Design Tip: Photographing Your Product’s Function

How your product image looks is not the most important element in your product photography.

Your immediate reaction to this should probably be horror. You care about your product depictions, and you want others to care about them just as much. Believe me, as a photographer, letting go of the “style-first” mindset can be the hardest part of learning this craft. The important concept to note, though, is that you aren’t giving up on design; you’re just expanding your understanding of what design means.

Famously, Steve jobs said on this subject,

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”- Steve Jobs

Take the example of the shower head below.

A product like this is all about context. A shower head isn’t like a vase or a scarf. It’s primary purpose is to be used, not to be looked at. It is a functional product. Functional products should always be shown as customer will use them. In fact, it is doing a disservice to your product to only show it outside the framework in which it will be used. For a shower head, that means depicting it with with water cascading from it. Customers care as much or more about how water flows from the shower head as they do about the intricacies of how the shower head looks. In this case, you are’t selling style. You are selling function, and your photos should reflect that.

So how do you portray an item’s purpose? First, think about the features that customers will have in mind when searching for a shower head. They will probably be looking for characteristics like how wide its stream of water is, and the level of water pressure it provides. It is VERY difficult to actually photograph water coming from a shower head against a pure white background. Trust me, I’ve tried! But it’s actually quite simple to edit some water in. This gives you the opportunity to: a) show your product in the context the customer cares about, and, b) also answer questions the customer has about your product.

These factors, at the end of the day, are what drives sales. So take a closer look at your product images and ask yourself if, in addition to their visual appeal, they show the primary function of the product. An image with truly good design will portray not just what your product looks like, but how it works.

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