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I attended Leadercast recently, and was inspired by a talk by Donald Miller, the CEO of StoryBrand. Donald outlined 7 aspects that every story – whether a movie, a book, a marketing or sales campaign – has. And as a story, a photograph – especially a product one – seems to follow these as well.

The seven aspects are:

  1. a hero
  2. a problem to be solved
  3. a guide
  4. a plan
  5. a call to action
  6. a vision of success
  7. and consequences of failure

 Take the following photograph of my new favorite (inexpensive) cologne. $16 on Amazon. It has an expensive look, and expensive smell, yet it’s relatively inexpensive.

Let’s analyze it, from a technical photographic perspective, but in light of the above. How do I present it as a story? Consciously, or not, that’s the goal of every product photograph: tell a story in a single, static image, of the product.

The hero is obvious: it’s the cologne.

The problem to be solved is both mine and yours. Mine is how to portray it as such – as a hero. After all, it’s just a bottle with some smelly stuff in it. But the problem is also yours, the consumer: if the cologne is heroic, certainly your use of it will enable the heroism in you. Want to be larger then life? This certainly can’t hurt.

To make the cologne heroic, I placed it dominant in the frame, shooting slightly upward (a classic technique). The background helps here as well, as does the emphasis on the gold lettering on the bottle. It’s a simple scene, yet it’s regal. It’s majestic. Royal. I used a gradient created from dual gels to mimc the dominant colors in the bottle ( blue and gold – though the blue is so deep as to be almost black); where they meet is purple, a royal color. That’s not by accident.  A fill card for the front of the bottle to reflect brings out that gold lettering. Scrimmed lighting from the side provides edge light that adds depth and dimension.

The photograph itself makes me the guide. It isn’t up to me to solve the problem for you. I can only lead – plant the seed. My job is to show you how majestic this product really is. The bowtie, BTW, is also designed to do this. It’s a graphic element designed to hint at sophistication. And, if you’ll notice, it’s not perfectly symmetrical. That’s also done on purpose. It is a graphic element, ’tis true. But it’s also real. Had it been perfect that might not have come across as such. 

But just in case you desire perfection, the reflection of the tie is perfect. 

The plan is also obvious: all you need to do is buy it. That’s the call to action as well.

The rest is all implication. If you do buy it, you will have achieved sophistication, elegance, and a dose of heroism. If not, well, there’s always Old Spice. 

Product photography is challenging. Although the subject is vastly more cooperative than human counterparts, it is also vastly more difficult – and less forgiving – to light and present. Hence the allure for me.

Technical lighting details on flickr.


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