Elaborate Set or Individual Photos? Depends
Product photography can involve very complicated sets depending on the product and the wishes of the advertiser. However, most products photographed for packaging or catalogs don’t require elaborate sets with multiple props and staging. And, they look just as good, if not better.
There are certainly advantages to both types of product photography. Photographing a product by itself reduces budgets significantly. There is no need to pay a stylist and assistants, a propping company, or anyone else who may be involved in prepping the set. And, although art directors always contribute useful ideas to a commercial project, you might even be able to get away without hiring one.
Product photography without a large set helps the viewer focus on the details of the product. There are fewer distractions simply because there is only one thing to look at: the product. The viewer can zero-in on the fine details that your product photographer captured. But this can work both ways. Viewers might have a more difficult time imagining the product in real life and how it might be used. For example, a photo of a rug alone wouldn’t help the viewer visualize what the rug would look like tucked under a table. The decision truly depends on the product, but there definitely are products that would look better – that would make more sense, visually – on a propped set.
Single product photography, as alluded to above, lends itself to capturing more of the fine detail a product has to offer. This can include ergonomic features, different textures, or replicating the item as a piece of art in itself. Because the product isn’t part of set with other items that will need to be properly lit, a photographer can take the time to shape the light according to the product. This allows for a much finer presentation of the product – one that intentionally shows each subtle feature a product has to offer. For photographers, this is just as challenging an endeavor as lighting a complicated set.
Individual product photography can provide high-resolution product photos. In most cases, the product is going to fill the frame completely. Product photography with a large set is going to require the photographer take a wider view of the scene and will inherently reduce the captured size of the product. As such, the product will not be able to be reproduced in larger format. Similarly, potential customers might have a hard time seeing the product if it is too small in the photo.
Set product photography almost always brings up the question, “What are you selling?” This makes it particularly difficult. In the rug example above, it could easily be construed that your client is selling a table, or the wine glasses on the table, or the cheese on the table, and not a rug. Generally, propped photos will not be the bulk of a product shoot. It may encompass three or four photos depending on the catalog or series being advertised.
A well-organized and styled set can truly add something special to product photography, but the scene has to make sense. What does “make sense” mean? It simply means that the photo must be aesthetically pleasing. If it’s not, the customer will look at the photo for less than 2 seconds, and most likely won’t notice the product being sold. Hiring a stylist, a staging/propping company, and an art director is the best way to successfully create an image that grabs the customer’s attention.