If you are a retailer, or an e-commerce merchant, product photography is probably one of the most important aspects of your business. Consumers today are visual creatures and images can make all the difference in getting them to buy from your site instead of someone else’s.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to take high quality shots that convert well – which is where this article comes in!
You can improve your e-commerce product photography by using the right equipment, keeping your photoshoots organized, and offering a variety of images for each product. Knowledge of lighting and modifiers is one of the most important skills to have.
Good photos can be the difference between someone browsing your online shop and a customer making a purchase, and photos that accurately portray your products can be the difference between a one-time purchase and a loyal customer.
We’ll cover equipment recommendations for those who want to shoot their own product photos (or hire a professional), tips for taking great product shots including composition and different styles, as well as some common pitfalls that will help you avoid ruining a perfectly good photo opportunity.
Use the Right Equipment
Good e-commerce product photos keep the spotlight on the product, showing potential customers as much information as possible, in as little time as possible.
The formula to get these photos is fairly straightforward: shoot the items in front of a white background, in good lighting, with a high-quality camera.
You may not be able to invest in top-of-the-line equipment when your business is just starting out, but you can follow the same principles with budget equipment.
As your business grows, you can upgrade your photography equipment, which will, in turn, help your business grow even more.
It’s also important to remember that when you’re taking your own photographs, you’re skilled in using your own equipment. A good photo taken with a mid-range camera will be more useful to you than a bad photo taken with a professional camera.
Check out our article on product photography best practices for more in-depth info.
Use Good Lighting
The most important piece of equipment in product photography is your lighting.
You want the product to be easily and clearly visible in your photos, not obscured by shadows, and the best way to achieve this is through three-point lighting.
Three-point lighting is the most basic type of photography lighting, which uses three different light sources to illuminate the subject (in this case, your product) with minimal shadows or color variations.
- The main light source, called the key light, should shine directly on your product. It can be an off-camera flash, a lamp, or even the sun, but whatever the source, it needs to be bright and aimed toward the subject of your photograph.
- The next light is the fill light, which softens the shadows that the key light casts, which usually diffuses and shines level with the subject. Shining a lamp through a bedsheet is an easy way to achieve this. If your key light is bright enough, you can even use a reflector to bounce the beam back towards the subject, using that reflection as your fill.
- The last light you need is the backlight, which is very important because it provides the contrast between your product and the background, making the object pop. You can DIY your lighting set up with any kind of lamp, but there are affordable lighting kits that will make this process easier.
Amazon sells the Limo Studio Lighting Umbrella Kit that contains all the tools you need to make a perfect three-point lighting arrangement for beginners. The black and silver umbrellas reflect light sources and keep them focused on the product, while the white umbrellas soften light before it reaches the product.
Choose the Correct Backgrounds
Once you’ve got your lighting sorted out, you need to set up your background. A plain white backdrop is absolutely necessary, as it offers minimal distractions, letting your product take all the focus. Additionally, product photos with white backgrounds will be better for your business.
Most e-commerce sites prefer, or even require, that your product photos use a pure white background. Amazon, Shopify, and eBay, just to name a few, prefer the white background for a very important reason, which is the loading speed and site design.
The file size of an image with a white background is smaller than a more complicated one, so it will load faster on the website, which means happier shoppers.
You can use white paper, foam board, or a white background sweep for your photos. As long as it’s pure white, it will do the trick. Rolls of butcher paper are a great option if you’re worried about keeping it clean, as you can simply tear off the end as it gets dirty.
For a more permanent sweep, try the Neewer Photo Studio Backdrop from Amazon. It’s 100% polyester and is machine washable and iron-safe, so you can use it again and again, even if it gets wrinkled or dirty.
A High-Quality Camera
Although most of us have cameras in our pockets these days, it’s important to have a high-quality camera for product photography. You won’t be able to take the same quality shots with your phone as you can with a DSLR, but you can get close.
You need a camera that can capture high-quality images so that your customers can zoom in on products without them becoming fuzzy or pixelated.
You also need to mount your camera on a tripod, which not only keeps the camera steady, but it will let you maintain the same camera angle for multiple products and will save you time adjusting your lighting.
Whatever camera you use, understanding your equipment is important and start with what you know.
Newer smartphones give you decent starter shots but once you can invest in your own camera (or a professional photographer), use a DSLR. The settings needed for a still-life, like a product photo, are some of the most common, so you won’t need special lenses and accessories.
At least not yet.
Professional Photo-Editing Software
Once you’ve captured the images you need, your best bet is to use photo-editing software to clean them up. When you’re taking photos, use RAW format so you have more data to work within the shot.
Uncompressed files are more flexible in the editing stage because they retain color information that gets discarded when using JPEG.
Editing is important to clean up any artifacts or imperfections, such as reflections in shiny products, dust removal, lighting issues, and color correction. This is a crucial step in making your photos look professional and polished, and you shouldn’t skip it.
You can also use editing software to make viewing tools like a 360-degree product view. Stitching together photographs of a product from dozens of angles will let your shoppers have a more informative and immersive experience in your e-commerce shop.
Check out our article on 360 product photography without a turntable for more info on that.
The final editing tip is to make your backgrounds invisible, which will be easy when you have a clean white background, and it will make your finished photos more versatile.
A transparent background will show up white on e-commerce sites, and at the same time, it will be easy for you to put the product image on top of more vivid backgrounds for marketing campaigns on your social media profiles.
We recommend using Adobe Photoshop as it’s the most powerful editing suite on the market, but you can use Lightroom or even Gimp (free).
Compose Your Photos To Draw The Eyes to The Best Features
A good photo studio setup will only take you halfway to the finish line.
The next step is to compose the product shots in a way that draws people’s attention towards your items’ best features.
Experiment with framing, lighting and color palettes to figure out what works most effectively for you. And don’t be afraid of getting creative by thinking outside the box!
To get the best possible e-commerce product photography, you need to use all that equipment to take good photos. If you’re new to photography, stick to the rule of thirds.
This rule is a way to compose your photos so that your viewers’ eyes are drawn to the most important part of the photo first.
Imagine grid lines over the image dividing it like a tic-tac-toe board. The lines should divide the image into three boxes on the top, three in the middle row, and three on the bottom.
Center the part of the photo that you want viewers to be drawn to near where these grid lines intersect. In this case, it should be your product that sits on or near the grid lines. Photos that use this technique are well-balanced and pleasing to look at, which is important in e-commerce conversions.
When you’re composing your shots, you should shoot wider than you think so that you have room to adjust your cropping.
Even if your product appears small, making the shot wider gives you greater editing flexibility. You can always zoom in on a high-quality photo to show off details of the product, but it’s harder to rebalance a photo if there’s nothing to crop or adjust.
You Need Different Photo Types
A variety of images is crucial to successful e-commerce photography. You need to provide still images of the product from multiple angles, as well as informational and dynamic shots.
Putting the product into context or showing it in use can elevate your product pages, branding, and help convert shoppers.
It might feel redundant to put up images with specs and product highlights, but not all customers will read the descriptions.
These images are also an easy way for shoppers to put the description of the product into context and feel confident about their purchase.
Product Only Images
The first images you should take are product-only images, which should showcase your products without distraction or clutter. Multiple angles give shoppers an impression of how the object will look in person.
At a minimum, you should have three of this type of image and show important details like textures, connection ports, or buttons.
Infographics & Spec Shots Talk About Your Product
Infographic and spec shots are an asset because they give you an opportunity to tell people about your product with very little effort on their part, which increases conversions.
All of the information they want about the product is seen at a glance, regardless of how the user interface of the e-commerce site works.
Having informational images is also an easy way to make sure that your product descriptions are consistent across platforms if you use multiple distributors. Integrating this information with an image of your product can be both informative and aesthetically pleasing.
It’s also an opportunity to literally point out features of your product by adding arrows between text and product components.
We have made our own infographic designs available for commercial use on our store here, where you can simply swap out the product photos for your own and update the text to get them made within minutes!
Use Lifestyle Images To Demonstrate Your Product
The last type of photo is a lifestyle image or an image of your product in the context of its use.
For example, if you’re selling mugs, a picture of one of your mugs filled with coffee sitting on a bright kitchen counter is a lifestyle image you could use on your page.
Lifestyle images are useful for showing things like the scale of the product or demonstrating how it works. Putting your product into context will help your customers imagine it in the context of their own lives, which can help you make more sales.
Taking these photos is by nature more complicated than the still-life images in the product-only category. Lighting setups and backgrounds can be more complicated, and if you’re using models, it can also be more expensive.
The quality of these photos doesn’t have to be as pristine as product-only shots, but the better the quality, the nicer your products will look.
If you use models (either professionals or your friends doing you a favor), you should issue model releases so that you retain the license to use their images, which can save you legal headaches down the road and help you avoid needing to re-shoot your product photos later on.
Stay Organized During Your Photo Shoots
The most important tip of them all is to stay organized, which will help you keep your photo shoots productive and also make it easier for you to find and use your photos when they’re done. You’re more likely to take high-quality product photos if you’re prepared in advance.
Having to fumble around looking for a specific item during a photoshoot can be a major distraction, and the product’s quality might not show because you didn’t have enough time to pay attention to the little details.
Furthermore, if there are several people involved in your photo shoot (such as clients or other professionals), any distractions can cause delays that will affect how long it takes for everyone else to finish their tasks.
Before taking your first photo, you should plan out what images you need and what order you want to take them in. Grouping items that need the same lighting and tripod settings will save you time on adjusting your equipment or tearing down your set.
Creating a list of every shot you need will help make sure you don’t miss anything, thus avoiding the need for re-shoots.
Preparing your products is just as critical as taking photos, as all of your products should be clean and in their best condition.
Any display stands or materials you need should be just as clean as the products. Have fishing lines, clothespins, tape, and hangers handy so that you can arrange and display your products exactly as you want them to appear.
If you’re using displays, opt for white or a calm, neutral color, as you don’t want the display to distract from the product. Bright colors and patterns will easily pull focus from what you’re trying to sell. The best displays will blend into the background while emphasizing your product.
Don’t Forget About Post-Shoot Organization
Although this seems like useless advice, I can’t tell you how much of a difference post-production organization has made on our productivity and workflow, especially long after the pictures were taken.
During and after your shoot, keep your photos organized by grouping each individual project into its own folder. The names of the photo files should follow an easily recognizable naming convention.
For instance, if you’re selling silver necklaces and gold necklaces, you would label the images of the silver ones Silver_1, Silver_2, etc., and the gold ones Gold_1, Gold_2, etc.
Having a system for naming and organizing your photos makes it easier for you to locate the right ones and is also crucial if you’re outsourcing any of your website design or advertising. Keeping your images straight starts with having a shot list and ends with systematic, logical naming.
After you’re done shooting, you should also make sure you have all the necessary paperwork stored and filed properly. Any modeling releases or photo licensing documents should be labeled in a way that indicates which products are covered.
These organizational tips will help you make plans for future photoshoots as well, as you’ll know exactly what images you have, who owns them, and how you can use them, which will help you avoid repeating work you’ve already done.
It also makes it easier to communicate when you hire professionals to do your product photography.
6 Common Problems New Product Photographers Make
Of course, no matter how much planning you do if you’re new to product photography there will be a learning curve.
Sometimes you have to go through the pain of failure to learn what works and what doesn’t.
We did too.
What’s more, many new product photographers share the same common problems which can be solved by following the product photography tips above and learning from those who have gone before you.
However, not all mistakes are so obvious – some of them are hidden in plain sight! Here are some of the issues we made ourselves when first starting out.
1. Not Enough Planning
You might think this is a no-brainer, but when you’re new to product photography it’s easy to get carried away and forget about all the little things.
It starts with your equipment; take a look at whether what you have will work for the kind of shots that you’ll be taking or if your lighting isn’t going to do the job.
Then you’ll need to figure out what kind of shots you want to take and what it should look like. A good place to start is by using a moodboard on Pinterest to get ideas.
2. Shooting In The Wrong Lighting Conditions
When using artificial lighting, you’re in control of your environment and your lights direction and intensity.
But when you’re using natural light without much experience, you can find yourself shooting in the wrong lighting conditions. You’ll end up with over or under-exposed images, harsh shadows, and colors that are way off.
What if your product is reflective? Do you know how to deal with that? This usually causes new product photographers to quit in frustration because shiny objects require a totally different lighting setup that they aren’t prepared for, such as surrounding your product in diffusion material.
You may also even have trouble balancing your lighting if you are unfamiliar with how to mix ambient and artificial light.
3. Poor Product Composition
I’m not saying that we are perfect, by any means. When we first started in product photography our composition was very often poor. I would place the product on a table, or in front of an open window, surrounded by arbitrary objects that didn’t make sense.
What we found out was that it’s not enough to just show what you are selling; there has to be something interesting about the picture too!
Composition is important because it can be used to tell a visual story and evoke emotion from your customers.
Your product should be shown in a way that your customers can relate to and be the clear hero of the image.
4. Choosing A Bad Product Background
While this can be very subjective, a bad background can do a lot of harm to your brand and product sales. For instance, if you’re using a background with a lot of patterns or texture it’s easy for your image to become noisy and your product will get lost in the mix.
When we were beginners in product photography, we shot products on every background that looked cool but found that a lot of those backgrounds did not really compliment the product.
Your background should help the product stand out, and not overpower it.
5. Not Using Props That Complement The Product
Similar to poor composition is not using props that complement your product. We see a lot of new product photographers use random props lying around their house and it adds nothing of value to the product images.
In almost all circumstances you should only use items that are directly related to the product or the type of customers you have. For instance, hand soap surrounded by flowers might make sense to communicate the scent or the intended audience.
6. Failing To Edit Photos Before Uploading To Your Store
Regardless if you’re editing your product photos to enhance the image, remove dust/scratches, etc., you shouldn’t upload them to any website without at least resizing them first.
In many cases photographers will take a few product images and then post the one with the best quality or composition without editing all of their shots first.
These files are very large and will often get automatically compressed by the e-commerce platform, which in turn will make them appear blurry.
Be sure to look up the recommended file size of each platform and resize your product photos accordingly before uploading!
Hire Professionals If You’re Over Your Head
The last tip is to know when it’s time to outsource your product photography to a professional (like us).
As your business grows and you’re able to afford it, a professional e-commerce product photographer will ensure you always get the best possible photos of your products which will save you time and need for special skills and equipment.
Also, if you are just not able to get the kind of images you see in your head then it may also be time to hire a professional.
If you prefer to continue doing your own photography, another option is to consider hiring a designer to edit your photos and design your online shop for the best possible user experience.
A designer can help make the most of whatever photos you give them so that your shop looks the best it can be.
Good e-commerce product photos are versatile and show off the product in a way that closely evokes the experience of seeing the product in person.
Your images should be well-lit, taken with a high-quality camera that produces high-definition images, and edited to smooth out any imperfections.
You should provide multiple angles of each product and try to contextualize your products in more dynamic scenes.
A variety of photo types can help you tell your customers everything about the product quickly and in an aesthetically pleasing way. Finally, you should keep your photos organized from start to finish.
If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of our blog for more product photography tips!