-originally appeared on DesignSponge.com–
For better or worse, each photo in your store is a piece of marketing, pitching it in a split-second to shoppers and to 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 to 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 Unique LA flyer?” 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 IT!
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, we 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 for your own shoot, or can you get them?
For example, the inspiration board and final product shot above is from my own (Janette’s) shoot. I realized I liked 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 notes on lighting, poses and more.
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 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. You can communicate whatever vibe you want in your main product image, and use your additional images to provide context. There’s a reason 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 the buyer can envision their gift-giving experience. Storenvy lets you include five images per product.
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 shirt blank you print on, and photos of the shirt on a model aren’t as important. We’ve been known to keyword search for our favorite blank, the American Apparel tri-blend!)
4. Lighting, lighting, lighting!
Lighting will make 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, that’s 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 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 so much less. Use a basic point-and-shoot camera’s automatic settings — your camera will know what to do. For close-ups, switch to “tulip mode” and make sure your viewfinder is focused where you want it. This mode also gives you a lovely depth of field (when 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: Getting the right crop, contrast and 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 your photo looks good cropped to a square, as Facebook and the Storenvy marketplace shows a square-shaped thumbnail of your image. And on Storenvy marketplace product pages, we have a set width but not height, so vertical pictures get the most screen space.
Contrast + Color matching: You love Instagram as much as we 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!