Project and Product Photography for Cabinetmakers

A good professional photographer will give you the best results. But if you want to do it yourself, there are ways to improve your technique. January 26, 2008

What kind of camera do you use when taking pictures of your projects? I know of some that hire it done professionally, but I can't swing that kind of cash on every project. I'm no photographer, so I need something easy to learn.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor D:
You won't be doing yourself any favors by taking your own photos. There's likely a professional photographer in your area that will quote and provide his/her services at an affordable rate. Professionals will include staging and lighting to enhance the beauty of your cabinets. Make sure in your negotiations that you own the photos once the invoice is paid.

From contributor L:
I disagree. You can take decent photos of your projects as long as you take the time to set things up and learn how to use the camera. I use a Nikon D70s DSLR. I have an 18-70mm lens I use for most of my indoor pictures but need to get a 10-20mm for some of the narrower areas that I have been doing projects in lately. Note: multiply lens mm by 1.5 to get a true 35mm reading. My camera has a 1.5 crop factor because of the sensor size compared to the 35mm film.

From contributor H:
I use a simple digital camera and lighting conditions are not always the best, but pro photos are also beyond my range. All the photos on my website were done by me and my web site brings in most of my business. If I was advertising in Florida Digest or Architectural Digest, I would hire a pro, but I am not trying to reach these clients yet. Most of my kitchens are in the 20K range and go up to the 40K range and these clients are very impressed with my site, so why spend more?

From contributor S:
You can spend a few thousand dollars on professional equipment, like umbrellas and a couple of background flash lights, decent Nikon digital camera, Manfrotto tripod. If you have a good eye, you will be all set. Contributor H's kitchen looks fine, but it is not decorated; decorations add a lot of life to the pictures. Oh yes, and you need a good computer with decent graphic card and graphic editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photo Paint to edit your photos.

From contributor P:
If you're not particularly artistic or don't want to mess with taking your own pictures, check out a local picture frame shop. My brother owns such a shop and knows several amateur and semi-pro photographers who work cheap. He hired one a few months ago to make a calendar for our mother's birthday. The photo work was outstanding and was done for just a few hundred dollars. I'm hiring her in a couple of months to take the photos for the website we'll be putting up and to do some postcard mailers. The price is under a thousand dollars.

From contributor J:
If you're going for ultra high end buyers, a pro would do best taking your pictures. Other than that I would and do take my own pictures with a Cannon Rebel SLR and a wide angle lens. Amazing how quickly you can learn to take good pictures when you upload them on your computer and see what you have done, and what you need to do next time.

From contributor F:
Up until now I've been using compact digital cameras to take shots of my work. Far less than what a pro would do, but like others have said, didn't have the cash for a pro. I'm currently in the process of hiring a professional to shoot about 10 of my projects. The cost isn't cheap, but it's far less than I expected (especially after I saw the bill for our wedding photographer... ouch!). At this point I've narrowed it down to two photographers whose portfolios look good and have the right price, roughly $200 per location. So for a beginner, I'd say go ahead and use a digital for now just to get something. But once you get a couple of jobs under you, you'll want to step up. I know I've waited far too long.

As others said, it's not just having the right equipment (lenses, lighting, etc.). It's about knowing how to capture the best views of the space and making the details stand out. Also, as contributor S said, a good photographer will decorate the kitchen a bit to give it that Architectural Digest feel.

Contributor H, your website looks great. I'm just getting mine set up now; again, waited far too long. I think you could definitely benefit from a professional photographer. Your photos are okay, but some are a bit dark, and some have that annoying bright area from the flash. I'm not trying to bash your work by any means, just constructive criticism. If you get your kitchens to look like they're in Florida Digest, than they just may be! And if you can find photographers who charge similarly to what I'm finding, you can probably add $200-$300 into the cost of a kitchen to pay for it.

From contributor H:
Thanks - I don't mind any constructive criticism at all. I worked on a large condo last year that the designer is trying to get into Florida Digest. She asked if I would share the photography costs and I will be pictured with her and given credits in the article. If the cost is manageable, I will do it, as this is a great opportunity. The cost of an ad in this publication is very expensive, but a whole house of matched cherry cabinets and kitchen will be worth the cost.

From contributor Z:
If you decide to go ahead with splitting the cost of the magazine article, ask to see an edited version of what will be printed. We did the same thing once and the magazine made some changes before going to print and left our name out. Once it is printed there is no going back. Another local shop had an article done on him also and never saw what was going to be printed and they spelled his name wrong and wrong phone number. If you are paying for advertising, make sure you see what you will be getting.

If you decide to take your own photos, take the time to clean up the area where you will be shooting. Make a backdrop and possibly even a platform to hide the old concrete floors in your shop. Look at professional shots and decide what it is that makes it a nice photo, and try to duplicate the setting. Seeing a pile of lumber or machinery in the background is not appealing. When doing lighting, you want to try to eliminate shadows.

From contributor H:
Thanks for that advice. I will keep it in mind if this write-up works out. I have a photoshow on my site that shows an art exhibit unit in a client's house and at the end of the show, it is shown again in my shop, which is very organized, but not pretty by a long shot. I have had many positive remarks on how clients appreciated seeing the project in development and they were excited to start their project and love coming into the shop during construction stages to see the progress. Of course, I would not print these photos as a sales advertisement. If I could, I would have a daily webcam of cabinets in various daily stages of development in the shop for clients to be able to logon to.

From contributor B:
Great photos sell kitchens. People that fall in love with a photo will buy. The old saying - people buy what they see - is true. I think $200 per location for a pro photographer is a good price.

You can take photos yourself, but a good camera and a very good lens are important. I use halogen photo lights. Lots of light is important as well as a good tripod. My lights were a few hundred dollars. I also carry cleaning supplies and a few tubs of kitchen accessories. Photos of a dirty undecorated kitchen don't show your work in its best light.

From contributor A:
For less than $100 you can buy a photo-editing program that will allow you to greatly improve your digital photos. Even the free ones that come with some cameras can be a big help. You can correct gamma, keystone, use the cloning tool to remove unwanted objects, correct white balance, change the resolution, etc. Itís fairly easy to learn the basics. I've been using a 3.2mg Fuji point and shoot and a basic editor but I'm going to splurge and buy a digital SLR, two lenses (10-20 and18-200), two SB800 lights, and a little software. I used to do quite a lot in film 2&qtr and 35mm but now really enjoy what can be done in digital. And no, I can't justify the cost as much more than toys, but I need a toy! And maybe I can even make it useful. Got to get out of the sawdust once in awhile.

From contributor B:
You can easily find an early Canon Digital Rebel for $400. If you then splurge on a Canon 17-40mm lens you have an excellent setup for photographing kitchens. To be clear, it is all about the lens. If you take Canon's current step up DSLR, the 40D, for $1300, and the $400 used Rebel in a case where the subject is not moving, you will get the same result. 2 mega pixels of increased resolution can not be seen.

I use "hot lights" or tungsten photographic spotlights and umbrellas. Setting up the lights is what really takes some time. That is why I like the spot lights and not a flash. You can see what the lights are doing. An on camera flash is not enough. The added benefit is that the company now owns a nice DSLR which will allow you to borrow for Jr.ís birthday or football game.