What Makes A Great Product Photographer
After working the product photography industry for my entire career, I've found that there are a few traits that define a really great product photographer.
A great product photographer is professional, a technical photographer & has a unique visually creative view of the world of object.
A professional photoshoot is structured and predictable. If you're working with a professional photographer, this is not their first time doing it. From the initial contact to bidding to the shoot day, everything should flow naturally and you should know exactly what you're getting, when and how much it's going to cost you. This is not a situation where you want to just show up and figure it out as you go. There should be structure to the production of the shoot, from planning the shots to organizing the team. The final results should not be a huge surprise and you should have a full understanding of where your money was spent.
When producing personal work that there is a still a lot pre-visualization and planning on the front end. This is typically building sketches, notes and of course getting all the product together. Although a random item can inspire a shoot, usually there is still some element of production involved.
Technical Photography Knowledge
Believe it or not, photography can get a little mathy sometimes. Going from F/16 to F/22 on a camera or adjusting a light by 2 stops actually means something and requires more know how than just pushing a button. A great photographer lives and breaths the technical basics of photography and operates within it without even noticing. However, a photographer doesn't necessarily need to use manual settings to be great, but when they switch to auto they should understand what's happening.
A photographer might have a great instagram feed, but might have used only auto setting and had not enough technical photography education to learn these basics. The result could be a "messy" shoot, where the photographer is challenged to come up with technical solutions to problems the client might have on set.
There's an old photographers joke, "Everyone is a photographer till you switch to the M". A great photographer is not afraid of going fully Manual.
Every great product photographer that i've met has a special way of viewing the world. Objects, their arrangements and the light that interacts with them are visual metaphor with multiple meanings.
Conceptual ideas are more based on object and their physical interaction. For example, if I see a fall leaf on a tree and I have this overwhelming sadness for the end of fall, I might have an idea to tape the leaf to the tree branch and that means something visually. Abstract ideas are more tied to light and color. A hard shadow specular light feels more edgy and youthful for cultural reasons that are hard to describe but more felt.
These are things that weave through a master product photographers mind when shooting, often without effort but in a manner that is intrinsic like it's part of the DNA of their soul made manifest.
A Unique Group Of Introverts
Although, this doesn't make a great product photographer, one thing I have noticed is that most product photographer i've meet are introverts. I know this as someone who's not only worked with product photographers interviewed and hired many product photographers in my time. Not all product photographers are introverts obviously. I can only speculate, but I think for those that love photography who are introverted are drawn to this part of the industry because photographing products is a slow and thoughtful process, unlike photographing people which is fast paced and highly interactive.
As a product photographer myself, I'm drawn to the technical aspect of photography. I like to play with light and color. I enjoy exploring how these aspects play together conceptually and tell stories on a subconscious level. This is easier to do on a product set, where you micro-manage these elements without a lot of interruption.