How to make great e-commerce photography for Amazon with Steven Pope From MyAmazonGuy.com

Author: Jeff Delacruz
Date Created: 2020-03-31

Check out a fun interview with Steven Pope, Amazon Consultant & owner of My Amazon Guy. We're talking about e-commerce photography tips to enhance your Amazon listings.

Steven Pope:

Today, we'll be talking about photography and what it takes to have good photos. My name is Steven Pope and I'm the founder of My Amazon Guy. This is the My Amazon Guy Podcast.

Steven Pope:

All right, so now I'm joined by Jeff DeLaCruz who's the president of POW Photography or Products On White Photography. Thanks for joining me, Jeff. I appreciate it.

Jeff Delacruz:

I'm happy to be here.

Steven Pope:

So I've personally used their service and absolutely recommend them to my clients and some of my clients have also used their service. And I think they're a go-to place of professional photography, but just to start us off on our podcast today, to qualify you as an expert in the space, can you walk us through why you guys are the go-to place? Why you think you guys are doing it right, so to speak?

Jeff Delacruz:

Sure. So products on white photography, we specialize in just white background, product photos for e-commerce Amazon sellers. That's our specialty. That's what we do nine to five, Monday through Friday, seven days a week. Right now we've got seven full-time photographers shooting this stuff every day. And one of the things that really makes us special besides the fact that we've photographed hundreds of products for thousands of sellers, is that we really focus on quality. So I think of a lot of photographers out there will just stick it in a light tent or just use cookie cutter lighting. We're not doing that.

Jeff Delacruz:

One thing that we're doing that's really special is we're actually lighting these products in a very special way. So if you imagine we have these big sets, we set your product on there. We look at your match directions and we can copy it. Exactly. We can say, oh, we want to highlight here, oh, we want to add a little bit of fill on this side or add a hard shadow. Each product is being lit, especially, and then retouched. We do a lot of compositing to really make it look beautiful. And if you're just putting this, if you're putting your product in a light head and taking a shot, there's no way you could make it look this good. So that's really what we do best.

Steven Pope:

I completely agree with you. And the reason I know this is because I try to shoot some photos of my wine glasses and they looked like trash. And so then I sent one to you guys and it looked way better. I also sent one of my glasses into Amazon's photo service and yours beat theirs as well. So yeah, definitely would prop you up as an expert in the space here. How did you come up with the name of your company?

Jeff Delacruz:

Well, you know, it's products on white backgrounds, we wanted to keep it pretty simple. So products on white, and then we were like, oh, this is kind of cool. We could call it POW. So we call it POW for short, when we're talking to people, we answer the phone, POW, how can I help you? It's-

Steven Pope:

POW, how can I help you? There you go. That's great.

Jeff Delacruz:

So yeah, so I don't know, it just wanted to make it simple.

Steven Pope:

And so right now is the economy's going through this crazy revolution. And as I understand it, you started your company in the middle of the last economic fallout back in 2010.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah.

Steven Pope:

Walk me through that.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. So first of all, I've been a photographer for a really long time at this point. So I remember what it was like to be a photographer before the 2008 meltdown. And so it was me and my business partner in 2008, basically we just lost all our business as freelancers shooting custom stuff, lifestyle stuff. But one thing that kept coming in was these just white background photos, and people just wanted like one or two shots of their product, but as a professional, we would bill it as a day rate, we would say, oh, you want a full day of shooting, that would be $500 to $1000 a day or something like that. And that was just ridiculous if you just wanted one product photo on a white background. So we were like, there's got to be a way we can help all these sellers.

Jeff Delacruz:

And so that's how we created our system where we flat rated per photo, where you can send it in, order online, send us your products, but the Genesis of that, what we came to realize, is that this was the kind of the beginning of the Amazon gold rush and these were sellers that had been laid off of their job, they had kind of maybe lost faith in having job security and they were like, they wanted to take their life into their own hands. And this was a way that they could do it. They could say, I could get my own products from China and resell them on Amazon, or I could create a brand and sell it on Amazon. And it was super easy back then. It's a little bit harder now I think-

Steven Pope:

That's why we're in business.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. That's why you're around here. But back then, it was so much easier. And I think it was a real opportunity for people to kind of take control of their lives. And I think we're probably going to see that again, maybe differently now. I think it's going to be more established businesses that have kind of resisted the e-commerce push that are saying, okay-

Steven Pope:

Now we have no choice.

Jeff Delacruz:

Now I have no choice. Yeah. We have a couple clients like that right now who are-

Steven Pope:

Mad dash. Okay. Yeah. We're going to shoot thousand photos. We need this by Friday. Come on, Jeff.

Jeff Delacruz:

Exactly, exactly.

Steven Pope:

I'm sure that's coming in.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah.

Steven Pope:

It's definitely, definitely chaotic right now. So let's get into the heart of our conversation today. Photography is an art that is hard to get right. And you're an expert you can speak to both the art and the science behind photography. So this question would not surprise me if it took us the majority of our podcast to get through today, but what makes a good photo?

Jeff Delacruz:

Oh man, that's such a-

Steven Pope:

I know, it's a tough one.

Jeff Delacruz:

It's a cultural kind of like dark hole area, because you could really go into like what do we like? What is pleasing to us? What do we need? Maybe we can just kind of compartmentalize this to just like what is going to encourage people on Amazon to click my listing photo? Because when I think about it, when I think about Amazon, that main listing image is the most important image in getting somebody to click and if somebody does a search for like lip balm, a bunch of lip balms are going to show up. One of them is going to be your image and the rest of them are going to be your hundreds of other competitors. And optimizing that image, making that image look good is the real question I think that we need to kind of focus on, I think.

Steven Pope:

Yeah so I agree with you and I teed that question of knowing it was impossible to answer but like, so we're going to try and we're going to try and tackle that question and compartmentalize it a little bit. So clearly a lot of people know at this stage that they need their main photo on white, all up POW photography, pictures on white photography but there's a lot of elements that go into it. So like walk me through why your studio shot is superior to that light kit tent if you will.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. So, I mean, I think first of all you got to get beyond the idea that you just got to meet the requirements, the Amazon image requirements for that main list image is just a product on a white background. That's like the bare minimum. And anybody can really do that. You could just put a piece of white paper and take a photo of your product and you've done it. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about how do I win that click? How do I have my photos stand out? And really it's all about how you light the product. How do you make it different? How do you make it look better? And I think that what that means is different to every product. So for example, like we can shoot a bottle, you were talking about like a wine bottle before?

Steven Pope:

Yeah. So wine glass, nope I don't have wine glass here. Well maybe I do. So a wine glass is very difficult to shoot photography wise because of the lighting because of the refraction of the glass, makes it really, really difficult. So we pack these really well. That's why it took me so long. You can hear that crackling in the background if you're just listening in.

Jeff Delacruz:

It's like a transparent glass with some type on the front, very difficult product to photograph.

Steven Pope:

And as I put this on the webcam, for those that are watching the video, you can see the refraction of the wine glasses. I rotated around very difficult to actually read what's on the glass. And so when I was trying to get this wine glass shot, we would throw liquids into it. We would try and take without a liquid shot and play around with it and it's not easy, not easy at all.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah and I think like a lot of people find us when they're struggling to kind of take these type of product photos because you're just not going to be able to make that look good on your own, not unless you have all the right gear and know how to use it.

Steven Pope:

And that's probably the biggest piece of advice I'd give my listeners is don't even try to take the photos yourself. I would just hire the professional from the start, the cost and the time investment I made personally when I was trying to figure this stuff out is well dwarfed by the ease and use of your product service. And so you cannot just hire a photographer off the street or a freelancer local to you shooting for eCommerce is a completely different game. So walk me through some of the things that you've learned over the years that when you take a photo like mistakes that are commonly made, maybe?

Jeff Delacruz:

Sure. So I'm going to focus on that wine glass and tell you how I would photograph it. And I guess this is just indicative of me being a product photographer who's shot hundreds of products on white backgrounds. And just like the rest of our staff, we can just look at a product and know exactly how to photograph it before we even put it on set. So how I would photograph that wine glass is I would bring it on set, I would set the background and light the background separately. I know a specific color number that I want it to be, which is around 250, which is like a white, but not a hundred percent white. So there's a little bit of density behind it and that density's going to go into the glass itself.

Jeff Delacruz:

Now, the problem is if you just put it in there and light it evenly, then everything's going to disappear. So we're going to need to use some black cards on the sides to kind of create some shape. If you go black, it'll go completely black on the sides and that glass is going to actually reflect it. So you're actually dealing with the reflection of the black cards as opposed to the actual lighting of it. I don't know if that makes sense.

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Steven Pope:

It makes perfect sense to me because I've been through this motion before, but I know it's pretty nerdy for those that are listening, who have never picked up a camera before. That light and some of the keywords you mentioned, light density, refraction, or reflection of the black cards and stuff. I mean, it's complex to get it right. Like I totally get it. So when what do you think is some of those mistakes that could be made, like not putting black cards, choosing the wrong light density number or like what-

Jeff Delacruz:

Well, that's the thing is like, if you're trying to do this yourself, you wouldn't even get to this point of questioning. Like if you're doing it yourself, your basic problems are, how do I get a white sweep and how do I get light coming in? So like I've taught classes on DIY product photography. And the biggest mistake is first of all, trying to do it like a professional, like you're just not going to be able to do it, because in a multi light setup, you need to have an understanding of what I like to call photography math. I was a professor for a while, I taught some photography and one of the things we would teach is how to balance lights, right? So if we have a key light overhead, just lighting the entire glass, which is providing the even light, we'd want to set that at let's just say we want to set that at 1/100th of a second at F16 at an ISO of 100, right?

Jeff Delacruz:

Then we want to add some highlights down the side, which we want to do it like minus one. And we could do that with soft boxes or some sort of reflective panel. And we would light that separately. I can keep going, but I think you kind of get the point, is that if you want to get to this professional level, you need to first understand the photography math, and then understand how to set up the basic tools. So I think you kind of get where I'm going here.

Steven Pope:

I like that. So we mentioned earlier on that there's both an art and a science to photography. The last bit was very focused on that science and you even mentioned photo math. I don't think most people would've thought about that when they're thinking of photography. And that's really interesting to kind of say out loud. If I'm a customer shopping on Amazon, I personally would not know how complicated it is to sell on Amazon. And it's a super complicated process, right?

Jeff Delacruz:

Right.

Steven Pope:

I'll bring a college kid who just graduated out of college and train him and bring him a member of the My Amazon Guy team and usually there's two reoccurring comments I'll get. The first is they're. Surprised at the amount of navigation that they have to do to get a product to sell on Amazon. I would second that's probably applicable to photography. And the second point that they usually make is, man, I had no idea how much stuff goes into this or how complicated it is. So photography very much could be the same boat as well.

Steven Pope:

So as a buyer, when I'm looking at the product listing search page on Amazon and I see these hundreds of commoditized products out there, why would the customer click on this photo versus another is a debatable conversation. So we talked about basic starting point. We talked a little bit about a couple of common photo mistakes and how amateurs can't be professionals and we get that. Is there any tips that you would suggest that let's say someone who was going to hire POW photography, what kind of shots do you think they need to obtain from you to be successful on Amazon?

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. When working with us really the best thing to do is just first survey, the competition, just see what everybody else is doing with their photos. There's going to be one or two that are just knocking it out of the park. And if you can't find any, you can search other product categories with similar shaped products. What you are looking for are photos that just like really stand out to you. And then if you're working with us, all you got to do is just take a screenshot and say, make it look like this. That's literally all you got to do. Point, I want this. And then send us that image in the shot list and then you can also say, "oh, I want it to look like this, but I want the angle, I want the box next to the product instead of this arrangement." So we have arrangements and we have lighting match images that you can provide for us.

Steven Pope:

One of the things I really like about your website is it has a bunch of tutorials on how to go about the ordering process, because it is hard to connect the purchaser of set photos, I.e an Amazon seller to the photographer and outlining the desired outcome. And so you have tutorials on like how to show you those lookalike photos like you mentioned, show the competition. You also have if you want shots taken, shoot them with your cell phone and give us those examples and we'll replicate them. I thought that's a very visual, easy way to transfer the request. And I got to say, I give you props for how your website's built to handle those orders.

Jeff Delacruz:

Thanks. Yeah and the whole thing is like, we know that our customers are not photographers and very rarely do we work with somebody who's able to art direct us at like a really complex level, it's very uncommon. So we have to be able to have a way of communication between a non photographer and a photographer and that way is visual. Just writing it out, like that's not going to help us but taking cell phone shots is something everybody can do.

Steven Pope:

And I think that's a great way to do it. So props to you in boarding that into your website ordering system. Okay, so if you had had the floor right now, and you just wanted to tell Amazon sellers out there a piece of advice, what would you tell them?

Jeff Delacruz:

You know there's really a kind of a progression I think that every seller needs to go through. I believe that every seller just needs to get to market as fast as possible. Just get your listing up there, get your stuff out there and I realize that that might mean just taking your own cell phone photos. And if you're going to do that, there's lots of tutorials out there. We have one with Shopify on how to use window light to shoot it yourself. And it's just a great way to just kind of get up there. But once you're up there, it's time to start optimizing just like you're going to optimize your ads, just like you're going to optimize your copy, optimize your photos because that's kind of the next stage to kind of level up. And you're never going to level up with just these DIY photos, but I do think you should get to market.

Steven Pope:

So I really like that comment because we're very action oriented as an agency. There's a lot of agencies that are perception based and we're like the opposite of that, we don't have a photo of me shaking hands with Jeff Bezos on my website. You can't find that. We're not networking, we barely leave the house because we're so busy. Kind of like what you mentioned, you guys are shooting photos all the time. But getting to market and doing whatever you can to growth hack to get up and running, I couldn't agree more with you on that. Okay so here's some random questions. What's the hardest product you've ever shot and why?

Jeff Delacruz:

Oh man, we had this set of whiskey glasses and it had the contour in it and just like the glass you were showing me, it had this white text on it and first of all, we had to get the glass and then we had to go in there and extract all the text and so that meant selecting it all and just doing it in post. It was a lot of work. So stuff like that is extremely difficult, but I mean we probably shot over 200,000 different product photos over the last 10 years and that's only the one of them so.

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Steven Pope:

Totally get it all right. On the other side of the spectrum, what's an easy product you can shoot all day long?

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. We love shooting bottles. Send us your bottles. But I would say like one of the things that we do really, really good is beauty products because we're able to get really custom with the lighting and our photographers love it because beauty sellers tend to be focused on beauty imagery. There's a lot of really great brands out there that really set the bar really high with their photography. And so people that are new to the beauty category will often reference some of these high end brands and have us match that and we just love doing that kind of stuff.

Steven Pope:

We have a lot of beauty clients. It's very high demand on Amazon. I had one referral tree where my first beauty client recommended like three others and then those three recommended three others. So like we have a lot of beauty clients, yeah so I'll have to keep that in mind. Okay so you probably have an opinion on like there's probably a service that you offer that you think people should take more advantage of or maybe like a photo that customers aren't asking for that you think would just be awesome and make their sales go through. What do you think people are missing right now?

Jeff Delacruz:

So the biggest question that we get is do you guys shoot lifestyle photos? And you know, I think the anatomy of an Amazon listing is really your main listing image, your secondary images that are kind of benefit focused or are feature focused and then these lifestyle images. And for a long time, we weren't able to offer that because shooting lifestyle stuff is really challenging, right? To do a lifestyle shoot for real, kind of like what I was doing as a freelancer before I started POW is a huge production. It costs thousands of dollars. Like we're talking like $2000 just to get into it.

Jeff Delacruz:

And the reason why is because first of all, you have to have a model, that model needs to wear clothes and have their makeup all done. Then you need an environment to shoot it in. And then you got to feed all the people that are there and you got to do the shoot and then you got to do all the post processing and you can really only get like 10 looks done a day if you're really working hard and it's just really expensive. And if you're an Amazon seller, that's just an absurd amount of money to spend for a secondary listing image.

Jeff Delacruz:

So based on that, we started a service pretty recently, maybe about six months ago that we're just really going to market with right now called Amazon lifestyle composite photos. It's kind of a long name, we just call it stock composites is another short name for it, but it's really cool because what we do is we start with a stock photo. So if you go to iStock photo, there's all these images that have been pre-created with professional models and professional scenes in a professional environment. So imagine like a professional model photographed in the kitchen, right? And she's just leaning up against the counter and imagine your product is a blender bottle. Now, instead of actually going out and photographing this blender bottle in that scene, we can actually look at the way the stock photo was created, the lighting and stuff, and then we'll photograph the blender bottle and light it in the same way so that it matches that stock scene, and then our retouches will retouch it into the scene so that it looks perfect.

Jeff Delacruz:

And we're really good at this and it's only 150 bucks per photo, and it's a great way to create these lifestyle photos at a really high end professional level.

Steven Pope:

I've got a client that I'm thinking of would be a good fit for this. They have lights and like flash mounts and stuff like that. They would be a great candidate. I'm going to have, I'm writing that down right now to make sure I go refer that one for composite shots. That's really good.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. We can definitely do stuff like that. Lights on a wall, like you start with a room scene or hanging lights. We can do stuff like that, getting those scenes looking really good. Those lifestyle photos. I don't know, I'm really excited about this new service we're offering.

Steven Pope:

All right. Couple more questions for you. So Jeff, what was the funnest product you ever had to shoot?

Jeff Delacruz:

Oh man. So it's like so many. I have to like go down the list of-

Steven Pope:

You can spout off a couple, that's fine. And then pick you want to talk about maybe.

Jeff Delacruz:

So we did this huge project with Kuron which is this beauty product brand who's really big out in Europe, and they have a US presence. They're not as big out here, but they're a huge brand and they just got really creative with us. I love it when brands get creative with us and they provide really good direction as, as to how to do it. And, and they wanted to do this like hard light look where this hard light shadow was going across their product. It was kind of like an overhead kind of thing. And it really kind of redefined, it created a whole new lighting style for us. And we actually offer a background service called hard light because of them and it was just super fun to shoot and we had a really great time just kind of working around their specs and stuff. So brands, if you're listening challenge us with some really fun and creative lighting.

Steven Pope:

That's awesome. It'll definitely take a creative person to challenge you guys, I can guess.

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah.

Steven Pope:

All right. All right. So types of photos, so there's a lot of different types of photos that can be taken. Could you just quickly run me through the types and obviously you got angle shots and closeups and far aways and whatever, but just walk me through some general photo shots people should get.

Jeff Delacruz:

So in specific to Amazon, you think?

Steven Pope:

Yeah.

Jeff Delacruz:

Okay. So I believe that the anatomy of a perfect listing is a really awesome main listing image. And that image just needs to be really stand out amongst all your competitors. So in that category search or that keyword search, that image has to be different, it needs to pop, it needs to look great.

Steven Pope:

Or nobody's going to click on it to begin with and see [inaudible 00:25:33].

Jeff Delacruz:

You want to stand out, you want to be different. And then after that, there's these other secondary listing images, right? So I think one pitfall that people fall into is just doing the front back inside of their product. That's not what those images are for and nobody cares about that. What people really care about are images that sell features, start talking about what makes your product special. So is it extra big, does it come as a pack, is it tough, is it made of actual glass? So you would take a product photo and then do like call outs on it, maybe little close-up detail shots and instead of just showing what the product is in these secondary images, really sell me on what makes this product special.

Steven Pope:

I like that. So really sell me, show me the context of the item. Interesting pitfall conversation with front back and side, just too limiting. We got to go above and beyond that. Show me the context of why I should buy your product versus other guys' product with front, side, and back shots. That makes sense.

Steven Pope:

Well, cool. Jeff, I appreciate you coming on the My Amazon Guy Podcast today. Photography is a obviously complex subject. Last question for you, anything else you want to tell listeners before we end here today?

Jeff Delacruz:

Yeah. I guess if you're listening today, these are hard times right now. It's crazy out there, but hang in there and now is the time to create a brand and create a product. This is what happened the last time, we'll get through this and yeah just keep pushing forward and keep selling.

Steven Pope:

Well, perfect. Thanks again Jeff for joining me, that was Jeff, the president of POW photography, and we appreciate you coming on. Thanks so much.

Jeff Delacruz:

Thanks a lot. Have a good one.

Steven Pope:

All right. So that's the My Amazon Guy Podcast, feel free to tell three other people about us in your network so we can spread the word for the My Amazon Guy Podcast and we'll be in touch for the next episode tomorrow. Thanks so much.


Written by Jeff Delacruz

Jeff is the President & Cofounder of POW Photography. For the last 10 years, he's been working directly with small businesses owners to help them improve their ecommerce listings with better photos.