Ella Grace Bell is a commercial photographer based out of Vancouver British Columbia who has worked with brands like Bootlegger Jeans, Poppy Finch, and Mobiado Watches, but freelancing isn't her main gig. She has a nine to five photography job that pays her bills, which seems to be a vanishing commodity outside photography studios.
Much like working as a freelancer, salaried photographers still have duties that aren’t photography related. They have to deal with creating budgets, finding models, booking makeup artists, producing shoots, location scouting, etc. but with the benefit that their time is guaranteed to be paid. For Bell, this means photographing new products once a week, or once every couple of weeks, and spending the rest of the time culling, editing, and posting work on the company’s website. As any full-time photographer knows, photography is only a small part of the equation.
Working for an ecommerce company that sells clothing and accessories, Bell is usually setting up shoots and photographing product 3-4 months ahead of season. To make this work for the look of the company’s brand, she has to follow strict style guidelines. Sometimes this means sacrificing creativity in order to maintain consistency and create the proper images customers expect when looking for a product.
It’s certainly not the right direction for every photographer. If a photographer wants to get paid for more creative work, they have to be very specific about the kind of company they go to work for, and make sure the company's branding matches their creative vision. Some employers will value unique style, but more often than not, they need clean images of product in a timely manner. Which kinds of photographers are suited to ecommerce photography? “You have to be able to follow directions really well, you have to have a really good eye for keeping things consistent, and you have to be fast,” Bell said.
That shouldn’t scare photographers away from ecommerce, though. If photographers want a steady income while working in their field, ecommerce does provide several incentives. Bell said that everything she knows about production and working with fashion companies was learned as an ecommerce photographer. It’s a great introduction to working with models and agencies, learning about fashion seasons, and working in a corporate environment. Photographers who thrive in structured environments, are detail oriented, like to build and maintain business processes, and want a reliable income, may find ecommerce photography the perfect fit. Especially in the beginning of their career, if they’d like an introduction to the fashion world. “If you have a solid portfolio that looks like you know what you’re doing with lighting, you have a good chance of getting an interview,” Bell says.
And that’s allowed her to build up a good relationship with modeling agencies, which means she can reach out to them when she needs a model for personal work. “Now when I email them and they seem my name, they know that I’m not some weirdo or something, they recognize me, and they know that I’m good at communicating, and that I can deliver what they want fast.” This is incredibly valuable for Bell, because her personal work leans toward commercial beauty images, where working with agency models is a must.
For photographers who are interested in building a portfolio that could get them hired as a full time photographer, Bell has a “do what you can with what you have” philosophy that helped build her clean, commercial style. Often shooting in her living room with relatively little space, she mastered using one light to create soft, feminine beauty work. Those limitations actually allowed her to narrow down her favorite light set ups that work consistently to achieve looks that highlight skin and jewelry so well for her personal clients. Photographers who are just getting started can find hope and inspiration in that: you don’t need a fancy light set up to create consistently great images, you just need to master what you have to work with.
Ecommerce photography won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, just like not every photographer is cut out to be a business owner, or to go through the struggle of chasing down potential clients and dealing with the uncertain periods where gigs aren’t easy to land.
But, for photographers who are looking for a foothold in the commercial realm, to gain experience working with large companies, to establish connections with modeling agencies, and to make a regular, dependable income, ecommerce photography may be the right answer.
Lead image shared with permission of Ella Grace Bell.