Here’s How To Style Your Own Product Photography

During these unprecedented times, we’re all having to get creative about product photography. With studios shut down across the country and social distancing rules, brands have to find innovative product photography ideas. high gloss, a one of a kind, female-founded NYC-based creative studio, has perfected the art of creating elevated campaigns and imagery that connects the core of a brand to their visual presence. They take special care to transform the unimaginable into reality. From art direction and content creation, to set design and prop styling, their distinct blend of references takes the ordinary and turns it into something curiously surreal.

 

We were lucky enough to chat with high gloss founders, Diana Hu and Dominique Pagan, to glean some product photography tips about how to style your own shoot with what you have at home right now.

HOW’S LIFE AFTER QUARANTINE?

Diana: To be honest, this is much more my pace of life. We were fortunate enough to book jobs months out, and before we knew it, our March, April, and May were filling up. Then COVID-19 hit NYC. In the beginning, I was enjoying cooking and making dishes I’ve bookmarked for forever. Now everything I’m doing, my choices, my energy has felt more intentional and purposeful. My daily life is feeling more enriched simply, having time to enjoy the little things.

Dom: A lot of highs, lows, and lessons in introspection. Having to pivot our business and learn to slow down was a hard but an essential lesson for someone like me who tends to base their happiness on productivity. 

WHAT’S YOUR NEW MORNING ROUTINE LIKE?

Dom: Morning walk/jog (going for a walk in the morning and getting some sun first thing in the morning helps me clear my mind and start the day on a positive note), coffee, breakfast (live for breakfast!), and at-home barre class. I actually really dislike working, out so I have to get it done at the beginning of the day to get it out of the way.

Diana: There’s nothing I love more than a relaxing morning routine to start my day. I wake up, do last night’s dishes, I make a pot of tea for me and my husband, and spend some quality time with my cats.

HOW DID HIGH GLOSS COME TO BE?

Dom and Di: We worked as in-house creatives for a huge corporate beauty brand and sat next to each for three years working together on U.S. and International product campaigns and retail design. Dom worked in the visual merchandising dept. and Diana worked on the graphic design team. Dom already had her own business on the side set styling and floral designing, but wasn’t happy with the direction the company was going in, the rate it was growing, and strongly disliked working alone. Diana had a background in branding, art direction, and graphic design. We realized our skill sets perfectly complemented each other. We also got sick of seeing the company we were working for continue to hire outside companies to execute the work we knew were capable of creating for them, so we quit our full-times jobs and put EVERYTHING into high gloss. 

 

P.S.- We still have a great relationship with the company we formerly worked at, and we are now the outside company that they hire to do all the types of creative jobs we wanted to work in-house. 

 

WHERE DID THE NAME, HIGH GLOSS, COME FROM?

Dom and Di: When we started this company, we wholeheartedly wanted to support friends and believe in paying for creative services (as a creative studio ourselves). So we hired a copywriter friend who helped us develop our name, tagline, and mission statement. One of the important lessons we learned early on was you can’t be a master of all trades when it comes to your business because something always gives. For us it was verbiage and copywriting. She had us do many word association exercises and rounds before we decided on the name.

 

In printing, paint, ceramics, and other mediums, high gloss is a final finish you add to enhance the piece. We take great pride in taking care of a brand’s story, but adding our perspective aesthetically—hence, our tagline “your story, our finish.” 

 

DESCRIBE YOUR VIBE IN 5 WORDS

Curious: We always want our work to invite our viewers to explore an image or installation/event that we create. Creative work that evokes joy, questions, and conversation is a must for us.

Intentional/Thoughtful: We both come from corporate backgrounds working in mostly the beauty and fashion industries, so we know how important ROI is to companies. We are extremely thoughtful when creating branded moments during an event/install and making sure a brand’s mission is always at the forefront of the final product. It doesn’t matter how amazing something looks if the decor or visuals outshine branding elements and the message is lost.

Surreal: This is the key word for us! Defined as ” having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre. A surreal mix of fact and fantasy.” We believe that creating work that blurs the line of reality and fiction really evokes thought. We would never want our work to be seen as simply pretty or trending. 

Inclusive: We’re both minority women (Diana is Chinese and Dominique is Puerto Rican), and another HUGE reason we started this company is because we didn’t see ourselves represented in industries we loved (in front or behind the scenes). 

Bold: Because there are enough companies playing it safe. We didn’t start our business to stand on the sidelines (even though we’re both introverts at heart). The clients we love working with the most have identified with our sometimes odd concepts and hire us specifically for that POV.

 

 

MEMORABLE CLIENTS YOU’VE WORKED WITH?

Dom: Crystal Anderson, formerly @manrepeller now @averygoodproductions. Crystal comes up with the most unique activation ideas and trusts our creative vision to bring them to life. For example, she once sent us a creative brief for an event that was based on Magda (the crazy grandma) from the movie, ‘Something About Mary.’ We made a pink fur-covered Prosecco Pong table! It was so much fun.

 

Di: Recess – one of my absolute favorites! They have great people working for them, a great product, and I never get the sense that their decisions are motivated by money or ROI, which is such a breath of fresh air. It makes a huge difference working for a company when their employees actually believe in the brand and enjoy their jobs.

 

FAVORITE PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY FLOWERS?

Di: Carnations absolutely. They are such underrated flowers! Carnations are hearty, and lend themselves to a lot of manipulation. I love the frilly pom-pom texture of them! Chinese people use carnations a lot, and learning to love them and create with them outside of how I grew up seeing them feels appropriate. Being Chinese American, I’m always conscious of the intersection and interaction of Chinese and American culture, experiences, and food and how it plays a large role in my own visual narrative.

 

Dom: For work—roses. They can be manipulated in so many ways. The color and shape change dramatically when you flip back the petals. They are also super resilient so they can essentially be used in any type of arrangement or install. Daisies and sunflowers are my personal favorites. I love anything that reminds me of summer and the 70s. I’m truly a Leo in that sense. 

 

WALK US THROUGH HOW TO SET UP A DIY HOME PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

You don’t need a lot of space! Sometimes people get discouraged because they have small apartments or little to no room. The image above of red tray was shot in a 2’ x 2’ space.

What you do need:

  • A whiteboard, used for background, foreground, and or light reflector 

  • 2′ x 2′ craft or seamless paper (comes in 4′ or 9′ rolls) for larger items. Choose colors based on your brand. 

  • 2′ x 2′ or larger piece of clear acrylic or acetate. Acrylic or acetate sheets are great for foreground texture. It adds a reflection and will also slightly change color if you place over a piece of paper. That’s how we achieved the effect in our photo of House of Puff’s Birgit Blue Nebula Tray above.

  • Light source (natural sunlight or one artificial light source like a lamp). 

  • Museum wax or gel will help you achieve different orientations with your props and product.

 

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY LIGHTING?

Bright location (emphasis on bright). Lighting is absolutely key to a good photo! And natural lighting is always a great bet. Find the place and time of day in your home that gets the most natural light or pick a room that’s very bright. You can always make something moody or darker with filters or post edits, but fixing the clarity of an image is a headache. Always make sure the light shines onto the front of your composition.

 

Pro Tips: 

  • If the light is coming from behind your composition, it will backlight the item you’re trying to photograph (a no-no as your product will be too dark). 

  • Identify the kind of lighting you want: direct sunlight will give you a different mood than overcast skies.

  • Keep lighting consistent for all your images to make sure branding is cohesive. Once you find your location, move on to the next step. 

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY SETUP?

Choose backgrounds and set up composition. We recommend one the following set-ups.

Option 1: Monotone background and foreground

Option 2: Different color background and foreground

Option 3: Natural foreground and background (e.g., Use a table you already own and a white or light textured wall as background. We staged the photo above of the red rolling tray with a whiteboard taped to a nightstand). 

 

Pro Tips

  • Don’t choose busy backgrounds and foregrounds because they’ll detract from the product you’re trying to photograph. 

  • In the beginning, choose 1-4 colors that are reflected in your branding and stick to them. Try to separate your personal style from your brand’s visual identity. Keep that in mind when choosing colors.

  • Composition: many of you may know this tip already, but the rule of thirds is essentially a grid (3 x 3). If the product you’re shooting or your composition falls on the intersection of lines or fills more than one grid box (vertically or horizontally or both), it’s generally more interesting/dynamic than something centered—unless that’s an intentional design choice. You can turn the grid on in your camera app if it helps!

PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY PROPS?

Choose your props! We like groups of three the best for composition because it allows 1 item to stand out. You want the image to look balanced with the exception of the product, which should always stand out. 

 

Pro Tips

  • Choose props that are similar in size to the product you are trying to shoot, but not the same height or shape (remember we always want the product to stand out). Choose props with complimentary and overlapping colors that won’t outshine your item, like the ones we chose above.

  • Always pull out a little bit more when shooting and give yourself more room vertically and horizontally. You can always crop into a photo, but sometimes it needs to be rotated to straighten lines/product or if you’re not in love with the way it’s appearing on your grid (if your image isn’t a square). It’s safer to leave yourself room on all sides. This is a silly mistake we sometimes make and mentally kick ourselves afterward.

  • Rules were meant to be broken! Have fun, experiment with colors, lighting, and composition so you can understand what you like as well as what works and what doesn’t.

 

WHAT ARE SOME OBJECTS THAT ARE ALWAYS TOUGH TO PHOTOGRAPH AND HOW DO YOU REMEDY THAT?

Dom and Di: Type on bottles or any product packaging!!! The light tends to reflect on bottles, which often blurs the type on bottle packaging. Make your own reflection board using a small piece of whiteboard or tin foil. Place it next to the object, out of sight of the camera, in the opposite direction of the light (e.g., if your lighting is coming from the left side, place this reflection board on the right side, tilted towards the light). The light will bounce off the board and light the side of the bottle that’s not being hit with direct light.

 

POST-PANDEMIC PLANS?

Dom: Finish planning a wedding—I’m getting married next July and I’m seriously looking forward to spending time celebrating with loved ones. Also cook (and smoke) with loved ones. I love hosting dinner parties at my place and feeding people. 

 

Di: A big-ass bowl of spicy cumin beef hand-pulled noodles from Very Fresh Noodles—I’ve been daydreaming about them! 

Be sure to follow @highglossnyc on Instagram.

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