Small Catalogs Forum: Photo Opportunities

Photography can be a major expense for catalogers — particularly small mailers on a shoestring budget. While you don’t want to skimp on the quantity and quality of the photos you need — doing so could hurt sales — there are a few things you can do to lower photography costs that will be pretty much imperceptible to customers:

  1. Be prepared prior to the photo shoot

    Time is money, especially at a photo shoot, so have a clear idea of what you want and how to achieve it. Chicago-based photographer Kathy Zawacki, who has worked with catalogs such as Spiegel and Lobster Gram, recommends sketching every shot for every page in the catalog ahead of time. These sketches should be detailed enough to include the necessary props. “If the photographer has to wait for propping or spend time designing the shots due to lack of preparation, it will cost you,” she warns.

  2. Stay in the studio

    Location photography is a luxury that many small catalogers can’t afford. Studio photos require less time, money, and obviously, little or no travel.

    Digital backgrounds and creative lighting can often replicate a location for you. Shoes for Crews, a marketer of industrial shoes based in West Palm Beach, FL, always shoots in the studio, says president Matthew Smith. “We shoot angular shots of feet at work so that we can re-create a restaurant kitchen in the studio and have more control.”

  3. Handle your own styling and propping

    Who knows your product and audience better than you? So it stands to reason that, particularly if you don’t use live models, you should be able to style and prop the shoot yourself.

    One caveat: To reduce the photographer’s billable hours, you will need several people on hand to move the props and set up the shots. Zawacki recommends a preshoot consultation with your photographer to ensure that you have the right amount of people for the shoot. Recruit employees if you’re shooting on a workday, or persuade family members to lend a hand. And if you have large or heavy products or props, make sure your helpers can handle them.

  4. Consider pick-up art

    Many merchandise vendors now provide customers with digital photos that can eliminate the need for large scripted shoots. Remember, of course, that not all vendor photos will work in your catalog.

    When assessing art sent from vendors, Terry Powers, owner of computer-themed gifts cataloger Computer Gear, looks to see if the product image can be “knocked out” and placed on a background that’s consistent with the rest of the catalog creative. If there is shadowing on the original image, she says it’s probably not worth salvaging. About 5% of Redmond, WA-based Computer Gear’s vendors provide the cataloger with product shots.

  5. Go digital

    Since switching to digital photography two years ago, Fairytale Brownies has shortened its production time and saved money, largely by eliminating the need to scan photos and deal with film, says Eileen Spitalny, co-owner of the Scottsdale, AZ-based food cataloger. Digital photography also enables Spitalny to see shots immediately after they are taken.

    Digital photography works best for catalogers with a large number of SKUs that take straightforward product shots. But Powers, who took Computer Gear digital back in 1996, cautions that the technology “is not as accurate as film in terms of color and shading.”

  6. Shoot it yourself

    Mike Shoup, owner of Brenham, TX-based plants cataloger Antique Rose Emporium, photographs his catalog himself. But having studied photography, he knows what he’s doing. If your vacation snaps are consistently out of focus, steer clear of this option. But if you or someone on your staff dabbles in photography, providing proper training in the medium “could be a long-term investment in the creative look of your book,” Shoup says.

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