Jewelry & Product Catalog vs Hero Photography: Their Differences and Purposes

Announcement: Live Product Showcase of the Phase One IQ250 with Vadim Chiline

I just wanted to announce that I will be showcasing the all-new CMOS-based sensor digital back from Phase One in Montreal, at Photo Service Ltee., Wednesday February 19th from 1-5:30PM. Please sign up for the event and see hands-on what this new back can do, especially in low light conditions.

Example of a hero or beauty shot
Example of a hero or beauty shot

Hero shots help create a mood and feel for a product line.

The Product Photographer's Profile

In the world of luxury product photography, which includes things like jewelry, watches, perfumes, cosmetics, or glassware, you are often asked to shoot a plethora of products even if we talk about let's say : anti inflammatory herbs or etc, . If you’re looking at getting into commercial photography and insuring success, knowing to do both standard catalog and hero shots well will insure the survival and prosperity of your photography business.

There are a few “schools of thought” on the subject. The following is my own life story and by no means a guide, but perhaps my insights into the industry I work in. There are 3 types of product photographers:

The exclusive product catalog photographer

This job entails taking in rather large volumes of work, such as shooting entire jewelry lines, or say an entire series of lipsticks, brushes, etc. and providing them cut out on a white background for the client. It’s the way I started my career, with plenty of static angles over and over. We still provide this today. When volumes are high, with steady clients, with a highly skilled and trained team, you can work in some nice margins and make a living. Unfortunately, this business model can get stale to the photographer’s artistic heart and to the staff’s mental health (I’ve witnessed both). Hence comes the other type of product photographer.

The exclusive editorial and hero-shot photographer

This type of photographer generally works with low volume; perhaps one-of-a-kind items that need that special lighting or that special background or accessory to give more depth, life, even create an emotional human-product connection. They will usually work within a brand’s image utilizing select colors, materials. They work with assistants, stylists, and depending on the client’s size (and available funds) an art director, etc. These projects normally have much larger budgets and the output of winner images is low per day depending on the complexity required. These tend to be much more demanding of everybody because we are selling an image of a brand within a storyline or an emotion. Yet, these jobs are the most artistically rewarding and can be the most lucrative.

A bit of both-worlds: A transitioning photographer

This type of photographer is one that does a little of both styles mentioned above. Normally (I think) one would identify with one or the other, but depending on your industry, location, market, and ability, you will probably do both of these. I’m in this group. I still provide plenty of jewelry catalog photography and videography but do work on hero shots and ad spreads for various companies. By working in both worlds, it guarantees income throughout the year. It all depends on the level of income you wish – if you are satisfied with X per year, and it’s met, then great, if you want XYZ per year, you will have to make sure you work even harder and get more jobs, or increase your prices.

Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.
Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.

Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.

What got me started with this blog post was a Facebook post about an advertising shot where the photographer mentioned the things that were done in post-production. A comment was left stating that this retouching mislead consumers because nothing was “this perfect”. I replied to this comment… I had to.

In my professional realm as a jewelry photographer, I need to photograph items that are generally very small and highly detailed. The thing people must realize is that they are designed to be viewed by the naked eye and at best with a 10x loupe. When a client needs a large in-store poster, or large web version for his zoom feature, we are in fact going much larger than the intended viewing size. Even some stellar pieces will show some sort of blemish at these magnifications. So in the bare minimum, all items need retouching to a certain degree.

Is there such a things as too much? Well, in my opinion, considering I work in commercial photography/advertising, not really… We, as a society, have become accustomed to living with blatant exaggerations no? Look at most adds created today, they almost border fantasy. Do your Subway sandwiches look anything like those you see in the pictures? Do Big Macs really look that perfect? Does that volumizing lash product really work as in the commercial? Does that shampoo give orgasmic experiences? No, no, no, and NO. They do create desire – they open appetites, increase our confidence within ourselves, etc. With every generation, advertisers have to push beyond the cusp and outdo previous campaigns to gain visibility with an audience that quickly loses interest, and awaits the next trend.

Some beauty images that make up the ads we see are completely "fudged" and impossible unless multiple shots are done, or CGI is added, etc. Do they reduce in any way the sale of an item? Not really if not at all in my opinion. As said above, they create a brand image. This is the gist of advertising. See a sexy bottle and it makes you want to drink it's luscious elixir. For example, the two photos at the end of this blog post of Dalmore Scotch are composites of several different images. Sometimes shooting several images can be more productive than trying to get it all in one shot.

Topic for a future blog? Behind-the-Scenes?

I'm thinking of doing perhaps a behind-the-scenes involving my shoot of 12 year old Dalmore Scotch. Should you like to see one of the BTS of one of those 2 photos, let me know with a comment at the end of this blog to cast a vote :)

Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots
Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots

Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots.