How to Manage an Ecommerce Photo Shoot with Models

Good photography is vital for online retailers. While some merchants can depend on vendor- or distributor-supplied imagery for a time, most growing retailers will eventually find the need to use custom lifestyle photography. Managing those photo shoots can produce unexpected challenges.

Merchants will need a photographer, models, lighting equipment, a makeup artist, legal agreements, sun screen, and more. What follows is a brief description of how to manage a lifestyle or “lookbook” style photo-shoot that should result in the sorts of product-in-action photos common in many industry segments.

Lifestyle Photography in Action

As an example, take a look at the Honda EU2000i Generator sold on the Camping World website. There is most certainly a standard product image showing the generator against a white background, but there is also a photo of a man carrying the generator in one hand, and several images showing the generator in action at campsites or tailgate parties.

Camping World Honda generator shows a Honda generator in use.

You can also find good lifestyle photos on the L.L. Bean website where, again in addition to product isolation shots, you find images of the products, a Pima Cotton Tee for example, in a “real world” environment with a model.

L.L. Bean cotton t-shirt

L.L. Bean cotton t-shirt displayed in a real-world setting.

Lifestyle photography can also be used as banner advertising; content for Pinterest and other social media; or on-site promotion. Silver Jeans Co. uses these sorts of images on its home page, presumably to draw visitors further into the site.

Silver Jeans Co.

Silver Jeans Co. uses lifestyle photos on its home page.

Have a Goal

Like every marketing tactic, your photo shoot should have a purpose and a goal. If you aim for nothing, you will most certainly hit it. So don’t aim for nothing.

Before you do anything else sit down and come up with measurable goals for the photo shoot and the marketing activities it is supporting.

Example goals might include to increase cross-sell opportunities; to earn additional followers on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook; or to create better converting advertising banners.

Hire the Photographer

Some merchants take a friends and family approach, wherein hiring the photographer is often a matter of identifying the friend or relation with the most photographic equipment. Think about the hobbyist who takes senior class pictures or new baby pictures. You want someone who is familiar with lighting and photo composition. Compensation will need to be negotiated.

Professional photographers are tried-and-true experts. They understand how to achieve your goals in photography, and they will work quickly often serving as the on-the-spot creative director too. Don’t be afraid to hold these photographers to a higher standard, and be certain that you review their portfolios. For a professional photographer in 2014, you might expect to pay between $500 and $5,000 for a day of shooting.

You’ll need a release from the photographer that includes perpetual, worldwide rights.

Hire the Models

Friends and family members might seem like an easy and obvious choice for models, and there are certainly many online sellers who take this approach. But friends and family member are rarely experienced. They are less likely to know how to pose or take direction, and using them can slow down a photo shoot.

There are also be some awkward situations that arise during a photo shoot. As an example, on a recent photo shoot with professional models, a crew member walked up to a model pulled her bra strap off of her shoulder — with the model’s help — and tucked it into the model’s shirt. This situation seemed easy and natural with the professional model but would be weird if the crew member normally worked in shipping and the model was your sister.

Hire professional models via a local talent or modeling agency. Don’t be afraid to simply search on Google or Bing for local agencies. Also, if you use an advertising agency for media placement or creative, they will be able to help secure professional models.

Professional models should have experience, take direction, and be able to pose well.

In 2014, don’t be surprised if you pay $100 or $150 per hour or $650 to $1,000 per day for professional models.

You will need a model release form for each model professional or otherwise. This form does not need to be a complex legal document. The New York Institute of Photography had a nice example on its site.

A professional photo shoot typically requires a hair and makeup specialist, crew members, and models.

A professional photo shoot typically requires a hair and makeup specialist, crew members, and models.

Hire the Makeup and Hair Specialist

A hair and makeup specialist will ensure that your models look right, and help to overcome problems like strong wind.

If you’re using an advertising agency, it should include the hair and makeup person as part of the package. Otherwise, find your own on Google or Bing. In 2014, you can expect to pay between $250 and $500 for this professional.

Hire the Crew

There will be boxes to carry, photographic reflectors and diffusers to hold, and models to be tended. These are the jobs belonging to your crew.

If you are working with an agency, they will supply crewmembers. Otherwise many online merchants might get away with using regular employees to provide these services. Plan on having more crew members than you think you will need.

More specialized members of the crew should be responsible for dressing the models. This task should go to someone who understands fashion and the goals

Secure the Location

You are also going to hire the location or at least secure the right to shoot at a particular location. If you are doing studio shoots, your photographer may have the location already. But if you are shooting outdoors, even in public places, be certain that you have communicated with the site owners or managers and scheduled the time.

Also, consider that many well-known building and landmarks cannot be photographed without prior written permission.

Process the Photography

Finally, you are going to need someone to process the photography. In many cases, the photographer will do this. But other times you will need to hire a separate Photoshop expert.

Even in the best of circumstances, you will need to touch up a model’s skin or remove blemishes. You’ll need color correction, and, depending on your goals, other photo processing.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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