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Why DIY photography needs a bit of effort

I’m a big fan of DIY photography: the quality that can be achieved by everyday cameras (including smartphones) is almost indistinguishable from that provided by high-end equipment, at least if the output is aimed at a typical web page. But the camera operator does need to know what they’re doing, and that seems to be a surprisingly unusual skill for those working in marketing.

Unintuitively, this manifests itself more with stills photography than it does with video. I think viewer expectations may be lower with video, and somehow the whole process is more forgiving. With stills, there’s no tolerance for amateur efforts. A badly-lit product shot on a badly-chosen background will make even a remarkable product look cheap and nasty.

As a magazine editor 25 years ago, I used to go through 50–100 press releases a day, and I recall maybe 10–20% of them being accompanied by photos which were utterly unusable. And these were the ones deemed worthy of sending out to the press! “The best we’ve got available, I’m afraid”, really wasn’t good enough justification then, and it certainly isn’t now.

I wouldn’t put off anyone from doing their product photography in-house, but like anything else, a decent amount of training is essential. There are loads of free and paid-for courses online, or perhaps a local photographer might be willing to offer some hands-on teaching. Just one hour with a professional photographer a few years ago showed me the transformational advantages of a light box, and even how to make one from some stuff found around the house.