Deanna Cochran's eponymous jewelry line is uses beautiful and professional product shots in their retail, marketing and PR material (as well as her amazing Instagram feed), and here's her surprising secret: she does nearly all of it on her cell phone! That's right, her phone. These photos turn out so well that they grace her marketing material, sales catalogues, social media and even press placements. How does she do it? We chatted with her and she gave us her strategies!
Do you really take all of your product photography?
Yes, I take 95% of all photos personally. The exception would be some of the model shots used for marketing and the catalog. That said, this last season I was in need of shots for a supplement catalog for a mid-season release. The photographer was not available so I did the model session personally on site. I learned a lot but overall the session was a success.
Do you use a camera setup or a camera phone?
I use only a camera phone. It is a Samsung S4. I had a professional set up years ago for gallery shots (white or black background that results in a floating image). I no longer use that set up unless requested by a gallery or editor. With the high resolution phones today they can achieve similar resolution of the professional camera. I feel today my pieces are best represented in a natural setting.
Do you ever hire a professional photographer, and if so why?
Yes, I’ve use a professional photographer in some cases. Typically this is for a model session. I choose a professional in this case because I approach these sessions with a “styling” team. It can take several eyes and hands to ensure jewelry designs are highlighted and captured successfully during a photo session. With traditional photography the subject matter is the model. With jewelry is may take several sets of those eyes to ensure our subject matter is the jewelry. The model is simply the backdrop to highlight the jewelry scale. They can help set the stage for the overall look of your brand.
What do you look for when selecting or setting up a backdrop?
Lighting, natural surface, and angle. All three are equally important. Jewelry has a metal component that reflects light harshly and can wash out the design or texture. I use all natural indirect lighting. I typically choose wood surfaces since they act as a softer contrast to the metal. Most of the surfaces are in the metals studio where the items are created. Angle comes into play to eliminate shadows and glares. The least amount of glare is achieved by moving the camera around the design to ensure harsh lighting or surrounding colors are not seen in the reflection of the piece.
Did you setup your own light box to control lighting, and if so, what light box method do you use?
I did this in the past but no longer use a light box or “tent” type set up.
Do you ever have the need to take photos on white background? For ecommerce sales page or editors request?
I do receive requests for white background for either editorial shots or retailers websites from time to time. These are rare and normally we can either Photoshop out the background or re-shoot.
Because of your strong artistic style with the photos, do magazines use your styled product shots that have a background and dramatic angle?
Many times they use our shots as we capture them. I am finding that there is a movement to the natural background shots as long as the resolution is high enough for print. More often than not our editorial participation is supplying jewelry for fashion editorials more than stories. Stories came when the business was new 5-10 years ago. Today most editors want the jewelry in their fashion editorials on their models where stylist mix in with clothing and other accessories.
The camera angles of your product photos are amazing. They really create movement with the photo somehow. How do you know when to make a dramatic angle on a shot?
When I move the camera around the piece my choice comes down to the best reflection of light to highlight of the design. My Samsung S4 camera adjusts the light settings automatically. I like interesting angles but that is a balance. It comes down to the jewelry as subject matter. A harsh angle may be interesting but not highlight the design. This can result in poorly representing the piece. With everything there is balance angle and subject matter.
Do you apply filters to most of your photography? Of the filters, do you stick with photos available on your camera? Or do you use Instagram's or other tools?
Sometimes there is a need for color adjustment to achieve what the eye sees in person. The camera phone can auto adjust color resulting in a strange balance of color. 99% of the time I use Instagram to adjust photographs for both social media and my print catalog. I use the background as my guide for final color choice. Using the background as my focus ensures the design color is captured as well since metal reflection and color can be harder to achieve. When you change the color of the background you will change the expectation of the piece in person. So many use filters today that alter reality. They result in an image that is not true to what is seen by the eye. In my opinion filters should be used to improve the image to achieve what you see in person. Some of my favorite Instagram tools are “Vignette”, “Highlights” & “Shadows”. If the color balance was altered by the camera settings I am also known to use the “Warmth” tool. In regards to filters I typically “Normal”. If trying to achieve a natural color match I have found “Hudson” a second favorite. I have also gotten away from using any type of frames. I remove them 9 times out of 10. They tend to cut out too much of the image for my personal taste.
*I will add that most are surprised to find out my print catalog and website are generated mostly through Instagram photos.
Do you use apps on your camera to do fancy tricks, and if so, which apps for which tricks?
Sometimes I will use apps to add wording or collage photos. I am not as up to date on the latest apps as others may be. I have been known to use Rhonna for wording and Photogrid for collages. I use these in combination depending on what I am trying to achieve. Due to time constraints most days I simply use Instagram to share images in social media and capture shots for the catalog.