Professional product photography is among the most crucial aspects to successful online selling, but navigating the nuances presents a considerable struggle for many eCommerce sellers. Typical questions center around general strategy, image quality, pricing, DIY vs hiring and general best practices. All things only an experienced product photographer & entrepreneur would know.
As president & co-founder, I started this business as a photographer and as we grew I evolved into a role where I was the first person customers talked to before placing their product photography orders with POW. I’ve talked with literally thousands of business owners, and many of the concepts discussed in this article come from my real-life experiences helping them obtain photos that not only enhance their listings, but take their business to the next level.
In this article, I'm going to share 10 of the best tips and strategies to that I think every seller should know!
1. Start with a Plan & Research Your Photography Style
The first steps in any successful photography project are planning and research. Following this process will help you not only prepare your shoot, but it will also help you visualize the overall look of your brand and define what photos will help sell your product.
Create a short list of your photos.
Start by going through your listing or website and itemizing all the photos you need on a spreadsheet.
Here’s a list of typical placements on a new website that need to be filled:
- Homepage: Main landing page image
- Collections Pages: Header images
- Product Pages: Main listing images
- Product Pages: Secondary listing images
- About Page Images
Gather photos from around the Web that inspire you.
Start conceptualizing how you want your photos to look. I recommend creating a Pinterest Board and adding photos to it that fit your desired look. Add anything that sparks your interest, and don’t be shy. Later, you’ll sort through these images and pick the best of the best.
By curating your photo ideas, you’ll be able to compare and contrast different visuals and ideas in a way that you couldn’t normally. You can then use these photos as a “mood board” to reference during photoshoots, which will unify the look of your website’s visual brand and open the door to more advanced visuals.
Research your competition and ensure that your photos outshine theirs.
Finally, you’ll want to do some thorough research on your competition to see what they do with their photography. Your goal is to create a photo that is as good or better than theirs. Narrow it down to which competitor you think has the best photo. Ask yourself, “What do I like about this image? Is it the placement of the packaging, the lighting, etc?” Now, look at your mood board for ideas on how you can create something similar but better. Look at lighting, props, position--anything to kick it over the edge. Coalesce those ideas into the shotlist and find a photographer that can bring those ideas to life.
2. Your Main Listing Photo Must Rock!
A white background photo is a requirement for selling through most online retailers, and since those photos look simple, I think people tend to take them for granted. However, if you really think about it, this is one of the most important images in your marketing.
This product photo is the only thing your customers will see before they buy. They can’t pick it up, taste it, smell it, or try it. The photo is all they have. If the photo looks bad, then it can make your product look cheap, and worse--it can make your brand appear untrustworthy. A great product photo will improve brand trust, increase click-through rates and conversion rates, and ultimately lead to more sales over the lifetime of the listing.
When searching for products online, potential customers are bombarded by a variety of similar products. Think about searching for a product on Amazon and how many choices exist. Photos that get the click are unique, sophisticated, and visually appealing. A professional-quality product photo is the bare minimum; you need to look even better and more interesting than the competitor next to you to get the click. So, how do you differentiate your product from all the others while staying within the strict white background requirements?
Here are some ways to differentiate your listing and go beyond the simple white background photo
- Creative lighting like hard-light shadow
- Unique grouping or product arrangements
- Low or high camera angles
- The product interacting with the box in unique ways
- Look for ideas from your research in Tip 1
Just because a white background photo seems simple, doesn’t mean it needs to be. Getting that initial click to your listing is the first battle. Win with a unique main listing product photo.
3. Your Secondary Listing Photos Should “Sell,” not “Show”
If you managed to get a customer to click on your listing, the next battle is to convince them to buy. This is where your secondary listing images come into play.
A common, eye-opening conversation I have with new sellers centers around secondary listing photos. Many are unaware of the fact that these photos should do more than just “show” the customer the product, but rather “sell” the customer on the product’s features and benefits.
Classic examples of the “showing” photos are the front, back, side, and close-up of the label. This is not compelling enough. There are usually no restrictions on secondary listing photos, so this is your opportunity to shine! Stand out with a “selling” photo that shows why your product is awesome. Read through some of these questions and imagine a photo of your product that would answer each.
Questions Your Photos Should Answer
- What problem does your product solve?
- How big, strong, or fast is your product?
- What are some unique features that other products don’t have?
- What is included when I purchase this product?
- Is this the right size, or part?
- Does this product fit in the right place or have the right plug for my need?
- For what type of person is this product made?
There are few ways to illustrate these ideas. You can use infographics, a photo that is surrounded with graphics, and copy that describes the product. You can use Lifestyle photos, which usually incorporate some sort of environment or model with your product. You can also do a branded product video.
The key to success with “selling photos” is planning everything in advance with sketches and shot lists before having the photos taken. How are you going to convince your target audience that your product is better than its competition?
4. Image Quality Matters
As I mentioned before, your product photo is the only thing your customers will see online before they buy from your website or click on your listing. Therefore, your photo must be a beacon of quality and portray a product of epic craftsmanship.
Imagine if Tiffany & Co. jewelers took a photo of their $10k diamond engagement ring with a cell phone. It would cheapen it and maybe make you think it’s used, or even worse, that it's fake. You expect a professional image from an established luxury company like them. What does it say about a company that doesn’t present professional photos of their products?
Be honest with yourself: would you buy something online if it had a bad photo? Do you trust a company that doesn’t have high-quality images? These are the questions consumers have on a subconscious level when engaging with your brand images.
High-quality images also help define its value. If a product looks sleek, clean, and new in the photo, it can command a higher price than a photo of the same product that looks used, broken, or cheap. Higher quality photos, branding, and packaging will allow you to charge a higher price for the exact same product simply because it looks “better.”
Your photo does more than just show the customer what they’re buying--it subconsciously indicates the quality of the product to the buyer and that the business selling it is professional and trustworthy.
We know from our customer reviews that our photos have increased sales. Some have reported growing sales as high as 200% after switching their photos to our professional photos.
In an eBay study looking at 6.8 million listings, better quality photos were 5% more likely to sell. A Redfin study of home sales showed that professional photos sold homes 32% faster and for significantly more money than amateur photos.
We know it. Our customers know it. Studies show it. Professional photos are good for your business.
5. You Should Always Hire a Professional Photographer If You Can Afford It.
You should always hire a professional photographer if you can afford it. You can DIY and get photos that are acceptable, but if you’re selling online, you want photos that will impress you customers, present a quality product, and visually set you apart from the competition.
Your photos are worth the investment. Without question, professional-quality photos increase sales conversions, click through rates, and brand recognition. Consider it from a math perspective. If a product photo costs $40 and improving the photo saw a conservative 5% increase in sales, how long would it take to break even? Not long.
If you were to invest in the real equipment, you needed to match that of a professional. The cost would far exceed actually hiring them.
You may have also heard that the camera doesn’t take the photo--the photographer does. Even if you purchase all the expensive cameras, lighting, and software you needed, the photos will probably still look amateur. To fully utilize all this gear and match the image quality of a professional, it would take years of experience and training.
So, when should you DIY? You should alway try and get to market with your product ASAP, even if the initial listing doesn’t look its best. As someone who has sold online before, there are a lot of excuses to not launch your product because of things you could optimize. This is a trap because you can optimize forever.
You should DIY in the following situations: First, you simply can’t afford to hire a professional photographer because you don’t have any revenue coming in from your business yet. Second, it’s a brand new listing, and you want to test it out without a lot of investment. Your DIY photos should only be a placeholder until you can upgrade them to the good stuff.
Read on for recommendations on how best to DIY your product photos.
6. How to DIY For Your Own Product Photography
The number one question I get when giving courses on DIY product photography is, “What camera should I buy for product photography?” My advice: don’t buy anything. Use what you have and see how it goes.
In collaboration with Shopify, I put together a very straightforward DIY photography strategy that anyone can do with a modern smartphone or a cheap camera called the Window Light Method. Sign up for the DIY Photography Course at this link. It's by far the most indepth detailed course on DIY photography on the web. I did this because I got tired of seeing people buying all these gadgets that are supposed to make your photos look better, but in reality, only make your photos look worse.
Take it from a product photographer: many of these gadgets, like light-tents or photo-machines, make your photos look bland. The quality of light created by them is super even and doesn’t create any shape on the product. They’ve been designed to be a one size fits all solution and that would be fine everyone only sold the same product. These gadgets usually require artificial multi-light setups to use them, which can complicate things. When using artificial lighting like flash, you need technical photography knowledge about power ratios, sync speeds, color temperature, and typically requires an expensive dslr.
Using window light is easy because it doesn’t use expensive or complicated equipment that requires training, and, obviously, it’s free! With window light, you don’t need to know much about technical photography since it is a one-light setup. This allows you to use auto-exposure and auto-white balance and any type of camera. If you have a cell phone, you can pretty much just do the whole setup for around $20 --cheaper if you're creative. The most important part is that the window light looks pretty damn good, and in my professional opinion, looks better than using any light-tent on the market.
7. Real Lifestyle Photography Is Expensive - Here Are Some Alternatives
You may have heard from non-photographer influencers that lifestyle photography is an important part of any listing. The problem with this advice is that they don’t really tell you how to produce a lifestyle shoot or about the realistic costs associated with them.
As we’ve mentioned before, a bad photo can leave a bad impression on potential customers and make your business look untrustworthy. A true lifestyle shoot requires a number of experienced professionals and overhead to create a photo like the image below, which features a professional model and a nice location that has been meticulously lit by a professional photographer. The model’s hair, make-up, clothing, and props have been carefully picked out by a stylist and strategized in advance.
A photoshoot like the one shown below can cost anywhere between $2,000-$5,000 for one day of shooting.
In recent years, I’ve seen a rise in “discount lifestyle” photography services, and the results shared by some of our customers are disheartening. These services typically run between $500 and $1,000. In order to reach this price point, the production has been stripped down by removing the key professionals and expenses. To me, it appears that these shoots are often taken quickly with a cell phone of their friends or co-workers without any prep, lighting, or thoughtful styling. At its worst, I’ve seen people use Selfie Sticks to capture photos of themselves with their customer’s product. A photoshoot of this image quality does not reflect well upon your brand, and you could probably do this yourself at the same quality for free.
It’s difficult for me to imagine ways to cut corners on a real lifestyle shoot and still create quality photographs.
Instead, we recommend considering Lifestyle Composites, a service we created where we photograph your product into a Stock Photo scene instead. It’s only $150, and it looks great!
8. Think About Photos like a Digital Marketer
Thinking about your photography from the standpoint of a digital marketer will help you put the costs and budgets in perspective and help you make financial decisions that relate to your shoots.
As someone who runs a small business, I'm responsible for making sure that all my marketing brings in more sales than it costs. When reviewing Adwords or Facebook campaigns, I focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) like Click Through Rate (CTR), Conversions (sales), Conversion Rates (Click to Purchase Ratios), etc. to let me know if my marketing is performing correctly.
Product photography is a marketing tool that you should measure, test, and optimize in a similar manner. It is easy to measure the results--simply replace your low-quality photo with a professional-quality photo and compare the results over time. If you want to do a true A/B test, you can use software like Splitly.com on an Amazon listing.
If sales on the new photo listing went up 20%, then you can probably expect something similar on your other listings. Do some quick math and compare the Return On Investment (ROI) of creating new photos ($30-$40 per photo) with the sales increase over the expected lifetime of the listing.
We offer Free Trial Photos, so you can do this test for free.
You probably have a gut feeling that better photographs will sell more, but having some concrete numbers will make it easier to sell to your boss or justify the investment to yourself.
9. Hire The Right Product Photographer For The Job
So, you’ve decided to hire a professional photographer. Great. Another big mistake I see is that people hire the wrong type of photographer because they don’t understand that there are different specialities within the photography industry.
A product photographer is a special type of photographer, different than other types of photographers like wedding or portrait.
A product photographer is usually responsible for crafting the style of lighting completely on their own, whereas other types of photographer utilize existing lighting in their environment.
In product photography, all lighting decisions are made deliberately and strategically before they even set the product on the set. A master product photographer knows that different types of lighting on a product reveal the shape and texture of a product in different ways, that different types of lighting evoke different subconscious emotions about the product, and how to use different lighting tools to create those effects.
This process is very technical, and creativity is found in different ways, like in the nuances of a highlight shape or the contrast of a shadow.
My approach to photographing products is special to my genre of photography. Asking a photographer in a different genre, like a wedding photographer who doesn’t have this experience, will probably not result in skillfully-crafted photos because their experience and skill sets are totally different. I’ll be the first to admit that as a product photographer, I would not be the best fit to shoot your wedding because I don’t photograph a lot of weddings.
The point is that if you want product photography, hire a product photographer. Review their portfolios and confirm that their work reflects similar results to your match images.
10. Get Creative With Your Photos
This article, thus far, has been mostly about product photography strategies and advanced concepts that relate to your business and less on the creative elements. The reason is because I really wanted to impress upon you that there is a lot more to it than “the best camera.” With that being said, photography is an art, and I don’t want to ignore that fact.
Pretty pictures, surprising pictures, unique pictures, and conceptual pictures do result in more engagement. People just like interesting photos, and you should always strive to be creative with your photos and have fun with them whether you're working with a professional or doing it yourself. If you’re not having fun, then it will show because you’ll just be doing the same safe, boring photos that everyone else uses. Be unique and adventurous!
Another thing: If you’re doing this process right, you should be focused on creative photography ideas, visual concepts that compel the customer to buy, KPIs from testing, and which photographer can best create your vision.
If you are trying to shoot it yourself, you are probably spinning your wheels buying gear or trying to learn basic concepts to create the bare minimum photo that meets the basic requirements. This is not where your focus should be unless you are trying to become a photographer. This is not how you win online. There is no path for getting creative if you’re just trying to figure out the basics.