When it comes to selling products online, there is power in pictures. On ecommerce websites, people can’t touch or feel your product. Words and photos are the only way to persuade people to buy.
Many people make the mistake of loading up low-quality images and wonder why page views and sales are stagnant.
Don’t make that mistake. People are visual. To sell online, you need images – but not just any ole image.
Marketing products with photography is an amazing opportunity you don’t want to miss. We’ve put together this product photography guide chock-full of tips. You’ll learn how to take product photos for an ecommerce business right way. We’ll show you how to shoot product photography, what equipment to use, and how to set it up.
We’ve also included tips from some of the top commercial photographers throughout this guide.
So, are you ready to start taking better product shots?
- Chapter 1: Why Product Images Matter
- Chapter 2: Photography Basics
- Chapter 3: Photography Equipment
- Chapter 4: Setting Up Your Studio
- Chapter 5: How To Photograph Any Product Perfectly
- Chapter 6: Shooting Lifestyle Images
- Chapter 7: Optimizing and Editing Images
Chapter 1: Why Product Images Matter
Studies show that people can only recall 20% of the material that they read vs 80% what that they see. One site increased conversions 300% by simply having bigger, better product images.
Naturally, the next question to follow is, “What makes a good picture?” The best product pictures are in sharp focus, brightly colored, and have great composition. When a buyer lands on your website, pictures immediately grab their attention. To entice them to buy, you’ll need large, clear images to showcase the product and lifestyle photos to connect with them on an emotional level.
Nobody does this better than Nike:
Product photos instill trust in your customers and prospects and they dramatically increase conversion rate.
The photos you create and use are instrumental in conveying your brand image.
Don’t just take my advice. Here’s what the top commercial photographers say about the importance of photography.
There should be a strong relationship between the product you sell and the photography you do. The stronger the relationship between you as a brand and the product you sell, the better the results. It’ll be easier to connect and sell a variety of products related to those qualities.Click To Tweet
When I look at today’s most successful brands, the first thing that strikes me are clear identities—at their core, they all tell a story. So finding the right visual narrative is crucial in my mind. Because we don’t just buy products anymore: we seek out connections.Click To Tweet
I believe that as we enter a global economy where everyone is delivering just about the same service or creating just about the same product, consumers will make decisions based on the values that a company stands for.Click To Tweet
Gone are the days of plain white light box product photos…. Product photography should be visually stunning, share an experience and tell a story.Click To Tweet
- How Product Image Size Impacts Value Perception
- How Images Increase Conversion Rate: The Complete Guide
- Better Image Selection Improves Conversion Rate by 40.18% for ExactTarget
Chapter 2: Photography Basics
In order to take great photos, you need a good camera. We will get into this a little later, but for now know that you don’t need a big, fancy digital camera to take incredible photos. You do, however, need to have a basic understanding of some of the functions, especially if you’re shooting for commercial photography.
This determines how fast the shutter opens and closes. For optimal results, select the fastest shutter speed that you can for your lighting. A shutter speed of 1/125 or higher will eliminate camera shake and ensure a sharp, focused photo.
The amount of light the lens allows into the camera is controlled by the aperture, or f-stop. An opening in the lens controls how much light is allowed in the camera. As it widens, more light enters the lens and decreases your depth of field. For example, f/8.3 is a very small hole over the lens and is appropriate for very bright lights. At the other end, f/2.1 opens the hole wide to let light in and is appropriate for very low lit or dark environments. An f-stop of f/4.5 will blur the background, putting emphasis on the subject, A good way to remember how aperture works is to recall that the lower the number, the smaller the hole in the lens, and the less of your shot that will be in focus. A larger number means a larger hole and more of your shot in focus.
This determines the light sensitivity of your camera. The ISO range is huge, but typically people choose an ISO of 200 to 800 for direct natural light. The higher the ISO, the faster the shutter speed. However, a higher ISO also tends to produce grainy images so always try to keep it as low as possible. An ISO of 200 is standard with 400 indoors, and 800 often used at night or in the evening.
The shutter speed, ISO, and aperture all play a part in how exposed a picture is, meaning how dark or light it will be. The aperture controls the amount of light enters your camera, shutter speed controls how long light can enter the camera (exposure), and ISO speed controls how sensitive your camera is to light. By making adjustments to each, you have more control to create beautiful photos.
It’s important that the photographs of the products look professional. The photos should be clear and in focus with proper exposure, sport a simple background without any distractions (any additional elements in the scene should support the product and not detract from it), and utilize the rule of thirds for proper placement of the product within the frame. You might wish to invest in a lightbox to help you achieve good lighting and a simple background.Click To Tweet
This helps to ensure that the colors in your photo are true to life. It does this by ensuring that what the eye sees as white will also be white in the photo. It determines how warm or cool it should be by using the light source’s color temperature. Some cameras do this automatically, but every photographer (whether beginner or professional photographer ) should learn how to control the color balance feature of their camera manually.
Types of Lighting
Lighting can make or break the picture. There are several different types including, indoor, outdoor, back lighting, front lighting, side lighting, overhead lighting, bounced lighting, and fill flash. Each serves a specific purpose. Of course, indoor and outdoor lighting is self-explanatory. Backlighting will remove shadows on the backdrop. Front and side lighting highlights certain features in the subject. A flash can pick up details of an object. It is not uncommon to combine lighting types in one shot.
The arrangement of the photo is composition. When taking pictures of a product, you can move things around until you get the result you want. Gain different perspectives by either moving the product in different positions or moving around it to get different angles.
When a picture is out of focus, it is blurry or not clear. Great product photos are sharp, clear and focused.
The technical basics of photography can go a long way, but good photography is more than the technical side.
Here’s some expert advice on marketing products through photography.
Too many images are done that never catches anybody’s attention. Often products are just placed into nice images for the sake of the product. But in reality, to hit a high “double glance” effect, the other way around is more effective. Start with a concept about what could make an unforgettable image, and then find a way to get the product into that storyline rather than making a story line around the product. Happy shooting!Click To Tweet
I think the strongest way to market any product through photography is through subliminal placement like we see every day in a movie. This way it’s never in your face screaming “buy me, buy me” and the viewer gets to make up their mind without being sold.Click To Tweet
The single best way to market products through photography is to identify who your market audience is. Once you have identified who your market demographic is, tailor the imagery to best suit the market and medium through which it will be advertised.Click To Tweet
- Photography Basics: White Balance
- Digital Photography Basics: Adjusting Exposure
- Macro Photography Basics: Get Amazing Closeup Photos
- Photography Camera Shutter Speed Explained
- Photography Lighting – The Basics
- 30 common photography problems solved
Chapter 3: Photography Equipment
Your equipment is important for taking great product photos, but you don’t have to spend a bundle. Here is a quick guide for choosing product photography equipment.
Choosing A Camera
I am not a fan of camera phones or point-and-shoot camera for product images. People are buying your product based on the image of the product and customer reviews (if you have any) so you want to make sure your images stand out and show the quality they are vs the competitor.
Lower Cost Options
There are many inexpensive point and shoot cameras, some good ones averaging $160. Products to consider:
Professional-photography quality DSLR cameras have all the bells and whistles, but they have large price tags to match. Just remember that you will usually have to buy the body separate from any lenses. Products to consider:
Stuff You Already Have/Free Options
If you have a smartphone or point and shoot, you probably already have a lens that will work for product photography. Products to consider:
The cost of the lens depends on the type of camera you have. Purchasing lenses second hand from a pawn shop or on Ebay can be less expensive, just make sure you check it out thoroughly. Products to consider:
Lenses can be expensive. Even the most basic can run few hundred dollars. Zoom lenses and wide angle lenses can cost thousands. Products to consider:
After multiple attempts to take a quality photo by hand, I finally purchased a tripod and it made everything so much better. You don’t need a fancy "pivot-tilt-whatever" tripod but something of decent quality that is sturdy.
Stuff You Already Have/Free Options
You can use just about anything to stabilize your camera: a book, a wall, a table. Get creative and save some money. Products to consider:
Many places have basic tripods for around $30. If you buy used, though, make sure it has the shoe that screws onto the camera and clips in the tripod. All too often, that small piece is missing from used tripods. Products to consider:
If you have money to spend you can get completely outfitted tripods with high tech levels, braces for large lenses, and all kinds of cool gadgets – but it will cost you. Products to consider:
This is where things start to get tricky, you want something in the 4000 Kelvin or higher range. Stay away from anything that has the words “Soft” in the name “Soft White” for example. These tend to be “warmer” bulbs that contain more red light than “cooler” blue light and skew image colors more. For reference: Natural Sunlight at noon is between 4000 and 6500 Kelvin and Jewelry stores usually use lighting between 4200 and 5500 Kelvin to show off their products. Another option that is great for front lighting is 2 remote controlled flashes (compatible with most DSLR cameras) with diffuser lenses.
Stuff You Already Have/Free Options
Your phone’s flash will provide fill light. A lamp or even a flashlight you provide fill light, but keep in mind fluorescent light draws out the red and ruddiness in skintones. Use a white poster board to reflect light if you need it. Products to consider:
A flash attachment for your camera is around $100. You can also get some work lights from a hardware store for better lighting (the legs are usually adjustable and the light usually tilts). Products to consider:
Photography lighting is expensive. The lights and umbrellas are quite costly, even when purchased secondhand. A simple outfit will typically run you a few thousand dollars. Products to Consider:
Other Useful Equipment
360° product spins are quickly becoming a popular choice for ecommerce sites. They’ve been proven to increase visitor engagement and provide the exact type of product experience that customers are missing while browsing online. In order to create these spins, your photo studio will need a turntable.
Many photography turntables require a connection to a computer and automated settings for their accompanying software in order to operate, but Arqspin offers a simplified alternative.
Arqspin Motorized Turntable
Arqspin offers a variety of motorized turntables for products of smaller sizes and weights. With Arqspin’s 360° photography platform, it’s possible to create high-quality spins with any turntable. However, the Arqspin motorized turntable’s seamless compatibility with this platform makes it simple to create, upload, and embed complex product spins in just one minute.
- Lighting with Flashlights
- Should You Buy a Cheap Camera Lens or an Expensive One?
- On-The-Go Gear: My Favorite Accessories For Mobile Photography
- Letters to the Editor: Questions on Cameras and Lenses
- Best Photography Equipment For Bloggers
- Cell Phone Photography – Part 1: Capturing Images
Chapter 4: Setting Up Your Studio
You don’t need to spend a ton of money to set up a DIY photography studio. Save money by making or improvising much of your equipment. Identify the things you know you will need then decide what you already have, what you can improvise, and what you will need to purchase to get set up.
Preparation and Set-Up –Your set-up will depend on the subject of your photo shoot. For larger products, you’ll need an area where you can hang a backdrop. Smaller items can sit on a table with a backdrop or inside a light box. Light boxes are ideal for product photos, because the light is evenly distributed.
While the product you are featuring should be the primary focus, you want to also put it into context for the consumer. Take time to tell a story with your product. Be selective and intentional with the colors you use in the background or as a backdrop. Edit in additional elements as needed the help illustrate the benefits of the product or represent its ingredients. Think carefully about how your product could be used or enjoyed. By combining these elements, you’ll craft an image of your product that draws people in. Make them want to be a part of that story.Click To Tweet
Again, this depends on what you are shooting. A larger item in a studio setting calls for taller lights. A light box or simpler setting is appropriate for smaller products.
Angle of light
If your angle of light is off at all, you will have shadows and dark areas or light flares. Adjust lighting for the product you’re shooting. If your subject is casting a shadow on the backdrop, use back lighting. Use bounced light to softer direct light. Positioning one light to the left of the product and one to the right with another light providing back light (so they form a triangle) is a common lighting set up that works for products as well as portraits.
Hard light and soft light each have their place in photography. Hard light is more of a glare that casts a shadow with distinct edges. It picks up every detail and imperfection. Hard light sources: A lightbulb in a lamp without a shade, direct sunlight, direct flash, fluorescent lights overhead, and a spotlight.
Soft light is a little kinder. It is softer with shadows that feather at the edges and smooths over little imperfections. Origins of soft light include: An overcast day, sunlight filtering through a white sheer, light from a window facing north, a lightbulb in a lamp with a shade, light at sunrise or sunset, and light that is not direct.
Product photography often requires plain backgrounds, typically pure white backgrounds. Some people use a sheet, but it needs to be perfectly smooth and wrinkle free with a tight weave. The camera will highlight wrinkles, texture, and imperfections so find a tightly woven fabric or canvas. Used backdrops are usually pretty inexpensive.
Most people focus on the lighting on the product with product photography, but perhaps more important than the subject is the background. Setting up an epic background for the product can communicate a lot about the product. Little details like using a slight gradient instead of a flat black background can really change the look of a photo. Click To Tweet
I feel the best way has been including the product in a shoot itself being used organically. For designers, it may be including the dresses it in a shoot itself. For physical products, it’s showing it being used in a BTS video to achieve the final effect. It seems to translate very well on the sales end for the companies involved over just mentioning the products in passing or just by affiliation.Click To Tweet
Most ecommerce sites like Amazon and Ebay discourage props in product photos. There are some exceptions though, just check the site’s guidelines. Any props you add must be properly lit and in focus.
Product photography is all about the branding of the product. People want to see what’s inside, so for me to take a product shot of ie: nuts and you can’t see it through the packaging will not make the consumer buy the product. Branding must also stand out, BUT toooooooooooo much branding might kill the product you are trying to sell. Less is more as I always say. Focus on what you are selling and make sure that stands out etc. Then it comes to the backdrop. White is always clean and neat and work brilliantly with online and magazines. The reason for white is that the focus is 100% on your product. It’s sad to see companies using photographers using the wrong light and equipment to photograph their products. Product photography requires the correct light and equipment to bring out the product, without that your product will look unprofessional and this might give the consumer / purchaser the feeling your “brand” is cheap and not reliable. A gooooooooood professional photo is what sells your product!! So invest in a photographer that knows how to do certain products.Click To Tweet
- DIY: A Photo Studio for Professional Product Shoots
- 12 Props That’ll Help You Up Your Blog Photography Game
- Here’s a Cheap DIY Tabletop “Photo Studio” That’s Great for Macro and Product Photography
Chapter 5: How To Photograph Your Products Perfectly
Scott has some great tips for nailing the perfect product photo and getting it added to your ecommerce website.
Photography is essential to selling a product online. Aside from video, it’s the absolute best way for customers to visualize what the product might be like in person. Here are five tips for enhancing the photography experience you offer customers.
1. Offer clean photographs by using a white background and studio lighting.
2. Provide lifestyle photos by placing the product in the hands of those who use it.
3. Include testimonials on overlayed on lifestyle photographs.
4. If a product has unique details, then offer a 3D rotating slideshow for customers to use.
5. Do not hire the wrong photographer. If you do, the final product images have a greater chance of being far from your expectations. Here is a about someone who made that mistake.
These are just a handful of tips I would recommend. However, it is worth noting that each product and company might utilize one or more of these ideas. The only one that is constant between all businesses and products is hiring the right photographer. Make an educated choice.Click To Tweet
Light will make or break your shot. Watch for shadows and light flares. Aside from focus, that will be your biggest concern. Everything else will naturally fall into place. When taking photos of your product, try these pro tips:
Set up your backdrop.
Give yourself plenty of room all around the product so even if you shoot from other angles you can keep the backdrop behind the product. Many ecommerce sites require a white background so check their guidelines before posting.
Gather your equipment.
If you hold the camera to shoot you risk moving or shaking. A tripod will help prevent blurry images. Your lens will depend on your subject. Smaller products do well with a zoom or portrait lens; they pick up details. Experiment to see what looks best. Sometimes even the simple act of pressing the shutter release jostles the camera, resulting in a blurred photo. Use a remote trigger or use the timer on your camera to solve this problem.
Plan your shot.
You’ll need 3-7 photos of various angles, depending on your product. If you are shooting 10 products for a similar line, make sure you capture each angle for every product and get detail shots when applicable. Keep in mind, the camera sees more than you do. What looks good to your eye may not look so great in a photo so view the shots with a critical eye and an open mind. For instance, when shooting jewelry, it looks better if you can either put it on a form or model, or drape it over an elevated area like a pillow.
Adjust your lighting to ensure proper light distribution.
Take a test shot and adjust the product photography lighting or the object accordingly. Always look at the shot through the lens and scan the perimeter of the shot for problems like backdrop edges or other things in the shot that shouldn’t be there. Next, examine the product through your lens. Look for “bright” areas and other issues.
Keep in mind there are two different kinds of products:
These products are made of materials that attract and reflect light. Examples of reflective products:
Dark products are not as likely to reflect light, but sometimes they can throw a light flare so watch for that. Examples of dark products:
- Small Appliances
Successful product photography will not only show the product (as in a catalog-style image) but also the product in use. An environmental product shot – showing how the product benefits the consumer – will draw folks in.Click To Tweet
It will always depend on how it is being used. What I always tell my clients is that the concept comes first. Then, the photoshoot. And, then the post production. Only then is the project a success. Some places, like amazon or Etsy have specific guidelines. Sometimes, we are shooting without having a really clear idea of where it is going. In which case, we will have a conversation about what we think are the strongest points of the product. Where would it be used? What problem does it solve? What is the best way that the target audience can look at this photo and get a good idea of what the product will do for them? Without answering these questions first, there is no right way. But there are a ton of wrong ways! There is nothing worse, for the person hiring the photographer or the photographer for that matter, than shooting a picture only to find out that it is useless. It may be the prettiest image, but if it doesn’t meet its goals, it is a waste of time and money.Click To Tweet
- Food Photography Basics
- Glass Photography
- Warning: Are You Making These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Apparel Photography?
- 5 tips for photographing beauty products
Chapter 6: Shooting Lifestyle Images
Lifestyle images can support your product through social media, category pages, and blog posts. These types of photos usually involve people or show the product in a natural setting. They are important because they help your customers imagine the product in their own lives.
Shooting these lifestyle images requires photography techniques that are somewhat different from product photography. These pro tips will help.
Watch your lighting. Make sure you backlight so you don’t have shadows behind your subjects.
Get a combination of posed, portrait and candid photos. This will give you a better selection.
Shoot loose (leave a lot of room around your subject) to allow for enlarging or cropping. Shooting tight limits what you can do what that photo.
Action shots shouldn’t scare you. Adjust your settings and encourage your subject to move as you shoot. It’s a great way to get some unique, fun, engaging photos.
Pay attention to detail. Get in the habit of checking body positionings such as arms that are too bent, a hunched shoulder, or head that is too tilted. If they are sitting or leaning, try to position them so that they don’t have creases in the flesh where it meets the edge (i.e. crease in the thigh when someone sits on a chair).
In my opinion the single best way to market products though photography is by making sure you match the product with the lifestyle of the product. If you are shooting a motorcycle product you have to make sure that the photographs match that lifestyle. You also have to make sure you are targeting the right audience and the right people though your photos.Click To Tweet
- 15 Instagram Marketing Tips to Spread Your Ecommerce Brand Like Wildfire
- TECH TIP: Getting the Shot with Corey Rich: Running Photography Basics
Chapter 7: Optimizing and Editing Images
Not all your photos will be perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use them. A little photo editing can go a long way. Depending on your editing skills, you can do anything from removing a smudge on the background to changing the background. A little optimizing and retouching will make your photos far more effective. And you don’t need a photography degree to make this work.
Photo Editing Software
When trying to learn photography, there is no shortage of photo editing software options in a wide range of skill levels from novice to pro. There are editors that are web based software you load on your computer, and even versions you can load on your smartphone. Products to consider:
- Adobe PhotoShop and Lightroom – Available by subscription for as low as $10 a month. There is a learning curve, but there is an abundance of online tutorials.
- PhotoScape – This free download gives you a wide range of basic editing tools and a few special features.
- Photo Editor Pro – Android App
Common Photo Edits
Preferably, you won’t need to do too much editing to your photos. However, you will likely have to do a few tweaks here and there. Some of the more common edits include:
- Color correction
- Adding text.
When saving photos for a website or an online store, always use a descriptive keyword filename and use keywords in the alt text. These are a couple of SEO strategies that will helpore your customers find your products.
At the present time, Instagram is the biggest bang for your buck to market products through photography. If people like what you put out there, the Instagram tractor beam will pull them in by the hundreds.Click To Tweet
Make them look different. Photography is about presenting a point of view – if you can influence that point of view, you can influence the audience and the way they feel about your product.Click To Tweet
Below are 5 additional product photography tips from Elizabeth Waterman.
1. Make your product the star. Instead of spending the lion’s share of your photography budget on a model, consider tasteful still life shots instead. Still life can cost a fraction, and when properly done, lets your product shine on its own. 2. Be simple. It’s always better to have simple, well-done shots. Keep your product photos clean and simple, instead going with an overly complex concept. A clean and simple shot is easy for the customer to digest and lets your product pop. 3. Choose wisely. Be selective about what you choose to photograph. What product stands out and defines your brand? What piece has strong detail and shoots the strongest? Your personal favorite might not look the sexiest on camera. 4. Repeat as necessary. Spread those shots around. Don’t be afraid to use the same photography across many of your marketing pieces: website, Facebook, postcards, business cards. When you have great product photos, you can manipulate the images (like use different cropping) to make them more versatile. 5. Don’t skimp on design. Make room in your budget to hire a good graphic designer. Designers craft your brand, and make your business look more established than it might be. Even with great product photos, you’re just wasting money if you skimp on design. Click To Tweet
- Beautiful Product Image: 9 Tools To Help You Create It
- Conversion Optimization 101: Optimize Your Product Image to Sell
- TAS 171: 7 Product Image Tips For Higher Conversions
- 35 Helpful Photoshop Post-Processing and Photo Editing Tutorials
Are You Ready to Build a Powerful Brand?
Wow! That’s a lot of advice on marketing product through photography! A huge thanks to all the experts for their advice. Imagery and copy goes a long way into building a brand. What would Nike be without their iconic imagery?
Hopefully you now have everything you need to take unforgettable product images. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.