During my time at WIRED, my official job title was Associate Photo Editor, but I really occupied two roles. My primary responsibility was to help curate the website. That meant working with writers and editing within Wordpress directly to effectively art posts prior to publishing. I also assisted in editing and maintaining the section front pages. My second and somewhat unofficial title was staff photographer, the goal of which was to try and bring magazine quality photography to the web on tight deadlines and with far fewer resources than print.
By far, product photography made up the bulk of my assignments, so I can think of no better way to return to blogging after three years than to share a few thoughts I've picked up along the way.
My background has always been journalistic in nature, so studio lighting and still life were somewhat foreign territories for me when I started. I collaborated with other editors often, but occasionally had to work solo, meaning the responsibility of scheduling shoots, placing the lights, choosing a backdrop color, and styling the product would fall on my creativity alone. The good news is it forced me to discover new ways to approach these challenges on a daily basis.
On average, I’d say I shot 5-8 products a week for the web, sometimes as many as 20. Most of these products only needed a single photo to accompany them in the post or review, while others required several more detail shots in order to fill a gallery or slideshow. I eventually learned to ask myself a series of questions whenever a new product was presented to me: What angle most shows this object’s personality? What was this product designed for? What makes this product unique?
The trick wasn’t to view products simply as things, but as manifestations of human invention. Everything from the relief patterns on a fork to the heat shielding lining the space shuttle goes through a similar process of concept, design, and ultimate manufacture, so in a sense they have a quality of life to them – their existence tells a story.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the same logic that applies to journalism can and should be applied to product photography. In other words, whether you're working in the controlled environment of a studio or shooting in the field, context is crucial for sound judgement, and asking yourself the five W's: Who, What, Where, When, Why, (and how) will only help you further understand the subject you're photographing.
If done well, the final image will do more than just illustrate – it will tell a parallel story of its own. The number of possible stories out there is endless, and it’s the story you’re shooting for that should ultimately inform the overall look and feel of the final image.
That story changes every day.