Believe it or not, catalog photography is still alive and well. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, the printed catalog is making a comeback in a very big way. Even JC Penney has reportedly re-launched their mail-order publication after a three-year hiatus. More importantly, many smaller retailers depend on sales from their small, periodic mailings as well as online catalogs, and someone has to take the photos for both. That someone could be you, if you can deliver what modern retailers are looking for. Check out the following tips to see if you can.
Many modern catalog merchandisers have taken their printed and online publications in a completely new direction. Rather than displaying page after page of neatly organized product photos, these themed catalogs use adventure story layouts, wildlife and other unusual means to display their merchandise in a more enticing manner. Being able to work with or create a theme that appeals to these retailers and their customers may help you gain business.
This type of work may involve location shooting or a big enough studio to simulate an environment, not to mention props, backgrounds and a lot of creativity. In other words, this choice isn't for the casual shooter, but it can also command a bigger budget.
Whether themed or more traditional, your style should be consistent within a catalog. For many retailers, that consistency will carry on throughout multiple issues, so keeping notes about backgrounds, lighting, lenses and the other aspects of your setup will help you create the same look when you're hired for the next shoot.
Having a setup that facilitates repeatability is a big plus, too. If you don't have a big studio, look into the MyStudio line from Pro Cyc for portable studios that include everything you need for consistent results from shot to shot and session to session.
Focus on Detail
There was a time when lack of detail in catalog shots was expected by the consumer. That time has passed. Photography and printing equipment have improved and you need to be able to deliver crisp images that highlight all the details of the products you're shooting. That means good lighting, clean backgrounds and sharp focus. You may want to shoot at a wide aperture to blur out background imperfections, so be prepared to use focus stacking when necessary.
Have the Right Props
Displaying products in a way that brings out the best features is often a matter of positioning. That can mean anything from suspending an item with fishing line to showing it as its worn, as with jewelry, for instance. Looking to our friends at Pro Cyc again, the MS20J Tabletop Studio + Jewelry Kit is a great way to get everything you need to shoot hundreds of items, not at all limited to jewelry. Best of all, it's on sale right now, so you can save almost $100 by following the link above. Take a look at the demo video below to see just a bit of what you can do with this kit.
Times have changed, but there's still plenty of demand for professional catalog photography. The tips above should help you keep up with the times and meet that demand with the kind of shots today's catalog merchandisers need.