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Ace Your Product Photography: A Complete Guide 📷

Ace your product photography - featured image

Would you buy a pair of jeans online if the product photo was super blurry and unclear?

Neither would we. 

In the world of eCommerce, the way you present your products through photos is just as important as choosing the right eCommerce platform to work with. 

In fact, bad product photography is a surefire way to scare away potential buyers. 

Since your customers rely on the photo to make a purchase decision when it comes to eCommerce, you need striking product photography to make sales.

Are you ready to take your photography game up a few notches? This article will tell you exactly how.

What is product photography? 

Product photography is a field of photography that focuses on displaying your products in the most flattering and interesting way. 

An image makes it easier for a human brain to take in and understand information. As the old saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

If you visit any website, you’ll notice that they rely on big images to lure the visitor to stay on the page longer.  

Forbes found that 50% of online shoppers consider large and high-quality images to be the most important factor in making a purchase.

So, no matter how good your product descriptions are or how much your past clients praise your product, it’s the photos that really draw people in.  

Why is product photography important? 

Product photography is important because of consumer psychology. Most buyers trust a high-quality image and make a buying decision based on the photo. 

So, nailing the way you present your products in photos could have a real impact on the performance of your eCommerce store.

Girl taking a photo of cakes inside

Boost your sales 

Outstanding eCommerce product photography could translate into more orders and more revenue for your online store.

A Czech online retailer Mall.cz found that their sales increased by nearly 10% once they switched to bigger product photos.  

Since online buyers can’t touch and see the product in the flesh before making a purchase, the better you can show them the product in photos, the better you can facilitate the offline shopping experience.

This could mean:

  • Increasing the picture size 
  • Introducing product videos 
  • Taking 360° images of your products 
  • Increasing the picture resolution 

The aim is to communicate the features and benefits of your product to the customer through your product photography as easily as possible. 

An extension of your brand

The way you present your products on your marketing collateral and on your online store is a direct reflection of your business and your brand. 

That’s why it’s important to have your product shots look the part.  

All visual elements of your branding (your logo, the product photos, and other visual elements) will be seen before a word of text will be read. 

You don’t want your brand to boast supreme quality in your newsletters, only to guide visitors to a store with iffy-looking product images. 

Treating your product photography as an extension of your brand image can also boost your creativity.  You could:

  • Use your brand’s colors in the editing process of your product images
  • Find photo angles that align with your brand’s voice and message 
  • Use your product shots in your other marketing materials

Recommended reading: How to Build a Brand: 6 Questions to Set Your Business on the Path to Success

A girl taking a photo outside

Become the photographer yourself

Being in charge of your own photos is exciting, even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly creative person. 

Doing as much as possible in-house will keep your eCommerce store agile amidst the competition. 

You can also adapt to new trends faster when you don’t have to find a slot in someone else’s diary. Or, you can act straight away when the inspiration hits and you want to try out something new.

There are many reasons why you should learn to do your own product photography: 

  • Cost. Hiring someone else to take the photos and edit them will cost you much more than getting started with a borrowed or hired camera. 
  • Creative freedom. When you’re in charge, you can experiment with different styles and angles to your heart’s content. No need to compromise on your vision with anyone else.
  • Professional development. Once you learn the basics of photography and photo editing, you can use your new skills across your marketing campaigns. 

Compared to many other types of photography (we’re looking at you, wildlife shoots), taking product pictures for your eCommerce catalog is a straightforward process. 

You don’t have to worry about: 

  • Moving subjects. Even if you have a short fuse, the products will sit still in front of your camera. It’s a great place to start learning photography at your own pace.
  • Constantly changing your settings. You’ll be shooting in a studio setting, so you need to set up your kit at the start and won’t have to worry about it after that. Just position your product on your set and get on with it.

But, as with everything in life, there are a few drawbacks in taking the steps to become a pro product photographer:

  • Cost. Investing in your own equipment can be expensive. Even though you can get started with a rented kit, eventually you will want to buy your own camera and upgrade your studio equipment.
  • Learning curve. If you’ve never really thought twice about snapping a picture, it might take you some time to get the hang of the success recipe for good photos. You’ll want to do some reading on photography overall. 

Don’t let the cons put you off, though. Once you learn the basics of how to take good photos and have invested in some good pieces of equipment, you can even have a photography side hustle.

A person writing a checklist

In-house product photography checklist ✔️

To go from novice to an ace product photographer isn’t as complicated as you think. In fact, you can get started with just a decent smartphone (we kid you not) and correct product photography setup. 

Once you’ve learned how to take product photos, you can get great results regardless of which camera you’re using.

You’ll need to pay attention to the image quality throughout the process: remember, a high-quality product photo is a major deciding factor for your customers. 

Here are our top 6 product photography tips to make your images look dazzling.

Recommended reading: eCommerce Books: 20 Great Reads for Entrepreneurs

1. Decide on your style

Before you do anything else, you should think about how you want your products to look like in your eCommerce store. 

You can go with a studio look, meaning your pictures will be shot against a plain background. This is particularly useful if:

  • You want a unified look on your eCommerce website 
  • You want to highlight the details of your products 
  • Your products are more decorative or mostly used indoors

On the other hand, other products might look better in the environment it’s meant to be used in. These action or lifestyle images are great to have, if:

  • You want to demonstrate your product in action
  • You want to create an emotional association with your product 
  • Your product is well-suited for outdoor use

A good rule of thumb is to have multiple studio pictures of your product, preferably shot from multiple angles and with a different focus. This way you can showcase your product to the customers as thoroughly as possible. 

You should aim for a couple of action shots, too. Displaying the product in the right context (a sports shirt on a football player) helps to convince the customer to make a purchase. 

And it’s a great way to give them ideas of other products that work well together (matching football shorts and shoes). 

2. Invest in quality product photography equipment 

Person holding a camera

There are so many different photography products that it might feel a bit overwhelming to know what’s good for product photography. 

Don’t be put off by the word ‘invest.’

The truth is that you can get started by hiring out or even borrowing a camera. Ask around or take 15 minutes to scroll through Craigslist, and you’ll be surprised at how fast you’ll find someone willing to rent you their camera or tripod. 

Your camera

The most important thing you’ll need is a camera. You can either use a digital camera or opt for your smartphone. 

A digital SLR camera, however, has some serious advantages: 

  • Adjustability. Since the base of the camera and the lens are separate, you can adjust the types of lenses you’re using. Some lenses are better suited for the outdoors, while others work best under studio lights. The adjustments you can make with an SLR camera are much more advanced than what you get with a smartphone.
  • Quality. You will get more detailed product photos using an SLR camera. Why? Because these cameras are built first and foremost to produce high-quality images. And being able to show the customer the details of a product matters in industries like fine jewelry.  
  • Possibilities to upgrade. Another nice thing about SLR cameras is that you can get new lenses or a bigger memory card and upgrade your kit. While there are some possibilities to get external lenses for smartphones, with a dSLR, the options are almost limitless. 

If for any reason you can’t get a hold of an SLR, don’t fret. 

You can also use your smartphone, especially if you have a newer one (think iPhone X) and get good-enough results to ‘fool’ the majority of people. 

Using a smartphone will be useful if you’re: 

  • On a budget. Chances are that you already have a smartphone. If you want to stretch your budget or don’t have much to go with at the very beginning, that doesn’t have to mean you need to compromise on your product photography. 
  • On the go a lot. Lugging a big camera kit from one meeting to the next can be a real hassle. If you travel a lot, it might be more practical to use your smartphone for your product images.

Regardless of what type of camera you go with, get familiar with the different settings and features of the device you’ll have available. 

Restaurant setting with a tripod camera setup

Your tripod

On top of using whatever camera you have at hand, you will also need a tripod. 

A tripod will help you eliminate any blur from your images and help you create a unified look for all your product photos. 

When all your studio photos are shot from the same angle, the website visitors will have a smoother shopping and browsing experience in your store. And you won’t have to worry about adjusting your web design because of an image that looks out of place. 

And a tripod is great for outdoor action shoots, too. It will help you steady your hand and work better in uneven terrain.

When choosing your tripod, think of its main uses. 

If your aim is to have all your product photography shot from the same angles, you need a sturdy tripod. For shooting large products, you will want to have a tripod with easily adjustable legs. 

And if your brand is built around the active lifestyle niche, you want your tripod to be light enough to be taken deep into the wilderness. 

Tip 💁 – Professional photography equipment is valuable stuff. Make sure that you get the right insurance for any cameras or tools that you own.

3. Set up your studio

Photography Studio

You’ve decided on the equipment you want to use to get started. Now, let’s give you a canvas to work with. 

You should build a simple shooting table or a light tent with a white background.

Before you protest against spending any more cash, don’t worry. You can make a simple shooting table from a chair, some pegs, and a big piece of white craft paper. 

A shooting table helps to control your environment: the white background makes editing easier and helps to get rid of shadows. It’s an essential piece of kit to have for commercial photography, particularly if you want to capture the perfect eCommerce product photo.

All you need to do is position the chair against a wall (preferably next to a window if you want to use natural light) and tape the paper on a wall. Let gravity do its work and make sure the paper falls over the chair. 

Or, alternatively, just use the pegs to secure the paper on the chair. You’ll get the same effect but can move your chair around. 

Well done – you’ve just created your first ever sweep. That’s photography slang for using a white curved sheet of paper as a background.

With a sweep, you can take pictures that put your product front and center, rather than distracting the viewer’s eye with any unwanted corners or lines behind your product. 

Sweep vs no sweep example with mugs

You can also create your own light tent. This is a good option if you want to distribute the light evenly around the product you’re taking a photo of.

Also easy to set up at home, all you’ll need is a big box and some more white craft paper, and maybe a desk lamp or two.

  • Pick a box that’s big enough to place your products in
  • Start by taping some paper at the top corner of your box to create your sweep
  • If you’re using a cardboard box, cut the sides of your box open and tape white paper in the holes
  • Position your desk lamps on both sides of your box

If you’re using a plastic box, you can skip step 3. And if you have really big windows, you could ditch the desk lamps too. 

4. A few thoughts on lighting

Lighting is so important for product photography. Your lighting setup will largely follow the type of photo studio setup you have.

Natural light or sunlight is great for lifestyle or action images. The light is softly cast on the product or the people wearing/using the product, creating soft shadows. 

On the other hand, artificial light works wonders for studio images. Since the light comes from a single light source, the shadows are sharper and the hard light makes it easy to see all the product features. 

Studio photo vs action photo example of a smart watch

A general rule of thumb is to stick with one type of light for a photo. Adding natural light to a studio setting will cause the details of your product to become less sharp. 

Similarly, adding hard light to an outdoor product shoot will sharpen the photo too much.

But you can’t always vouch for a perfectly sunny day, and sometimes the lights you’re using in the studio create too many shadows.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to regulate this with bounce cards and fill lights

A bounce card is a small white card that reflects or bounces the light back towards your product. You can either fix a white cardboard piece next to your product or get a professional flashbulb bounce card to add to your DSLR camera. 

And in turn, a fill light is used to counterbalance the hard shadows your main artificial light source casts on your product. It’s usually a smaller light, placed opposite your main light. 

If you have a few dollars to spare, you could also invest in a reflector card. It works exactly like a bounce card but will be able to bounce the light even better. 

Or you can make use of a poster board or two. Pin or tape white craft paper on both, and position them on both sides of your shooting table to reflect the light back to your product.

Photo editing software on a laptop in a cafe

5. Learn the basics of photo editing 

You’ve spent the day in your studio, meticulously documenting every inch of your product. 

We salute you, not everyone could pull that off.

There’s still work to do – you need to touch up all the product photos you want to use on your eCommerce website. 

And no, that doesn’t mean that your photos are necessarily bad. But with photo editing tools, you can do color correction to your product photograph and make every pixel perfect. 

Don’t forget that shooting against a white background makes your editing process easier: 

  • It’ll be faster to touch up your images when they all have a plain background
  • It’ll be easier to cut the product out of the image if you want to use it elsewhere or against a digital background

The best way to learn photo editing? Signing up for an online course.

This way you can learn at your own pace and can practice on your own images. 

If you already have a basic understanding of photo editing tools like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can get far by being an active Googler and Youtuber. There is a lot of content there.

As for your software, you can use paid programs like Adobe’s Photoshop, Skylum’s Luminar or Phase One’s Capture One. Paying the license fee is a foolproof way to get access to all the editing features you might need. 

But you can also get started on a budget or for free. You can use online editors like Pixrl and Canva, or test out smartphone apps like Fotor and Snapseed. You might not get every feature, but most novices get by just fine with a free photo editor. 

6. Unleash your creativity

Pink perfume sweater product photography

Finally, it’s time to have fun and experiment with your photography. 

Since you’re in charge, don’t limit yourself to just your product catalog. Use your photos in your marketing campaigns and test different image formats out in your store. 

You could experiment with image sizes: pick ten products and use bigger images for these on the product pages. Get up and close with the products in your photos.  

Or, try testing out the ratio of studio and action photos in your product listings. Take similar products and use more action photos for half of them, and only studio photos for the others.  

Make sure you track the performance of your sales for a set period of time and compare the results. More action-oriented photos, for example, could end up working a treat in your niche.

You’ll only know after you’ve done some testing. 

Recommended reading: Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses

6 top product photography tips

We want you to start your online business journey the right way. So, here are some product photography tips and ideas to take your skills to the next level. 

1. Use brands you love for inspiration 

There’s no shame in looking for inspiration and borrowing great ideas from others. 

Keep your eyes open on social media and visit other eCommerce stores that use product photography you like. 

You might notice that you prefer images shot from above the product, or maybe a good action pic speaks directly to your brand.

2. Rule of thirds 

Rule of thirds concept example with a poppy

Time to touch upon the knowledge that they instilled in you in high school art class.

Chances are that you’ve heard of the rule of thirds. It helps artists and photographers frame a shot and create an image that is easy to look at.

The rule of thirds is a principle where a canvas or an image gets divided into nine equally-sized squares. Since the human eye is most likely to focus on the corners of the middle square, you’ll know exactly where to place the main focus in your images.  

3. Don’t go overboard with props 

Too many props in a photo example with makeup and electronics

Especially when you’re only starting out, don’t confuse your viewer with too many things going on in an image. 

Props are a great way to emphasize the right ways to use your product, but too many and you’ll risk confusing the viewer. 

Use a couple when you’re getting started and, as you get more comfortable and know what types of photos work best for you, go bold. 

4. Editing isn’t magic

You shouldn’t lower your standards in the studio and expect that Photoshop can save every lost pixel.

While photo editing tools can do a lot, if you’re shooting in natural light in a studio setting on a cloudy day, you won’t achieve the same level of sharpness as you would with artificial light. 

Both shooting and editing take a long time, but you’ll save yourself time by not cutting corners when shooting.

5. Give it a little context

Show your product in context example with an iced coffee

While you can gain some shock-factor clicks on an image that looks grossly out of place (we don’t recommend wearing a bikini mid-winter if you live anywhere non-tropical), it won’t help you sell your product. 

Instead, showcase your product in the right context, being used in the way that it’s intended to be used. 

For example, if you’re selling beauty products, including a picture of your product on a bathroom shelf or being used by someone is the right way to go. 

Tip 💁 – Think about your target audience when putting your products into context. How would your customers use or wear the items?

6. Power of collections 

Collection example with shorts, shoes and sunglasses

If you want to sell more, you should embrace photo collages. Show your customers other products that go well with the one they’re viewing. 

With persuasive product photography, you can sell the idea of a certain collection of products to your customers with ease. 

Make sure all the products are clearly displayed in the collage photos, and you make it extra easy for anyone to find all the featured products. 

Go pro: Make product photography your business 

Practice makes perfect.

And now that you’ve learned the basics of product photography, you’re in a position to potentially even make some side income helping others out with their product photos. 

Don’t worry, we’re not telling you to abandon your eCommerce store and become a full-time photographer. 

But it’s not a bad idea to start side hustling as a photographer, especially since you’ll know first hand which types of photos work well in the world of eCommerce.

The are lots of reasons why should run your own product photography business, including: 

  • The know-how. You know what you’re doing and you can position yourself as someone who can help other eCommerce professionals save time.
  • The equipment. Make that expensive kit work for its keep. Not everyone will invest in a camera or a tripod, and this is where you can step in and help them.  
  • Specialization. Not all photographers are good at taking product photos. But knowing the ins and outs of eCommerce and having the experience first-hand will help you stand out from the competition. Call it your niche, if you will. 
  • Editing services. If you’ve mastered Photoshop, you could also offer to touch up your client’s images. This is particularly handy if you don’t have the time to carry your photography set up around town. 

Just remember to do your research before branching out big: 

  • Think about costs. If your eCommerce business is the breadwinner for you, you might need to set up a separate business entity and new business licenses and permits for your photography business. You might want to chat with your accountant as well to avoid any tax surprises.
  • Your client has the final say. Doing photography and photo editing work for someone else does mean that you need to take your client’s wishes into account. Just because you swear by a particular angle or style doesn’t mean your client does. 
  • Time commitment. You need to be realistic with your availability. Depending on how much work your own eCommerce store will give you, don’t commit to a client’s huge brand launch if you also have to take care of your family. 

Starting small will give you a good snapshot of what day-to-day life as a photographer would be like. 

Take on some smaller projects at first and start building a strong portfolio. Make life even easier and use a fast website builder like Zyro to create a photography portfolio website in minutes. 

Do some clever blog posts and SEO link building from your eCommerce store. Before you know it, requests for collaborations will start dropping in your inbox. 

Photo show on camera screen

Product photography done right makes a real difference

It’s clear that you can’t sell online without good images of your products. 

Not only do the pictures you use directly influence your sales, they also act as an extension of your brand.  And the more you can do yourself, the cheaper and more agile you can be as a business. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to learn to take care of your own product photography. So make use of that white background on your DIY shooting table, learn what shutter speed means, and how to color correct. 

Before you know it, you’ll have lots of quality pics to use in your eCommerce product listings, in your newsletters, and on social media. 

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Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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