DIY Product Photography or Hire a Professional Photographer

By Lisa McGrimmon | Published Feb. 5, 2018 | Revised March 5, 2021
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Sometimes DIY product photography is the way to go when you need images of your handmade items. Other times, you really need to hire a professional photographer.

Before you decide whether to DIY your product photos or hire a pro, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How will you use the photos?
  2. What type of products are you photographing?
  3. What type of photos do you need?
  4. What is your timeframe for creating the photos?
  5. Are you willing and able to put in the time to develop your craft photography skills?

Your answers will help you decide which option is best for your needs.

1. How will you use the photos?

The reason you need photos of your products will have a big impact on the quality you require.

Of course, any product photos you use for any reason must be high quality. However, there's a big difference in the quality photos an amateur with some training and practice can create vs. the standard of excellence a professional photographer with years of dedicated training and practice combined with top-of-the-line equipment can achieve.

Does your situation call for skilled amateur photos or excellent professional images?

If you need photos for your craft blog, with the help of a good craft photography course and some practice, you'll be able to take the kind of photos you need. In this case, DIY product photography by a skilled amateur is a smart choice.

If you need product photos to apply to juried art shows — particularly competitive shows and competitive categories — you may need to hire a professional product photographer to get the kind of photos you need to make a strong impression on the jury amid all of the competition.

Be honest with yourself as you decide whether you can create — or learn to create — product photos that meet the quality standards your situation demands.

2. What type of products are you photographing?

DSLR camera on yellow backgroundShould you DIY your product photography or hire a pro?

The type of items you're photographing will also have an impact on your choice to take your own product photos or hire a pro. Some products are simply more difficult to photograph than others.

For example, reflective items are more difficult to photograph than non-reflective items. When you're photographing reflective items, small changes in the light can have a huge impact on your photo.

If you sell reflective products like jewelry or glass and you want to DIY your product photography, you'll need to develop a solid understanding of how to light product photography to take photos that make your products look great.

3. What type of photos do you need?

If the photos you need require a fairly simple setup, it will be easier to get great results.

For example, consider the challenges of lifestyle vs product photography on a plain white background.

If you want lifestyle images that require a more complex setup — for example, maybe you want to work with a model or photograph your products in an outdoor location — you'll have to learn to manage more variables to take great photos.

If, on the other hand, you can use a simple tabletop photography setup featuring your product against a plain white backdrop or your product and a few props, that task will be easier to manage.

4. What is your timeframe for creating the photos?

The timing of your photography needs can also play a role in your decision because the timing will impact the convenience and cost of hiring a professional photographer.

Hiring a pro to photograph several angles of several similar items all at once will cost significantly less than paying a pro for several different photo sessions over time.

If you need several items photographed in a single session — for art show applications, for example — hiring a pro photographer can be a smart, cost-effective choice.

On the other hand, if you'll need to photograph items on a regular basis over time — for your craft blog, for example — the cost of bringing in a pro every time will be higher. Also, if you depend on a pro, you won't have the flexibility to get photos whenever you need them. You'll have to work with the photographer's schedule.

In that case, you may decide it's smart to invest some time to become a skilled amateur photographer so you can take your own photos whenever you need them.

5. Are you willing and able to put in the time to develop your craft photography skills?

If you're a beginner photographer, even if you know your way around your DSLR camera, you'll need to devote some time to learn how to take great product photos.

You'll also need to devote the time required to take and edit photos every time you need new images. And you may need to invest in some photography gear.

Learning craft photography doesn't have to be a long, arduous process. You don't need to know everything there is to know about the topic. And your gear doesn't have to be wildly expensive to get started.

You don't have to be prepared to photograph every type of product in every imaginable circumstance. You just need the basic knowledge and some essential equipment needed for product photography to photograph your own product in a limited number of settings.

If that seems reasonable to you, and you feel you'll be able to get the quality you need for your purposes, DIY product photography may be a smart choice for you.

Working with a Professional Product Photographer

If you'd like to work with a professional product photographer, there are a few things you can do to manage costs, help your photographer get great results, and maintain a good working relationship.

Communicating Expectations

A pro product photographer will likely ask you to sign a contract. This is a good thing.

Clear communication between you and the photographer you work with is essential to help avoid misunderstanding and disappointment. A photography contract is a vital tool for communicating expectations.

Digital Photography School has outlined guidelines for pro photographers who need to create their own photography contract. The guidelines provide helpful insights into many things that should be clarified before you and your photographer decide to work together.

Managing Costs

Keep in mind, any photographer you hire is a creative entrepreneur just like you. You deserve to be paid fairly for your skill and time, and so does your photographer.

Having said that, your business budget might be limited. There are ways you can manage costs while still respecting the value of your photographer's skill.

The less prep work your photographer needs to do, the less time it will take to photograph all of your products. If you can limit the need for excessive prep work, you may be able to keep your costs per photo down.

Here are a few factors that can affect the cost of hiring a professional product photographer because they impact the amount of time the photographer will need to spend on your project:

Location of the Photo Session

Clearly, setting up in a photographer's own studio can be done much faster than setting up on location. Keep that in mind before you ask to have your crafts photographed in an offbeat location.

Type of Product

Some types of products require more complex setups than others. For example, smaller, simple items are often less expensive to photograph. They are easier to set up quickly, so your photographer will need to spend less time working on your project.

Number of Images Required for Each Product

Your photographer will prepare each product, carefully ensuring it is clean and free of flaws. That preparation takes time, but once it's done, your photographer can quickly take several photos of the same item from several different angles.

If you ask for several photos of the same item, your cost per photo may be lower. On the other hand, if you need only one or two photos of many different items, expect your cost per photo to be higher.

Number of Products in a Single Category

If your items are all similar, your photographer will be able to take all of the photos you need using a single setup. She'll be able to work quickly, which should result in a lower cost per photo.

If you need different types of products photographed (reflective and non-reflective items, for example), your photographer will have to change the setup during the session. This change will take time, which can result in a higher cost per photo.

If you're being careful with your budget, keep in mind, it's often less expensive to hire a photographer to photograph many similar items all at once. Getting several angles of all of your products photographed in a single session will likely be the most cost effective way to work with a professional product photographer.

Help your photographer give an accurate price estimate

Often product photographers will quote a price for a project based on the cost per photo. They will consider the factors noted above, estimate how long it will take to complete the project, and quote a fee based on those considerations.

To help any photographer you contact give you an accurate price estimate, be ready to provide:

  • the type(s) and number of products you need photographed
  • the different angles you'll want captured
  • how many shots are required for each item
  • all of the ways you want to use the photos

Help your photographer get great results

Be sure to thoroughly inspect any products to be photographed. Give your photographer your very best work. Make sure items are clean, without flaws, and don't have joins in awkward places that would be tough for your photographer to hide.

You can even grab your phone and take a quick photo of each item yourself. Don't worry about the image quality; no-one else will see these photos. Look at the images on your computer screen. You'll be able to find any flaws more easily this way than you would simply looking at your products.

DIY Product Photography or Hire a Pro or Both?

First and foremost, you need to be honest with yourself about your photography skills or your willingness to develop your craft photography skills .

The loveliest handmade items won't sell if the product photos aren't good enough.

Beyond the question of quality ask yourself:

  • Is it smarter to spend money to buy photography gear or to hire a professional?
  • Is it smarter to invest your time improving your photography skills and photographing your own products or invest money hiring a pro?
  • Do you need images for a situation that demands exceptionally high quality photos? Or will skilled amateur photos meet the grade?
  • Do you need photos taken on a regular basis? Occasionally? Only once?

Honest answers to these questions will help you make the right choice for your business.

One Final Thought...

Remember, you don't have to limit yourself to one single choice.

If it suits your needs, you may decide on DIY product photography for ongoing photo needs, like social media posts, and pro photography when the situation demands exceptional quality, like juried art show applications.

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