What we're talking about
Product photography, or e-commerce photography as it’s sometimes known, is basically what it sounds like: photos taken and used on websites and social media platforms to help drive sales of your product or service. Given the rise of shopping online, the choice of products and brands available to consumers in any given category can be vast – meaning the photos that illustrate what you’re selling and why it’s worth buying are a fundamental aspect for any business selling online.
Why it's important
There’s far more to product photography than showing potential customers what your product looks like. Well-considered photos can put your product in context, helping a customer see how it might fit into their own life. In fact, researchers found that vivid and detailed imagery of a product increases a customer’s psychological sense of ownership of that product. Photography can also help boost your brand, reinforcing what you stand for and what you’re all about. All of these things increase the likelihood of inspiring a purchase.
Taking pictures that provide context and build your brand doesn’t necessarily require a lot of fancy equipment or a professional photographer – though those two things can help. You just need to think through your goals when it comes to photography and invest some time and energy into bringing those ideas to life.
Things to note
Different types of photos serve different purposes. One photo does not fit all. For just one product you might need several photos: standard product shots on a white background to use on marketplaces; branded product shots to use on your own website or social channels; lifestyle shots that show the product in use or in an aspirational setting; detail shots that capture key elements or features you want to highlight; and behind-the-scenes photos that capture the process behind the product.
Focus on your lighting. Lighting, not the camera, is what will make or break an image. If you don’t have a lot of fancy gear, you’re going to want to work with natural lighting, so find a spot near a large window to shoot and wait until the brightest time of day. Diffused lighting (aka soft and even) is the goal, and to avoid extra-bright spots or super-dark shadows you can use white foam board from your local art store to reflect light onto your product.
Consistency is key. To make sure all your products are associated with your brand, make sure the way you photograph them is relatively consistent. All your product pics should be shot from the same angle and distance, and all lifestyle shots should have a similar tone and colour palette. Think about what you want to achieve here, and once you manage it, try to make sure other photos you take in the future look similar.
You don’t need a pro to take pro shots. Sure, a fancy DSLR camera and seasoned eye will make getting beautiful product photos easier, but you can still get to a good place doing it yourself with a little attention to detail and some basic equipment. Use the best camera you have handy (this might be on a smartphone, which is totally fine), a tripod to keep things steady, some basic poster board or large sheets of paper to use as backdrops and white foam board to diffuse and you’ll be a in a decent starting position to get some great shots.
How to shoot photos of your product
1. Make a mood board. Don’t skip this step. Take some time to gather photos that capture the look and feel you want to replicate in your photos. Study the angles used, the props in position and the colours and tones of the images that inspire you and look for patterns in the things you’re drawn to. The notes you make here will help you decide what to go for when styling and shooting your own photos.
2. Decide what you need. Make a list of all the photos you want for each product. At minimum, this should probably include a few simple product shots (that show the item from various key angles) on a neutral background; some more fun product shots that align better with your brand; and lifestyle shots to put the product in context for your customer.
3. Set the scene. Perfect your set up on shoot day. Choose a time of day when you have access to natural light and set up your location (maybe a table near a big window) with background papers and props as needed. You can use Blu Tack or tape to keep things in position – take time to make sure the set-up works for your photos.
4. Take and retake photos. Time to shoot! It will probably take several tries to get the shot exactly right, so don’t be afraid to take multiple photos of the same setup at the same angle. Make sure to stop and check to see what the images look like and pay attention to the details. Is the lighting even or are any key features obscured by shadows or highlights? Are there any distractions within your frame that might not be able to be edited or cropped out later? Make sure you capture all the shots you listed out when planning your photoshoot.
5. Make edits and selections. Go through all the photos you took and select one or two images of each type for each product that work the best. Narrow down the ones you plan on using to showcase your product online, then make edits to help all the photos look consistent. Again, no pro skills necessary – basic software on your phone or computer can help crop out distracting elements and adjust things like contrast and exposure to help make sure the product is depicted clearly.
6. Optimise photos for the web. Before using your photos online, make sure they are sized correctly – both in terms of aspect ratio (the proportions of the images) and resolution (how many pixels create the image) for the platform you’re posting on. Different social media platforms or website layouts often use different sizes and specs (check out this handy cheat sheet). You’ll need to make sure the photo is of good-enough quality so it isn’t blurry, but has a small enough file size to make it load quickly. Finally, make sure images are named descriptively, so search engines can bring them up when people search for items like the ones pictured in your photos.
• You’ll want a few different styles of photos for each of your products – there are likely to be multiple purposes you’ll need your photography to meet.
• You can DIY great product photos with some basic kit: a tripod, a decent smartphone and some simple paper backgrounds and props.
• Lighting is key – shooting near a window at a bright time of day can make a big difference.
Perspective. Small business owner Rosie Greener’s blog post explains why and how she invested her time and thought in product photography for her jewellery brand Mood Good.
Example. Creative agency Fuze Branding provides examples of lifestyle photography that worked for a variety of clients – from a wood chips brand to a framing company.
Tool. Orangemonkie’s Foldio is a simple, foldable light box that can help you take well-lit product shots on a white background. If you’re photographing hundreds of products, it might be worth investing in a piece of kit like this to streamline your shooting and keep lighting extra consistent.