I’ll Just Do It Myself!

I tend not to worry about, or comment on, the photography market, but sometimes I shake my head and say “what?”.

One of those times is today. A friend asked me to help her shoot small high-end product for a retailer who sells… small, high-end products. Think thousands, and very small. So we quoted for this – the images to be used for a full-page advertisement.

Example of small product, shot with tilt-shift lens


This kind of shooting is not simple. It involves such things as:

  • Camera – a good one.
  • Macro lens
  • Tilt-shift lens
  • Tripod
  • Lights – at least three or four available flashes, preferably
  • Modifiers: Reflectors, softboxes, umbrellas, lightboxes
  • A light table
  • Time

Oh, and knowledge.

And post-processing software, expertise, and time.

So what did the retailer do? He posted this:

So I’ve decided to just buy a camera, seeing what the costs of a shoot are. Any cameras or lenses that are best for close up macro?”

He later asked:

What is a good DSLR to buy?

And when asked whether he knows how to shoot in manual mode, he replied:

No. How hard can it be?

So there is the market problem in a nutshell. Everyone thinks they can do it. I am not sure how to break it to this retailer, but in fact it is not simple, and it involves a lot more than just buying a camera.  “Every professional skill takes 10,000 hours to master”, it is often said. By whom, you ask? By me, and by many others. Because it is true.

I think this retailer may be better off just having us shoot his products, and making it a lesson at the same time. And I do hope he decides to do that, rather than trying it himself.


8 thoughts on “I’ll Just Do It Myself!

  1. I would tell the person save their money and shoot it with their Iphone
    you can’t fix, them being stupid
    after all how hard can it be ? I’m sure they will love the results

  2. How hard can it be?

    The good news is it’s not brain surgery. And, it’s not street, news, or event photography where you only get one pass at a photo and you either get it or you miss it. Shooting a product, you can shoot, adjust and repeat all day. If you do it yourself, the worst that happens is you waste your day.
    Part two of this is the discovery that the rest of the population doesn’t even notice most of those things that drive photographers crazy!

    Rick’s notion is not wrong. If you have a good continuous light arrangement, you can get excellent shots from your cell phone camera. Have you seen the new Samsung ads? It looks like a P&S camera that happens to have a cell phone on the LCD side.

    • Ron, I’ve heard a version of this time and time again (as I am sure Michael has), and all I can say is go ahead and try it. Won’t be long before others in whatever retail organization you work for start saying, “What’s wrong with the photos?” The fact is, you just can’t approach product photography like you’re putting up an ebay auction, it’s so much harder than it would appear.

      That goes times 100 when printing will be involved. I can guarantee every last one of your photos taken with a small-sensor camera would be rejected by the art director.

      I work in the video department for a retailer, and we get similar comments now and then. After which I simply invite them to our next shoot, where most if not all of their questions are answered.

      • I feel your pain. Honest. Most people barely look at the photos in advertizing and of those that do, most really have no appreciation for good photography. I’m pretty sure if the boss is saying “I’ll just buy a camera, how hard can it be?”, there is no art director to reject the photos. If he figures out the cost of an entry level SLR and macro lens, then discovers that arrangement has no depth of field, and that he has to spend a day or two trying to get a shot that’s barely acceptable to him, and figure out how to use software with a fairly steep learning curve, then Michael’s quote will seem more reasonable. But, the bar for an acceptable photo might be pretty low. I’ve seen lots of photos that would cause you to laugh and spit your coffee, or throw up, yet people say they like them!
        This was done in fifteen minutes with a 20 year old watch, $600 Samsung Galaxy sII phone and a quick masking job in Photoshop.
        I see a lot wrong with it. You probably will too. But, print it and Michaels watch on flyer grade newsprint then stand on a busy corner and ask 50 people what was the cost of each photo. How many of them are going to get that one is a cell phone photo and the other was taken with $10,000 worth of gear? How many will care?

  3. Maybe you should suggest to the guy that if he REALLY wants to save money, he should go out and buy his own pocket calculator and then layoff his accounting department. Then he might get the point.

  4. Its not unusual for it to take a few hrs to get off a bunch of shots. There’s a whole boat load of issues that people dont realize when it comes to product shots, especially watches. Right now majority of my work right is taking product watch shots and it can take some time and a bunch of trial and errors to get everything setup properly. You need to worry about dust, finger prints, reflections (you, environment, equipment, flash…etc) while needing to have the right area in focus. Heck, you even need to make sure the lighting is correct so the face of the watch showcases all of the decals correctly, that even goes for proper colour representation. Oh yeah, dont forget about the industries standard on how the hands are supposed to be aligned… but i guess thats all common knowledge and one is supposed to ace this on the first attempt. If one does, all the power to yeah.

    Using cell phones? I guess it can be done, anything is possible, NOT… unless you’re making thumbnails, want almost no depth of field and just to produce uncle bob silly snapshots. I guess with that logic any chum with a pair of scissors is a hair stylist on the first cut…


    • Hands at 9 minutes 31 seconds past 10, yup. And for small jewellery there’s even more, like kickers for sparkle, black reflectors, etc. and all other small products have similar need to knows.

  5. Sorry I was being facetious when i suggested the iphone
    otherwise I would be the dumb ass for buying all my equipment and learning
    what I have partly from Michaels Classes of with I have attended a few of,
    not him for thinking it could be done with just a camera and no knowledge
    But this is not the only Business where there is no business sense or real knowledge
    of the trade

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