Product Photography – How do you Make an Object Desirable?

What makes an object desirable?

Sexiness? Shape? Colour? Texture? Features? Suitability for Purpose?

Have a think about the last thing you bought that you didn’t need and what drew you to it.

Ignore all the reasonable stuff that your mind throws up, that’s just you trying to convince you that you made a wise choice and weren’t swayed by anything other than functionality. I mean, who needs the latest iPhone if they already have the previous model, or the one before that, or the one before that? Yet thousands of people will queue up to buy Apple’s latest offering even though they bought the last version just 5 months ago.

That’s the sexiness of having the latest version making the sale. It’s the desire to be seen as someone as special as your jewellery. And by jewellery I mean whatever shiny new toy you happen to possess – whether that be a nice car, the latest iPad, or a fancy new camera.

Then, once you have that fancy new camera hanging around your neck, notice how you suddenly start to notice what kind of camera everyone else has hanging around their neck and where that fits in the hierarchy of camera-ness compared to yours.

The manufacturers of these toys generally go to a lot of trouble to have them photographed well so they create a good impression. They pay skilled copywriters to tell you, in simple, emotive, terms how this thing will change your life for the better and help you to live out your dreams. They make mini-movies (TV Ads) to convince you that your life will be so much richer once you have that shiny cardboard box in your hands.

As photographers, it’s important that we understand – that we have an idea about what it is we are trying to communicate – when we photograph an object. And many of us are finding that we photograph objects frequently so that we can encourage people to give us money for them on sites like eBay. Photographing for auction sites is doubly difficult because you have to represent the object honestly – warts and all. Still that doesn’t prevent you from using your photographic skills to create the best possible image and the best possible image has much more to do with lighting and context than it has to do with the equipment you use to create the image.

The two images below were both taken in the same space and using the same lights, yet they create a totally different emotional response. The first is the type of image you might find in a catalogue, taken against a white background so it can be placed with other products on the same page. It shows the product clearly and the fine detail is easy to see.


The second image is, to me certainly, much more appealing. I took it against a dark background and on a reflective surface. That reflection, coupled with the bright red colour of the camera, lifts this image and makes me want to own that camera. Notice the arrangement of the wrist strap. Nothing is accidental here. The intention was to create an appealing, sexy, image. The design of the camera itself helps: the colour; those gentle curves creating a symmetrical body with those areas of red focusing attention on the lens; that big sticker extolling its features; and even those rugged looking clips. Those rugged looking clips, by the way, are just mouldings on the camera body and don’t actually seem to do anything – they are there to sell you this camera and the reason you would want to buy this camera is that it is tough and will withstand a little ill-treatment. You don’t need to read the blurb, you can tell just by looking at it.

But this isn’t a catalogue image. The contrast levels are too high – brights a little too bright and darks a little too dark, but it creates a moody seriousness. You look at this and you know the camera means business.

So next time you want to sell something on eBay, think about what the object means and then create some attractive photographs that really sell it. Include the images in the body of your listing (that way you can have as many as you want at no extra cost). Use large images for the good stuff and smaller images where you need to show wear or damage.

But most importantly think about your lighting.

For these images I used two studio strobes, one with a small softbox and the other with a shoot-through umbrella diffuser. I also use black and white boards to control this light. Obviously the backgrounds were also different. Yes, Lightroom and Photoshop were used to enhance the images, but not until I’d created the best image I could in camera.

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