©Taylor Brumfield

Making Things Sing

About half a dozen years ago, Taylor Brumfield, owner of Taylor B Photographie in Virginia, started seeing an increased need among her fashion and beauty clients for high-quality product photography. Intrigued, she began playing around with some product shoots and exploring options for adding product photography as a way to provide a new service to clients.  

What she discovered was that product photography is its own animal, mainly because subjects are static objects. Products have their own brand story, but they lack the dynamic personality of human beings that bring so much interest to images. That may seem obvious, but it represents an entirely different style of photography for someone accustomed to having people on the other side of the camera.

Brumfield was up for the challenge. She practiced, built new sets and lighting kits, and started working on a distinctive style based on the use of botanicals and natural features to match the brand story of each product. She started offering product photography to a few clients and gradually built her new business line. 

©Taylor Brumfield
©Taylor Brumfield

As Brumfield was beginning to ramp up her product work, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down much of the world’s marketing scene. However, where some photographers saw a crisis, Brumfield saw an opportunity. “People talk about COVID, and the key word was isolation,” she says. “I was determined to take advantage of that isolation and become more competitive. After all, companies still needed imagery to market their products, so there were opportunities.”

Brumfield streamlined her backend workflow and created a smooth system for clients to send her products that she could photograph at her studio while collaborating remotely. She built up her prop kits, lighting equipment, and materials so she could do everything in house without the need to rent space or go out. She built a modifiers kit specifically for product photography, employing smaller options such as a 24-inch soft box, foldable reflective cards, and sets of tiny strip lights.

©Taylor Brumfield
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, says photographer Taylor Brumfield “companies still needed imagery to market their products, so there were opportunities.”

To attract new clients, Brumfield turned to social media, particularly Instagram. She pursued companies through a two-part process that began with concentrated content production. In the midst of the pandemic, she knew companies wouldn’t be racing to find new photographers. She used that time to produce a lot of content, creating a virtual portfolio featuring products from the companies she wanted to work with. She purchased products, photographed them in a way that aligned with their brand aesthetic, and then she’d post the images and tag the product team or reps from the brand.

The next step involved reaching out to the brands directly. She watched the companies she was targeting, and when they started to pick up their activity on social media, she took that as a sign that they were ready to start actively promoting again. When that happened, she’d reach out through the social channels, introduce herself, and attempt to create rapport. If she couldn’t make contact with the people managing the companies’ social accounts, she’d track people who were following the brand’s social channels, many of whom would be their managers, brand strategists, and PR agents. With a little research she could track down some of these individuals. Once she made contact, she’d talk with them about how they could communicate with their audience with top-notch product imagery and use new promotions to grow while many of their competitors were scaling back. 

The process took time, patience, and multiple attempts at outreach. But with some persistence, Brumfield achieved a success rate of about 75% in terms of landing assignments and developed a steadily expanding stream of new clients.

“You just have to be very strategic about who you reach out to and how you do it,” she says. “It’s also important to back up your outreach with good content and image examples that align with their brand. If they get your message and go to your website, they want to see work that fits with their brand. Ultimately, they want to see that you can be of service to them.” 

“We inherently understand people and personal interactions. But products can’t speak, can’t smile. So, I need to create the same understanding for a static item.”

Taylor Brumfield

Product photographers need to bring a certain amount of fantasy and imagination to their work since facial expression and posing can’t tell the story. “We inherently understand people and personal interactions,” explains Brumfield. “But products can’t speak, can’t smile. So, I need to create the same understanding for a static item.”

To prepare for a new product shoot, Brumfield assesses each product as well as its brand aesthetic. She considers the target audience and asks herself who will be using the item. In what situations should it be used? What does it do? Then she creates a personality that she superimposes on the product and brings out through lighting and prop choices. “That way the viewer can relate with what the product is all about,” she says. 

Brumfield feels the best way to determine a product’s personality is to interact with it. She combines her own impressions with directives from the company to create scenes that tell the product’s story as viscerally as possible. For example, if she’s working with a perfume that has notes of lilies, pear, oranges, and mint, she obtains those botanicals and styles them around the product. The idea is to make the image more visually accessible so people will stop and consider it without needing to think about it too much.

“Today, people move fast,” says Brumfield. “They need to understand an image quickly before they scroll to the next image. My goal is to make them understand the product without the product actually being in front of them.”

Product photography, especially if you’re coming from working with people, offers a new universe of possibilities. That can overwhelm a lot of people, says Brumfield, so it’s important to ease yourself in rather than dive into the deep end and risk drowning. The process begins with running your numbers and figuring out how to make a respectable profit from your work.

“If you’re getting into product photography, run your costs of doing business because it can be expensive,” she says. “Make sure to charge your worth. A lot of product photographers aren’t charging their worth, and they end up going into debt because they aren’t getting paid enough to cover their bills. That’s why it’s so important to come up with good engagement strategies with the brands so when they have questions about why you charge what you charge, you can explain it.”

Product photography is a journey, notes Brumfield: “Don’t think of it as something that you’ll ever get to the end of. The journey itself is the point. Constantly learn, and while you’re learning, figure out the why and not just the what. That will really set you up for success.”

Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.