A product photograph

Above: An example of a descriptive catalogue style photograph used by an online retailer. Credit: Modesens.com

Any Product

Many of the three billion users of the World Wide Web now shop online--for a bunch of bananas or a Chanel suit. There are around ten million online shops that are accessed through Internet technology. (It was Jean Baudrillard who first predicted that the Web would precipitate the desertification of the town's Main Street or High Street.) In terms of photography, the "net" beneficiary has been one of the humblest, and unassuming of photo-styles: the product photograph (also known as pack-shot or catalogue photograph); neutral, clear, straightforward photos of wares photographed in a way that shows as much detail as possible.

The product-shot image-maker is often no longer a professional photographer but rather an in-house company employee who has been set up with lights and a paper backdrop in a converted office. Every company with products on offer for purchase on the Web requires such photos--multiple images of everything that is being sold online. Such photos tend to set the product or object on a white background and are made using a lens that will not introduce any unnecessary distortions. Product photography is a photography of description, specification and elucidation.

The rise to prominence of online shopping returns the emphasis of photography to its principal unique characteristic as per Walter Benjamin: non-artistic description. For Benjamin it was Atget who first recognized that photography is useful primarily and foremost as a mode of documenting things.

The product photographer--the provider of evidence, of detail--is in demand like no other photographer as of 2018.

(1 March 2018)