eCommerce Product Photography: Your Guide for 2021
Here’s a job title that you never thought you’d consider when starting your eCommerce store: photographer.
Of course, you would have expected to be an accountant, marketer, salesperson, designer, and some of the many other roles you would have to fill, but eCommerce product photography is something most small business owners don’t think of.
However, studies show that the quality of eCommerce product photography has a huge impact on sales.
A picture is worth a thousand words and an impressive product photo brings you a thousand website visits.
Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to back up this bold statement with data. Still, eCommerce product photography can really add value to your e-commerce strategy. With the onset of the pandemic, lockdown announcements caused a record-breaking growth in eCommerce sales. IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Results reveal that UK online sales grew 74% year-on-year in January 2021, while mobile eCommerce sales soared 169.1%. Among other findings:
- Health and beauty saw sales up 102% year-on-year
- Beer and wine went up 105% year-on-year
- Electrical sales remained very high – up 206%
Hence, you must learn to take product photos in the best way possible.
Unfortunately, small and medium-sized eCommerce businesses don’t have lots of money to spend on professional eCommerce product photography. Fortunately, we have some eCommerce product photography tricks to make your product photos beautiful, easy to use, and inexpensive. Ready to get started?
Step 1: Use the right photography equipment
The equipment doesn’t have to be expensive but it’s great if it is able to produce high-quality footage.
Here is a very simple list of the most important gear you will need:
- White background
- A camera
Some other things like tape and lenses can help along the way, but these are the four most important elements of your DIY photo studio.
The tripod will depend on your camera. There are traditional tripods with extendable legs and flexible tripods, with legs that can be bent to achieve any camera position.
When you have decided which tripod you want to use, place it in front of your product. Consider marking the location of the tripod legs with a piece of tape so you can always find the same position.
The white background can range from white sheets of paper to white poster boards. We’ll also talk about lighting below.
The newer smartphones have 12 or 13 MP cameras and different temperature settings that allow you to customize your photos in different lighting environments. If you plan to use a mobile phone, you most likely want to download an app VSCO Cam or similar to create professional-looking eCommerce product photography. Otherwise, we recommend buying a consumer-grade DSLR camera that allows taking crisp and finely detailed images. You can get a camera under $400 and adjust its settings for sharper photos.
Prime your camera for product shots
When it comes to taking photos from your phone, the quality of your photo will mainly depend on how good the camera is.
With phones being updated a lot, we’re not going to go through our preferred options now, but some of our readers found that Android phones usually have more powerful cameras. That said, you can take some killer product photos with an iPhone.
After you find the right phone, there isn’t much to do in adjusting camera settings. As mentioned earlier, you might want to find a great app for cleaner product shots (and maybe a physical lens), but the default camera settings are fine.
But if you have a DSLR camera, that’s a whole different story. After all, it is doesn’t make much sense to invest in a DSLR if you don’t configure it properly.
Consider the following tips:
- Adjust your white balance so that the setting corresponds exactly to the Kelvin temperature that your lighting has.
- Proper aperture is a big deal for product photos. Stick to an aperture of f8 or f11 so that your products are in focus. If you get into a larger aperture like f2.8 or f4.5, you will find that some products don’t look as sharp.
- Avoid a wide-angle lens. As a result, your product images will only appear blurred.
- Don’t forget to perfect your lighting. Many photographers will swear that lighting can make or break the photoshoot, especially for product shots. You can make a cheaper camera look respectable with the right lighting and backdrop.
Step 2. Arrange the lighting for your eCommerce photography
Different types of light can greatly improve your photos. Remember that the best way for customers to choose a product is in a physical store because they can see every angle and feel the texture. With the right light, you can showcase the sides that are relevant to your decision in your product photo.
However, you should note that some products work great in a certain lighting setup and others look downright bad in it. There are two types of light to choose from:
Natural light in product photography
Natural light simply means sunlight. It is called “soft light” because its spectrum is wider and softer than that of a lamp that shines directly on the product, for example. Here’s how you determine if your eCommerce products would work well in natural light:
- The product is intended to be photographed or used outdoors.
- The product is used or worn by a human. As a rule, people look better in natural light.
- The environment around the product should be emphasized rather than the specific characteristics of the product.
Below is an engaging product photo that was taken in natural light. The sun illuminates the bag perfectly, creating a soft shadow on the legs of the woman carrying the bag, so the focus is on the product.
Artificial light in the eCommerce product photo
Artificial light includes candlelight, fire, and of course the classic light bulbs. It is also known as “hard light” because the glow is smaller but more concentrated. This light is ideal for photographing products when fine details have to be highlighted to impress the shopper.
This appealing product photo was photographed under artificial light. You can see that the surface and the dial design are the most important selling factors:
As a basic rule, remember to use only one type of light per photo, either natural or artificial. Adding natural light to a product that is artificially lit can soften the image when it should be in focus. The same applies to naturally lit products and artificial light. When you keep this in mind, you won’t undermine your own product photography success.
Step 3. Soften shadows by brightening or reflecting light
Whether you use natural or artificial light, there will always be shadows. You have to reduce this for both light sources. There are three ways to do this:
Use another source of light in product photos
You can add another, less intense light source. This additional light source is called a brightener or fill light. Its purpose is to reduce the natural shadow of the main light. The brightener is positioned on the opposite side of the main light source so that the product is in the center.
Use a bounce card
A bounce card reflects the main light onto the surface underneath the product to reduce the shadow.
When you use the camera, bounce cards are placed on the flash so they scatter the flash. The card reflects a softer light onto the object from above instead of shining directly on it. This means that the shadows behind your object are not that long. Bounce cards can be white or reflective (foil) but they both do a great job at scattering lightning.
When photographing with a smartphone, a bounce card attachment is of course not possible, as there is no flash available to attach it to. Instead, you can make your own separate bounce card that you attach opposite your main light source. For beginners in product photography, this bounce card can replace the brightener, which counteracts the harsh flashlight of the camera or the lamp that acts on the front of your product
It doesn’t matter what type of light you want to counteract, your goal is to reduce shadows while highlighting the features of your product that are important to your online store visitors.
Step 4. Choose a photo background and portrait mode
There are many ways to position the product and work with light and reflection. The result also depends on the background against which the photos are taken. Don’t just choose the option that is easiest to design. The background shows your buyers how you would like the product to be perceived.
Think about whether you want to use a white background or a more dynamic, realistic background. Both possibilities can be created quite easily.
You’d think that pushing a table against a white wall would be enough for a white background. But even smartphone cameras notice small bumps on white walls that you would not have noticed easily yourself. To get a perfect white background with no corners or bumps, consider using a background made of a curved sheet of paper, a.k.a. sweep.
Here’s how to set up this: use a large, pliable sheet of paper with your product placed on the lower half and the upper half arched against a white wall behind the product. The curvature of the fillet is not visible in photos. All product details are clear from the white background, which is of course important for the buyer.
Step 4. Make your photos accurate and true
When taking your eCommerce product photos, don’t try to outsmart your customers. Glorified product shots are a recipe for returns.
Instead of excessive retouching and corrections, you want to have multiple photos from different angles and situations. It depends on the type of product, but, for example, a phone case product listing should have multiple shots from every single angle. Then you may want one with the case on a phone and in someone’s hand.
Taking photos from multiple angles can be done in two ways. You can move the product yourself in the staging environment, or you can remove the camera from the tripod to move it around by yourself. We suggest doing both and see how they come out.
The pro tip for good eCommerce product photography for your online store is not to just take a photo of your product. In a retail store, customers can look at, touch, test, or try the product on. It is therefore important that you offer a variety of images on your website that simulate this experience.
For example, when taking photos of items of clothing, you should first photograph the item spread out on a white surface and then on a mannequin whose color is different from the product color. Other photos should then be taken of the garment on a model. Different poses and perspectives are all good, too!
Why portrait mode is the best
Dynamic, realistic backgrounds are particularly appealing when photographing products that have a specific application or are presented by a person. The handbag example is just such a case.
But with realistic backgrounds, it can easily happen that they distract the viewer from the product and it is no longer so clear which part is being prioritized in the photo.
You can present your product with depth by using the portrait mode, which almost every professional camera has and which is now available on many new smartphones. With this setting, the background is blurred and only the product is clearly visible. As a result, you have a natural background that doesn’t steal the show from the product.
Step 5. Clean up and resize your photos
If you are using a DSLR camera, we recommend adjusting settings to RAW due to the flexibility of this format during editing.
When shooting in RAW, consider using the following software to clean up your photos, remove imperfections, and adjust lighting if necessary:
- Adobe Lightroom
Take your photos in the highest possible resolution and crop them later. If you’re using platforms like Shopify, Volusion, or WooCommerce, the store templates usually have a specific size requirement for product photos. Stick to these dimensions unless you want to take nice photos, upload them, and then see that the image is either distorted or expanded.
To avoid this, take your pictures at the highest possible resolution. For example, a camera can take images up to 4416 x 3312 pixels. This is great for editing and resizing as you won’t lose much quality by shrinking the photo. Platforms like Shopify and Bigcommerce tell you what resolution your product photos should be.
However, when a photo is too small and you try to stretch it out or make it larger, it can create problems. So start with the largest possible picture. This also helps with zooming tools as the higher quality images show more details of your products.
After that, you will likely need to crop the photo. This is actually good news as you need to be the right size for your store design. Crop the image so that all of the sides fit exactly, then try to get the correct dimensions with your cropping.
Remove the background while editing
Shopify found that a significant portion of eCommerce product photography experts is removing the background while editing. Why is that the case?
Removing background allows you to drastically reduce the file size, remove shadows, markings, or other distractions and make a perfect transparent or white background.
You can effortlessly remove background even from the finely detailed photos in VistaCreate Online Editor.
If you are bootstrapping your eCommerce business, you need to be a master of eCommerce product photography.
It might not be one of the tasks you want to add to your bucket list right away, considering you’re also a marketer, customer service rep, accountant, and salesperson. However, taking your own photos the right way is a great way to save money and improve the number of sales you get in your eCommerce store.
Also, you will learn a new skill that can be used for your current and future online businesses. This is especially important for brands that have hundreds of products or articles published consistently.
Taking beautiful product photos is a crucial element in building trust and developing your brand.