This is a guest post by Holly. Holly is the founder of Pixc, an on demand image editing company. She has a passion for eCommerce and design. When she is not working, she loves travelling and drinking a good coffee.
High quality product photos are the key to increasing your online sales. It’s not just about taking flawless shots — you need to optimize your images for eCommerce so that they showcase your products in the best possible way and give your store a professional look. In this guide, I’ll show you how to set up your shooting space, prepare your camera, and make your photos retail-ready so that you can take photos that really sell your products. Let’s go!
Part 1: Set up your shooting space
Set up a white backdrop
For professional-looking product shots, you should shoot against a white backdrop as it’ll reflect light onto your product. The best kind of backdrop is a photography sweep, which is where the vertical surface curves down and seamlessly transitions into the horizontal surface.
You can use any white material as your sweep, though my personal favourite is white wrapping paper because it’s slightly more reflective than other surfaces. The tricky part is standing it up. If you’re photographing smaller products, a shooting table is an all-in-one solution. It doesn’t take up much space and it’s easy to re-position. You can buy one online or easily make your own — just nail two scraps of wood to an old square table, and clamp your sweep to the top of the planks.
If you’re shooting larger products, you can buy a sweep and stand online, which will save you the hassle of setting up if you plan on shooting regularly. Otherwise, you can use disposable hooks or duct tape to fix your sweep to a wall, or improvise and drape it over some furniture.
Use natural lighting
You can take high quality product photos that convert without forking out a huge sum of money for artificial lighting. That being said, artificial lighting does take a lot of skill to be able to use properly, so unless you’re willing to invest the time and money, it’s not really worth it.
Natural lighting is the easy and affordable option, and will also return great results. The key is to use it indirectly, so opt for a spot indoors by a window rather than outside. If you’re getting an overexposed product or can see harsh shadows, it means your lighting is too bright. Just diffuse it by covering the window with a white sheet or some white paper; this will ‘soften’ the light source.
In terms of positioning, the window should never be behind or in front of the camera. For best results, the light source should hit the product from either the left or right of the product. In a perfect world, you’d have windows directly opposite each other, hitting the product from both sides.
However, if you’ve only got one window, you’ll find that the lighting will be unevenly distributed across the product due to the fact that it’s coming in from one side only. You can balance this out by placing a fill light on the other side of the product, to bounce the light back.
If you look at the photos below, it’s easy to see that the right one has been shot with a reflector, as the shadows on the chair’s underside aren’t as noticeable.
The simple solution is to buy a reflector online. They’re cheap and designed for exactly this purpose. However, if you’re not going to shoot frequently, grab a piece of cardboard and cover it with some aluminium foil, and it’ll have the same effect.
Part 2: Prepare your camera
Use a tripod or smartphone mount
This is especially important if you’re going to shoot with a slow shutter speed, or if your product has a lot of intricate detail. Plus, your hands will be free to move the product around, and your framing will be consistent across all your shots.
Use a self-timer
Even if you’ve steadied your camera, pressing down on the shutter or tapping the capture button on a touch screen applies a bit of pressure to the camera. Using a self-timer will allow for your camera to restabilize itself and help you produce track-sharp photos.
A timer as short as 2-seconds will suffice.
Part 3: Make your photos retail-ready
Remove the background
eBay has found that listings with better product photos are 5% more likely to sell, so take the time to optimize your images for eCommerce. Nothing says professional product photography like a clean white background. It’s clean, simple, and will draw attention to your products, which will lead to higher conversion rates.
You can use an online automatic background removal tool or Adobe Photoshop’s magic wand and quick selection tools, but nothing will give you a cleaner and better cut than the pen tool in Photoshop.
Start by opening your image in Photoshop and selecting the pen tool. Place an anchor point anywhere along the edge of your product, and work your way around the product until your clipping path is complete.
The clipping path is straight by default, but you can manipulate the shape of the line. When you click to place an anchor point, simply hold down the mouse and drag it — you’ll see ‘bezier handles’ appear and moving them around will bend your line. This video will give you a better idea of how they work; you’ll need to practice to get the hang of it.
Once your path is complete, hit ‘Selection’ at the top, and you’ll see a selection line appear around your product.At the top of the Photoshop window, click Select > Inverse. The selection line will then appear around the background. Press delete and you’re done!
Quick tip: If you want to save the image with a transparent background, save it as a PNG or PSD file. JPGs don’t support transparency, so saving it as a JPG file will automatically add a white background to the product.
If a purchased product doesn’t meet your customer’s expectations, they’ll most likely ask for their money back and/or never shop on your site again. What good are product photos that sell that leave your customers angry and disappointed?
Save the fancy filters for Instagram and ensure that you represent your product as accurately as possible. Limit the editing to a few minor brightness and contrast adjustments. If you’re Photoshop-savvy, use the ‘Levels’ feature as it’ll give you more control over the way lighting is distributed.
If you find that the colours are a little off, you can also adjust the colour balance of the photo to match what the product looks like in real life.
Consistency is key
What good are high converting product photos if they don’t look great together? Professional-looking product shots won’t sell your products as effectively if your website looks messy and disorganised. Whether we realise it or not, consistency and ‘evenness’ are aesthetically pleasing.
All your product images should be the same size, and each product should take up the same amount of canvas space (around 90%). The easiest way to do this is to create a template and apply it to all your images.
Start by picking the size you want all your images to be. The best size for a product photo is around 1200-1600px on the longest side. This is large enough to use across social media without stretching the image, and also allows for an effective zoom function.
Note that the image you upload to your store is known as the ‘base image’ and it’s resized and scaled to the various image templates across your store. The way a zoom function works is that it actually just shows you the base image, so the image at its original size. For an effective zoom function, you need a base image that’s significantly larger than all your image templates to give the viewer the impression that they’re ‘zooming’ in.
You should also think about the shape of your products before deciding on your dimensions. If you’re selling products that are longer vertically, you’ll want a portrait template, otherwise you’ll have a lot of blank empty space on the sides. Similarly, if you’re selling products that wider horizontally, you should opt for a landscape template to avoid unnecessary extra spacing on the top and bottom.
If you have a combination of the two, play it safe and go for a square template. In general, square templates are the most practical as they work for all social media and eCommerce platforms.
Once you’ve decided on the size you want, create a blank file in Photoshop with those dimensions. The idea is to paste each product into the template, resize it, and save it as a new file.
For perfectly aligned product images, use Photoshop guides to help you resize your product. Create guides at 50% horizontally and vertically to help you identify the centre point. Next, create a border at anywhere between 85% to 95%, depending on how much white space you want around the product (keep in mind that you’ll also have padding between the images on your site or the selling platform you use).
Use these lines to help you resize the product – keep dragging the diagonal corners inwards and repositioning the product into the centre until either the top and bottom or left and right sides of the product JUST touch the guidelines.
You should never make the product larger than the original photo. Stretching the product will reduce the quality of the photo and pixelate the image. If your product is too small for the template, you’ll need to adjust the template. It’ll still be consistent with your other product images if you keep it in the same ratio and keep the guidelines in the same position.
You could essentially crop or adjust the ‘canvas size’ in Photoshop, but this won’t allow you to achieve perfectly aligned photos. If you look at the two rows of earrings below, the top one was created using a template, and the bottom one wasn’t. Even if you’re not the type of person that organises their wardrobe by colour, I’m sure you’ll agree that the top one looks much better!
Keep the file size small
We all get a little impatient when browsing the internet, and online shoppers are no different. Did you know that 47% of users expect a webpage to load in under 2 seconds? Seeing as 40% will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load, you’re going to need images small in file size to ensure that you have a speedy site.
To clarify, image size refers to the width x height of an image, whereas file size refers to the amount of storage space the file will take up (KB, MB, GB etc.). High converting product images are large in image size (as mentioned above) but simultaneously low in file size. Naturally, larger image size = larger file size, but there are ways to compress images without significantly reducing the quality of your photos.
My favourite way is to use the ‘save for web’ function on Photoshop. Open your file, go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy…)and a dialogue box should appear. Saving the file at a quality level of 60 (the default setting) will bump the file size down to below a megabyte, which is perfect for eCommerce, without decreasing the image size and without noticeably reducing the quality of the photo.
If you look at the two images below, the earrings on the left were saved as a regular JPG at a quality level of 12 (maximum). The earrings on the right were saved as web JPGs at a quality level of 60 (high). The compressed image is a little less saturated, but other than that it’s still a high quality photo that won’t slow down your site.
Provide multiple photos
Remember that your customers can’t see or touch your products, so to really increase your sales, you need to help visitors to your store really visualise what the products look like. The easiest way to do this is to provide multiple product images.
Start with the hero image, which is the one one that represents the listing. This image should feature the entire product from an angle that clearly showcases what it is. In most cases, this will just be a front-on shot, but there are exceptions — shoes are usually photographed from the side, plates from above, and chairs from a 45 degree angle. The easiest way to determine what’s best for your product is see what other stores selling the same type of product are selling.
After that, you should include photos from multiple angles to really showcase the product.
So there you have it! A complete guide on how to get high-converting, traffic-driving images! Grab your camera, nail your setup, shoot your products, and optimize them for eCommerce. If you have any questions or tips of your own, make sure you reach out in the comments!