15 Common Product Photography Mistakes to Avoid in Your Ecommerce Business

Author: Karthika Gupta
Date Created: 2022-11-08

Retailers already know how important product photography is for their business. It’s an investment that takes time, money, effort, and commitment. You don't want to waste your product photography investment. One way to avoid that is getting to know the most common mistakes many brands make with product shots, so you can avoid making them too.

Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls to avoid.  

1. Jumping in without a plan

Planning helps brands get the most out of a photoshoot. However, many brands neglect to take time to methodically plan their photoshoots. It’s an exciting business task, and it’s tempting to jump right in—but it’s important to channel that excitement with a strategic mindset. 

Forgetting a shot list

A good place to start is with a shot list of all the images you need to capture during the shoot. A short numbered list of photos you need will suffice, or you can build out a detailed sequence of shots that make the most efficient use of your time and effort. 

Either way, be sure to include examples for reference so everyone’s on the same page. Without a shot list you run the risk of walking away from the shoot with missing pieces and inconsistent photos.

Not shooting enough photos

Another mistake many brands make is sticking too closely to the shot list and only taking the planned shots. Many times, a shot will reveal itself—you don’t want to miss an opportunity simply because it’s not on the shot list. Since you’re working with digital images, you can shoot as many photos as you want and then cull them later. Plus, limiting yourself to just a few photos per product in the photoshoot also makes you more prone to errors you may not have noticed on set. 

Typically, images fit into two different categories—lifestyle ecommerce site images and products on white background. Having a mix of both is key to being strategic about your product photography. Every product should have a plain white background image as well as explainer images to get potential customers an idea of the look, feel, and features of the product—regardless of if you’re selling on Amazon or your own site.

2. Neglecting to show scale

Isolating key details and providing scale is also important in product photography. Showing scale helps shoppers understand the size of the product. This is important for a variety of reasons—they might want to see how a hair brush or a fishing rod fits in their hand or how much counter space a coffee maker will make. Showing scales demonstrates how the item fits into the context of its use so that there are no surprises when they receive the product.

The Honey Pot, a brand that sells plant-derived feminine care products, uses hands to showcase scale of its products as well as visuals on how to use them.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) branded product photo of a foaming wash, hands holding the foaming wash to show scales and usage.

Another way to show scale is to use product photography props in the image. Adding props in context to the product helps the viewer understand size and dimension visually.
Home care products brand Full Circle Home uses common kitchen props, like a soap dispenser and kitchen caddy, to showcase scale, size, and use of its replaceable bottle brushes.

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Shots by POW: (left to right) white background product photo of a bottle brush, product photo with other products typically found near a kitchen sink.

3. Sticking to just one type of product photography

While uniformity is key for a consistent website experience, it’s also important to show your products in different contexts and from different angles. 

Remember what we discussed about needing both white background and creative lifestyle photos. White background photos isolate the product without any distractions whereas contextual lifestyle images can show the product in use—with or without models, props, backgrounds, or other relevant products. 

For example, organic baby brand Monica + Andy uses both types of images to highlight its items’ benefits and features. These photos add variety and provide details so customers can confidently make educated purchasing decisions.

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Shots by POW: (left to right) white background product photo, white background product detail shot, lifestyle photo with model

4. Failing to think about photography like a marketer

Many brands forget to approach product photography as a marketing tool. Branded images do more than show what a product looks like. They tell a story about the brand and what the product is and who it’s for, and aim to convince people they can get value from them. 

When we say “think about product photos like a marketer,” we mean it’s important to consider how the image will help drive a user closer to the point of purchase. The images have to do the heavy lifting to entice and sell the product online versus in a brick-and-mortar store where you have a sales associate to help move customers along. 

Product photos should answer questions, optimize listings, improve click-through rates (CTR), and boost conversion rates. 

When deciding on whether to invest in quality product photography services versus a DIY approach, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what conversion rate would make your business profitable. If you invest $X, you expect to see an increase in conversion by X% resulting in $Y. If $Y is more than $X, the investment in product photography is a justified expense.

We tested our professional product photography against a basic product listing with simple images. As part of the test, we displayed lifestyle images of the product on the online store. By showing how the product was used, customers could more easily visualize the product in their own lives. The store that used POW photography tripled its conversion rate—an investment that quickly paid for itself.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) product image is pretty plain and not clear on what the product is or its usage, clean product image with accurate messaging and representation on the actual product, Xtenex Shoelaces

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Shot by POW: more lifestyle photos of Xtenex shoelaces in action

5. Showing instead of selling

Many brands use pictures to simply show their products rather than take a sales-oriented approach, highlighting specific features, showcasing product benefits, and ultimately telling a story people can connect with. This is a mistake. 

You want to go beyond the obvious. Don’t just show the front, back, and side angle of the product. Demonstrate what makes your product special, how it’s used, what solutions it provides, and what makes it unique—why it’s a must-have.

Wellness lifestyle brand, Paris Laundry, does a great job of taking a sales-oriented approach with its products by showcasing product details, benefits, and even use with complementary products. It focuses on wellness as a lifestyle and promotes that choice in every product it sells.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) product image with a white background, complementary products and as well texture of the product, all the products that promote wellness as a lifestyle choice

Remember to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer. Anticipate questions they may have and look for ways to provide answers through product imagery. 

To give you some ideas on what we mean by using photographs to sell instead of show, here are some examples:

Highlight a feature or benefit

Features or benefits are differentiators that make your product special compared to others in the marketplace. These photos should represent most of your product photos. Highlight the most important things customers need to know about your product to convince them to buy.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) Skin Care Club provides information about the benefits of using its products as well as details on the quality of the product by referencing the quality of ingredients used. The image not only provides benefits of deep cleaning but also the features of the product composition.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle photography shows context for your products. The setting might illustrate who the product is made for, where it can be used, and how it can be helpful. These photos might have people or simply show your product in a specific location. 

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Shot by POW

Outsource Your Lifestyle Product Photography

Lifestyle photos are one of the most effective ways to sell your product. They let buyers imagine using the product, and visualize how it would fit into their lives. Lifestyle photos also show your brand's personality, which can make or break a sale.
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Coffee Lifestyle 2 300x214 1 15 Common Product Photography Mistakes to Avoid in Your Ecommerce Business

Call-out infographics

Infographics can combine product photography with graphic design including text overlays and call-outs or zoomed-in smaller photos set around the main photo. These infographics show close-ups and details as well as provide powerful all-in-one features and benefits images.

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Shot by POW

How it works

As the name suggests, how it works images show your customer how to use the product. Product demos and usage guides fall under this category. Make sure these types of images are captured in the detailed shot list so the photography team can create them during the photoshoot. You can then work with a creative team or a designer to overlay the appropriate text to produce the final images.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) lifestyle image of product being used with supporting details on how to use text on the image, product in use with instructions and visuals on what to expect during usage. Both these images show the customer exactly what to do and how to use the product.

Tech specs and sizing information

Tech spec and sizing images show specific measured details. These images educate shoppers about product dimensions, shape, weight, color, compatibility with other items or products. These types of images work well for products that are technical in nature like manufacturing parts, home improvement items and even stationary.

The product images below show two examples where sizing information is useful when making purchasing decisions. In the image on the left, providing the size of the napkins along with the count per case and number of napkins per pack helps when buying napkins to match a specific plate or table setting. In the image on the right, adding dimensions helps customers figure out if these under desk drawers will fit specific slots for a table or desk.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) product images that show dimensions to get a sense of size and scale

Similarly, Carstens uses a small graphic overlay to highlight the size of its binders.

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Shot by POW

As another example, there are specific requirements for traveling via air with liquids and gels in a carry-on. Showcasing the size in ounces for these types of products will help shoppers determine if it’ll work for their carry-on needs.

Break apart

“Break apart” photos show how different pieces of a product fit together. This is ideal if you sell furniture or products that require at-home assembly, as well as showcasing any interesting or special interior components of your product not visible when it’s fully assembled. These images can be challenging to photograph and often require a separate shot for each piece. The individual photos are then assembled in Photoshop for a single final image. 

In both the examples below, parts requiring assembly are separated and displayed visually so people know exactly how to put the products together, as well as which parts fit where. Plus it sets the expectation that some assembly may be required and can even act as an assembly guide in some cases.

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Shot by POW

Philanthropic-themed

Consumers don’t just prefer to support companies that give back—they’re starting to demand it from brands. Having a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn’t only good for the world, it's also good for your bottom line as it drives more loyalty and sales. If you contribute to a cause, you should share it—and product pictures are a great medium to do that. 

Use your photos to feature logos of partner organizations or add a bit of copy to describe how you contribute. When someone feels their purchase will contribute to a bigger cause, they may feel more compelled to convert. 
Riven sells probiotic mouthwash. While the main benefits are oral health-related, it uses this product image to highlight the brand’s mission to give back.

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Shot by POW: philanthropic-themed message for Riven mouthwash

What’s in the box

A product image showcasing everything that comes in the box is another great way to sell instead of just show. While it shows everything a customer will receive, it also sells the value of the purchase—look at everything you get for a single price. This could include accessories, chargers, spare parts, cables, instruction manuals, etc. You can also add text overlays to call out the extra items. 

For example, you might sell sneakers and include a free set of spare laces, in which case you’d want to show that in your image. On the other hand, a what’s in the box photo for a tent might show the extra poles and rain fly included with the purchase. The images below show how a cheese slicer comes with spare slicing wires and how a set of wooden hooks comes with necessary pieces for installation.

The cheese slicer photographed on the left is shown with its box, the actual product and parts it comes with so people can see exactly what they’re purchasing. The modern wooden hooks on the right are also pictured with everything included to show shoppers have everything they need to hang the hooks right out of the box.

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Shot by POW: What’s in the box product images that showcase all the elements of a product that are included

This type of image is also effective if you have beautiful packaging or a memorable unboxing experience.

6. Using a light tent

One of the most important aspects of product photography is lighting. There are two distinct kinds of light: natural  light and artificial light. 

Natural light is almost always better to shoot with—it results in more realistic, dynamic, and interesting images—but it’s also more difficult to control. As such, many brands automatically turn to using a light tent so they can manipulate it themselves. 

Plus, the quality of light from a light tent is very even and often shadowless. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Shadows are important because they create the shape of a product and provide a sense of place.

When shooting with a light tent, you need a multi-light setup, which adds complexity and cost. This also usually requires education beyond a simple how-to guide.

Multi-light setups require an understanding of how to position lighting and balance the exposure of different lights. You’ll also need to know how f-stops and shutter speeds work in relation to lights—no easy feat.                  

Color balance is another consideration. Each light source has a different color temperature. Extreme color temperature differences can negatively impact your image and create distortions and inconsistencies.                    

And if you decide to use flash instead of continuous light, be prepared for a challenge beyond basic exposure. Flash exposure is determined by f-stop, has limits on sync speed, and requires special equipment to trigger.

In the end, it's best to find a place where you can use natural window light or even shoot outdoors. If neither is possible, you may be better off hiring a studio that can do this for you.

7. Not optimizing for SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for all online sellers because it helps your website and products appear on Google, Bing, and other search engines. Your product photos play a factor in your search ranking and visibility. 

Large images

Your website’s load speed is one factor which determines search visibility. Long, slow load speed times hurt your website’s search performance because users and search engines favor websites that load fast.  

Large images take a long time to load and thus slow down your website, ultimately harming your search performance. So you’ll need to ensure your image files aren’t too large in size. A good rule of thumb is to keep them between 100 kb to 200 kb but no smaller than 100 kb—you don’t want to compromise the quality of the images. 

Each website platform has different image size requirements. For example, if you’re using Shopify, you’ll need to follow its product photography requirements—as well as the sizing your website design and template require. Every Shopify product page template is different. 

Inspect the container of the image and multiply that size by either 1.5x to 2x. If the container is 500 px square on your product page, you’ll want to upload a 75 0px to 1000 px image. If this is confusing, you can always default to uploading a file between 1000 px–1500 px, as most website containers are around 500 px.

Google penalizes sites with slow load times, so make sure to periodically check your Core Web Vitals and make any necessary image adjustments. The Core Web Vitals for your website can be accessed from your google console. It provides information for both mobile and desktop and can help you analyze factors like page load speed, page views per session, and session duration which help you understand how your website is performing.

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Images from Search Engine Journal

Wrong file types

File type also impacts website performance because it dictates file size and compatibility with digital platforms. Whenever possible, opt for a compressed JPEG. This reduces the size of the image while maintaining its quality. ShortPixel and TinyPNG are great tools to compress your images before loading them to your website site.

No CDN

Many brands fail to use an effective CDN. A CDN, or content delivery network, is a group of servers that are geographically distributed to provide a faster delivery of Internet content. Essentially it means when someone visits your website, your content will be delivered from the server closest to the user, thereby increasing how fast they can access your site. 

A CDN also balances load by distributing network traffic evenly across several servers. This is useful for sites with a lot of photos and media. Media-heavy sites have a longer load time compared to text-only or media-light websites. Hence using the right type of photo files (compressed JPEG) along with a CDN is a good business strategy. 
Some of the most popular CDN providers are Cloudflare, Amazon Cloudfront-AWS, and Imperva Incapsula. Choosing the right CDN will depend on the location of your core audience, bandwidth requirements, size of your website, and budget. A great way to get started with a CDN is to use a plugin. For example, recommend using Shortpixel AI for WordPress builds, that will automatically upload, format, and optimize images for a CDN.  Shopify has their own plugin built in.

Blank alt tags

Alt tags, or image descriptors, are additional data fields for your images. This data makes your image search engine-friendly as it’s a readable attribute of an image. Problem is, many brands forget about alt tags altogether and leave them blank for many product images—a missed opportunity on some low-hanging fruit. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting to fill out the alt tags for your product photos.

You can add alt tags when uploading images to your website or hosting platform. Each hosting platform has its own process for uploading images but in general, look for “Alt text”/”Alt tags” fields. Alt tags have a limit of 125 characters so you can add enough detail for users and search engines to help relate to the image. 

You don’t want to add the same alt tag descriptor to each image as this will provide no real benefit for the “searchability” of your content. Even if you have similar kinds of images, add descriptor words (color, size, direction, background, etc.) to differentiate one image from the next. For example, if you have a front shot and a rear shot of a red shoe, you can use “front photo of a red shoe” and “rear photo of a red shoe” to differentiate the alt tags of the two images of the same shoe.

Remember: alt tags should describe the image as clearly and succinctly as possible. It’s not the place to add a multitude of keywords. Instead, think of how you would describe the image to someone who’s visually impaired and then add that text accordingly.

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Shot by POW: (left to right) Alt tags for the images might be “body creams, lotions and fragrances by FUR and Dr. Loretta” and “black leather Sebastian Combs men’s watch”

8. Choosing the wrong background

White background is industry standard for a reason. It creates an easy benchmark—where the only differentiating factor is the product being photographed. That’s why it’s important to have a standard for your own website—but many brands neglect to do this. In fact, many make the mistake of using different, distracting, or inconsistent backgrounds. This makes it difficult for users to scan, browse, and compare products on your online store.

Distracting, low-quality, or busy backgrounds create a dull and unprofessional image instead of one that’s crisp and sharp. This can further take the focus away from the product and hence the buying decision. It also sends a message to your customers about quality—possibly not the message you want to send. 
Skin and hair care brand, Fur, uses white product photography for a clean look which matches its brand aesthetics.

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Shot by POW: Fur’s “Shop” page uses white background product photography across all its products
While you don’t have to use Amazon’s stark white background, it is a good idea to find a product photography background that’s consistent, clean, and easy to replicate. You can do an off-white or gray background, black background, reflective surface, or a solid color that matches your brand aesthetic.

9. Doing it yourself

While many people enjoy a good DIY project and a little challenge to test out their creativity, doing it with product photography for your business is probably not the best way to go. If you don’t have the right photography skills or the right equipment needed, it may turn out to be much more expensive in the long run than just hiring a professional studio right off the bat. Remember: photographers—not cameras—take the shot.

If you do want to flex your creative muscles, create content in other areas of your business like behind-the-scenes images for social media. This content can be less “professional” in quality, you can use your smartphone, and it’s useful for social media. If you have budget limitations, cut back in other non-essential areas of your business, prioritize certain types of product photos over others (white background first and lifestyle next), or take on tasks like building a mood board for your photoshoot as a way to reduce costs.

It’s tempting to try to do it all, but more often than not, the results are subpar because many ecommerce entrepreneurs lack the skill, experience, or equipment. 

10. Using a smartphone

Because smartphone camera technology has advanced so much, many people think they can take professional-quality shots. And while there’s nothing wrong with using your smartphone for fun or even social media images, when it comes to website product photography, a smartphone simply won’t cut it. . 

You’re competing with larger brands that treat good product photography as a marketing tool. They invest thousands of dollars in professional product photography studios that do the job right. How will your smartphone shot stand up next to their beautifully crisp professional pictures?

At the very least, invest in a good camera and great lenses. This product photography gear is the bare minimum when it comes to getting acceptable product photos that will help drive sales.

11. Choosing the most affordable photography studio

While there are photography studios for every budget, the cheapest photographer or studio isn’t always the right choice. Product photography is an investment for your brand—along with website design, logo, and other initial setup costs. You don’t want to go the cheap route here. 

So instead of using price as a deciding factor, find a photographer or studio that specializes in product photography and has the experience and portfolio to prove it. In ecommerce, good product photos that showcase a product well are one of the key things that customers look for when making purchasing decisions sight unseen. The quality of the photo can make or break the purchase.

12. Poor retouching and editing

Every photo needs a little post-processing. Even if the shots are amazing, there are almost always some final tweaks to make. However, not everyone has the skills required to make these edits. And poor retouching can ruin even the most amazing product photo. Yet many brands allow themselves to fall victim to bad Photoshopping. 

With high costs and steep learning curves associated with Photoshop, many brands turn to low-grade, free, or even automated editing tools to take their images across the finish line. The problem here is these edits are often low-quality, imperfect, and damaging more than helpful. The final results are off-brand and can hurt the overall customer impression and experience on the website.

For your retouching needs, it’s important to find someone with an advanced skill set or outsource to a person or company that can do it for you.

When working with a photography studio, inquire about retouching and editing services and if they’re provided—and if they’re included with the rate or cost extra. If you’re looking to hire a third-party retouching service, ask to see samples to verify they have the skills to produce work that meets your brand standards. 

All of the product photos you order from POW! Product Photography are expertly edited through multiple stages of retouching. We make initial tweaks on set with composition and retouching. And in post-production, we execute additional changes like background removal, syncing, and general cleanup. Every photographer on the team is a skilled retoucher, and each image is double-checked for consistency through a methodical quality control process.

13. Inconsistency 

Often, brands view product photos individually. But your product photography works together to create your entire website. Many brands forget their product shots have to be cohesive with all the other shots on their site. 

Inconsistent lighting, backdrops, and retouching make photos look disjointed and unrelated. 

A good way to check for consistency is to put images side by side and see how they look together. This can give you an idea of how it’ll display on your website, Amazon storefront, or Facebook Shop. Opt for cohesive images to give a more professional and consistent look to your website.

Check out these images for coffee brand Metropolis. Its product images include a mix of white background shots and lifestyle photos. Even though the frame is different, the tones, colors, and aesthetics show consistency and cohesiveness.

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Shot by POW

14. Lack of brand voice in imagery

Product photography doesn’t exist separate from your other brand visuals, but many brands seem to forget this. A common mistake is to have a strong vision for the product photography—but forget to think about how that vision fits in with the overall brand aesthetic. 

The product photography you ultimately choose is as much a branding decision as is your logo, colors, and website template. Along with the type of product photography, also think about how lighting and background will affect the final outcome of the images.

Lighting can completely change or alter an image. Hard light or strong light is often perceived  as edgy and attracts a younger demographic. 

On the other hand, glossy style is considered classy and simplistic with a bit of elegance. The glossy style works for cosmetics, skin care, clothing, and shoes, for example. 

Flat lighting or consistent lighting maintains uniformity by keeping things standard or monotone—it’s especially good for luggage, furniture, and other home goods.

Take these examples below. The colors and dramatic lights and shadows create an edgy look for zinc supplements. This highlights the product and the eye tends to gravitate towards the product first. Here, light is used as an additional subject matter to add more depth to the product.

Zinc Supplements 15 Common Product Photography Mistakes to Avoid in Your Ecommerce Business
17262 030 print wall 15 Common Product Photography Mistakes to Avoid in Your Ecommerce Business
Backpacks 3 15 Common Product Photography Mistakes to Avoid in Your Ecommerce Business

Shot by POW

Light in the middle image adds a more glossy look to the liquid in the bottles which almost seems to bring out the shine of the liquid. This is great for highlighting products where people can sense the texture without actually being able to physically touch it. Finally, standard lighting on the backpack (all the way to right) gives it a simple monotone look. Here, the focus is the backpack without any other distractions. It’s a functional and straightforward way to showcase product features like straps, clips, and tabs of the backpack.

There are many different styles of product photography to choose from, including:

  • Wall background
  • Colored background
  • Hard light 
  • Flat light 
  • Glossy 
  • 360 spin photography
  • 3D product photography

Regardless of the type of product photography you choose, make sure it’s on-brand.

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15. Using an uncalibrated monitor

Another common mistake many brands make is using an uncalibrated computer monitor to view and approve images. Uncalibrated monitors make image colors appear flat and not true to form. So if your computer screen isn’t calibrated, images will seem off color even if they were captured in a color-controlled environment with Macbeth color charts, calibrated camera profiles, and calibrated screens. 

A calibrated monitor has true-to-life colors, brightness, contrast, and vibrancy. So as you compare your images across multiple devices and they appear different in tone and color, it probably means the monitors and screens you use aren’t calibrated. If all monitors were calibrated, a photo would look the same regardless of the screen.

One of the main reasons why you should be using a calibrated monitor to view and approve your product images is to provide a great customer experience. Imagine having beautiful images that showcase your products the best way possible, but the colors are off because the screen was not calibrated at the time of approval. The final images will appear washed out, over saturated, dark or even grainy. This leads to a bad customer impression, a poor experience on your website and ultimately lost sales. 

A Shopify study indicates that 20% of all online purchases are returned and 72% of returns are consumer preference-based (size, style, color, and fit). A lot of this can be potentially mitigated by great photography that details and documents all aspects of the product accurately.

The best thing to do is to verify the photographer has the correct color profiles adjusted on their end. To check, open your images on a smartphone and then compare them to your computer monitors. Your smartphone is more likely closer to being correct as there are fewer options for adjusting color settings.

All work at POW is done in a color calibrated environment. This means your product images will showcase colors true to form. 

Avoid these common product photography mistakes for ecommerce success

The most successful online business isn’t one that just has a great product. It’s one that knows and understands the importance of visual assets like great product photography on the bottom line. Like anything else in business, product photography is an investment—one that has the potential to provide a great ROI based on a high sales conversion rate.

By paying attention to these common product photography mistakes, you too can understand and appreciate the role great product photography has on your business.

FAQs about common product photography mistakes

What should you not do in product photography?

In product photography, you should not buy a bunch of expensive equipment you don’t know how to use, use artificial lighting, choose poor backgrounds, use your smartphone, or hire the cheapest studio or photographer.

What can go wrong in photography?

Bad lighting
Poor retouching and editing
Incorrect file types and sizes
Hiring the wrong photographer or studio
Forgetting SEO

How can photography errors be prevented?

Photography errors can be prevented with careful planning and by reviewing the tips and advice in this post.


Written by Karthika Gupta

Karthika is an award-winning published editorial and travel photographer whose work has been featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, AFAR, Click Magazine and others. She also teaches photography workshops at conferences all over the country and has been named one of 100 women photographers to watch.