to find out more about how to work with clients and stick to a brief, the video below shows the behind the scenes of a commercial product shoot and features a quick interview with the client, where we explain the process of working together.
I've put together a selection of content below that will be of use to you if you're interested in product and advertising photography. You can view the full Clinique shoot in our Product section, read more about how to photograph splash shots on our blog and learn the necessary techniques to produce high-end advertising images in a variety of classes throughout the website.
Our Business section also covers key skills for marketing and growing your photography business. You'll find detailed information on pricing your photography work, marketing your business and growing your studio, as well as useful downloads such as pricing calculators, copyright terms and conditions and invoice examples.