Live from NEMOA: Cuddledown Cuddles Up to Studio Photography

Cambridge, MA-Paging through the Cuddledown catalog, you’d suspect that the Portland, ME-based bedding mailer spends a fortune on location photography. But most of the room shots were taken in a studio and composited into a background photo. In the session “A Collaborative View of Location Photography” at the New England Mail Order Association (NEMOA) spring conference, held here March 22-24, Cuddledown’s senior graphic designer, Eric Graffam, and Paul Howell, principal of photography and images services studio Howell Ltd., detailed the pros and cons of compositing photography.

For starters, compositing photos is less expensive and time-consuming than setting up and running a location shoot, which requires finding the home, paying the homeowner for its use, obtaining insurance, and trucking the products to the home, among other travel-related expenses. It’s also easier to make changes in the studio if a background isn’t working, Graffam said; “on location, you’re stuck.” And you can also shoot twice as fast in a studio as on location using “controlled lighting that’s good for the room and for the product,” Howell said.

On the down side, to composite photos, finding and buying stock images that work can be a challenge. You can shoot your own library of room scenes to use as backgrounds, which will typically cost you the photographer’s day rate, or if you’re using on-figure photography for apparel (which Cuddledown does), you can use those shots to build a collection for backgrounds. You have to anticipate propping needs in advance, since the studio won’t have the furnishing and decor options that a real home offers. Perhaps most important, said Howell, is that the actual merging of the product photo into the background must be done expertly: “Use a PhotoShop artist!”

But any disadvantages of compositing photos seem to be outweighed to the benefits–at least for Cuddledown. While the company has not calculated what the process saves it vs. location shoots, Graffam noted that since the studio shots are twice as fast, it’s half the cost from a photography standpoint; compositing has also reduced the number of reshoots.

An added benefit for Cuddledown: When it was doing location shots, Graffam said, “most of the homes in Maine had a coastal theme” that didn’t always work with some of the catalog’s European designs. Compositing photos enables it to find backgrounds that work with all its styles, he said.