• Andrew Schwark

Get the STORY!


I remember the words as they came out of my mouth, “Well, uh, actually I’m a photographer and, uh, I could do that for you.”


What did I just say? What words just came out of my mouth?!


Clearly I was having reservations and I imagine a lot of people starting out have felt the same. You wanted the work five minutes ago, but now a small devil sits on your shoulder whispering, ”what if you totally &*#$ the bed amigo?”


That’s a legitimate concern, make no mistake, but also one you can mitigate. My first opportunity was for a small start-up creating caskets. Not exactly glamorous. But I made sure to sit down with the owner and chat about some things before hand:


The story behind the business

What aesthetic he wanted or if he had thought about it.

What exactly he wanted photographed and for what purpose.


So we started with how he started. What was his inspiration? What was the future business vision? Who did he want to sell too? He was relating the story of his business and with that I could start to work out a narrative in my mind.


Start-up. Orthodox Christian focused. Hand-made. Easy to assemble. Humble. As I listened to him talk, those words leapt out at me. His story took on a flavor I could translate into aesthetic suggestions: warm, intimate, and simple. Through this back and forth dialogue we uncovered what I needed to capture in order to tell his story.


So the first tip: get the client's story over a beer. Beer optional.


As I see it, being a photographer is 30% photography, 10% post-processing, and 60% understanding the story. Without the story you’re firing blind.


Then we got into product specifics and the conversation looked like this:


“Do you know what product shots you need?” I asked. A pregnant pause.

“Well the whole casket,” he responded. Then continued, “the top, probably the sides, I’m not sure, what do you think?”

“Here is my suggestion...” and I waxed eloquent on the possibilities.


I knew beforehand I had to help in the decision making process - he had limited product photography knowledge (surprise!). It was the reason I was there after all. Which is where a little prepwork comes in handy.


Second tip: do your homework on the subject matter.


This was my first time photographing products for online sale, so I checked out online


retailers to see what types of shots they had for their products. I built up a shot list I could reference during the shoot. This in turn helped me establish a good starting point and made me look like a pro. Which made me feel confident and him as well.


So I took all the shots I needed to, edited them to something that fit his narrative and all went smoothish. And only a little bit of that was faking to make it. I really don’t suggest taking product shots using a single softbox, a AA powered flash unit and a small reflector for full sized caskets.


Wrapping this up just remember two things: get the story and do your homework. They will save you the headache of coming back with a lot of cool photos only to hear,


“Yeahhhhh, that doesn’t really feel like what I had in mind.”


Ouch. Save your tears for some catastrophic camera failure or hard drive death instead. Story and homework homies. Good luck.


(The website from this story so you can all judge me)

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