Is Poor Product Photography Killing Your Design…and Your Sales?

So you’ve spent the big bucks to have your e-commerce site/template designed, and you’re feeling great about your professional-looking online store.  But possibly even more important than having that well-designed site is having great photos of your products.

Wait, did I just say that?

But yes, it’s true.  Nothing kills a professionally-designed site like poor product photos, for two big reasons:

  • Your site design may rock, but if your photos look like snapshots taken with my kiddo’s Fisher-Price camera, as a potential customer I’m wondering it I can trust the quality of your product.  Your pretty site seems like high-quality wrapping paper on a potentially low-quality item.
  • Buying online is a giant leap of faith if the customer has no previous experience with the product.  They can’t hold it in their hands, feel the quality of it, try it on, smell or taste it.  Without the ability to do those things, the customer has to rely on YOUR images to convince them that they need to hit the ‘add to cart’ button.

Now I know some of you are saying “But I’m using the pictures the manufacturer sent me!”  And I feel you there.  Unfortunately, sometimes those pics aren’t the best, especially if they’re a small business.  We won’t go into why this happens (it befuddles, I know), but the fact is you are the one now needing to sell these products, and you can do something about it.  And no, you don’t need to hire a professional photographer (though if it’s in the budget, most definitely…and building a relationship with that photographer will reap big benefits).

Camera

I’ll address this first, as it’s always been the first thing I’ve been asked in regards to DIY product photography:  Do I need to have one of those expensive DSLR’s to get a professional-looking picture?  While I consider it a great investment in your business and something to consider down the road if it’s not feasible now, the answer is no.  I’ve seen plenty of great product pics using a simple point-and-shoot camera (and don’t underestimate your smartphone…especially the newer ones…I’ve taken some fab shots on my iPhone, particularly outdoors with lots of good light).  But if you are using a P&S (or smartphone), the next few points become especially important.

K.I.S.S.

When you’re taking the shots, this is the single most important thing to keep in mind.  Keep.  It.  Simple.  My favorite principle for both my design and my photography.

Even if you’re selling a lifestyle item that benefits from an action shot (think hiking boots), the customer still needs to see a nice, clean, uncluttered image of the product.  I recommend shooting on a white background, especially if you don’t have a photo-editing program to go in and remove the background from around the product (though again, another great investment…and you don’t have to splurge on Photoshop, there are many good, less-expensive options out there).  This is a great example of this type of shot from Anthropology’s site.

There are some wonderful portable photo studios you can purchase, but if it’s not in the budget now, grab a roll of white butcher paper and tape some on a wall (making sure a section is on the floor as well) for smaller items, or a nice thick cotton sheet for larger.  Get into a brightly lit room for your photo shoot and start playing around.  You may find that shooting with the flash turned OFF gets the better shot, especially if you’re using a P&S or smartphone.

Angle It, Baby

When an item catches your eye in a brick-and-mortar shop, what’s the first thing you do?  You pick it up, turn it around and look it over.  Give your online shoppers the same experience and consider offering a few different views of the product.  It’s also a great idea to zoom in and get a close-up of certain details (for instance, the unique detailing on the hem of that cute toddler skirt, or the unique pocket on a camera strap or baby carrier).  For reference, think about Zappos.com…you can see these shoes every which way, brilliant!

A few other tips…

  • Make sure your shots are crisp and well-exposed (not too dark, not too bright or washed-out)
  • Get up nice and close…you want the object to almost fill your viewfinder.  Especially if you don’t have good editing software to crop it in…you don’t want to lose image quality in cropping.
  • For jewelry, clothing and accessories, consider using a live model in one of the shots.  I know I’m terrible at envisioning how something will look on, so it’s helpful to see it on someone else (don’t necessarily think full-body…many times just a tight shot of the item on the model will do nicely).
  • For bath & body or food products, consider shots that evoke the senses.  A dry, straight shot of a container of body cream isn’t doing much to entice the viewer…open the lid, add some relevant items that bring the idea of scent and taste to mind (notice the fab shot at the beginning of this post from Bella Lucce).
  • Shoot your images in high-resolution.  It makes image editing much easier, and the files can always be saved at a lower, web-friendly resolution (you can’t go low to high).
  • If you don’t have or aren’t comfortable using photo-editing software, consider sourcing it out.  Many web/graphic designers, including myself, offer image editing and enhancing for a very reasonable cost.  It’s a much less expensive option then hiring a professional photographer, and will give that professional oomph to your pics (though we can only do so much, so don’t expect miracles on an out-of-focus shot).
  • And if you still aren’t comfortable behind the camera (or simply can’t find the time) another terrific option to consider is finding a budding photographer that’s looking to gain some experience and pad their portfolio.  Hit the photography department at local colleges…chances are you’ll find a handful of students that would be thrilled to be of assistance!

If you’re a DIYer with product photos, please share helpful tips and things that have worked for you in the comments!

If you’d really like to get serious about studio product photography, here’s a great post about set-up and lighting!

By | 2016-11-18T10:57:59+00:00 January 24th, 2012|Improve Your Image|5 Comments

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5 Comments

  1. Kimberly ~ Gypsy January 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post!! I tell so many people to do any number of these things on a regular basis. This holds true for any auction site or sites like Etsy and Artfire, as well. If I come across a great description/item, and the photos are really bad, I will not buy that item 🙁 Good pictures really do make a difference!!!

    • Tracey January 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      You bet! I cringe all too often at pictures, and I guess folks just don’t think it’s either a., a big deal, or b., attainable. But it’s HUGE, and easy to get better pics on the cheap if a pro isn’t feasible. Hoping it’s a helpful post! 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

  2. Christine Brady January 25, 2012 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Hey Tracey,

    This is sooo true! I had an e-commerce store that I sold late last year and pictures are absolutely crucial.

    When you think that the pic is all the consumer has to judge if they want to purchase or not – they are something to invest in for sure!!!

    Great advice!

  3. GoddessintheGroove January 26, 2012 at 2:17 am - Reply

    Thanks for this post! I love making my pendants, but when it comes to photographing them..argh!! I use my daughter as a model, but have still not found a good way to take the detailed, close up pics. My camera stinks..it is always hit & miss. I am yearning for a Pentax KR, but my budget says Elph 300. Can you recommend a more economic (and not so complicated) photo software?

    • Tracey January 26, 2012 at 9:21 am - Reply

      I’m glad you found it helpful! 🙂

      Have you taken a look at Photoshop Elements? I have many clients that use this program and find it user-friendly (and much less expensive than it’s big sister ;)). I know I’ve seen it at my local Costco for a good price, but it’s on sale right now at Amazon. There’s several other options too…let me know if you’re using a Mac or Windows, and I can recommend a few others as well.

      Jewelry shots can be tough…another thing I’d recommend doing is surfing some other Etsy shops and online stores and see how others are setting up their shots to get some ideas for a look that appeals to you and flows well with your style. But again, keeping your work of art the focus of the pic, without a distracting background is key (unless you’re shooting with a camera that can control the aperture, which would blur the background)…you want your pieces to jump out of the pic!

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