Product Photography and time



Currently I'm doing a project for my company. Short story we distrubute about 5,000 different items to the packaging industry. We are putting together a web site (finally) and this years catalog. My boss found out that I have a nice camera and asked if I would do the new product shots for the catalog and shots of all our products for the web site. Thing is she wants (and should get) perfect shots. But she wants them in faster than I can get them to her. My question to you is how long should it take to set up and take the picture, proccess it in ps3 (color correct, take out background, save in three different formats) and print it out for her approval. She is real happy about not having to hire a professional photographer but thinks I should be as fast as one.


May 1, 2007
Ashburn, VA
I don't think there's a correct answer. There are some techniques that could make portions of your life easier (Actions that do the 3x save for you, for example). Unfortunately, some things are more difficult to photograph well or time-consuming to mask out.

If nothing else, pick something you know is going to be hard to photograph well and hard to mask out and have her watch you do it (but don't tell her it's hard). That will let her know what's involved. Sometimes a person doesn't realize how much work something really is.

As the saying goes: Cheap. Fast. Good. (Pick 2)
Apr 13, 2006
Northeast USA
product photography can be extremely difficult... and very time consuming to do well. I have a really nice gig with a local gift basket company that hired me to photograph every gift basket for her web catalog and brochure... I purchased a floor to ceiling green backdrop from and setup my lighting system (4 lights) plus on-camera. I photograph in RAW using my D80 + DB800 + 4 lights + 17-55. I then bring into my PC and convert to DNG using Idimager. I cull and then bring the winners into Lightroom where they are editing/enhanced and then saved as tiff's. Then, onto photoshop for extraction and background replacement using a complex action I built to go along with Primatte. Then, one final touchup, some mask brushing (to remove any details that the chroma missed) and sharpening and save-as jpg.

All-in-all, it can take me about an 20 mins per image - so doing a basket shoot of 20 or so per day... takes a bit. But in the end, it is worth it compensation wise... and the results look like they came out of a large production studio.

So.. it's not an easy process... and can be quite expensive for a large catalog.
May 11, 2006
Northern Italy, Piemonte
Good product photography ain't easy and that's why it's expensive. You may work cheap, but you are unlikely to be able to work fast. In addition, you are bringing some job skills to your workplace that are most likely outside the scope of your normal work. For example, you might be a really great guitar player and work at the local burger joint flipping hamburgers. Should you be expected to play at the company picnic for minimum wage? I hardly think so.

I would ask your boss to get a bid from a professional outfit so she has a point of reference. I suspect she has no idea how much processing time is involved in one of these projects. I would also ask for some sort of compensation over and above your normal pay. Plus be sure to address who's going to do your job while you're acting as a professional photographer. Don't be surprised if your boss expects you to do all your regular work plus this photo gig all for your regular pay. Don't let that happen.

If you budget less than a half hour per image including the shoot, PP, delivery, etc etc., you're making a real mistake, especially if each image involves a good separation. If you're talking 5000 images you're talking about 16 months of FULL TIME employment. That is NOT something most people can fit into their normal work schedule by taking shorter coffee breaks.
Aug 19, 2007
Washington State

Product photography ought best be viewed as not haviung changed between using film cameras and digital cameras, excpt for the post-processing issues. This means that lighting and set-up are all-important. Depending upon your needs and the product sizes, you can set up a suitable light tent and knock out relatively flat lit, but near-shdowless shots in a very rapid manor if this lighting works for you.

Jul 21, 2007
I agree with Tom here. Especially if all the products (or a whole range of them) are roughly the same size.
My wife sells custom made candy snacks and needed a catalog for her sales. After setting up the light box and the lighting of it, I spent about 10 minutes to nail the exposure (manual settings) and whitebalance settings in the camera.

Once everything was set up I was able to crank out 25 shots within an hour - and that includes placing and removing products from the light box. Since I didn't have to worry about white balance or optimizing the exposure (with a home-made B&W card) I just shot everything straight jpeg - with larger amounts of pictures that really makes a big difference in processing time.

Your mileage may vary though: if the products have different sizes it will be a bit harder to do, but consider working in batches of similar sized products.

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