Online users and customers scan a web page in seconds and according to latest research, most users will hang around for less then 59 seconds if they can find what they are looking for.
There is just too much online information to take time to absorb every detail. Keep in mind that your online product images may not be shown in context with your marketing text. Anyone can do a Google image search for products of any type and be presented with thousands of pages of pictures to look at. If your website has been optimised (SEO) and your products coming up at the top of page one, that is still a lot of images to look at. You want your product photos to stand out from the rest. Between product features and benefits, it is the images that will catch the attention of your customers. Here is your guide to making the best ecommerce and product photographs.
eCommerce Photography Tips
Start With a Cohesive Plan
If you are offering one product, this is quite easy. If you have an entire catalogue of products that you offer online, this takes some work. You begin with branding. Something about the way your product images look should tie in with the rest of your online presence. It may be a colour scheme, setting, logo or anything else. As your customers are navigating your website, no image should seem like it belongs on another website. This applies to manufacturer supplied images of products, can you improve them, brand them, make them stand out from the crowd.
Offer Multiple Images of Each Product
Other websites are only a click away, so offer multiple views of your products. You do not want your customers leaving your site to get a different or better view of the products they are looking at. Show products from all angles, and use macro photography to get those close ups that show textures of fabrics or fine details. Your customers should not have to wonder what the tread on a pair of shoes looks like or what the fabric weave of a sweater looks like up close. Your goal is to recreate the experience in pictures and texts to mimic as closely as possible the actual consumer experience of handling a product in a brick and mortar retail environment.
Using White Backgrounds
The brilliant white backgrounds you see used with product photos are for a purpose. It isolates the product from any extraneous information. It presents consumers the full ability to view the product with no visual distraction. There are no textural or color temperature influences on the product to alter the perception of the actual product itself. Small products should be photographed inside a light box whether it is commercially made or something you put together yourself. A light box is made of translucent material to diffuse the flash and light your product from all sides. White backgrounds can be rolls of background material or just plain white butcher’s paper. Avoid using white sheets as wrinkles and color shifts are likely to distract from your images.
Be Sure to Offer Benefit Images Too
The analytical aspect of the consumer mind will want to know the features of the products you are offering. If you are selling cookery with heat-resistant handles, that is a feature. Showing in images that those heat-resistant handles make a cook pot great for oven use too is the benefit. The benefits of a product are the emotional aspects of products that do the selling for you. The features of a spa tub may be 50 water jets, ergonomic seating and non-chlorinated water filtration. However, the picture of a model relaxing away stress, aches and pains is the benefit that sells the product. Take time to set up photo shoots to establish at least the main benefit when you are shooting the other images that demonstrate the features.
Mind Those Shadows
Light is the friend and enemy of photography. It can be used to do everything from show the smallest details to creating moods. Shadows in photography are necessary for establishing the third dimension that keeps your product images from looking flat, and shadows can bring out textural details as well. However, be aware of how shadows can be distracting or create unwanted moods for the products you want to sell. Consider harsh facial shadows on a model wearing makeup that you are selling. This is a literal version of not presenting your product in the best light. Have a second set of eyes look over your scene before you start pressing the shutter button. It is easy to blank out unwanted visual information, such as harsh shadows, especially when shooting many products in one day.
Use the Correct Photography Gear
If you are shooting images for an auction site to make a little extra money on the side, you probably can get away with homemade sets and using the natural light of a nearby window to capture decent images of small retail type products. If you are relying on your products as a business income, then upgrade to the right photographic equipment for the job. Plan your product shoots to get them done in one or two back-to-back sessions, and then rent the camera gear you need. The rental fee of professional camera equipment from the camera body to specialty lenses and lighting rigs is a tiny fraction of the cost of ownership. Even if you shoot new product once per month, you can still save a fortune over owning the gear, and you will always have access to the latest photographic equipment on the market.
Go on Location
This is especially useful for shooting the benefits of each product you are offering. Your flagship products should receive special attention in this regard. Choose a location that depicts the products you are using, considering the details of the demographic of the consumers buying them. For example, if you are selling trendy fashions, have some benefit images of your models wearing the clothing at a scene where the clothing would most likely be worn. If you are selling products for a kitchen, shoot the products in use in the kitchen styles that most closely fits your consumer demographic. If you are short on location opportunities, there are companies that specialize in photographic shoot locations of all types.
Use Professional Lighting Rigs
Stop having to rely on just natural light, or worse, the popup flash on a consumer-level DSLR. Nothing screams amateur in photographs like bad lighting does. It is worse than poor composition choices. Your customers will not be satisfied with poor product lighting. They want to see every angle as if they were outside looking at the product in the noonday sun. Keep in mind this applies to your images that demonstrate features. Images that show benefits can be shot in the lighting appropriate to product use. Your feature images need to be well-lit, and professional photographic lighting is the way to go. You should have at least a three light setup with reflectors to use for fill light. This will let you shoot anything from small products to live models wearing your products.
Focus on the Features
Your photos that show some benefits may need a bit of soft focus and subdued lighting, but your images that demonstrate features should have focus that is sharp as a tack. Keep the actual detail the image is being created to display in mind during the shoot. If, for example, you are showing the buttons on an electronic device you sell, then keep sharp focus on that feature using a macro lens. The rest of the product can fade into the blurry background. This high level of close up detail is needed for some products such as the clasps on jewelry or showing the texture of a surface. You cannot fix bad focus in post-edit, so be sure you get it right during the actual shoot.
Know Your Aperture
Depth of field for small products, such as jewelry, can be a problem if you are not familiar with how the aperture on your camera works. Shoot tiny objects in aperture-priority mode. This way you can make the hole that light gets through to the camera sensor the smallest it can be to give you the greatest depth of field. You do not need to overdo it. Just stop down to an f-stop that lets you have the entire piece in focus. The larger the aperture number, the smaller the opening. That is a tough one for novices to keep in mind. Also, since your products are not moving, you can shoot at a lower shutter speed to be able to capture an image at smaller apertures settings, but your camera will need to be on a tripod. Adding more light also lets you shoot smaller aperture sizes. Make sure your ISO does not go up as this will just add grain to your images.
Another Word About Camera Settings
The craftsperson is only as good as the tools that are used, and the craftsperson needs to know how to use those tools. Get to know your camera and how shutter speed, aperture settings and ISO work together. It is all about getting light to the digital sensor, or film if you are old-school. Shutter speed is how long light gets in, and aperture is how much. ISO is how sensitive the digital sensor is, or how sensitive film is to light. High ISO settings add grain to your images, which is not something you generally want with product photos. Wide apertures (high f-stop numbers) let in lots of light but give shallow depth of field. Narrow aperture settings (low f-stop numbers) let in less light but greatly increase depth of field. Fast shutter speed with lots of light freezes even the slightest motion. Longer shutter speeds can add blur to handheld shots. You generally do not use blur in standard product photography.
Take Supplies With You
Dust on an electronic item’s feature close up looks tacky and unprofessional. Tiny imperfections can be fixed in post-edit, but a pristine product look is what you are going for. The fit of clothing samples on models or mannequins may not be perfect. Simple spring-loaded clothespins can be used on the side of clothing facing away from the camera to tighten up a loose fit. A spray bottle with water to add water droplets to flowers or other fresh products conveys freshness, but food product shooting is so involved that it needs to be the subject of its own article. You need to bring with you anything you need to make your products the most pristine example of the product class for the photo shoot. This may include being choosy which products you bring for the photo shoot as the tiniest blemishes are magnified in macro photography.
This is where your standard jpg file needs to be left for selfies and pictures of what you ordered at a restaurant. RAW format gives you the most digital data in each image file to make post-edit using Photoshop or other photo-editing software a breeze. You cannot fix focus in post-edit, and you cannot work with digital camera sensor data that does not exist in the picture file. Jpg and other compressed file formats are for the finished product. If you plan on cropping, adjusting colors, fixing white balance, sharpening or anything else in post-edit, you need the digital data that is present in RAW image formats. If your camera cannot shoot RAW, get one that can.
Study Your Products
Every product has a best view for its feature photo that is the first image customers see when they view a product on your ecommerce site. An oblique view of a product may give a better initial presentation than a front view. A high or low angle perspective also changes things. Try to think iconically for your best product shots. For example, rings are most often viewed overlooking the gemstone at an angle rather than seeing a ring on its side. It mimics the viewpoint one would see if your friend held out her hand for you to admire her engagement ring. Consider the angle of view of how most people naturally see your products in use. The angle of view along with shape makes for quick identification. Imagine silhouettes of your products cut out of black paper. The silhouette that would be the most recognizable lets you know the angle of view that would be most iconic for the products.
This primer on product photography lets you in on some secrets the professionals are using. Incorporate them into your next product shoot as much as you can. Whether you are using a smartphone to snap pics for eBay of used items you want to sell or if you are doing a photo shoot for a print catalog for your retail business, these tricks will help motivate customers to buy. Always appeal to the emotions first (benefits), and then let them know the specs (features). For any ecommerce, this is done with images first and then your marketing text.