Skip to main content
We no longer support Internet Explorer. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience. Find out more.

8 product photography tips your commercial clients will love

We asked four professional product photographers to share their secrets for the perfect photoshoot. Read on for their best tips.

“I’ve staged and shot products all throughout my small home, and I’ve even shot many campaigns on my office desk!” Lifestyle and commercial photographer Stacy K. Allen tells us. The beauty of product photography is that you don’t always need an expensive studio to make it work, especially if you’re shooting smaller objects. Product photographers have always inspired us with creative and out-of-the-box approaches to a timeless genre—both inside and outside of the studio.

Joe St.Pierre for Huzzah

Last year, during the pandemic, photographer Joe St.Pierre created a tropical beach scene for a seltzer brand by bringing white sand indoors on a chilly Boston day. Award-winning adverting photographer and filmmaker Jonathan Knowles once used high explosives to blow up a strawberry as part of a campaign for a berry brand. Food, drinks and travel photographer Charlotte Nott-Macaire creates handmade photography surfaces for her shoots, and she’s even designed custom lighting sets for client collaborations.

Jonathan Knowles for Dole

We asked these four pros—Stacy, Joe, Jonathan, and Charlotte—to share their secrets for the perfect photoshoot. From planning and logistics to letting loose in the studio, they shared their best tips for up-and-coming product photographers. Read on to learn how they prepare for demanding shoots, adapt to industry trends, and stay inspired all year round.

1. Gather inspiration

Before any commercial shoot, take the time to learn as much as you can about the brand’s aesthetics. “It always helps when a client can share inspiration images and we can discuss the shoot beforehand,” Stacy explains. “If it’s for any type of rebrand or branding, I ask to see the design concept first so we can choose the correct backdrops, surfaces, colours, and so on.” If there are multiple products or complicated setups, she’ll always work with a prop stylist, who can bring fresh ideas to the table and help everything run more smoothly.

Image by Stacy K. Allen. Shot for Food and Wine (@foodandwine on Instagram), styled by Dan Bailey (@theoldbailey on Instagram) at Golden and Wine Shop (@goldenagewine on Instagram).

2. Ask questions

“Commercial shoots always start with talking to your client and looking over their creative brief,” Joe says. “Ask a lot of questions. Make sure you fully understand the assignment and what you will need to make it successful, and then start working out your bid.” The questions you ask should cover the creative side of things, from brand style guidelines to specific crops or formats needed for the final campaign, and the business side of things, like where and how your images will be used. Ironing out these details provides the foundation for a fruitful photographer/client relationship.

Joe St.Pierre for Clearly Kombucha

3. Prepare a mood board

Once you’ve asked your questions and familiarised yourself with your client’s goals, it’s time to start brainstorming and sharing your ideas. “Generally, the client or agency will approach us with visuals of what they need for their campaign and their budget, and I will then prepare a PDF portfolio or a treatment,” Jonathan explains. “This document will include specific examples of my work that are relevant to their anticipated final images, and I then work with them on a cost that will suit their budget.”

Jonathan Knowles for Powers

4. Stay organised

Weeks of planning can lead up to a few hours of shooting, so be meticulous. “Once a project is greenlit, it comes down to planning logistics, locking down your team, discussing props, and—for me—obsessing over how to perfectly craft the light I want to create,” Joe continues. “There is also a lot of tedious things, like making sure the product gets shipped, everything is correct in terms of quantity and quality, and so on. Every job is different, but the less glamorous initial logistics and calls are all necessary to make everyone as ready as possible to have fun on set and crush it.”

5. Embrace light and shadow

A few of the pros we interviewed mentioned a trend toward daring colour, light, and shadow in commercial photography. “These days, a lot of my clients are requesting bold, dark shadows on bright, colourful backgrounds,” Charlotte tells us. “I would definitely have to say, strong dappled light and shadows are ‘what’s hot’ at the moment. This style is very 2:00 PM on a summer’s day in Spain, to be precise. I really enjoy shooting with direct harsh lighting, as it gives you a lot of freedom for creativity with shadows and shapes through creating an atmosphere.”

Bruschetta. Photography by Charlotte Nott-Macaire. Food styling by Flossy McAslan and prop styling by India Jackson.

6. Go macro

“I’ve also noticed a lot of brands are shooting extremely macro images for their campaigns,” Charlotte adds. “It’s a very bold technique, highlighting that the product is good enough on its own and therefore doesn’t need anything else to show it off. Action and movement are key to bringing a macro shot to life, from a subtle sauce drip on a burger to a high-speed action shot of a mojito. I love shooting high-speed action shots, as I get a real thrill from working at a completely different pace from a normal shoot.”

Macro Halloumi Burger: Photography by Charlotte Nott-Macaire, Food styling by Flossy McAslan

7. Experiment with video

In the age of TikTok and Instagram Reels, brands have expanded their focus to include video. “Video is becoming much more important,” Jonathan says. “There has been a huge shift from still images to video for promoting products. Until a few years ago, moving images supported the stills, but now, it is very much the other way around.

“Our 4K Phantom Flex camera and robotic arm allow us to shoot slow motion with extreme precision. With this technology, I can capture things that the human eye would otherwise struggle to see—from the vibrant surge of Thatchers Cider as it moves from tap to glass to the minute details of whisky splashing into a glass, with the Fettercairn logo refracted in every droplet. These effects are all achieved in-camera, and hopefully, the consumers’ appetites are whetted in the process.”

Jonathan Knowles for Fettercairn

8. Collaborate

Charlotte got her start by assisting for years when she was at university, and through those jobs, she made connections with other photographers, prop stylists, food stylists, art directors, and creatives across the industry. Today, she continues to organise test shoots on her days off so she can experiment with bold, different ideas—without the pressure posed by a paid job. “Test shoot days are always more relaxed, so you can just have fun and be creative,” she says.

“If you haven’t visited a prop house before, I would highly recommend a trip to one to check them out, as they are incredibly inspiring for test shoot ideas and also to gauge what’s on-trend at the moment. I still test whenever I can to try out new techniques and build my portfolio. This shot below, for example, is from a test shoot that I did recently trying out a new high-speed flash with macro action drinks shots. I shot these with Flossy McAslan, a lovely, very talented food and drinks stylist.

Photo by Charlotte Nott-Macaire. Styling by Flossy McAslan

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Spotlight editor

As editor of Affinity Spotlight Melanie oversees the stories, interviews and tutorials published on the site. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, reading crime thrillers, Pilates and dabbling in a spot of oil painting. Get in touch with Melanie if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.