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Best Practices for Taking Great Product Photos for E-Commerce

Larry VanDenHandel on February 25, 2018
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A picture is worth a thousand words — and dollars.

In e-commerce, a picture is your most powerful weapon. Pictures are the windows to your store, the most effective way to visualize the products to your visitors.

No matter how well-written your copy is, visitors will judge your brand and products based on visual elements. And it’s only normal, especially that 90% of data and information that goes into our brain comes from what we see.

Remember, it’s not like visitors are able to check your products in-person. No matter how good your description is, it still won’t beat photography. The first thing visitors look at is the product images (and more often, it’s also the last thing they’ll check).

Consumers rely heavily on images in terms of purchasing decisions. Sure, you may have all the descriptions, specifications, and other convincing words for them. But the images you have speak thousands to visitors in terms of your product’s quality, design, and value.

In addition, having great images adds reputation to your branding. They speak to your target audience, captivate them, and ultimately, convert them. And isn’t that what we’re all after?

Needless to say, having great images for your e-commerce store can either break or make your brand.

Types of Product Photography

Before going through the best practices to achieve great photos, let’s take a look first at the 2 types of product images.

1. Product-Only Images

e-commerce product only shots of watch products

These images are the ones with a clear or white background.

This kind of images is important to showcase and feature your product. These are concentrated shots from the best angles providing consumers with a look-around feel on your product.

Use these images on your product pages. They are best in describing your product without any form of distractions.

2. Lifestyle or In-Context Images

lifestyle shot of a bag product

This type of images shows your product in action. They provide visitors with an in-action view of your products features, designs, and dimensions.

These shots are great for other marketing channels like social media. When done properly, these lifestyle shots can tell a story which your visitors can relate to.

Out of the two types of product images, you should get more product-only images. In your product page, it would be good to have 4-6 shots of product-only images in various angles with 1-2 lifestyle images. For social media, use in-context images.

Now that you’re ready. Here are 5 tips to get better product photos:

1. Consider Your Equipment

camera tools and equipment

The equipment you have is vital in taking great images for your e-commerce store.

If you have enough budget, buying a few items can really benefit you especially if you want to shoot in-doors or doesn’t want to rely on natural light.

Camera

camera on a table

I know this is a no-brainer since you shoot without it. But what I mean is that you should get the right one, or at least know how to use one.

It’s always recommended that you get a DSLR. You don’t have to buy expensive ones. Just make sure that the one you buy has aperture settings and manual exposure.

If you don’t have enough to buy a DSLR, you can your smartphone! Smartphones nowadays have evolved so much that when used properly, they can even rival professional cameras.

Whatever you’re using, make sure you set these settings properly:

ISO (International Standards Organization): This is the light sensitivity rating of your camera. Check that you don’t go higher than 600 or you’ll get little grains or “noise” on the image. Set yours at 100 or 200 for optimization.

White Balance: This setting helps your camera take away unrealistic color casts (white should look white!). This takes into account the “color temperature” of the light source, and help you adjust for optimization. Avoid too much warmth (orange tint) or coolness (blue tint).

Aperture: This is the measurement of the opening of your camera’s lens, represented as “f/number”. Enlarging the aperture number would give greater focus on your product. Don’t settle for an aperture lower than f/11.

As support to your camera, invest a little to buy a tripod. No matter how steady you think your hards are, nothing can beat a stationary camera holder like a tripod. If you have one, set it up and you’re free to roam around and make whatever adjustments you need in your studio.

Backdrop

white seamless paper

As much as possible, use a white backdrop or background. Aside from helping to keep your product in the spotlight and avoiding distractions, a white background is easier to remove or edit in post-production.

You can use seamless rolls of white paper. This item is cheap and you can easily get one from your nearest drug store. Tape the top on the ceiling (or wall) and bottom on the floor to prevent shadows and creases.

You can also use white poster boards. If it’s hard for you to find a white one or even off-white, cream-colored would suffice.

Lighting

The best lighting is natural light. Window light during early morning and late afternoon are the best. Avoid direct sunlight (noon time) since the harsh light can cause harsh shadows. Extremes are not good.

If you want to shoot indoors, you really have to invest a little in artificial lighting equipment. You can use mono strobe light head (mono-light) and a softbox (if not possible, an umbrella will do) to diffuse the light and make it even.

2. Prepare Your Product

clean plastic plant decoration

This can never be emphasized enough: Make sure your products look their best.

During transport or storage of your product, it would get dirt, dust, and other visible defects. If your product is clothing, they usually get creased and wrinkled. At times, your product would look worn out.

Again, please… These kinds of lapses shouldn’t be left for Photoshop to fix. There are people with keen eyes who can tell if an image was edited or not. And if you’re not too careful or you’re not too skilled in editing your images, you risk of ruining your brand’s reputation.

To avoid that unfortunate scenario, examine all angles of your product. Clean it and remove any unnecessary and identifying elements like stickers, tags, etc. Repair visible damages and cracks. If your product is a clothing line, apply steam or iron the products before shooting them.

The best thing you can do is to prepare your products and get them to a state as close to perfection as possible.

3. Lighting Positions

photography studio with multi-light system

Don’t rely on Photoshop and other image editing software to optimize your product images’ lighting. A lot of amateur photographers (and e-commerce store owners) think they can just shoot with a professional camera anytime anywhere without a single thought of the lighting.

How your image would look heavily depends on the lighting. If you edit it too much, it would look heavily tempered and unreal. It would affect the conversion and your brand’ reputation. The only way you can get away with it is by hiring a profession photo editor. Why would you spend more if you can just simply use natural light or buy your own artificial light equipment?

Anyway, when using natural light (especially window light), make sure your product gets indirect, evenly distributed light. In case you’re getting direct light, use a white cloth or paper and fasten it on the window using tape. This would help diffuse the harsh light and distribute even lighting.

If you’re shooting outside, slightly overcast days or even cloudy ones are better than the bright ones. As much as possible, don’t shoot during noon-time where the sun is at its brightest.

Shooting indoors is a different story. You would have to use artificial light that would mimic natural light as much as possible.

If you’re using a mono-light, position your light diagonally, or 45 degrees away from the product. Use a softbox or an umbrella to keep the light soft.

If it’s possible for you to acquire more lighting equipment, use a three-point lighting system. This is costly but would provide you with lighting as close to natural light as possible.

This system utilizes three light positions:

  • Key light: 45 degrees to the left/right of the product
  • Fill light: 45 degrees to the left/right of the product (opposite side of the key light)
  • Backlight: Placed behind the product to provide subtle highlights and eliminate harsh shadows.

Lastly, check your camera’s settings (as described above). Take test shots and tweak as necessary to achieve the desired quality.

4. Take Shots from Different Angles

women shoes shot on different angles

You should mimic the experience of a visitor in a brick and mortar store. When a visitor sees an interesting product, it’s normal for the visitor to pick it up and examine it. The visitor is able to rotate the product and examine it from different angles.

This same experience can be replicated by shooting your product from different angles, providing the visitor different views and perspective of the product. In some cases, you should provide zoomed-in shots and focused shots on specific parts so visitors can see the details.

Although you’re taking different shots from different angles, you should always remain consistent in terms of lighting, exposure, and background. If you don’t, your images would look unprofessional, like they’re being shot by different persons at different places. Doing so would bring your conversion down.

5. Post-Production Retouch

Just so you know. No matter how much you prepare, how good you are, or how expensive your items are, it’s very rare to have publish-ready images (especially with different products from different angles).

Most of the time, you would have to remove the background (or make it transparent), add crispness, adjust the brightness, shadows, etc. The most popular tool you can use is Photoshop and Lightroom. If you’re tight on budget, you can use Pixlr. It’s a free web app similar to Photoshop.

As long as you used a white background, removing it is as easy as pie. The white background is good for product pages. However, you should consider making it transparent so you can repurpose your images for marketing materials like brochures and flyers.

To make your images look consistent, consider cropping out all images to a uniform size. The consistency of the images makes your brand look professional and reliable.

If you’re not satisfied with your work, there are different tricks and methods you can find online. If you have enough on your pocket, consider hiring a professional photo retoucher. You don’t need to hire full-time. You can find freelancers from Fiverr or Upwork to do it for you.

No matter what you do, always strive to retain your product images as accurate and close to reality as possible. Misleading your buyers would certainly tarnish your brand’s reputation, and you might find it hard to rise up from that.

Conclusion

Always remember that humans are visual creatures. We often judged by what we see. That means visitors would judge your products’ value and worth based on what they see.

Of course, it’s given that not all e-commerce store owners or managers can afford to invest in expensive equipment, especially those who are new or are starting out. But there’s always a way to achieve high-quality, beautiful product photos for your store with the proper methods, techniques, and practices.

Larry VanDenHandel
Larry VanDenHandel

Larry is the co-founder & CTO of TrustSpot.

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