Photoshoots can be a significant investment. At Caster Communications, we make it a rule to have a member of the PR team onsite for any five-figure photoshoots. Pre-COVID, that meant we’d spend days watching a photographer shoot the same shot over and over.
What were the benefits of that level of scrutiny? Easy. In real-time, we’d get the chance to say, “That background conflicts with the brand colors,” “That light is creating a hot spot,” or a favorite, “Well, that’s the wrong product.”
Given the hands-on access we’re used to, managing product photo shoots during the pandemic has presented a real challenge. A virtual product photo shoot has a higher risk of problems, and those problems are usually significantly more difficult to manage.
After handling a few virtual shoots, I’ve curated some tips.
1. Work with someone you know and trust.
If you have an existing relationship with the photography team, they’ll know what you’re looking for, and you’ll know what to expect from them. It’s not always possible, but consolidating work to a singular, recurring creative partner makes for speedier communication and removes the learning curve often present when onboarding a new creative vendor.
2. Make the creative brief anything but brief.
While any brief has to be detailed, the brief for a virtual shoot must be even more specific than usual to compensate for the distance between you and the photography team.
For in-person shoots, surfaces and props are usually pulled from a selection of options on-set. For a virtual product photoshoot, you should instead assess available options in advance and build selections into the brief.
Cover the details of total shots, including all variations of any shot you need and can’t get with touchup. If you’re over-prepared, you won’t wind up panicking about missed shots after the set has been broken down.
3. Build in more time than you think you need.
Expectations for a remote shoot are different. You need to build in time to address whatever unforeseen technical issue pop up – as they are sure to do.
You also have to reduce daily shot counts to give all parties ample time to discuss each image. Consider reviewing images as you go rather than shooting and reviewing in bulk.
On Caster’s most recent virtual shoot, this additional time-per-shot allowed us to keep the shoot organized and adjust in real time when challenges such as distorted lighting continued to appear on one set of products.
This problem could have been carried into days of shoots if we had allowed the photography team to shoot everything and then reviewed. That approach might have saved time and money on the initial shoot, but the end result would have been unacceptable.
4. See what the photographer sees in real time.
Have the photographer share their camera’s perspective over the videoconferencing software you’re using to monitor the shoot (Zoom, Teams, etc.). This will allow you to replicate the experience of in-person photo review and suggest practically real-time adjustments.
A lot of conferencing apps have a built-in annotation features that allow participants to comment on shared screens in real time; this makes it easy to review shots with a group efficiently.
5. Cull the shots to free the stakeholders from the tyranny of choice.
Culling is the process of deleting the assets the client or final decision-maker doesn’t need to receive upon final delivery. When managing any type of photoshoot, you end up with a lot of photos, and too many choices can overwhelm key stakeholders and torpedo a project.
Recommend the images you want the project stakeholders to be excited about.
Adobe Bridge is an easy platform to copy images into; from there, simply flag final selections for editing and delete outtakes. Once you’ve culled, then rename. This helps distinguish the images from others with similar names.
Define this structure for the photographer. Using a system such as Client-Product-SKU-Descriptor-Code allows you to sort and find photos; sequence numbers can also be added if you are keeping multiples.
6. Streamline stakeholder review.
Inevitably, a remote photo shoot will differ from an in-person shoot for both the people creating the images and those approving them. In addition to finding a way to review images in real time, you will need to establish a system for quickly gathering and sharing feedback from stakeholders who aren’t on the photoshoot conference call.
In Caster’s case, we often need to be able to quickly loop in clients for approval on certain shots – we can easily approve product shots for cropping, but we need to make sure our clients are in love with the hero shots. In the case of a recent Caster shoot, certain shots required CEO and EVP approval, but these executives were only available at certain times. We revised our customary workflow to set mandated touch point times.
Sometimes, these meetings lasted just 15 minutes. We would explain key shots, highlighting how each image related to the goals in the creative brief, the narratives we were building, and messaging across the product line. All of this upfront organization paid off: we were able to efficiently make decisions within our limited time frame.
A remote product photoshoot is about carefully curating every shot and constantly communicating via email and video. Everything happens differently than it would if the shoot were taking place in person.
You have to work with what you’ve got. The more willing you are to compromise and communicate ahead, the less you will need to compromise during the shoot.
Kimberly Lancaster is the President and Founder of Caster Communications.
Kim founded Caster in 1998 and has spent the last two decades working with business startups to Fortune 100 companies across the consumer electronics, smart home, and embedded technology categories.
Kim manages end-to-end PR as well as crisis communications, investor relations, and M&A for agency clients; follow her on Twitter @newscaster.