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Things CritiqueIntroduction to Commercial Photography

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Ed Shapiro
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Introduction to Commercial Photography

Post by Ed Shapiro » Mon Feb 09, 2015 8:32 pm

Introduction to Commercial Photography- a primmer and precursor to articles and tutorials to come.

In the realm of professional photography the areas of product and still life work is more often than not more often than not in the domain of the COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHER. In a sense, all professional photographers are commercial photographers because we commercialize on our talents, earn our livelihoods through our work and are paid for our services and the resulting imagery and merchandise. In the trade itself, however, the term “commercial photography” is better and more familiarly associated with photographic services for the business, corporate and advertising worlds- the areas of commerce. Although still life work or the photography of inanimate objects accounts for quite a bit of the commercial category it can also branch out to a wider variety of assignments serving the fashion and cosmetics industries, the industrial and manufacturing communities and the food and beverage service industries at production, distribution, and retail levels. Suffice it to say that the consummate commercial photographer should be able to photograph and illustrate any product that needs to be sold, advertised, televised, publicized, reproduced in printed matter, catalogs or packaged products with the product shown on the container.

Product photography is oftentimes associated with tabletop setups of small to medium size items but the product can be anything from a tiny set of diamond earrings to a bus- even an aircraft or a towering building. Commercial photographers are also called upon to photograph interiors- rooms settings with furniture and exteriors if every type of home.

I think it is our own Bobby who mentioned that he will photograph anything that reflects light. In commercial photography that is at least 50% of the job, that is, being able to light in the studio or find available light to properly render perhaps literally thousands of surfaces some of which are nearly impossible to authentically reproduce without distracting reflections, loss of surface texture or other distortions. Nearly impossible, that is, unless you know exactly what you are doing. Then there is the other 50% of the job, composition, perspective control, creative design, story telling, following layouts, and flattering the subject and more.

A well rounded commercial photographer is a photographic problem solver in that so many items that we have to photograph, even simple things that we see and use every day can be highly problematic as photographic subjects. Photographing simple electrical appliances like toasters and kettles can be a nightmarish assignment for the uninitiated and showing the illuminated readouts and panel lights on high tech equipment can be a challenge as well. The techniques for solving theses and many more problems have to be studied, learned and practiced.

Even photographing a car or a truck in an out-of-doors setting requires a keen sense of SEEING LIGHT and how it reflects from various surfaces and contours of the product.

I hope to present, as time progresses, a series of articles and tutorials on general commercial photography and specific types of subjects like shooting glassware, highly polished appliances, jewelry, tools and hardware, architectural subjects and more. I would love to see more participation here in y’all posting your questions, answers and examples of your work.

Equipment wise: I days gone by the basic tool of the commercial photographer was the large format view camera and for maximum reproduction quality; transparency film was the sensitized material of choice. Many photographers still use this methodology or have had their large and medium format cameras digitized- the latter is a pretty expensive matter. The major feature of the view camera, besides the large format itself, is the functionality of the camera movements which enable total perspective control and precise depth of field management. View cameras are designed and built whereby the front and back standards of the camera can be tilted, shifted, raised and lowered in order to provide many corrections and effects.

Unless someone is going into serious commercial photography, I don’t expect that the average shooter is going to invest in a digitized view camera or a specially adapted medium format camera. Many high quality commercial images can be made by the savvy use of a good quality DSLR. There are accessory bellows attachments and specialized “shift/tilt lenses whereby you can perform some view camera type adjustments and certain perspective problems can now be corrected in PhotoShop and other post production systems.

Lighting gear: Generally speaking, many commercial photographers prefer higher powered electronic flash systems in that they need the additional power because many types of indirect, bounce, diffused and modified lightings are commonplace in the commercial studio and utilized on location assignments as well. When light is used indirectly, bounced from various surfaces and modification devices and goes through various diffusion materials a significant amount of its actual effective power is absorbed along its path to the subject. Nonetheless we oftentimes need to work as smaller apertures in the interest of more depth of field. Although noise is less problematic on some of the newer full frame camera bodies, many photographers still prefer to work at lower ISO settings so it is not uncommon to find flash equipment rated at 800, 1200, 2400 and even 4800 watt/seconds in commercial use.

Again, there are many ways to create good commercial work with less expensive lighting equipment. There is always some good stuff to be found on the used market. Lower powered flash equipment can be utilized in “multiple pops” techniques and in still life work the camera should be securely mounted on a tripod, longer shutter speeds can be used and tungsten lighting gear can be employed - it is less expensive. Your 3400ºK or tungsten white balance setting will accommodate Photoflood (incandescent) lamps or quartz/halogen lamps of that color temperature. Precautions should be taken when using “hot light” with modifiers; theses lights can set fire to cloth materials and background papers if they are in too close proximity to theses materials or confined in an unventilated closed soft box.

A starting kit can consist of a main light in a large soft box suspended over the set on a boom arm, a kicker spot or flood light and a number of home made reflectors in various sizes fashioned out of white Foam-Cor or Cor-Plast with the reverse sides of those materials covered in crushed and re-expanded aluminum foil. A few black versions of those materials will be handy for go-bo or subtractive lighting effects. A Fresnel spot light for hard/soft lighting effects is a great tool to include in your equipment inventory.

The fun and cheap part of equipping yourself for commercial work is what I call my junk and prop collection. Most of this stuff is not found in camera stores. In order to “prop” things up on a set, you can never have too many clamps and clips of every size and type, heavy stuff to lean things against, little easels and display stands for dishes, tapes and sticky stuff, pins,
Nutty-Putty, tape, glue, fishing line, wooden scraps and blocks, bricks, and all kinds of stuff that are available in second hand shops, dollar stores, junk yards, flea markets, garage sales and near the curb standing up against the garbage cans! The quest of props that are visible on the set is also an ongoing affair. Things such as pieces of driftwood, barn wood, bowls, interesting rusty stuff, lengths of cloth, anything with texture that can be used as a background, old books, maps and anything that fits in to the theme of any particular assignment. I also stock a few rolls of seamless background paper in white, gray and one or two popular colors and I order other colors as required.

Creativity: Sometimes we simply follow a layout that is prepared by a graphic artist or art director from the ad agency on the project. Many times, when working directly with the client, we are totally in charge of the photography and have to come up with our own concepts, designs, compositions and approaches. The job can be a simple straightforward product shot or a more complex thematic illustration. In every case the photographer is also in charge of gathering lots of information as to the final usage of the imagery, the requirements of the media where the eventual advertisement will be published, size and dpi requirements and the story that the clients wants to tell about the product. We need to know if a certain amount of space has to be provided for the overlay of copy or text, what the space proportions or aspect ratio are required and the theme of the advertisement. Without this information in mind it is very easy to produce something that is incompatible with all of the aforementioned criteria.

I usually am concerned about two “clients” on every assignment; the primary client who is the person or company that is hiring me and the eventual client who is the target of the primary client. The photographs we produce are part of the sales process for our primary client. The anatomy of a SALE has it that one of the first principal of making a sale is attracting attention to the product and creating desire for it. In the olden days, the “store display window” was the showcase for most products. Nowadays it is more likely to be in a brochure, a TV ad, a printed media (newspaper or magazine) display advertisement or an online catalog or website. The photographer is supplying the visual part of the advertising and that is more important than many of our clients perceive. If I know more about the product and what benefits or features the primary client wants to emphasize, I am in a better position to help appeal to the eventual client and to advise my client as to what is needed to attract more attention and create more desire on the part of his potential clients.

I look forward to you participation in this area and I hope that this introduction helps.

Ed :thumbup:
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Last edited by Ed Shapiro on Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by TomCofer » Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:19 pm

Informative post and nice shots Ed.
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Ed Shapiro
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Post by Ed Shapiro » Sun Jun 28, 2015 1:03 pm

Hey Tom!

Thanks for your kind comment. To date, there has not been much interest in the commercial section or the wedding board as well. I will try to promote theses boards a bit more vigorously in that theses specialties have been the mainstay of my business for many years and I have lots of information to offer if there is any interest at all.

Regards, Ed

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Post by TomCofer » Sun Jun 28, 2015 1:25 pm

Hang in there Ed!
It's a shame that we haven't had more activity in those areas. You're a deep well of knowledge and will be of great help to folks interested in these areas. At some point, we'll get 'em here.

Commercial work is something that I find interesting to look at, but never had the motivation to give it a serious try. I do find it neat to see how folks can take a fairly simple or plain object and make it interesting, and I'm always interested in picking up tidbits of information. :)
Redneck Enthusiast Photographer on a shoestring budget.

thcofer@charter.net

Failure means you tried. Success means you need to set higher goals for yourself.

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