I know many creators who feel unsure about sharing product-related content or client work on their social media. If you are a food photographer who is doing commercial work, never forget that it is an essential part of your work to create an interesting visual story with an actual product, and you worked hard to build up a unique skillset, so there is no reason why you should not show these amazing creations.
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series, we will talk about how to get the best out of lifestyle food product photography. If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition, and food styling tricks and tips, you can visit all episodes of this popular series by clicking here.
Are you ready to improve your product photography skills? Let's do this together!
Keep it stylish
When you are working with the products of your client, they normally have a signature style for the entire brand or for the product group you are shooting. You normally need to create the new images in a way, that perfectly fits this signature style. On a few occasions and of course, later in your professional career, brands also happen to come to work with you because they like your own style.
When you are discussing a project, make sure you are surveying the client's visual needs in good enough detail. This can be challenging sometimes, as it is not easy to put feelings, mood, and style preferences into words, so support your negotiation partner when they need to express their vision. I give you an example.
"What style and mood we are looking for when creating the images?" + add suggestions and requests, such as:
- list / show examples for the most popular options for style, mood, and vibe
- request a mood board
- ask the client to point out reference images in your portfolio / your social media or send you links from the internet
Unfolding the question that requires a subjective answer this way will help you understand the client's vision and expectations.
When you are using products for your personal projects, you have absolute freedom, but of course, keep in mind to present the products in a way, that in case the brand would see the result, they will see their product in a positive way... who knows, they might like it on a level, that you will get a paid opportunity in the future.
Spectrum of complexity
When it comes to commercial food photography, there are many ways to present the hero. The scene we are creating for a branded item can be very complex with a lot going on, but sometimes the less-is-more helps even better to grab the viewers' attention.
General product photography shows what a product looks like, what important features it has, what comes in the box. Anything from simple e-commerce style pictures with the product on a white background, to super technical product images that are the combination of digital elements, artificial shadows, and a digitally fabricated environment. These photoshoots most likely happen in a well-equipped studio where the lighting and other technical factors can be perfected.
Compared to general product photography, the genre of lifestyle product photography is very conceptual. The photos feel aspirational but authentic, which we achieve by creating realistic settings that do not look staged and choosing the right locations for the product. With this highly influential photography genre, you can help your clients to evolve their brand identity and transform their e-commerce site into a powerful sales engine.
This type of visual content...
- trigger feelings in consumers, and make them visualize themselves in the featured lifestyle
- clearly states how the product will help them in their everyday practices
- make the product relatable.
It can happen in the studio, outdoors, or on location. Many photographers shoot this type of work with natural light, others use different lighting equipment from simple and transportable small led panels to professional studio strobes.
Very often it is required that we create a recipe or a serving suggestion for the product to inspire consumers. When coming up with the idea of the recipe, you cannot go wrong if you apply the following to the recipe you create for the job:
- easy to prepare
- does not contain ingredients that are difficult to source
- the consumer can relate to the dish: by the recipe being traditional, seasonal, a variation of a popular dish or triggering a childhood memory
The main duty is to highlight the various ways the product can be used by anyone, regardless of their level of expertise in the kitchen, so they more likely to try it and introduce the product into their everyday cooking and baking.
Exercise: Plan a lifestyle food product photoshoot
- Pick the product(s).
- Research the brand's personality before planning your concept.
- Think about what emotions these photos need to focus on.
- Choose the right background / location, as it is responsible for the overall mood of the photos.
- Using the power of the human presence on the images is the best way to show how someone is actually using the product.
- Pick props that are relevant to the context and mood you are going for in your storytelling.
- Write a shortlist including a quick sketch about each setup and composition.
- Create a mood board to visualize all aspects of the project.
- Clean the product(s). Dusty heroes are not something that you want to see in images for commercial purposes. Better to do this beforehand and it takes a lot of time to correct this mistake in post-processing. Check your product and overall scene for unwanted blemishes and remove them before you consider the job done.
After this, you have nothing else to do, then go to do the photoshoot and post-process your images! If you wish me to see the results, do not hesitate to tag @rekacsulak in your social media shares.
I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by digging deeper into one of the most profitable income streams of food photographers. Welcome Murielle Banackissa on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I am Murielle Banackissa, a food photographer and food stylist based in Montreal, Canada. Although I do a variety of styles within the food photography realm, I specialize in Lifestyle Food Product Photography.
What are the main steps of your planning process when you need to come up with a creative lifestyle concept around a product?
The first thing I do is determining the style. This is a step that involves my clients. We discuss the aesthetic they are most attracted to and want me to replicate, whether it is dark and moody or bright and airy. I also like to ask my clients to share with me images that they like and why those images speak to them.
After having a better idea of the style we will be going for, I then discuss with the client what they want the images to convey. Will they make the viewer feel cozy, warm? Are they inviting? Or are they more cold? Do they communicate a sense of freshness and health? Or more a sense of decadence?
Another important piece of the puzzle is knowing if my clients want their product to be used in a recipe or if they want the product to be featured as is. If they want the product to be used in a recipe, we then discuss what recipe I could create that highlights their product.
Once all that is approved, it’s time for me to plan the scene(s) I will be shooting.
From there, I gather all the props that I will be using, prep the recipe (if required), and start shooting, communicating with my client all along the way if that is something they want.
Many creators struggle when they need to come up with a relatable story for a product. What are your tips for better storytelling?
I find that thinking of the context in which the product will be used is key. Let’s say I am shooting baking chocolate, I will try to incorporate the chocolate in a recipe and try and put myself in the shoes of the person using the product in a cake for example.
This is where client communication is key. If I know their goal is to convey a sense of decadence, comfort, and warmth with the images I create, I will gravitate towards creating a moody scene, playing with lots of browns and beiges, bringing in vintage props, etc.
If on the other hand my client has a product that is more health-conscious and they want to convey that through imagery, then I would opt for a bright and airy setup, incorporating fresh elements, sticking to clear, bright gold or silver cutlery, and opting for light plates, bowls, and linens.
Other than showing a recipe as inspiration next to a product, what other creative ways do you like to use when you need to show the packaging on your lifestyle images?
One thing I love to do is work on ways to showcase an image in a fun and playful way. So that could include for example, hanging candy (the product) on a Christmas tree. Or it could be showcasing the product on a simple colorful background, but including elements that tell a story about the product like surrounding it with ingredients that make up the product. For example, this chocolatey spicy peanut butter is made with peanuts, dark chocolate, and hot peppers. The client wanted the brand image to be fun and playful, but not messy. Therefore, I made sure to keep the styling to a minimum, placed the jar on a simple background and surrounded it with ingredients the product is made out of.
Another thing that I find helps showcase a product in lifestyle images is incorporating a human element. In most cases, the human element is me. So I can have my hands in the shot holding the product, like in the image below where I am pouring hot espresso into a mixing bowl. This gives a human touch to the photos I am taking and helps the viewer project themselves in the photo.
Do you agree with the following statement: it is always necessary to keep the product and labels in sharp focus on lifestyle images?
It is absolutely not necessary. It really depends what your end goal is and what your client’s requirements are. If your client asked for the product to be in focus, of course it is a must. However, if your client wants the product they are selling to be used in a recipe for example, I think the dish prepared should be the focus, because we all know that appetite drives behavior. In this case, the product itself with its packaging is never too far (unless stated otherwise by the client), because you do want the viewers of the image to associate the final dish with the packaging, in turn driving the sales of the product.
Whenever I shoot with packaging, I like to offer my clients a few options to choose from: one where the product is in focus and one where it is not. This allows them to choose which image they prefer and fits better with their own marketing goals.
What do you consider as the present trend in lifestyle product photography?
I find that I am noticing a lot of people placing a lot of importance on styling a scene. Lifestyle product photography is not as minimal as it was when I first started, but I love it. I personally really enjoy taking the time to style a scene to make sure the product I am showcasing shines.
I have also noticed a big shift towards dark and moody photography for lifestyle product photography, which is great in my opinion. I think a lot of different products land themselves perfectly for this aesthetic.