There is an age-old debate that exists among companies who sell products: some have marketing departments that say, "People buy from people! There needs to be an emotional connection between the viewer and the product."; others say, "Focus on the product! Extraneous elements only detract from the primary purpose." What do we believe? What have we experienced in working with product companies?
The short answer is ... a blend of the two is the best.
Taking a closer look at this debate, we see that: a) the ratio of people with product or just the product alone will shift depending on what type of product it is and its purpose; and b) how the product is presented with the people depends on the product itself.
Let's look at the image shown with this article. You will see that the focus is on the jewelry, yet there is a person in the image. The potential buyer's eye goes directly to the product (good, that's what we are selling), yet still they take in the entire image where the person is wearing the product in a casual setting and they feel the beauty (good, that's what triggers desire to buy). Note that the person is the support for the product. You only see part of the person, but in this case, that's all that is needed to evoke emotion in the buyer.
This image could be used for a display advertisement, a billboard, direct mail piece, online banner ad, social media ad, etc., etc. However, in a printed catalog or online shopping cart, this image could be used as a sample of the collection or category image, but the product itself and other similar products would then be shown individually. And therein lies the blend of both product and people.
Another example may be a winery that is concentrating on wine sales.
They should have an image focusing on the wine bottle - presenting the actual product as the buyer will see it when it is purchased. This photo may or may not have someone holding the bottle depending on the purpose. Supporting images may show wine pouring, the vines from which the wine was made, the wine tasting room, a group of people toasting with the wine and so on. Again, a nice blend of product and people.
Are your images professionally presenting your product AND evoking the emotional connection that make people want to buy what you are selling? Take a closer look.