Home decor: How to plan a catalog photoshoot

About four years into my current job we decided to make a yearly product catalog for our customers, to inspire and to showcase our best designs. We didn’t quite have the budget we do today, but that was a good thing. It taught me how to be incredibly resourceful and create (what I consider to be) pretty great catalogs.

Making a catalog is a hectic process, and in the beginning my responsibilities were: source and design the products, plan the collections, photograph & edit the products, design the catalog and market it to our customers. I was producer, creative director, errand runner, product designer and graphic designer. The disadvantage was that when you’re in so many roles you can’t possibly do all of them right. The advantage it gave was that now I know exactly how long things take, what I need and expect from the people around me and you can’t bullshit me with anything. Making a catalog has a lot of steps and tight deadlines and I will share with you how to plan it all and make it an easy process. I’m not going to tell you how to set-up the camera and what light to use – this is more about the actual planning and execution of a photoshoot for home and garden accessories.

Step 1: Planning your collection

It’s important to split your products into collections and tell a story. You’ve got different consumer groups interested in your products and you can’t appeal to all through one collection. Do your research, there’s so much free information out there, it’s one click away. Take for example WGSN’s Future Consumer 2021 report. There’s so much useful information in a couple of pages which you can then use to understand what is shaping our daily lives and create products that will react to these diverse needs.

To be even more specific, one obvious and big event that has impacted all our lives has been COVID-19. Wellbeing has become a key concept in a lot of people’s lives and will continue to remain relevant in a post-pandemic world. It’s about being healthy, mindful, creating sanctuary-like spaces inside our homes and getting our Feng-shui on. It also means going green, beyond adding greeneries at home, it’s about incorporating natural materials in our environments. From here on the questions is how can colors, materials, finishes, shapes be matched together to stimulate good feelings and therefore improve our wellness? And this is how you develop your first collection and create a story for it.

Step 2: Concepts and mood boards

If you want to make the most out of your time, you have to do some research before the shoot. It’s essential create a mood board with the styles you want to have. I prefer to use Pinterest for this step as it’s a great and easy place to save inspiration from anywhere.

The evolution of a photoshoot: the first two photoshoots we did we worked with a stylist and she would do the research at home, but most of it would be styling on the spot. This meant we shot quite a few scenes in a day, especially when in Denmark the workday actually ends at 16.00 and there’s nothing you can do about it. For the third catalog I took matters into my own hands and did the styling myself, at the studio with my Pinterest boards as inspiration. The issue here was that sometimes inspiration just doesn’t strike, and it especially doesn’t strike when you’re on set, under pressure to deliver and time is (a lot of) money.

So we decided on a different approach, since we have a small photography room at work (although you can do it anywhere). First step was split all the products into smaller collections and pick a style for each one. We styled it as close as we could to how we wanted it to be shot, from the angle, to props that had to be used, to what plants should go in each pot. You can see a time-lapse of how do it below:

Turns out this was a gamechanger. It tripled the number of scenes we would shoot in one day and it created this amazing flow in the process. It also relieved the stress of having to style scenes on the spot and left it open to improvise and get the creative juices flowing. See what I mean with the before / after scenes below – shot with an iPhone and then translated professionally in the studio.

We actually forgot the candle stick at the office
Paper pots from our sustainable collection

Step 3: Assign roles

Everyone in your team should be clear about their roles and what’s expected of them. One very important role is the time-tracker – whether that’s you or someone else in your team, you need to make sure you are always sticking to the schedule. This has made a huge difference in my process, and we always achieved absolutely everything we set out to do.

Step 4: During the shoot

I think it’s so important to work with a photographer that matches your work style. Be clear about your expectations and don’t leave anything to chance – make sure you are on the same page about the deadlines, deliverables and the flow you want.

Start the first day of shooting with a good cup of coffee, healthy snacks, maybe a RedBull, good music and set a positive, fun tone for the day. Shooting days are incredibly draining because you have to be ON all the time, and you are responsible for so many parts. Plus, keep in mind that this is a social business, so try to be positive and keep it a stress-free environment.

And you’re done. Last step is putting it all together in InDesign and marketing it out to customers. That’s a topic for another time. If you have similar or different workflows, I would love to hear your tips and I hope you found some useful information in mine. Below is a video from a shoot we did with our photography partner, Think Photography. To see some of our catalogs, go over to our Dymak company page or follow this link: https://dymak.dk/collections/

Behind the scenes from a studio photoshoot