So You Want To Hire A Photographer To Shoot Your Brand? Here’s What You Need To Know
by Bill McCool on 01/23/2023 | 5 Minute Read
Finding the right photographer for a photoshoot can prove tricky, especially when it comes to the world of branding. Obviously, you want the shoot to pop and give your brand something that visually resonates with consumers. But there’s one undeniable fact when it comes to finding the right photographer for shooting a packaging project, whether it’s a lifestyle shoot, motion work, or product stills:
A good photographer should be a brand curator.
Creativity is all about collaboration. There isn’t just one genius bringing a movie to life, no lone wolf songwriter fleshing out a classic album, or a novelist spinning gold at their laptop without an editor at arm’s length—it takes a village.
Every inch of a brand’s visual identity has to look on point, whether it’s the packaging design, typography, copywriting, or, yes, photography. Often, our first impression of a brand happens digitally, a la the internet and social media, or through a commercial. That's precisely why the visual appeal of a product is paramount, and expert photography is critical to the process.
Partners in Crime
“When I found food photography, that was when a light bulb went off,” explains Michael Maes. The 15-year professional is the owner and founder of Chicago’s Maes Studio. He’s worked for everyone, from McDonald’s and Jack Daniels to Modelo and Coca-Cola, in addition to creating some of the most mouth-watering food images around.
“I think that was because of the collaboration between me, the food stylist, and the prop stylist, with all three of us jiving together to create a great piece. I just love that collaboration. And when you add an art director or a designer into the mix, that’s just one more vision that comes into play. Then, we get to play together and come up with something beautiful.”
Ultimately, a photographer needs to be able to translate a brand’s idea, helping them with new ideas on how they can bring their products to life. “You have to bring something to the table,” he says. “You should not only bring your ability to light or compose a shot, you have to be a partner in the process.”
Michael admits that it’s essential for any photographer to feed off collaboration, and a brand should find someone who’s both accommodating and wants to be a part of a team.
Storytelling is Everything
There’s nothing quite like a good photo on Instagram that makes you stop scrolling. That kind of tightly composed shot almost always has some storytelling element. When it comes to product photography—whether it's for a new bourbon or a functional wellness beverage—that means conveying what’s so remarkable about the brand itself.
For Michael, he prides himself on how he brings realism to every shoot. That’s because it creates an approachable identity for any brand. Which means it’s OK for brands to get a little messy. Cheese can drip and ooze. Heaping piles of ingredients can fall all over the place. Cans and bottles can dribble icy cold drops accordingly in their icy baths. Those seemingly accidental moments create something human and compelling for consumers. When done right, they can summarize everything a brand stands for.
“Having those little bits of things—like textures and drips and drops—add to that realism,” Michael says. “That's what makes it feel welcoming and real.”
Overall, the best product and food photography should have a timeless feel, but when you embrace those happy accidents or human elements, it only enhances the brand and the product itself and becomes something tantalizing that folks can't resist.
Always Prioritize Photography
You know when you’re looking at a bad photo.
Technically speaking, you might not be able to say what is wrong specifically, but you know the lighting is off or the food looks as flat and plastic as roller skating rink pizza. And this is something that’s happened to many brands, particularly start-ups. Maybe they relied on a friend with a fancy camera that’s just starting out, and they’re getting a good deal because that’s what they can afford. Or maybe they’re hoping—fingers crossed—that a render of a floating can will help sell their brand.
The point is, don’t do that.
“Good photography holds up when you do it right,” Michael admits.
Photography is always a critical investment for both legacy and young brands, and you want a skilled hand to help you navigate the ins and outs of a shoot. The Maes Studio, located in the heart of the West Loop Chicago restaurant district, is over 6,000 square feet, with a full industrial kitchen and two shooting areas. He also has expert food and prop stylists on his team, in addition to a handful of other assistants ensuring they can bring a creative director’s vision to life, employing some of the best from Chicago’s photography scene. Sure, you can fake it with digital renders, but it won’t have the same gravitas or authenticity as the real thing. Plus, consumers will know when it’s not up to par.
Not only will a good photo shoot help set your brand apart, but it can also provide you with enough content for a year for multiple campaigns, whether it’s for print or social, and that’s critical for a brand just getting started out that's in search of more funding or even a legacy brand introducing a new offering and trying to find an audience.
We’re still very much living in a world where content is king. And when looking for your ideal photographer, you want a studio that can represent the best parts of your products, almost like an ambassador. Someone who can get under the skin of a brand and make its visual attributes sing with a team that can bring a shoot to life.
“Don’t settle for pretty good. You want great,” says Michael. “That’s what you’re always shooting for.”