If you’re considering choosing a professional career in the photography industry that makes a fairly decent income, product photography may be up your street.
Furthermore, if you’re hired by companies such as Nike, Apple, Ikea, Starbucks, etc., you’ll earn a small fortune in no time.
A FACT.MR report valued the global commercial photography market at US$5.1 billion from a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% between 2017 and 2021.
Over the next ten years, the CAGR is expected to increase to 2.2%, with the global commercial photography market expected to reach US$6.4 billion by 2032.
Accounting for 45% of the value will be product photography, according to the report. That puts the estimated global value of product photography in 2032 at US$2.88 billion.
Years before COVID-19, the attitude of shoppers had changed in the 90s due to a rise in online shopping and the ease at which products could be purchased and delivered via the click of a few buttons on a smartphone. That said, online shopping was still new, making up just over 6% of all retail sales in the United States (2010).
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit most businesses hard, forcing many to close for good while others changed tactics and moved online to cut store rent costs and staff salaries down.
And now? Internet sales as a total percentage of sales in the UK rocketed from 2.8% in November 2006 to 18.9% in February 2020, then shot up again to 30% in April 2020 because of the pandemic. In May 2020, US sales from “non-store retailers” rose 30.8% from May 2019.
As a result, product photographers are in significant demand worldwide and rightly so. Most brick-and-mortar businesses that closed their doors and moved online sell hundreds to thousands of goods, requiring product photographers to influence consumers’ first impressions.
How does product photography play a vital role in online shopping now?
A 2012 study by the Missouri University of Science and Technology reported that, according to recent eye-tracking research, users take less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression when viewing a website.
But it takes a little longer – about 2.6 seconds – for a user’s eyes to land on the website area that most influences their first impression.
Product photos will form the basis of consumers’ initial judgements, making them extremely important in marketing.
Brands require clear, attractive product images that immediately persuade potential customers to stick around. These sorts of visuals act as windows into a business.
In addition, first-rate product photos convey product quality information and communicate the brand’s spirit.
Conversely, poor product photos will instantly deter consumers. This means businesses won’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Therefore, consistent product photography counts, as does every second the consumer spends viewing the product image.
What are the Requirements for a Career in Product Photography?
Choosing a professional career in product photography does require a certain degree of knowledge, such as qualifications, though it’s not always necessary; for example, I know of many pro-product photographers who taught themselves and take home a salary of between £27-£38K annually with some of the UK leading brands such as Marks & Spencer, Vodaphone, Tesco and Burberry.
That said, it’s probably a good idea to obtain the necessary qualifications to reassure your future employer that you are proficient in this genre, such as:
4 or 5 GCSEs in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and a creative subject.
Two or more GCSEs in grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent, are required for a level 2 course. Four or five GCSEs are also required in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English, maths and a creative subject.
1 or 2 A levels, or equivalent, for a foundation degree or higher national diploma or 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree.
Photographic Assistant Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship or Photographer Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship.
In addition to the above qualifications and work experience, you will also need the following skills under your belt, such as:
- Proficiency in Photoshop and Lightroom
- Experience as a photographer at a national level (with a portfolio)
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to form new concepts for each product shoot
- Good time management skills at a shoot
It’s also a good idea to get your work noticed on stock image sites like Alamy or in local and national photographic competitions.
Furthermore, consider joining a professional photography organization such as the Guild of Photographers, which offers the chance to build your portfolio through national competitions and grading (qualifications). Please click this link here to learn more about the Guild of Photographers.
What equipment do I need?
If you’re considering a professional career in product photography, ditch the cellphone and start with a good camera.
While some mobile phones are excellent means to learn about photography and get your work noticed, they have limitations, such as smaller sensors, low pixel count, low-quality optics, resizing is often a no-no and poor light sensitivity.
In contrast, smartphone cameras don’t offer much in terms of professional-standard image sizing; therefore, a full-frame, DSLR, etc., is considered the best option.
It’s also worth noting that consumer brands advertise their stock on billboards, magazines, and televised adverts. Therefore, pixel count matters most when you need the best quality that your camera can provide.
Two of the best professional product cameras on the market (2023) are:
- Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera has a newly designed 45.7-megapixel stacked backside-illuminated full-frame CMOS image sensor.
- Fujifilm GFX 100S medium format camera that comes with a 102MP imaging sensor.
While both camera models are somewhat expensive, your newfound experience and product images will soon pay off.
In addition, you may need a fair amount of photography equipment to begin shooting product photos, such as lenses, laptops and PCs for image editing, tripods, on- and off-camera flashes, speed lights, flash mounts, softboxes, reflectors, clamps, backgrounds, and camera cleaning equipment. To find out more, please click this link here.
On average, it takes between 3 and 6 months to learn the basics of product photography and at least a year to familiarise yourself with concepts, design, editing, photography skills, etc.
That said, once you’ve got the jist of things and your work is getting noticed on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter (X), Alamy, and local and national competitions, you’ll soon progress into your chosen career.
What Type of Products Do Product Photographers Shoot?
Product photographers shoot a wide range of genres, such as:
- Lifestyle that shows the customer how a product will impact their life, i.e. a garden tool, lighting, cars and bikes, etc.
- Studio image shots such as catalogue images of clothes, shoes, etc. These types of product images must be clear and crisp.
- Scale and detail shots that illustrate a product’s scale, dimensions, etc.
- Group shots that showcase various products from the same manufacturer detailing variations, colours and sizes, i.e. travel cases, cosmetics, etc.
- Process shots that detail the high-quality workmanship that goes into making premium products such as jewellery, designer clothes, furniture and cars.
- Packaging shots illustrate a vital aspect of e-commerce: how a product is packaged and delivered. It’s also worth noting that packaging product photography is essential to selling a consumer brand.
- Flat-lay images are photographs of a product shot from above. They are popular in fashion and accessory photography. Flat-lay photography is more minimalistic and eye-catching.
- Individual shots illustrate a product, such as a single coat or mountain bike. These images are usually used in banners, websites, billboards, etc., and must be crisp, clear, and showcase the product well.
Product photography covers many products, including clothing, cosmetics, alcohol, tobacco, medicine, furniture, electronics etc.
With the rise of e-commerce, it’s only natural that the number of online shoppers worldwide rises.
As of 2023, the number of digital buyers is 2.64 billion, representing 33.3% of the global population. In other words, one out of every three people you see will be an online shopper.
The number of online shoppers has been growing over the past few years. There are 80 million more digital buyers this year alone than in 2022—a 3.1% year-over-year increase.
This increase should come as no surprise, as internet connectivity penetrates the world and online shopping becomes increasingly convenient.
Exclusive online shopping events offering huge discounts, such as Singles’ Day in China, Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, have also spurred the online shopping bandwagon.
The number of online shoppers is set to continue increasing, rising to 2.71 billion in 2024 and 2.77 billion in 2025.
There are many advantages to being a product photographer. As mentioned, product photographers are in high demand; therefore, they have a higher success rate regarding job opportunities than other genres, such as portraiture or events.
Product photography can also be financially rewarding. The average salary of a product photographer in the United States is $96,000 (£78,500) per annum.
However, it is worth noting that most product photographers who work for big brands such as Nike, Costa, Ikea, etc., can easily earn upwards of $150,000 per annum (£122,600).
For example, top product photographers like Jonathan Knowles and Peter Lippmann can charge more than $4,000 (£3,200) daily + additional commercial photography licensing.
Product photographers often enjoy the advantage of flexible hours, too. This is because they are often self-employed, meaning they are not bound by traditional office jobs’ typical 9 am-5 pm work schedule.
Product photographers have the advantage of being able to work remotely from the comfort of their homes or studios.
This is also a massive advantage for introverts who dislike going to the office and interacting with many people.
In addition, product photographers can work with clients from all over the globe and are not restricted by geographical boundaries.
Product photographers often have diverse and exciting assignments, such as shooting different product categories such as beauty, clothing, tech, food, and home accessories. This allows them to stay fresh and excited about their work by constantly exploring new product categories and challenges.
There are many career advancement opportunities in product photography, too. Product photographers can start by working on small projects, building up their portfolio, and eventually moving on to bigger jobs, such as shooting product campaigns or working with large brands, which makes big bucks.
As mentioned, university and college courses are not mandatory for a career in this photography sector. Unlike other professions, such as medicine or engineering, product photography does not require a formal university degree.
Product photographers can learn the basics of product photography and develop their skills through online courses and workshops.
In addition, product photographers often get satisfaction from seeing their work published in magazines, billboards, or in the press and media.
Unlike many other professions where you don’t see the tangible results of your hard work, product photography offers the immense satisfaction of seeing your work in e-commerce stores, magazines, and even on product packaging.
Furthermore, there are many freebies, discounts and perks concerning professional product photography. This is an excellent way for product photographers to save money and try out products free of charge.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If I can help one person succeed in their career after COVID destroyed most small photography businesses, then it’s a bonus. I, for one, am considering a career change and may start homing my skills into this genre after COVID destroyed my business in several months.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson. I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also teach workshops, lead tours, and provide one-on-one photography feedback.