How the right photographer factors into the catalog production equation.
In the catalog business, a picture isn't just worth 1,000 words — it can seriously affect your sales. Product photos, therefore, must give consumers an accurate idea of what you're selling, as well as drive them to make a purchase. Choosing the right photographer can make all the difference in how well your catalog is received.
"The products being shot have to be well represented, and the photos need to show the subtleties of the fabrics and the things that are important from a consumer perspective," says Chris Price, president of Xara Sportswear USA, a cataloger of soccer uniforms. "If we're doing outside work or action shots, we need someone who can capture the action and create that authenticity."
Glenda Shasho-Jones, president of New York-based catalog consultancy Shasho Jones Direct, advises catalogers to focus on photographers who already have experience shooting material similar to their own. Whether it's hard goods, soft goods, jewelry, apparel or other products, each one of these categories requires a different set of skills, she points out.
When choosing a photographer, not only should catalogers request to see photographers' portfolios, but they also should ask for references. "I would want to see a range of their work in the area that we're talking about. References aren't used enough," Shasho-Jones says. "By checking references, you discover all of the surprises. You may have made the decision to hire someone, but it would have been nice to know that they, for example, don't start their day until XYZ has happened, or that they're slow in one area but make it up in another. You want to know how they've been on other jobs."
References also come in handy at the beginning of a cataloger's search. "There are photographers' reps out there," she says. "There are listings of photographers, but it's really hard to distinguish what work they've done that's relevant. There are associations. These are good if you've heard someone's name and you need a way to contact them. Your best bets are from the other creative talent that you're working with. Your art director might be able to give you some options. Sometimes stylists have really good suggestions. You also can ask other noncompetitive catalogers who they're using."
Some catalogers may opt to coordinate the bulk of the shoot, including arranging a location and working with agencies to enlist models. Or, some photographers can do this, too.
Because many catalogs feature photography that's used in print on their corresponding Web sites, it's important to establish that the photographer in question is capable of delivering both, along with photos that can be used for things such as billboards or advertising, if needed. Catalogers should be careful to outline this in their contracts.
"Because the photographer owns that photography, make sure, in your contract, that you have the right to use it in the way you want to," Shasho-Jones advises. "Most photographers don't up their prices for any of those things, because they know that their photos are used in different types of media."
Greg Carter, studio manager at NuVisions M2C, a photography-based catalog and Web design firm in Santa Ana, Calif., suggests that catalogers negotiate full rights on photos for a specified period of time. He also notes that for production purposes, it's important to decide where the photographs will be used ahead of time. Otherwise, the files could be the wrong resolution, "because the cataloger might want to do ads and billboards, and the resolution may not be high enough," he says.
But what if you have no idea how the process works? Laurie Harquail, creative resources and production manager for Portland, Ore.-based reproduction lighting cataloger/Web marketer/manufacturer Rejuvenation, advises other catalogers that those creative personnel who aren't familiar with photography enroll in a couple of classes. Since she's been doing her job, Harquail has taken a couple of basic community college classes on photography. "Learning the basics elevated my comfort level so much that it was time and money well spent," she says.
From the get-go, catalogers and the photographers they enlist need to agree on how many shots can be completed in a day, along with how many shots are required overall. "If you have one idea of what needs to be accomplished and you see that the shoot isn't being propped or styled the way you thought it would be, you're going to have a big problem," Shasho-Jones says. "You might have thought the photographer could accomplish 12 shots a day, but may only be able to accomplish six." These quotas are based on all of the variables associated with the shot, such as whether or not the company is using models, and how elaborate the sets may be.
Naturally, once you find good photographers, build the relationship. That's the approach Paul Fredrick MenStyle's Creative Director Jill Smith has taken. She believes in developing solid relationships with photographers whose technical skills — and people skills — facilitate the photography process.
"I look for high-quality work, generally with apparel, specifically men's," she explains, outlining her recruiting methods. "I also work with and know a lot of people in the business, so word of mouth is everything. Finally, they must be easy to work with — I don't think difficult photographers can survive in this business anymore. There are too many good ones."
Smith prefers shooting film, and notes that all associated costs should be determined from the outset. "Ask for a quote including equipment, lighting, assistants and so on," she advises. "If you're shooting film, make sure you work out the logistics and pricing of how and by whom the film will be processed. If you need scout days, negotiate the rate on the front end."
Know the Process
Some companies believe that the process of photography is somehow quicker than it used to be, or easier than it used to be, Carter points out. "They might not understand how much goes into taking a professional shot," he says. "It can take hours to get a shot perfect, and that's one of the misconceptions that many people have. They might come in with a list of 20 shots that they think can be done in a day, and realistically, we can only do five of them."
Catalogers can overcome potential miscommunication by providing photographers with "swipes" — clippings from other catalogs that help to communicate the desired result. "If Tiffany is doing a photo shoot," Shasho-Jones says, "it would pull swipes from a magazine of what it wants to accomplish in the catalog." Such swipes show surfaces, propping, lighting, backgrounds and angles.
Before diving into a shoot, catalogers should hold a preproduction meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page when the shooting begins. "Sit the photographer down with the other creative talent and go over what's going to happen," she advises, "so that the first time they've met you and gotten familiar with the merchandise, you're not already on location or in a photo studio. This saves a lot of trouble later on."
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor. Reach her at email@example.com.