Catalog Design Handbook

5. Image selection and planning

How do you plan to depict your products? The answer to this question carries significant weight in determining your overall catalog design.

Size

Regardless of whether you want to show featured images of your products or restrict their depiction to thumbnail sizes, you’ll want to capture your photos at a large size that enables you to produce multiple smaller variations. Small photographs pixel ate when you enlarge them. Large images become slightly softer in appearance when you reduce their dimensions. Of these two problems, only the latter can be overcome without re-photographing your subject matter.

Large images require closer attention to detail. Dust and fingerprints become evident as image size increases, and they quickly pose a distraction that takes away from the perceived status or value of the product.

Note on prodalist: prodalist has extensive automatic image resizing functions. It is strongly recommended to keep original pictures at their maximum size in a dedicated folder -untouched-, and resize/crop at will into a different folder, depending on the size & resolution required. This -per project- folder will likely be updated, depending on the type of catalog to be produced, ie image sizes will change from a pro-print catalog, to an electronic version to be emailed as small as possible.

Views

Do you want to incorporate multiple views of each product, showing it from a variety of angles? Will only specific products receive this type of featured treatment? If you’re unsure which items you’ll want to depict from more than one vantage point, you’re better off photographing everything from all of your chosen perspectives, giving you the flexibility to expand your image resources as needed.

Environment

How you photograph your products determines how you can present them. Some catalogs use isolated images that display no background details or distractions. To capture these images, the products are placed in front of a seamless background, typically white. You can use these images as is, or extract the products from the background to remove all traces of shadow detail.

Backgrounds

removed background

removed background

Alternatively, some products benefit from inclusion into a background that looks like their real functional environment. For example, some home furnishing catalogs show furniture, dishes, and flatware in real dining room settings. Others use sets that mimic the real thing but are set up in a photographer’s studio. These environmental images work well when they’re combined with text that describes real-life usage and other circumstances that match up with what the reader seeks to accomplish through using the product in question.

Remember that background detail and background clutter aren’t the same thing. Photographs negate the third perceptual dimension, flattening foreground into background. The classic distraction involves something that appears to become part of the foreground subject, such as in a standing portrait captured in front of a potted palm that now appears to sprout from the subject’s head. It’s much easier to avoid these problems as you’re taking photographs than to go through the image-editing gymnastics required to remove distractions after the fact.

Always view your images carefully before you remove what you’re photographing and move on to capturing views of other products. Re-photograph any image that lacks a clear distinction between foreground subject and background details. This consideration becomes especially important if you plan to convert your images from full color into black and white. In color images, hues and shades can enable objects to contrast against background colors that appear nearly identical when reduced to grayscale.

Note on prodalist: prodalist permits to automatically remove the background (even in batch), providing some cares have been taken during the photoshooting.

Image impressions

As you capture photographs of your products for use in your catalog, think about the impressions your images will create on the document page. Some objects require special attention to photograph well, including all-black products and those with reflective trim. Black absorbs light. Without sufficient illumination, a black object turns into an undifferentiated blob. Chrome and other reflective surfaces can cause hot spots in an image, featureless areas in which no details remain visible. Examine your photos carefully for problems such as these, and invest the time necessary to capture images that do your products justice.

Tip: Always photograph your products so the images provide useful information about product size, function, and attributes that tie in to your unique selling proposition. A bad photograph can do more to hurt your product image than a good photo can do to present it in a positive light.

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