It may be easy to say that Portland is a city on everyone’s mind – because of the show, Portlandia – but how did it get there? Initially laid out in 1845, two early settlers flipped a coin to see what it should be called. Each wanted it named after their home, with one being from Boston, Massachusetts, and the other being from Portland, Maine. We can guess who won that one. The name stuck as the city’s economy gained momentum with its access to water for trade and its bustling lumber industry. As it faced hardline segregation and the presence of organized crime in its ports over the ensuing decades, things took a turn as progressive views began to dominate the city in the 1960s. Attracting a younger demographic with counter-culture ideals, the local culture shifted. At the same time, the founding of Nike also took place in Portland, which helped the economy grow along with the influx of newer, younger transplants. By the 90s, the big tech industry began to root itself in Portland, giving it an enormous economic advantage as well as a consistent ranking as one of America’s fastest-growing cities. With these industries often fostering a youth-oriented energy, the stage was set for a new millennium of culture. The list of bands emerging from Portland during this time is nearly endless, and it continually exists as the capital of the world for craft beer and coffee enthusiasts. It fosters a steady reputation as America’s most bike-friendly city, with its proximity to nature also attracting aficionados of plants and hiking. From DIY crafts to the latest in computers, diverse businesses are flourishing – and a Portland product photographer is always in-demand.
At Wonderful Machine, still life/product photography refers to photos showing inanimate objects not covered in other specialties, such as automotive or liquids photography. We specifically define product photography as imagery showing an actual product that a client is promoting. Existing at the right place and at the right time is important, yet having the skills to help a plethora of businesses visually promote themselves is what defines the professionals on this list. Here are the 7 best creatives in Portland product photography.
With an aesthetic defined by bright colors and a younger, hip attitude, Nicolle Clemetson works in tandem with Sludge Studio to produce, plan, and execute shoots. Nicolle brings over a decade of experience to her playful still and stop-motion work, often working with vibrant colors that match or complement the products she is showcasing. While this eye-catching, fun-focused visual identity is perfect for advertising products to younger, more active demographics, the perfection in her work makes it ideal for any environment. This shows in her work with long-lived brands that incorporate these ideals, such as Nike and Adidas, as well as newer business phenomena such as Fitbit and GoDaddy. While Nicolle’s ability to communicate excitement is the first thing one might notice in looking at her portfolio, she is just as comfortable in doing more refined, quiet imagery for brands like Teavana. She always incorporates the area surrounding a product with the appeal of the product itself, yet this is done in her unique way. Athletic shoes may be placed around basketballs or a hoop, yet they’ll all be the same shade of orange. Also, Nicolle utilizes a conceptual edge in her product work, making it stand out even more. School supplies and tech for education might show something strange and cartoonish, like a tentacle coming out the surface below them, which engages the imagination of children. Shampoo brands may be surrounded by bubbles and soothing colors, which take the viewer right into the bath experience. With any product, Nicolle will bring out fun that nobody can deny.
Liam Gillies covers every base in crafting the most effective shoot for an advertising campaign. As a photographer and the creative head of Photon Studios production, he leads the team, beginning with scripts and storyboards for their incredibly multi-faceted work. Approaching each shoot with both still life and motion capabilities intertwined, the end result is as dynamic as it gets. You’ll see many images of the product being sported by models as well as alone within an environment that supports their visual aesthetic, giving it a brand narrative edge that is perfect for web content or multi-panel ads. You’ll also often see perfectly-crafted short films, such as Liam’s work for the Hello Nike App, which shows various young people waking up, seizing their active lifestyle, and of course, shopping for shoes. Liam is also an aesthetic chameleon and always showcases products in lighting and color that best represents the audience their clients are reaching out to. Shoe brands like Sorel will have earth tones with models sporting casual, yet elegant fashions. Yet shoe brands like Vans are awash in neon lights, streetwise activewear, and models exuding a life on the edge. He’s done shoots involving surfers out in the water, processes of creating renewable diesel, and even simple home appliances in action. With an approach that always factors in collaborating with his clients at every step of a shoot, from the initial storyboarding to the post-production, Liam Gillies is as good, as well as thorough, as they come.
Scott Rounds is an interesting case. Primarily shooting ADVs, dirt bikes, and motorcycles, Scott also happens to be an exquisite product photographer. A look through his portfolio reveals a talent that speaks for itself as his imagery is artfully composed and presented in a way that explores the personality of the products he shoots. While many photographers use lighting and color to highlight a product’s appeal, Scott will go as far as using texture. High-end apparel will be over a background painted so thickly that its ridges form more of a flattened sculpture than a backdrop, bringing the elegance of an art gallery. Classy, yet casual apparel will perhaps be laid out on a rustic wooden floor, presenting an aesthetic that extends beyond the product and into the lifestyle of the target audience. In fact, he’ll even utilize another product as the background of his subject as a way to complement it. This is exemplified in his resting a watch over part of a leather jacket, a jar of pomade sitting on a tool belt, or lipstick surrounded by shimmering shards of glass and glitter, invoking the thrill of a nightclub. Everything makes sense in Scott’s shoots. And just because his work with motorcycles is so in-depth, don’t think any of this is a fluke. Scott has done product work with Adidas, HOLO Footwear, Levi’s, Milton & Goose, Nike, Swift, Rev’It!, and Sam’s Club.
Known and celebrated for her sunny demeanor, Rachel McCord has been a professional photographer for over a decade and brings a sense of light to everything she shoots:
As a visual creative, mastering light is a constant; it is both ever-present and mailable. Whether it be running the set of a photo shoot as a photo producer, giving direction to a subject on location as a photographer, conducting research, or image selecting / processing in post as a photo editor; I bring a spark to each task.
Employing the skills she has gained in running her own small business as a photographer, Rachel creates imagery that works for print, digital, and social media platforms. Some of her work employs a colorful background to bring out the appeal of a product, some utilize models. Yet all of Rachel’s images tell a story. Very attuned to the craft-oriented businesses that populate Portland, she will use the most simple visual language to create a scene that exemplifies a product’s appeal. If a jeweler crafts geometric, or even mystically-themed work, she’ll perhaps shoot a piece resting upon a leaf. Yet more luxurious, golden jewelry will perhaps be overflowing from a champagne glass. Artisan bowls might be individually placed next to an open book, or grouped collectively on soft fabric, both showing the designer’s voice across each while also advertising an entire set. In every case, Rachel’s intuitive approach is always a great match for the personalities that go for the products she captures.
Jim Golden is an award-winning photographer and director with over 20 years of experience. Dedicated to still-life imagery, Jim’s portfolio presents a tour of possibilities in product photography. Yet it all starts with his philosophy of realistically presenting each product without any kind of embellishment. It all comes down to this question: what makes this particular product interesting? And he builds from there. While Jim uses various colors as backgrounds for his shoots, he also tends to stick with quiet, pale shades to complement, yet never detract from his subjects. The magic is his arrangement. Sometimes he will employ an artful approach, such as a mosaic of work gloves arranged by their colors, an image for which he was honored as the 2023 Communication Arts Photo Annual Winner. He’ll also often have images of products balancing upon one another, going as close to an impossible feat as he can to present an exciting picture. Other times he will arrange a whole set of items, thematically and designed to go with one another, in a way that presents them as an investment in a lifestyle. This is extremely effective in marketing athletic gear, for instance, and any Portland product photographer would find much success in mastering this ability, as Nike, as well as Adidas, are both major presences in the area. Jim has done a lot of quality work for both companies, as well as Jockey, Apple, Clorox, Ann Sacks Tile, Sherwin Williams, and many more. He also directs short films and has a strong portfolio of motion work. No matter which road he takes, whether it be artful, pragmatically functional, or cinematic, Jim always allows the products to speak for themselves in his uniquely excellent way.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Leah Verwey studied film and photography before embarking on a professional career and relocating to Portland. Most at home working with simplicity, Leah’s imagery is fun and eye-catching, yet also calming in her use of unobtrusive background colors to complement her subjects. She will still opt for bright colors or busy patterns to serve as a backdrop and she is unafraid to make bold decisions when she combines them. This is because Leah only works with color in a way that permits her subjects to be seen clearly as the dominant visual voice. While this works perfectly for a clothing, food, tools, and any kind of packaging, her eye is also perfect for crafts, which have been a longstanding local market in Portland product photography. Also a very accomplished lifestyle photographer, Leah is just as adept at working with models to take viewers into the experience of having the products she shoots. This shows a quietly dynamic professional, able to work most situations and environments into a springboard that shows the best aspects of a product. Her gentle and artful approach brings ease to the experience of her work which also serves as a welcome alternative to the bombastic world of advertising.
Michael Jones is a Portland product photographer adept at marrying two often unassociated concepts: diversity and simplicity. With a no-frills approach, Michael shows products at their very best while channeling all possible attention toward them. There are no distractions in his work. Working seamlessly between digital and film photography, Michael uses incredibly sparse backgrounds in order to bring maximum attention to his subjects. Typically a white or black backdrop will either have the product alone or perhaps resting with items that may aesthetically resonate with his main subject. A leather jacket may hang on some low-lit barrels, showing a refined, yet edgy bearing that one may associate with wearing one. A wristwatch may be on an actual wrist, resting on an armchair. A bike helmet, golf club, or vodka bottle may be completely alone. Yet they shine with the clarity Michael fosters in every one of his images. He gives the same treatment to vehicles, footwear, and even printmaking kits: the product is front and center, shown as beautifully as can be done. Yet Michael is also fantastic at working with models, often utilizing them for his work with apparel. Even so, his background is typically sparse here as well. When using a black background, Michael’s ability to work with shadows adds an air of mystery to his images, which is a perfect match for luxurious items as well as fashion statements. Very adept at finding the image he wants, whether it be on location or in the studio, Michael rarely needs to retouch his images, preferring to identify issues throughout the process. The result is a strong portfolio of images and a long list of excited clients.
It is not an easy thing to stand out as a Portland product photographer. The youth-oriented and do-it-yourself energy mixed with major businesses in big tech, activewear, and more can only make for a market filled with amazingly talented professionals. Yet each of these creatives listed above shows that if you put your own personal touch on how to best reveal the most exciting qualities of a product, you’ll be in business for many years to come.
Specialty: What is Still Life/Product Photography?
Find more articles on still life/product photography on our blog.