Biz How-To’s: Photographing Your Product

by Cat on November 2, 2010

Today I thought we’d get down to business by launching the first of our new “Biz How-To” section.  I’m really excited because it’s a chance for all of us to sit down and share the nitty gritty of what makes or breaks our businesses.  Today’s topic is on photographing your products. I could probably create this as its own separate category because this is so incredibly essential (… if any of you have insight on this please weigh in!).  Just as I always tell my bridal clients that an invitation is the first thing your guest receives…so is the first set of photos or visuals that a customer, editor or retailer will use to assess your product.  Designing Mom Jenn has a perfect post on what quality photography can achieve for a product…
by  Designing Mom Jenn of
Not long ago, I hired a photographer to shoot some of my recently completed wedding invitations & announcements.

When I’m not designing wedding invitations and announcements, you can usually find me hard at work designing food packaging and other more commercial design projects.  When art directing photoshoots for food packages, the shoots are really challenging because food doesn’t usually stand up well under the heat of the lights so you have to work very closely with the food stylists to achieve a result where the food you’re shooting actually looks delicious and appealing!  And, to be honest, a lot of food products just don’t photograph well at all, so you have to use alternative food items, or non-food items that look like actual food… which makes things even trickier.  I’ll tell you this – never once has a piece of grilled chicken actually been grilled in order to get those perfect grill marks you see in photos.  They don’t come from anything even resembling a grill, I promise you that!

But I digress; and luckily enough for me, wedding invitations and paper products do stand up to the heat of the lights!

While I was overseeing this photoshoot of my work on this particular day, and while the photographer was setting up a few of the shots, I took some quick pictures with my iPhone to document our work process.  It wasn’t until after I got the final professional pictures back that I marveled at how fun it would be to do a side-by-side comparison of what some of the pictures looked like ‘behind the scenes’ versus what the camera actually sees and what turns into finished photography.

The pictures are beautiful, and I am so happy – but it’s really funny to think about what’s “really real”, versus what’s sort of “fake real”.  One of my favorite quotes is “Perception is reality” and I think it sums this up perfectly!

So, without further ado, here are the ol’ before & afters… or Reals & Fake Reals!

PROJECT 1 (iPhone before)

PROJECT 1 (professional after)
PROJECT 2 (iPhone before)
PROJECT 2 (professional after)

PROJECT 3 (iPhone before)

PROJECT 3 (professional after)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

sara g10 November 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Wow, even the shots on your iphone turned ou way better than I could ever shoot! Beautiful photos and work. Who was your photographer?


Shinmin November 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Wow Jenn, your designs are beautiful. And the way you staged your photographs is very clever and creative. While I agree that photographs are almost as important to a creative business as the products themselves, I disagree with the notion that good photography presents “fake reals” as opposed to “reals”. I’m sure that when you’re clients actually hold your invitations and cards in their hands the impact is as strong, if not, stronger than the experience from the photographs. Photography is one way for the artists to communicate with others, and show the world how he or she would frame his view. While the iPhone will never take the same picture as a Nikon or Canon SLR (as least not yet), the photos from the iPhone are not anymore “real”. In fact I think that phone photos and point-and-shoot photos are so flat, without the layers of light and textures, that they are actually less “real” because we are missing the levels of richness that our eyes can see. Let’s face it Jenn, with or without amazing photography, your products are “really” beautiful.

Whoah, I just went off there. Sorry for the long comment, but this is something I feel strongly about.


Jenn White Topliff November 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Shinmin, thanks for your comment!

I didn’t mean to suggest that my work was any less real… rather, that it’s funny what the “real” photo situation looks like, without any editing, fancy lenses or otherwise. What I was hoping to show was what the “real” set up looks like… showing that a beautiful wooden surface might be a cutting board, or that a pretty backdrop isn’t a beautiful wall, but rather a piece of paper held up with clips and tape!

The thing about photography, at least in my case, is that I need to make my photographs look as amazing as my work feels in someone’s hand, when they receive it in the mail… which is why the photography is so important. I need the closeups of the details be the same as the viewer’s eyes, you know?

Anyway, thanks again for writing so passionately! I hope you know where I’m coming from now, and know that I’m not suggesting that photography is making something look more “real” than it is!!


Rebekah November 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I am somewhere in the middle. Bad photos definitely misrepresent reality. I used to sell on etsy and customers would sometimes write, oh it was even more beautiful when i got it! so I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not. And a really great photo…hmm I can see how in one way it is appreciating the photographer but also I can see how pictures of celebrities being enhanced can also create misperceptions.


Jenn White Topliff November 2, 2010 at 8:16 pm

By the way, sara g10, the photographer who shot my work was Liz Daly. You can check out her work and find her contact info on her website:


Shinmin November 2, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Jenn, I do see your point. And it’s very fascinating to see the “backstage” setup of how your shoots were composed. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.


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