Photography is one of a catalog’s largest expenses, particularly for smaller startups that are still developing their product lines. While you want to save as much as you can on your shoot, the photography essentially is your store window. If it looks appealing, with beautiful detail and clarity, your product is more likely to sell for a fair price.
When selecting photography services, it’s often difficult to know what you’re buying unless you’ve worked with a specific photographer before. Of course, a referral may be able to give you more information, but it takes a high level of communication and detail to truly understand what you’re getting for your money.
Photographers are like other vendors. Some are honest professionals when quoting jobs, while others lowball the cost only to hit you with hidden fees at the end. You can better control your photography budget by becoming educated about how much such services should cost. You’ll then know how you can save, without sacrificing the quality of the photography.
The key to success: Work smarter, and keep your eye on the bottom line.
Participants in a roundtable discussion at the Catalog and eCommerce Club of Northern California earlier this year discussed cost savings in photography. The enlightening conversation yielded some terrific ideas for ways to cut costs during a shoot, and get better results for your dollar.
Here’s what our team of 15 vendor- and client-side participants shared:
1. When you review the photographer’s studio, look carefully at the setup. A quality studio has an array of lighting that allows for more than just flat lighting on gray seamless backgrounds. Does it have high ceilings for adequate movement of lighting and equipment?
Other things to look for: A kitchen or eating area, and a space to work or to have your morning update meetings. This means you won’t have to leave during the shoot, thus saving you some travel time.
2. When reviewing a photographer’s portfolio, ask to see products similar to those you want shot. If you don’t see any, ask the photographer to produce some sample shots. Send him or her a catalog and a few sample products, and ask for a few simple shots to show how your final photos will look.
Tip: Don’t be shy. This is an interview for a substantial amount of work. You have the right to ask for proof of performance.
3. Visualize the actual shoot to determine if there’s enough physical space to photograph your products in a timely manner. For example, is there enough room in the studio for multiple setups; a dressing room for models; shelving for organization and storage; ready-made walls, doors and windows to put small rooms or sets together; and a collection of surfaces on which to shoot for variety without great additional expense?
4. Organization saves money. After the catalog is completely designed, organize the shots you need, with models and without. The creative team can work to determine the number of shots, how many backgrounds and other important information.
5. Try to gain some consistency. It’s pricey to change backgrounds with every shot, and although myriad backgrounds can be fun and interesting, a catalog can look disjointed if there were too many different surfaces used. (Also keep in mind that the whole setup needs to be put up and then pulled down, undoubtedly adding to your overall costs.)
Tip: Send surface samples to your catalog’s art director a few days in advance to show what you’ll be shooting on. Remember that while a catalog needs variety, it also requires a unified look to hold it together and make it welcoming.
6. Be sure your merchandise is available and in place to be categorized, ironed or styled before the first day of shooting. All samples should be clean. When you stop a shoot to fix a damaged or incorrect sample, the time costs you money—that time is billable while the photographer waits.
7. Schedule a prep day in which your photographer may not be shooting, but the assistants accumulate what they need for the shots. On prep day, send your catalog’s art director to review everything that’s being photographed. This potentially could save downtime during the actual shoot to fix unforeseen problems that may crop up.
8. Hire more assistants. They can work on the setups while the photographer and your art director adjust and fine-tune lighting and setups.
9. Set up two or three surfaces simultaneously for increased speed in shooting time.
During the Shoot
10. You may want to have your art director stay at the shoot to assist and approve photographs, so there’s less chance that items will have to be re-shot.
11. If your art director can’t go to the shoot, e-mail to him or her PDFs or jpgs for instant approvals of setup and backgrounds. Do look-sees with models and send as PDFs to get approvals.
12. All digital shots must go through a match print or similar highest-resolution process to show color integrity in their final printed states. This will be costly, but it must be done (see next step). What you see even on the very best computer monitor still won’t reflect its printed look or color integrity.
13. Using high-res “scatters,” or patch color, will save you money in the long run. They’re an added cost initially, but if only a color correction needs to be made, a small patch of color proof is less expensive than a much larger proof.
14. Gang up your photos on larger documents for proofing. This will save on labor for the patches. Proof them the same size as (or very close to) the final. If they’re much larger or smaller they may inaccurately show color integrity and detail.
15. When cleaning up photos, have the same source size it for print and the Web simultaneously. It takes only a moment more to resize the shot to fit your Web standard using Photoshop and Fireworks.
You and your Web site developer should determine what the pixel size should be. Provide that along with the job and the printing specifications. Your Web master can save them to the same CD, so you’ll have a convenient resource disk.
Tip: Web photos are small and will be RGB. But for the printing press, they’ll be large and CMYK. Color correction is best done in CMYK since that’s where the color will show up the most.
16. Have someone convert your photos. Pool your photos together, then assign a production employee, or better yet, hire a student from an art center or design school, to resave all your photos into appropriate formats. You can have the student bid on the job or work hourly at your facility. This is a cost-effective way to get the job done. Since the color correction has been done already, you need someone only to resize, save and add a code in the name to flag it as a Web image.
Tip: Request that this person show you the first five he or she does before continuing. Be sure the work is on the right track.
Allocating time to interview and hire the right people, and then to plan, research and prepare your shoots will aid your efforts to keep costs down and your workflow efficient.
Should You Go Digital?
Digital photography has its advantages and its inherent challenges.
It often makes for a faster and more flexible shoot, so there’s usually no need to shoot multiples of the same setup. In addition, going digital can save on film costs, because there’s no need to process bracketed versions.
This saves at least $50 per shot in materials and processing alone. And digital shooting saves time since you don’t have to bracket shots for lighting.
Digital also is more environmentally sound. It doesn’t involve processing chemicals and plastic films.
Digital is good for stills, including small and highly detailed items such as jewelry. However, human models are better photographed with film.
Film may provide the flexibility needed if you’re passing along photographic prints to the media or other users of your shots. Check before you shoot to determine if those to whom you traditionally sent prints or transparencies can use digital shots instead.
As noted, there are some challenges to using digital photography. During the shoot, digital shots may not look as good as film, because the shots already are broken down into their pixels. So it may be a bit disconcerting during the actual shoot.
When using digital photography, ensure that the studio has a recently installed computer setup with substantial backup systems. You certainly don’t want to lose an entire catalog worth of photos to a faulty computer drive.
Digital photography can be a great boon to your catalog, as long as the photographer is an experienced professional. Keep in mind that many digital photographers haven’t had the training that a more traditional film photographer has had.
Always ask to see final printed samples of the photographer’s digital shots. Are they gray and lifeless, or do they sparkle like a film shot? Going digital doesn’t mean you must compromise on quality.
Carol Worthington Levy is creative director for MarketingBank, and has been providing catalog and direct marketing creative strategy, direction, copy and design for more than 20 years. She can be reached via e-mail at Carol@marketing-bank.com.