Here’s something you’ve probably never realized: when you buy something online, you’re not really buying the object.

A client of Paul Guba pointed that out once. The man had hired Guba to take top-quality photos of the goods he was selling from his online store. “He told me ‘I’m not selling my products, I’m selling pictures of my products,’” Guba says. “Even as a photographer, I hadn’t thought of that.”

Consider the implications of this observation, though. Rather than walking into a store and looking at a piece of merchandise, shoppers are looking at carefully arranged, densely packed pixels. If the image is done well, they see the texture, the size, the functionality of the object all in one professionally lit and properly staged frame. And if the image is lousy? Well, guess who just lost a sale.

In today’s world, Guba says, images are the primary way customers — and potential customers — make decisions about your business and what it offers. Whether you sell products or services is immaterial. What matters is your image. And a top-tier photograph or two really can mean the difference between customers buying and customers browsing elsewhere.

Guba, who owns Paul Guba Imaging in Long Branch, will conduct “Your Artwork: The Importance of Quality Photos,” a seminar for artists and anyone else who understands that high-quality photography is good for their business, on Tuesday, October 21, at 7 p.m. at Artworks in Trenton. Visit artworks­trenton.org/class-description-schedules.

The free event is part of the 21st annual Trenton Business Week, which will begin with a kick off breakfast with mayor Eric Jackson on Monday, October 20. Jackson will also deliver a State of the Capital Address Tuesday, October 21. Additional seminars and events will be held throughout the week. For a full schedule and registration, visit www.smallbizweek.com/pages/event_registration.

Teaching about photographing art for commercial sale brings Guba somewhat full circle. His first paying job, more than a quarter century ago, was for an artist near Rochester, New York. Guba grew up in New Jersey and attended Brookdale Community College to study graphic design before transferring to the Rochester Institute of Technology. He had planned on being an artist like his parents — his mother was a classically trained vocalist who still teaches singing and piano in her 80s; his father a commercial artist who served as an art director and creative director before becoming the vice president of a mid-sized promotions agency.

But Guba took a course in photography that changed everything. He graduated from RIT with a bachelor’s in photography and immediately moved to New York City to apprentice with some of the great photographers of the 1980s. There he met and mingled with some of his photographic heroes, like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. By the late ’80s Guba was ready to open his own shop, which he did in New York, concentrating on corporate, commercial, and product photography.

Everything was going swimmingly until just prior to 9/11, when rents suddenly shot through the ceiling. “I was sharing a space with someone and went from paying about $2,000 a month to $6,000 a month,” Guba says. “And they could get it.”

Guba moved back to New Jersey and capitalized on the dawn of the digital photography movement. He no longer needed the vast industry support network found in New York’s film and photo circles. Now he could be less specialized and communicate through CDs and the Internet. It’s been going just great since 2001.

Apple, selfies, and the truth about DIY. Guba knows he sounds biased when he says that every type of business could benefit from superior photographic images. But great images, he says, are an investment in the business that, at their core, show your potential clients and customers that, frankly, my dear, you give a damn about your business.

Consider Apple. Specifically the iPhone. Is an iPhone, really, that much different from a any other phone? No. The real differences are pretty tiny. Yet Apple is soaring and manufacturers like Samsung just reported major losses due to competition. What does Apple have for an edge? Marketing, of course. And that marketing includes a heavy dose of superior images that define Apple’s brand — clean, futuristic, innovative.

Similarly, businesses of all sizes use professional photography to set an image and keep the perception of the business right where the owners want it. Restaurants using high-quality photos of food in the perfect setting lure diners faster that restaurants that use cell phone pictures of someone’s lunch. Clothiers sell shirts and shoes and dresses online because the photography shows the feel, the very textures of the products. Snapshots of clothes laid across a bed and posted to eBay? Not so much.

The do-it-yourself approach is a common problem for creative professionals these days. Every phone comes with a camera, and people think that because they can take a photo anywhere, anytime, they shouldn’t pay for a pro. Getting people to realize the value of a professional shoot, and what it can bring to a business, Guba says, can be a challenge. But if you realize that photography is an investment, you’re on the right track.

“I always tell people, ‘You can take a very mediocre picture,’” he says. “If that’s how you want to present yourself and your business, I’m not going to stop you. But there’s a reason there are models.”

And remember, people know how much they’re willing to pay for what they see. Seeing the actual product these days is often the last step in the buying process, not the first. Judgments are made about the quality of the merchandise based on the quality of the photo of the merchandise. The same shirt in a great picture will probably fetch a higher price than a picture that looks like someone took in front of a mirror with her phone.

Relationships. Guba says his job is one of relationship building. One-time jobs are fine, but returning clients are always best. And for those who want to hire a professional photographer, Guba suggests working with someone you will want to work with again. Get someone who understands what you want to achieve and can help you see and develop your vision for the visual aspects of your business.

And ask to see some work. Guba advocates asking to see a portfolio of work in an area similar to the one you want your photography to convey. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking all photography is the same. Wedding photographers work entirely differently from tech product photographers. “You wouldn’t hire a plumber to paint your house,” Guba says.

Experience in a field is an important thing for businesses to keep in mind when hiring a photographer. After all, it can be costly to find out you have hired the wrong type of expert. “You don’t want to be paying for someone to learn how to do something,” Guba says.

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