Product photography & product styling can look glamorous in a way – getting to play around with colours and props, arranging things and sometimes getting to keep the products (not going to lie, this can be awesome, but overwhelming). In April, I officially decided to start offering product photography services to those who would need it. I feel like Nigerian brands and businesses can do better in the way they showcase their products, thus, I am on an aesthetic mission.
Following a stressful experience I had recently, coupled with the fact I was planning on writing this before, I’ll be mentioning 5 challenges I face as a product photographer/stylist – for those who may be curious, and those considering offering their services to the public.
When you offer a service, you also need to adopt certain behaviours – discipline is one of them, and something I’ve personally struggled with. I have been late to appointments, I’ve underpriced myself, as well as other things. It is so important to be disciplined, you need to have your yes mean yes and no mean no. If you say 12pm, be there by 12pm. These little things help your business and boost your reputation – at the end of the day, it all boils down to referrals. You should strive to have a pleasant experience with each client!
I hate being late, it makes me feel sick inside and I usually spend the entirety of the time it takes to get to the location thinking and reflecting – only to end up doing it again. I’m hoping to kick this tardiness habit to the curb by preparing well ahead. I also hope to have a stronger resolve when it comes to stating my prices – because at the end of the day, If I keep undercharging, I’m only going to be hurting myself.
Lack of Photography Resources
Ah yes, you want to enter the world of product photography. Like other businesses, there are costs that come when you start up. There’s equipment to be acquired – a camera (do you have a good phone camera, DSLR, digital camera?) and props, as well as more technical stuff like reflectors and studio lights.
...Unless you're quite well off, you won't start off with absolutely everything you'll need, but you should at the same time be able to make the most out of what you have. #productphotography #photography Click To Tweet
Start With What You Have
I started with my iPhone and rely heavily on natural light, because at the end of the day, natural light blows any other light out of the water. You don’t necessarily need a digital camera – a decent phone camera is enough to start. You just have to know what you’re doing, and have mad editing skills and an eye for aesthetics, in order to deliver.
I’m yet to acquire studio lights and I have a long list of other things I want, but I realise that as I grow, so will my equipment/resources. I’ve already gotten off to a good start by eventually getting Hugo, my camera, after relying on my iPhone for a while. Still, I do rely on my iPhone, but it’s a backup for Hugo now. Either way, growth comes eventually if you play your cards right. While I sometimes wish I had studio lights, reflectors, different backgrounds and textures of backgrounds, a big fat roll of seamless background paper along with the stand to hold it up, I realise those things will come in due time.
Unless you’re quite well off, you won’t start off with absolutely everything you’ll need, but you should at the same time be able to make the most out of what you have.
As I mentioned above, I rely heavily on natural light. I only shoot during the day because the day comes with sunshine, and sunshine = bomb photos. However, getting the image you want also depends on the time of day you take the photos. I used to heavily rely on 9am – 10am and nothing else, but soon realised that as long as it is day, there is opportunity for amazing photos.
Sometimes it will rain hard and reduce all the natural light goodness. Other times, the wind will blow your items away. I like shooting outdoors, although it is highly stressful – imagine doing a shot with ingredients of a particular product sprinkled around, then having bentonite clay flying around – PS it’s not cute.
At the end of the day, one cannot control weather. One can simply try their best with daylight, and do some shots with studio lights.
Knowing Your Worth and Adding Tax to It
This is by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I mean, certain industries have some sort of price guideline attached. An average corn seller will not go about charging a singular corn cob for N100 when her neighbours sell it for N50. Creative businesses are different in a way, because I’m offering a service at the end of the day!
It’s been my biggest challenge, but once I figure things out, I’ll definitely tell all who are interested. Due to my lack of assertiveness and underestimation of my skills, I’ve been basically operating at a loss since I started – I can’t let that happen any more. There’s no hard and fast rule for putting a price on your services, but there are definitely considerations to be taken into place – what elements are considered in the price? Time? Transportation? Creativity? Props used? There are so many equations one can use to arrive at a final price, but I still find myself conflicted. It’s led to me really undercharging these last few months, but I say no more.
Location Location Location
While I’ve been lucky that some businesses found me good enough to send their products from Lagos to take photos of, accessibility is very much a problem. Most of the people who follow me are in Lagos, and the Abuja scene is quite dry (or it feels that way). If I stayed in Lagos, I’d definitely be getting more jobs. However, there are worse cities to be in because if I was in Jigawa, ain’t nobody coming to look for me! Location is quite important, and I sometimes wish I was in Lagos. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be able to exist in both places at certain periods of time.
Either way, bloom where you are planted. Just because you’re in some less-popular cities doesn’t mean you have absolutely 0 opportunities. There’s always going to be businesses, and businesses will always need to showcase their products – whether it’s the regular plain white background, or a styled photo. Instagram and social media in general provide the most amazing platform to reach out and bridge gaps caused by distance. All you need to do is pitch, trust me, if a brand sees that you know what you’re doing, they’ll do anything to have you photograph their products!
Exposure/Building Goodwill & Authority
Hold up – just because you see exposure in the title doesn’t mean you should start offering that I take photos for you in exchange for exposure – let’s respect ourselves! Though, the type of jobs I take depend on several factors at the time. Anyway, I wish I could get ‘contracts’ – is that what they’re called? Or is it commissions? – more frequently. To be able to have 1 – 2 shoots a week would be lovely, but right now, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far.
Building goodwill and a strong reputation takes time, and I’m willing to take the time, put in the effort and showcase my best. Also, working with all sorts of brands isn’t necessarily an indicator for success – you don’t have to work for everybody. You shouldn’t be afraid to be selective – not every brand is for you! There will be rejections and frustrations, but I’ll just have to keep moving on!
One day, I hope to look back on this post and realise how much I’ve grown and achieved!