Pack shot - a butterfly in the world of photography.
There's more in packshot than just a white background.
Recently I have shot quite a few pack shots. They were watches. Anyone who has ever photographed timepieces for e-commerce purposes knows that it's not the easiest task. Polished metal makes it even more tricky. Retouching of those photos was quite a challenge as well. Nevertheless it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the topic of pack shots in general.
What is a pack shot first of all? It's a photograph of the product that shows it's features, most commonly shot on white background. It's purpose is to make you want to buy the product and then to buy it.
One of my first jobs as a photographer was at the big e-commerce photography studio in west London. I was shooting for well known brands and a lot of the products I photographed were luxurious pieces. We had very strict guidelines for photographing each client's products. Some of them were so pedantic, that we were running around with measuring tapes, making sure the camera is at the right distance from the middle of the product. "Consistency" was the word most commonly used around the studio. Every angle, every reflection or shadow had to be exactly the same. Sometimes it seemed as tough it was some sort of factory. I have spent two and a half years there so, as you can imagine, I really know what it takes to shoot a good pack shot. It's a kind of photography that takes a lot of skills, precision, patience and proficiency. At the same time it's the one that pays the least. It's beyond any logic. What's more horrific is that it becomes cheaper and cheaper.
I know it all sounds very depressing. If it's too much for you - don't continue, because it's going to get even worst.
Going further with my contemplation I also realised how unappreciated pack shots really are. You won't find them in galleries. I haven't seen any beautifully designed albums with them. They are only printed in free catalogues, on a cheap paper, and usually, so small it's hard to see any details.
Very often pack shots lie. However shameful it sounds it's true. Have you ever purchased something online and was disappointed with how it actually looked when you received it? If your answer is "yes" then you know what I'm talking about here. No matter how cheap the product is, a brief for photographer is always the same: make it look beautiful. Retouch any manufacturing faults. Make the cheap look expensive. Style it so it looks perfect.
Here's a confession: I once had to retouch out all the "made in china" labels from a very expensive designer's shoes and bags just so that people wouldn't see them when shopping online.
Final, and I think that also the saddest fact is the life span of a pack shot. Very commonly it's just one season. Then the trends change, another fashion week arrives, new products fill shelves and hangers in the shops. Just a few months, and new set of pack shots fill websites all over the world wide web. All that hard work that goes into every single picture you see on the website of your favourite online shop disappears forever (unless the pack shot is lucky enough to find it's way into social media, than there may be some trace of it's existence left). It's gone, and it's never coming back.
It all makes me think of a butterflies. First they are caterpillars - a raw product that arrives in the studio. Then they go in to the chrysalis phase when all the transformations are happening - our product is being properly styled, lit, photographed and then retouched. After that stage a beautiful butterfly emerges from the cocoon in all it's glory - our pack shot is ready, it's uploaded on the website. Now it has to make the most of it's short life. You see it in an online store, you can't resist it's beauty, you click the "buy" button and so the pack shot's destination is fulfilled. Please appreciate them!