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Biz Ladies: Five Tips For Taking Your Best Product Photos Yet


Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Janette Crawford, a writer who loves sharing stories about good design. Janette is also the founder of Storenvy.com, the world’s only store builder and marketplace in one, and the voice behind the ethical fashion blog FashionLovesPeople.com. Today Janette shares some of her tips for taking gorgeous and effective product photos. Thanks, Janette, for sharing your advice! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

For better or worse, each photo in your online store acts as a marketing rep for your brand, pitching it in a split-second to shoppers and the media. Whether you’re taking your own photos or working with a photographer, here are five tidy steps (plus a bonus tip you’ll love!) for how thinking about your e-commerce photography as your most important marketing tool will help you take your best product photos yet.

1. Plan your photo shoot from a marketing perspective.

As anyone who has sold online before knows well, the key to making sales is to market your store. So as you’re getting ready to shoot your product line, make marketing your top priority. The best way to get photos you love is to create a “filter” for them. Ask yourself: Would these photos fit in a products post by Grace on Design*Sponge? or Would they fit on a Renegade Craft Fair ad? Create a list of the 10 or so outlets where you’d LOVE to see your products featured, and take product photos accordingly. Don’t hold back — the more aspirational, the better. Look closely at the types of photos that those blogs, magazines and events regularly feature. Now . . . COPY THEM!

2. Create an inspiration board for your photo shoot.

Now that you have your inspiration images to copy, pull those images together in an inspiration board. Use Pinterest, or if you want a layout like the one above, use Photoshop. (For quick and dirty layouts, I sometimes even use Keynote and then take a screenshot). Look at what’s similar among the images you like, and take out the ones that don’t fit. Keep in mind what you can reasonably pull off. Ask yourself: What resonates with you most? Do you prefer plain white backgrounds or styled backgrounds? If you like styled backgrounds, do you have the props you need, or can you get them?

For example, the inspiration board and final product shot above are from my own shoot for Fashion Loves People. I realized that I like white backgrounds with a bit of texture and interesting model poses. I asked a friend to use his office space with painted brick walls, a friend to model and a friend to shoot. I shared my inspiration board with each of them in advance, including my notes on lighting, poses, etc.

Create a clear vision for your photo shoot, and you’re halfway there.

3. Help people imagine owning your product.

In your store, once you get people to your product detail page, give them ALL the information they need to buy it. Help them imagine it in their world. Studies show that providing views from multiple angles increases conversions and decreases returns. If you’re selling a wearable item, show it on a person or dress form (it still surprises me how many big brands don’t do this, especially with shoes!). Show your product’s scale. Communicate whatever vibe you want in your main product image, and use your additional images to provide context. There’s a reason why Zappos shows seven angles of each shoe and has videos for most products. If you sell a giftable item, you might use one of your photos to show how you package your orders, so buyers can envision their gift-giving experience. Plan on five images per product, which is standard for what Storenvy and most e-commerce options let you include.

Use your product description to give all the necessary product details — dimensions, what size the model is wearing, etc.

(The exception to this rule can be basic tee and tank styles. Tell shoppers what brand and style of blank shirt you print on, and photos of the shirt on a model aren’t as important. I’ve been known to keyword search for my favorite t-shirt blank, the American Apparel tri-blend!)

4. Lighting, lighting, lighting!

Hands down, lighting makes the biggest difference between a good photo and a bad one.

The simplest advice for great lighting is one you’ve probably heard before: Use natural light, and make it soft and diffused. It will (almost) always be best. For small products, shoot by a window with bright but indirect sunlight — my favorite way of doing this is to curve a piece of white poster board against the seat and back of a chair, creating a seamless white background. For outdoor shots, shoot on an overcast day, in the shade or at dusk (what many photographers call “the magic hour”). Shadows can be OK, as long as they’re not too harsh and don’t distract from your product.

With the right natural lighting, the quality of your camera matters much less. Even a basic point-and-shoot camera’s automatic settings will give you a nice result with good natural light. For close-ups, switch to “tulip mode” and make sure your viewfinder is focused where you want it for a lovely depth of field (where the focal point of your photo is crisply in focus, and the back- and foreground are blurry).

5. Devote as much time to editing as you did to shooting.

Your photo shoot is just half the fun. Literally — you could spend as much time editing your photos as you did shooting them. In post-production (which is what you call editing, because you’re a pro like that), focus on three things: (1) getting the right crop, (2) contrast and (3) color matching.

Crop: You most likely already cropped your image appropriately through your viewfinder, but even so, you’ll see on screen where you might be able to improve. Front-and-center photos are often best — for product shots, the classic photography “rule of thirds” doesn’t necessarily apply. Make sure it looks good cropped to a square, as Facebook and many marketplaces sometimes show a square-shaped thumbnail of your image. Many marketplaces have a set width but not height, so vertical pictures often get the most screen space.

Contrast + Color Matching: You love Instagram as much as I do, right? So you know the beauty of simple photo enhancements. Even iPhones have a simple enhance tool that brings out the best of any image. In Photoshop, I’m a sucker for Auto Levels and Auto Contrast. But trust your eye on these edits, and don’t go too far. It’s easy to see each tweak as an improvement, but not always. I like to keep a copy of my main inspiration image up on my screen, matching the color tone in my edited image to the tone of the photo I’m aspiring to. And even more importantly, the first rule for editing product images is to make sure the color of your photo matches the color of your product.

For these more technical tweaks, as well as touch-ups if you need them, photo editing web apps have gotten pretty amazing. To find a free or cheap option that suits you, Google “free photo editing,” or search Mashable for their lists on photo editing apps. Photoshop now offers a scaled-down $100 version of itself called Photoshop Elements that will let you do all the photo editing tricks you need. The example above is my own — shot on my kitchen countertop! I broke some of my own rules, namely not using natural light. But obviously, retouching made all the difference. In Photoshop, I tweaked Levels, Contrast and Saturation; used Selective Color to remove yellows; and Cloned white into the corners. (If you haven’t used Photoshop before, you’re going to love it.)

But wait, there’s more!

6. Bonus Marketing Tip! Make your promoters’ jobs easy.

After your photos are shot, edited and generally beautified, go back to the blogs you listed in Step 1 and figure out the widths of their main content column. (On my Mac, I do this the low-fi way by taking a screenshot — command-shift-4 — and pulling the hash horizontally across the column. The top number shows me how many pixels I’ve pulled it across.) Size each of your key shots to each blogger’s width and email those photos and a blog post written in their tone about your products. Whether they cover it or not, your efforts will not go unnoticed.

Case in point: I did exactly this for the contributed blog post you’re reading right now, and yep, things worked out pretty well!

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31 Comments

Kristy Kelley

This post was meant to be for me today! We are having our photo shoot for our wine racks today and these are great tips!

– Kristy @ Wine Logic

Laura Felicity

Great post! I’ve been thinking about re-doing some of my product images! Thanks for the great tips, especially the bonus one :)

anon

awesome! great tips…although i slightly disagree with #5. i’m totally from the school of thought that you should do everything you can do get it right in camera the first time. of course, post work is always necessary, but there are so many steps you can take (like white balancing your camera) to lessen post time. not everyone loves photoshop ;)

amanda

thanks for this, as always design sponge pulls through with some more great advice.
kirsty, how funny this post is in perfect timing for me as well but for our wine bottles! what a coincidence.

Brett Torrey Haynes

This is a great post. As a blogger who features artist from around the globe, I’ve skipped featuring some very talented handmakers simply because their images/photos were subpar. Blogs & sites definitely have a style aesthetic that we try to maintain and we will choose images accordingly. Good reminders!

Erin

These are great tips! I’ve been learning as much as I can pick up as fast as I can to get my Etsy shop in gear, so thank you for these ideas!

Erin

Love the tip about researching the blog’s max width. Why didn’t I think of that? Also, another great program for photo-editing is Lightroom. I find it much more intuitive than Photoshop and you can save settings, which saves a lot of time.

Eleanor

This was a really helpful post. Maybe I can keep going with my point and shoot a wee bit longer :)

isabelle

A fantastic article I am sharing with others who need it, some more desperately than others.

Caitlin

ANON – True, but not everyone is camera saavy. Some of us are better at photoshop!

Jenni

I needed this. I am about to do a major overhaul for my online holiday shoppers. Thanks so much for the tips!

Coby

Creating an inspiration board for your photo shoot is such a great idea. Looking at it just before and during the process can really help with inspiration and clarifying your ideas.

Joan

Super post! As always, just in the nick of time…! You are such an inspiration — and so practical!– with these How to’s . Thanks!

Morgan

I really liked the observation about Zappos’ product photos and how they show the client every angle of the shoe. Zappos is the only place I buy shoes, and it is for this reason! I never thought to compare myself to such a large scale business, but really… why not!? Great advice!

Andreea

This is so helpful! I’m launching a new product soon and have been thinking about hiring a photographer or shooting myself and with these great tips I think I can at least try to do it myself. Will keep you posted. Thanks for the great tips.

Lauren

Thank-You for posting this article; It was exactly what I needed to Read. Photography is such a vital element when it comes to marketing your work. I will be graduating college soon and will be looking at showing my work. These photography tips are a great help and I will be using them in the future. I have taken a few photography classes and these tips are a great reminder on how to produce quality images and accurately showing your product. I will take these tips as others should as well. We all know the design world would benefit from quality images. Thanks for helping artist become better business people!

ECONICA

For quick and dirty layouts, I sometimes even use Keynote and then take a screenshot – Ha-ha! – this is exactly what I do when I am short of time. works really well….

fatema

I have been using the edit software that came with my camera and am reasonably happy any thoughts?

Dorothy Gorczyca

Hi Stephanie! Do you have any camera recommendations for an up and coming blogger? Also, what software do you use to make the collage of different items like your photo on the post that has “Design forMankind”? Thanks!

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