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Today’s Topic: Professional Photography for Boosting Online Sales
Online shopping is here to stay. And it doesn’t matter where you are, your competitors are only the click of a button away.
Gone are the days of going store to store to find what you want. Just type it in a search engine on Google, Amazon, Etsy, Walmart, Best Buy, Pinterest, yada yada, hit return, and there are a diverse range of possibilities to suit your needs.
So how do you stand out? What can you do to differentiate your product and your brand?
That my friend is where captivating product photography comes into play. Without images that set you apart, your offerings become part of the vast throng of products that clog the internet, while your competition soars with sales.
The Stumbling Block That Is Product Photography
Chalk it up to lack of understanding in the significance of great product photography, the misconceptions of what makes a great product photo or an unwavering belief you can do it all, so many fall short in this area. My friend, Randy Goldstein said it best:
” I’ve been in the web design business for over 25 years and there’s nothing more important to ecommerce than sharp product photography. Too many use their own phones or cameras and put up substandard images, and good product photography is a necessity to trigger the response to purchase.”
Poor product photography is rampant online, and that offers you the chance to succeed.
You aren’t just snapping a photo. It doesn’t matter how good your camera or phone takes a picture, the creativity and skill of the operator makes the magic.
Even a professional product photographer makes use of retouching and editing magic to create an image that will stop consumers from scrolling to focus their attention on your products.
Since I understand not everyone is ready to hire a professional product photographer, this guide will help you grasp the concepts and techniques empower you to catch your own images. My goal, as yours should be, is to help you get to a point where you can begin to concentrate on growing your business, and outsource product photography creation.
With this in mind, let’s get started!
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Every Click Matters: The Power of Professional Product Photography to Boost Sales.
Imagine you’re scrolling through Amazon, (we’ve all done it…) and a product catches your eye. You click on the product and on the product page, the image is blurry. You notice the colors seem off, and you can’t quite make out the details.
Would you buy it? Probably not.
Quality photos aren’t just about aesthetics; they’re about:
First impressions matter, and for online businesses, your product images are often the first thing a potential customer will see. High-quality photos signal a high-quality product and, by extension, a high-quality business.
Increased Conversion Rates
Consumers want to see what they’re getting before making a purchase. Clear, detailed images help in decision-making and are proven to improve conversion rates.
Enhanced Brand Image
Quality photographs are not just for your website; they should be a part of your entire online persona, including social media. Consistency in imagery across platforms elevates your overall brand image.
When a product is showcased with clarity and precision, it speaks volumes about the brand’s commitment to quality. It’s like a silent salesman, whispering in the customer’s ear, “This is worth your money.”
The Art and Science Behind Product Photography
Professional photography is more than just a click; it’s a blend of art and precision. It is about capturing a product’s essence or soul. You must learn to combine the seen, with the unseen, and know how to help viewers sense that in a visual way.
That is the art, but the technique and science is just as important. Without those, the art will fall flat.
I’d like you to think of professional product photography as the framing of your home.
The frame must be built on a solid foundation that consists of your business ethics and planning, product quality, branding and people. Without a solid foundation, the frame won’t help much.
When you have a solid foundation, the frame must be sturdy and strong or it won’t support the structure or the roof.
Product photography does this, it helps you go from your foundation to your vision for the business by boosting your sales and supporting your goals.
Consistency is key
Whether it’s the style, the lighting, or the angle, maintaining a uniform look exudes professionalism.
In a world filled with filters, Photoshop and AI imagery, authenticity stands out. It’s about showcasing a product in its best light, without any pretense.
Types of Professional Photography for Online Sales
1. Product Photography: The Foundation of Online Sales
Product photography focuses on presenting the product in the simplest, most straightforward manner. For online sales, this usually involves clean, crisp images against a solid background, allowing the viewer to focus entirely on the product.
Importance and Best Practices:
Always use a clean, clutter-free background.
Show the product from multiple angles.
If size or scale is hard to determine, include an object as a scale reference.
2. Lifestyle Photography: Humanizing Your Brand
Lifestyle photography places your product in a staged “real life” scenario. This not only shows your product in use but also gives potential customers a way to visualize the product in their life.
Real-world Applications and Benefits:
It provides context to your product.
It engages your potential customers emotionally.
Excellent for social media shares and engagement.
3. Editorial Photography: Telling a Visual Story
Editorial photography takes lifestyle imagery a step further, usually incorporating models, elaborate settings, and storylines to create a more profound emotional connection with your audience.
Creating an Emotional Connection:
• Use narrative elements to tell a story.
• Create aspirational images that elevate your product or brand.
What Makes A Great Product Photo?
Before we go into how to take more professional looking product images, let’s take a look at what makes a great product photo!
A Unified Look and Style
Consistency is the secret sauce that helps your products and online store present as a real, professional business.
Product photos with a harmonious style convey that your business upholds high standards and is on top of its game. Any deviations from this consistency can divert the attention of potential customers away from your products.
Even in lifestyle images, consistency of style is crucial. Otherwise, you risk confusing online shoppers instead of showcasing your products. And a confused customer is someone who will go somewhere else, costing you sales.
Precise portrayal of your products is paramount. (I just wanted to see how many P’s I could put prior to the period.)
Percision gives customers an accurate sense of the color, size, and details. To achieving this precision, the photographer needs to master the art of photography lighting (to depict colors correctly), perfecting angles (to showcase proportions), and delivering high-resolution images (to preserve intricate details).
Sometimes you will need to go the extra mile to ensure that your photos make your products tangible to the shopper. Some products may require multiple shots, like front and back views, while others might require a reference for scale, such as placing your item next to a ruler or an everyday object that everyone can relate with.
Additionally, product photos should be high-definition so customers to zoom in and scrutinize. Some products may require even higher definition than others. Think of clothing or fabric items, where a shopper might want to zoom in closely to examine stitching, texture, or other nuances.
Remember that high-definition means a larger file size, which takes longer to load on the website. To keep things speedy, you may want to make close-up and macro shots separately to cover everything a customer may want to see.
Accentuate Your Products
Great product photography should elevate your products, showcasing their best features and making them irresistible to customers. At the same time you must keep accuracy in mind. A great product photo should never deceive a customer by making products appear larger or a different shade of color.
Educate Your Customers
Beyond providing an honest representation of your product, great product photography assists customers in making an informed purchase decision. That is where multiple images per product can help. Different views, angles and detail shots can be incredibly helpful.
Think about the types of photos can offer the details and visual information that help a customer who is deciding to make a purchase.
Keep in mind that accuracy and information are related but not identical. An accurate product photo shows the product. An informative product photo makes your customers say, “I want what this product offers.”
The Rewards of Great Product Photography
When you combine a unified look and style, precision of presentation, with a prominent image that informs and educates, the results will be:
Boosted Sales: Your product offerings become irresistible, ultimately leading to an uptick in sales, because stunning visuals capture attention and drive purchasing decisions.
Heightened Customer Satisfaction: Well-crafted product photos help customers find answers to their questions more easily. This empowers them to make confident purchase choices, leaving them more satisfied with their decisions.
Reduced Returns: Offering customers access to top-notch product imagery minimizes uncertainties and second-guessing. This translates into fewer instances of buyers’ remorse, resulting in fewer returns. Your customers will know exactly what they’re getting, leading to happier shopping experiences.
Professional Product Photography vs. The DIY Photographer
This section is specifically for the business owner or hobbyist photographer who wants to take their own product images. It will give you a solid understanding of what goes into taking professional looking product photos, even if you have never taken them before.
Please keep in mind this is a stop gap between starting and getting to a point where you can outsource your images not only to improve quality, but to free you up so you can concentrate on growing your business.
Setting Up Your Photography Studio:
The title of this section may have you thinking you are about to go into debt. Don’t panic, while fancy equipment and lighting do make getting professional images easier, you don’t need them to start.
If you have the budget for professional equipment, I’d still advise you start taking your own product photos on a tight budget. You may decide this isn’t your passion or good use of your time and creativity. If you’ve spent money on equipment and aren’t getting the results you want, you may feel forced to continue because of the investment.
So what do you need for a product photography studio?
First, you will need a space to take the photos. It doesn’t need to be large, but it will require enough space to hold your products and photography equipment. The corner of a room can work, or a space near a window so you will have natural light.
You will also want room to move about, so you aren’t tripping over things. If possible, make this a dedicated space so your equipment is always ready to go. That will save you time setting up and tearing things down. It makes life easier when you need a quick photo too.
Don’t have room for a dedicated space? Use tape to mark where you place your equipment to save time on the next setup. This can help you maintain a consistent look.
What do you need for a product photography studio?
There are five things you will need to get started:
A shooting surface: This can be a lunch or dining room table, a bench, a board sat on two sawhorses, a folding table, even the floor. You will want any type of surface that will hold your products safely, is level and will fit in the studio area. The table will likely never show in your product photos unless you need that type of surface as a backdrop. If possible, set the table against a wall, which will make hanging backdrops a bit easier.
A backdrop: Backdrops eliminate distractions so the consumer can focus on your product. Professional studios have a wide range of backdrops and sets to choose from. For your DIY photography studio, a white backdrop is recommended. This can be a piece of fabric (no wrinkles please), foam core boards, or even better, a roll of heavy white paper or vinyl. Vinyl is easy to clean and white paper can be easily replaced.
Why vinyl or paper? Because you can tape it to your wall and allow it to curve out onto your surface, creating a seamless background.
Having a backdrop you use in all of your photos will help to keep them consistent. Why white? Many e-commerce sites prefer a white background image. Plus, if you need to remove the background and place the product on another color, white is the perfect choice. This way the product will not have a color cast from the backdrop!
A camera: Naturally you will need a camera. It doesn’t matter if it is a phone camera or an entry level DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Learning photography, I often advise you start with something simple and learn the skill. Limitations can inspire your imagination to achieve the images you want.
One important thing about your camera though … you should be able to manually adjust the settings. Point and shoot won’t do your products justice!
A Tripod: A steady camera will be a must for product photos. This will also help to keep your images consistent if you are photographing a bunch of different products. It should be sturdy enough to hold your camera, but you don’t need to break the bank here either.
Lighting: Photography is all about light. The way light bounces off surfaces, the shadows it can create and the color of the light will all affect the image. Color? Yes, light has color, and the wrong color will change the look of your product. That is why color correction is important.
If you don’t have enough light, your image will be dark and look grainy. Too much light and your image will be blown out, over-exposed, and loose detail.
And since lighting is so important, let’s tackle this next.
Lighting For The DIY Product Photography Studio
How is an image made?
I’m not going to pretend I understand how a digital camera actually works, but the way digital cameras are set is similar to the old film cameras – so I’ll describe the process because it is pretty much universal.
When the camera clicks, the shutter opens for a select period of time to allow light onto the film or sensor. The amount of light let in will depend on how long the shutter remains open, and how much light the aperture will let in. The sensitivity or ISO of the film or sensor is another consideration. The lower the ISO number, more light is required. The higher the ISO, the less light you will need.
I will talk about these terms in the next section, but no matter how you look at it, the entire process deals with light.
What kind of light will you need for your DIY studio?
Photographers learn a lot about light. If you are taking your own product photos, you will want to as well. First, let’s talk about the kind of light you use.
There are two types of light – hard light, and soft light. Allow me to explain the difference.
Hard Light: This is direct from the lamp or light source, a rather harsh, very bright lighting. Think of it as your product facing directly toward the bright sun on a cloudless day. Hard lighting has dark, crisp shadows and you need to be careful the image isn’t over exposed.
Soft Light: With soft light, the light source is diffused before hitting your product. If using natural light, think about a cloudy day where the sun is obscured by clouds, yet it is still light out. The light source isn’t directly hitting your product, but being softened by being spread out over a larger area by the clouds. (Or in the studio by a diffuser.)
If you use a window to shoot your products using natural light, sheer gauze curtains can act as a diffusion material to soften the light hitting your product. If the sun is coming directly in the window and you remove those sheers, you will see your shadows grow crisp as it becomes hard light.
For most product photography, soft light is used. Hard light does have a place though, so which ever you decide to use, remember to keep it consistent.
Natural Light vs. Artifical Lighting
Natural light is free and plentiful, although not always available. Need products and the only time you have to shoot is in the evening? Sorry, you are out of luck.
Natural light also isn’t a constant. The light changes depending on the time of day and the month. During a photoshoot, the light can change enough that the images you shot at the start don’t match the ones you took at the end.
For this reason, I recommend you learn to use artifical light. It will offer you more flexibility and you will have greater control over the lighting of your shot.
Taking Control of Your Product Photography Lighting
Photographers talk about things like the “Inverse Square Law” when it comes to lighting an image. Don’t sweat the terms, because you don’t need to know the details, you need to trust your eyes and the camera image.
The closer you place a light to an item, the brighter it will become. Light also spills, or lights up areas around your product. If your product is near a backdrop, the backdrop will become bright as well.
Now move the light further away. Your product becomes darker, but the backdrop fades even more. That is because light falls off. It isn’t lighting as much of the background. The further you move it away, the darker things become.
I also mentioned shadows. How hard light creates a crisp shadow and diffused or soft light creates a softer, more faded shadow.
You can also control shadows by positioning your lighting. The higher you place the light, the shorter the shadow will become. Think about walking outside when the sun is directly overhead, your shadow is beneath you.
The lower the light, the longer your shadow becomes. And depending on where you want a shadow to fall, all you need to do is move the light there and congratulations, you are controlling your lighting!
DIY Solutions to Professional Lighting Gear
Professional lighting gear can be expensive, but luckily, there are several DIY solutions you can take advantage of to save yourself some dollars.
When dealing with artifical light, remember that it comes in colors. I’m not talking about reds, blues and greens, I’m talking about shades of white. These shades are graded by Kelvin scale. Most photography flashes operate at a range between 3200 and 5600 Kelvin. For product photography, I always use 5600K – unless the client needs a specific look.
If you’d like to learn more about Kelvins, I recommend you read this article on Shutterstock: New To Kelvins?
As an example of this, fluorescent bulbs provide a blue-ish light. When you are in an environment lit by flourescent lights, you may not notice this – but your camera will, and it will change the color of your product.
Other bulbs will have a warm white, which can create a yellow cast on your product.
The closest thing to using sunlight other than sunlight, is a full-spectrum bulb. This will offer you the most color neutral lighting so your product remains faithful to its true hues.
You can use a full spectrum bulb in most lamps or clamp lights. One thing to remember is that light bulbs can become hot, so when working with them be careful! Especially if you try to diffuse the light using fabric or paper.
How To Make Your Own DIY Photography Lights
Here are two excellent videos on creating lighting you can use in your product photography:
Here is a list of links to the equipment mentioned in the videos:
$40 DIY Cake Pan Light:
12V AC to DC Adapter – remember to check voltage before buying.
SmallRig Super Clamp – the clamp in the video was no longer available, this will require you to tilt your tripod head.
Cheap Lighting Setup On A Budget:
LED Panel – ( Note, they no longer sell the 2500 recommended in the video)
Foam Core Boards – I highly recommend you go to Walmart, Staples, Office Depot or Michaels Craft to get these.
Please note some of the above are affiliate links, meaning if you purchase an item, it costs you nothing extra but I do receive a small percentage for posting these links here.
Now that you have your studio set up and lighting under control, let’s talk about your camera!
Learning Camera Settings For More Professional Looking Photos
When most people first pick up a camera, they operate everything in automatic. The camera decides how to expose the image and it creates suitable, but rather ordinary image. To get the best product photos possible, you will want to learn how to manually adjust the settings.
It sounds scary at first, but it is actually pretty simple when you think about it – and I’m going to make this as easy as possible on you.
Earlier I explained how an image is made. The image depends on how long the shutter remains open, how much light the aperture will let in and the sensitivity or ISO level of the camera’s sensor (formerly film.) Now let’s talk about each of these and how they work and function together.
What is a Camera Shutter?
Think of the shutter as a solid shutter on a house. When it is closed, the shutter covers the window and no light comes in. When it is open, light will come in through the window.
On a camera, you can set the length of time the shutter will remain open. The longer it is open, the more light comes into the camera. Faster shutters reduce the amount of light that comes in.
Shutter speeds work in seconds and fractions of a second. As an example, a shutter speed of 1 second will allow in more light than a shutter speed of 1/10th. (Nine times more light to be exact.) A shutter speed of 1/200 will let in even less light – and the higher the bottom number goes, the less light reaches the sensor.
Faster shutter speeds also capture moments of time and can freeze the action. If I use a flash in my studio and set my camera to 1/250th of a second, I can capture a splash of wine like you see below!
If you look closely at the image above, you will notice the front edge of the glass is in focus.The further back you look, the focus becomes softer. Why is this? Keep reading and you’ll find out!
Since photography is light, if enough light doesn’t enter the camera, you will have a black frame. That means the faster your shutter, the more you will need to compensate in other ways to have enough light to create your photo.
Professionals use flashes. The flash can be made brighter to place more light on the product at the moment the shutter opens. In your photography studio though, with simple lighting, you need another solution. This is where aperture and ISO come in.
What is the Camera Aperture?
The aperture is an adjustable opening in the lens that lets light through. Think of it as the pupil of your eye. When it is smaller, less light comes in, but when the eye doctor dialates it for an examination, it becomes wider and everything is bright.
Aperture settings are called f-Stops. They tell you how large or small your aperture is. To the beginner, these can be hard to grasp, because a smaller number f-stop is actually a bigger opening, than a higher f-stop, which is smaller. Why?
It is because an aperture’s f-stop is a fraction.
If your aperture is set to f/16 – you can think of it as 1/16th. An f-stop of f4 would be 1/4. If you divided a pie into 4 pieces, 1/4 would obviously be more, than if the pie were divided into 16 pieces and you only got on slice.
The aperture also controls the depth of field, or how much of your image is in focus. A wide aperture has a shallow depth of field. You see this in images with a blurred background. It helps to separate your subject from its background. A narrow aperture has a wider depth of field, meaning more of the image is in focus.
As you can see from the images above, one has a narrow depth of field. The bottles to the front are slightly out of focus, the bottles to the left are out of focus as is the background. That draws attention to the bottle in focus – the hero of this shot. In the Bali Soap image, the depth of field was greater, making the soap labels all in focus.
Can you guess which was the smaller aperture and which was the larger?
If you guessed the larger aperture for the Sparkling Ice drinks you are right. The larger aperture provided a narrow depth of field. That was shot at f/2.8.
The soap image was shot with a smaller aperture, f/16, providing a wider depth of field.
I also used this principle in the wine splash image earlier. The faster shutter used to freeze the splash, required more light to come into the camera, and I made the decision to shoot at f/2.8, which created a shallower depth of field.
What is ISO?
A camera’s ISO controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. In low light conditions, a higher ISO is needed to allow the image to be brighter.
The problem with ISO, is that there is a trade off. The higher the ISO, the more grain or noise that will appear in your final image.
When using film with a high ISO, grain resulted from chemical reaction of the film emulsion. It created tiny variations in density and color which appeared in the picture.
What is strange is that digital cameras, although they have nothing to do with film, experience something similar. Instead of grain, the higher ISO introduces noise into the image. This is due to the electrical signal and sensor performance of the digital camera, which, with a higher ISO creates random pixels of different brightness and hue.
As a result, high ISOs cause a similar look with both film and digital cameras.
While grain may be fine if you are creating something artsy, it is usually not desired in product photography.
The Exposure Triangle
Shutter speed, aperture and ISO form the exposure triangle. Three sides that need to be adjusted to get the best results.
Each side of the triangle controls how much light it will take to create your image. Each side of the triangle has a trade off.
Most product photography is taken with a low ISO for the best resulting image. I usually use an ISO of 100.
To make up for this, I need more light and can do one of three things:
1. Set a slower shutter speed, which can introduce motion blur – not something I necessarily want in a product image. You can prevent motion blur using a remote shutter trigger and leaving the camera untouched on a tripod.
2. Use a wider aperture, which will result in a shallow depth of field. For product photography you generally want the entire product in focus, so that may not be a good trade off either.
3. Have brighter lights. Which is my favorite choice.
Now you know …
Phone cameras, DSLR cameras, Mirrorless cameras and Film cameras all have the ability to adjust these three options.
Now that you understand the features and what they do, I recommend you play with your camera, testing different settings. Experiment to see what you like, what you don’t like and what you need to avoid.
The best way to get good results with a camera, is to take a lot of pictures, critique them, ask friends to critique them, and continue to improve your skills and compositions.
Shooting Camera RAW
What does Camera RAW mean?
A raw image is uncompressed data straight from the camera’s sensor. It is a lossless format, meaning that captures everything the sensor sees. Some refer to a RAW file as a digital negative, it has to be processed before it can be used.
Think of it as the raw ingredients of cookies, you have to mix the ingredients to produce something that looks and tastes delicious!
Is a RAW file better?
Most professional photographers will shoot in RAW format. The file has a higher dynamic range which preserves more details and colors. The wider color gamut, which means they can display more hues and tones to create a richer image.
Is it better to shoot RAW or JPG?
.Jpgs are a smaller file without as much detail. While .jpgs are great for sharing the images online, by shooting RAW and editing it properly, you will end up with a much better image. By editing the RAW file, when you finally convert it to a .jpg, it will be the best quality of product photo for your online store.
Basically, if your camera allows you to shoot RAW, it may require a better editing software, but you will also get a much better image!
Are You Ready to Start Taking Product Photos?
No, no you are not.
Sure you have a studio area, a backdrop, lighting, a camera and a tripod, but those are just the tools.
You may understand how to adjust your camera’s shutter speed, aperture and ISO, but those are just technical skills.
In this section, we will discuss preparation.
Planning A Product Photoshoot
To start planning, you will need ideas. You don’t want to copy someone else’s images, but you can be inspired by them!
Look at your competition’s images, what do you like, or not like about them?
Do a search on Pinterest for your product niche to see what others are doing in the marketplace. How can you improve upon their images?
Search on Pinterest, Google or Instagram for creative product photography. You can get ideas from other product niches and types of photography to incorporate into your work.
Make notes, or better yet, create a swipe file so you can look at the images during your photoshoot to see what the photographer did, how they did it and how you might do something similar.
Creating Your Shotlist
If you take your products into your DIY studio without a plan, you will be wasting a lot of time. That is one reason planning your product photoshoot is so important.
What photos will you need? How many? What type? Are there any specific angles you want to capture? Details that need to be shown? How will you be using them? Will you need extra space for copy or should the product “fill the frame”?
Make a shot list of everything you want. This way, when you go to photograph the products, you will know exactly what you need to do, and can check things off as you go.
For more information and tips on how to prepare for a successful commercial product photoshoot, click here.
How To Prepare Your Products
For photography to boost your online sales, the images have to be clean, and so do your products. Little things your eye doesn’t notice will become glaring issues in a photograph. Among these culrpits are fingerprints, smudges, wrinkles, minor defects and dust.
Like a movie star goes into makeup before cameras start rolling, your product needs to look great for it’s moment of glory.
Remove any labels or tags that will detract from the image. If there is adhesive residue, use Goof Off or rubbing alcohol to clean the surface.
Inspect every small detail of the product to make sure there are no printing flaws on the label or packaging. Also check that there are no nics or defects. Generally clients send several of each product to the studio so I can select the best for photos. You need to give your product that attention too.
Metal should be polished, glossy surfaces buffed to remove smudges or fingerprints. (Gloves come in handy here!) Fabrics should be ironed to remove wrinkles. Finally, you want to make sure there is no dust!
Some products can be prepared in advance, others will need to be cleaned prior to the image being taken. Since you are doing your own product photography, be sure to grab a can of compressed air so you can blow dust off your product before taking the picture.
Keep in mind that the quality of the product photos you take will have an impact on your sales – so pay attention to the details!
Organize Your Products
If you are taking photos of your own products, keeping them organized and knowing what you have in an image is fairly easy. You know your product line.
Budding product photographers however will need a method to keep the products organized when shooting.
The easiest way to do this is use either string tags or post-it notes.
Write down what the item is, it’s name, product number, etc. When you start to photograph, make sure to get a picture of the tag or note first. Then remove the tag or post-it note and take your photos.
By shooting the information at the start of every image, you will have markers to tell you where you started and stopped. This will help you when it comes to editing and image selections.
Time To Take Test Shots
With everything set up, cleaned, organized and planned, you would think it may be time to start snapping those product pics. Not yet, but don’t worry, you will be capturing those beauties soon.
Now is the time to test your photography studio setup and camera knowledge.
Don’t skip this!
Test shots help you determine where to position your camera, know where your lights, reflectors and diffusers go. Take as many shots as you need, digital images are easy to delete!
If you can, connect your camera to a compter, laptop, tablet or monitor. This will allow you to see things the tiny viewer on the back of your camera won’t reveal. Not sure how to connect your camera to a computer? Check your user manual, or even easier, ask ChatGPT! It can provide a step by step guide to walk you through.
Why Test Shots Are So Important
Experimenting helps you to find the best possible way to configure your lights, set up and camera settings.
By fine-tuning these aspects now, you won’t start shooting your products and discover something mid-shoot that needs to be addressed. Any changes could harm the consistency you’re “shooting” for.
Experiments and Discoveries
Experiment with bright and dark colors. Shoot large and small items. Take images of different surfaces, from matte to shiny metal to glass.
By experimenting with variables, you can uncover any weaknesses in your studio setup. You may find that your lighting arrangement creates unwanted reflections on shiny products. Or that you need to add fill lighting to your image through using a white bounce card or reflector.
Try different camera settings to discover which work best for your lighting and style. Fine-tune every aspect of your lighting, product and camera settings, until you can consistently create sharp, clear images that are perfectly lit, using a wide range of products and surfaces.
Creating the Perfect Product Photos
Now it’s time to finally start capturing your product images!
Refer to your image swipe file to get ideas on how you want to arrange each product to look its best.
Will you be using product photography props to support or display the products.
While photographing your products, remember to take shots of various angles and sides. It is easier to move the product than your camera. This way you will have consistent lighting and framing for each image.
Check your shot list and swipe file to be sure and get the images you need.
As you go, if you come up with extra ideas, try them out. Go for diversity, multiple angles, closeups, wide shots, side views, rear views – give your shoppers a complete look at the product! It is always better to have too many photos, than not enough. The last thing you’ll want to do is set up all your equipment and backdrops again because you missed that one shot!
Storing Your Product Images
Once you have taken your product photos you will need to keep them safe and know where they are should you ever need the files in the future. Here is how I safeguard my clients’ files.
As I take the images, they are stored on the memory card in the camera, and also uploaded to my laptop computer, which will upload them to a private file on the cloud. This way, should anything happen to the files, or even my computer and storage, there is a backup that is considered “off-site” and can be downloaded, keeping their images safe.
I prefer to store image files on an external, solid state hard drive. I used to work with regular external hard drives, which have moving parts encased inside. After having a couple of them fail, I have switched to the solid state. These have no moving parts and offer extremely fast transfer speeds.
Organizing Your Images For Easy Retrieval
When you start accumulating files, they can quickly get out of hand if you don’t keep them organized. I hate organizing things, yet even I find this an easy method to use!
I start with a folder titled: Photo Collection – (Year)
Inside this folder, I place folders for each client, along with a folder titled personal, for my own projects.
When I shoot for a client, I open their folder and create a new folder titled with the date of the shoot.
Inside of that file, I create two more folders, one titled: RAW – (date). This is where all of their RAW images from that shoot are stored.
I also create a file titled: EDITS – (Date). This is the same date as the shoot, although edits usually happen following. I just want to know what shoot the edits belong to when I look at the folder.
I may have a bunch of shoot date folders in each client folder, and inside each is a RAW – (date) and EDIT – (date) folder containing their images.
This makes locating their files extremely easy. I just go into the Photo Collection of the year the images were shot, open their folder and go into the appropriate shoot to access things.
How Long Should You Store Product Photos?
RAW images are rather large, and JPGs pile up. Buying multiple external hard drives can become confusing and they aren’t cheap. That means keeping all those images is costing you money. So how long should you hold on to the images?
If you are shooting product photos for your online store and the images are of your products, you can hang on to them for as long as you want. If you drop an item from your store, then you can delete those images if you want.
If you are shooting professional product photos for clients, you should spell out how long you will retain the files and encourage them to download the images to store in a safe place.
My contract states that I will hold on to the images for a year before deleting them and following that, it is their responsibilty to make sure they have copies. In truth, I generally hold on to the images for at least two years because I know that some clients will come back needing help – and I want to keep clients happy.
The exception to this rule is if you charge licensing rights to your clients. In that case, I recommend holding onto the images in case they wish to extend or expand the license and need the images in a different format.
How To Edit Your Product Photography Like The Pros
Almost every product photograph you see in advertising has had some post-processing magic applied.
Editing an image has it’s limits. You can’t fix everything in Photoshop or another imaging editing software. That is why you want to take care and make sure to get the photo right when shooting.
As you take more and more images, if you retouch them yourself, you will learn what can and can not be fixed in the edit. This will help you improve both your photography and editing skills to make things run faster and much smoother.
Editing product photos or any other type of image is a complex subject. There are so many tools (softwares) and possibilities it would be extremely hard to share everything in this article. I will however provide some advice and an overview on the process my images go through. Hopefully they will help you with whatever editing software you decide to use.
Editing Software For Product Photography
Most of the professional product photographers I know work with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. These are available as a subscription on the Adobe website.
When I first started photography, I wanted to stay away from subscriptions. I was used to the old, buy the program, put it on your computer and use it model of business. Software and computers update so fast these days, I’ve got to admit, the subscription to Adobe is truly worth the investment.
• Adobe Photoshop
One of if not the best photo editing software available today. Adobe Photoshop offers an extensive selection of editing tools which now, also include AI to help you do even more. There is a learning curve because it offers so many possibilities, but learning to edit in Photoshop has so many advantages, it is worth the time and effort.
Almost every image I create undergoes some Photoshop. Plus you have varied subscription offers, and the Photography Plan includes both Photoshop and Lightroom, plus some cloud storage, which I mentioned when we discussed storing your images.
• Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom has features that will allow you to work seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop, so it is the perfect companion.
If you hook your camera into a computer running Adobe Lightroom, you can not only use the monitor to see your images in a larger size, but import them as they are taken. Lightroom will allow you to control your camera’s shutter, aperture, ISO and to take the pic all from your computer without even touching your camera!
When I start to edit my images, I pull all the RAW files from my shoot into the software. Then, using their single image display, I can look at each file and determine the ones I want to keep. Those are checked for import.
Lightroom is also great at organizing photos. When I am ready to import them, I can create a file in Lightroom where all of those images will reside. It doesn’t change where you store them outside of the program, but it does pull them together as an organized cluster within.
Another feature of Lightroom is the ability to batch edit your images. You can select one, edit the image to your liking, and then easily sync selected images, applying the same settings to other photos in the group.
Lightroom allows some editing features to be accessed within the program, which can come in handy for simple things like cleaning up some dust on your product. Need to do more? You can send your photo to be edited in Photoshop, save it when finished and go back to Lightroom to finalize your editing and export the image.
• Affinity Photo
Hesitant to pay a subscription? Mac users, try Affinity Photo. It has many of the features of Photoshop and does a great job if you take the time to learn it!
• Clipping Magic
I do not have any personal experience with Clipping Magic, but have heard some people speak very highly of this option.
Clipping Magic is an online tool that is specifically tailored to e-Commerce images and graphic design. This means you will need to upload your images onto the website, edit and download the edited images when finished.
The Clipping Magic website will allow you to White Balance and color correct your images, rotate and straighten images, cutout your subject, change backgrounds and much more. The subscription plan is pretty reasonable and if you are on a budget, this may be a good option for you.
Another online editing option is PicMonkey. You may use it from your web browser or grab apps for both Android and iOS. The retouching tools help with eCommerce images, but my personal opinion is that PicMonkey is more a graphics editor that also works with photos.
The software offers templates for Instagram, YouTube, creating presentations and invitations as well as logos. At the time of this writing they offered a free trial, with three subscription levels. The levels and pricing were almost exact duplicates of Clipping Magic’s offerings, even down to the email support.
One thing to be aware of, PicMonkey and some other image editing software will offer filters. Avoid these as they can change the color of your products which can create unhappy customers and returns.
Want to go the free route? You will be limited, but there are options.
Probably the best option for a free image editor is GIMP – GNU Image Manipulation Program.
GIMP is an open source free software, compatible with Windows, macOS, Linux, and other operating systems. If you are a programmer, you can customize the software yourself, or you have the option of using third-party plugins.
Because it has a ton of features, it too has a pretty intense learning curve. There are YouTube videos that can help you shorten your learning curve.
This free software is only available to Windows users. You can get it from the Microsoft Windows store, and the website is at: https://www.getpaint.net
Beware there are ads on the site that look like you can click a button and download Paint – that is not true, they are ads and you need to be careful what you download for free on the Internet. Go to the Microsoft Windows Store for the actual software.
• Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe Photoshop Express is a free app available for iOS, Android and Windows. Barebones, but free, it makes color correction, brightness and contrast adjustments easy.
Before You Purchase A Photo Editing Program
Not all photo editing software is listed here. You can go to any search engine and get lists of free and paid software to edit images. You may find one that will work better for you and suit your needs.
The most commonly use techniques for retouching a product photo include:
- color correction,
- color balance,
- healing brush
- blemish removal,
- clone stamping,
- paint brushes, and
- background removal.
You should make sure the software permits:
- layers allowing you to edit without changing your original image in case you need to revert back.
- curves for dodge and burning your image (I’ll cover that in a moment,)
- a high pass filter,
- an overlay and multiply filter, and
- drop shadow capabilities.
Before you buy or commit to any software, read user reviews and watch review videos on YouTube. Learn what others think of the software, where it excels and what it lacks. This will help you make an informed choice.
My Photo Editing Process for Product Photos
If you over-process a product photo, it begins to look fake. You want to have a light touch, yet still make certain your photo will POP! and catch someone’s attention. Here is my process …
1. From the product photoshoot, I load the RAW images into Adobe Lightroom and cull the images I want to use. Cull means to select the images you want, getting rid of any that suck. And we all get them.
Once the keepers are imported into Lightroom, I will go through each image of a product in turn to see which one(s) I believe are close enough to my client’s brief. Those will get a fast edit to make sure the colors are correct, that the exposure is right and that the image is straight. These are then exported as small files with a watermark so I can present my client with a gallery.
If you have taken the photos for your own use, you will be able to make the selections right away. For photographers who are taking images for clients, this allows your client to choose the images they want for their campaign. Those will be the ones you actually edit, which will save you time and effort.
2. Going back into Lightroom, I will remove any images the client did not select from my working folder. This way I can concentrate on editing the photos they want. Since color correction has already been applied, and the image is at or near the correct exposure, my next step is to retouch the shot. To do that, I will have Lightroom send the image to Photoshop.
3. Photoshop is where I do all the heavy lifting. My first step is to keep the original image untouched. To do that, I will make a copy of the image and place that layer on top. All edits will then take place on the copy layer and above.
4. Clean up the image of any dust or distractions comes next. Create a blank layer over your duplicate background. This will be the level you use to create a clean up mask.
I use a couple of different tools. to remove dust, stray hairs or lint. My favorite is the spot healing brush, just dab it on the speck of dust and it disappears, usually. It does this by sampling the area around the brush and placing it over top of the image flaw.
Sometimes the spot healing brush creates a smudge look and that ends up looking horrible. In this case, there are other tools to help you out. You can use the healing brush, which allows you to sample the area you want to use to place over the dust or flaw. If that doesn’t work, try the clone stamp. Set the selection area for the stamp and paint over the flaw.
Finally, if none of these work, try the patch tool, which allows you to draw a selection around the flaw, then move the selection area to the sample area. The result, the sampled area appears to cover the flaw.
Be sure to check all over the image, not just on the product. Check your surface and backdrop too. Take your time to clean up the image. Zoom in to correct things, then zoom out to make sure your repair doesn’t show when you view the entire image. As I mentioned before, this will be your 24 hour a day representative!
5. My next step is to check for any dings, dents or label flaws. These get repaired in a similar fashion. for some dings or dents that affect the shape of the product, I will use the lasso tool to make a selection of a similar area and copy the merged layers, pasting the copy on top. You can they move the copy to line up and cover the ding.
If you do this, most of the time, the edges will show, so give the pasted layer a mask and use a soft black brush on the mask to blend in the pasted section.
6. Another common problem will be a flaw in a product’s printed label. The ink didn’t flow right, leaving white specs. This can be easily corrected by sampling the color around the spec, and then using your brush to paint the color in.
7. Dodge and Burn – This term dates back to the days photographers would develop their own negatives and make their own prints. It was a term that meant to lighten or darken an area of the photo by adding more or less light.
Dodge means to lighten, Burn darkens an area. This creates a higher contrast and can help make your product jump off the page with a more 3D appearance.
In Photoshop, there are dodge and burn brushes, but here is how I do it…
Above the retouched image, I will create a curves layer. Grabbing the adjustment line in the center, I will pull it toward the top left corner, until I just get a nice arc and the image doesn’t grow too bright. I name this layer Dodge, then invert the curve layer’s mask so the adjustment disappears.
Next I will create a second curves layer, this time pulling the arc down in a similar curve. This layer darkens the image, and I name it burn, then invert it so the effect doesn’t show.
Now I work backwards, starting with the burn layer selected. By using a white brush and brushing lightly over the layer where shadows are, you will see the curve effect starting to appear in those areas, making them darker. If I screw up, I just change the brush to black and paint away the effect. Once I am happy, I will apply a Gaussian Blur to mute the effect and watch it blend into the image.
The same is done with the dodge layer, painting in the brighter effect where you want the image lightened. Again, blur the effect and you have just brightened and darkened certain areas of the photo, helping create a more 3D feel.
If you feel the layers make too much change, adjust their opactity to fade the effect.
8. My final step is to create a merged top layer of all my layers. This puts everything on one level. Then, I will add a high pass filter to that level. The highpass filter should have a radius between 1.8 and 2.4. This will create a gray layer with the lines of your product showing. Set this layer’s blend mode to overlay and the gray will disappear, but the lines will help to sharpen your image.
At this point, I will generally add an inverse mask to hide the effect, then use a white brush to paint the effect back in over the product’s label. This makes that section of the image sharper which draws attention. I may also create a curves layer to brighten the image, inverse that, and paint it back in over the label so it is a bit brighter than the rest of the image.
Don’t make it noticably so, but the eye is drawn to the brightest part of an image, and your customer’s eye will be focused on your brand!
Now the image is cleaned, enhanced and ready to wow the world. But there are still some steps you can take to improve it even more.
Additional Product Photo Editing Tips
There will be plenty of times you want to cut out your product and replace the background with another color or image. This is almost a guarantee.
Today, almost every photography editing software will do this with the click of a button. The problem is, they aren’t always accurate. In fact, more often than not, they will miss some areas. So how can you do it?
Cutting Out The Background of your product photo
There are several tools in Photoshop that can help with background removal, all of them have a place and are used in different situations to create the best possible cut out.
The best method is the pen tool, but that has a pretty intense learning curve. Once you master it, you can simply use the tool to draw an outline around your product and use a mask to hide the background. Why use a mask? Why not just cut it out? Because you may want to bring some parts of the image back. Using a mask, you can use a soft brush to paint out or replace areas. (A white brush reveals, a black brush conceals.)
You can then create a solid color or gradient layer beneath your product layer – and the background has magically changed.
The problem with this is the fact the product’s cutout edges are so crisp, that it looks exactly like what it is, a cut out on a background. That gives off a fake vibe and doesn’t help you earn consumer trust.
Fixing The Problem
In order to help your product to look as if it were really in the environment of the new background, there are several solutions you can use.
If your program supports anti-aliasing, you can you that to help smooth the crisp edges of the cutout by blending the pixels that make up the image. Another option is to feather the edges of your cutout, which creates a soft blur. By adjusting these tools’ settings, you can achieve a natural looking edge that places your product in the picture, rather than leaving it sitting on top.
Other tips to help your image blend into it’s new surrounding are:
• Create a shadow – you can do this with the drop shadow filter to create a shadow under your product, making it look more realistic in the setting.
• Add a reflection – this can be accomplished by duplicating your product layer, flipping it vertically, moving it beneath your product layer and sliding it down until the bottom edges meet. Change the reflection layer by reducing the opacity and then add a mask, and using a very large black brush with soft edges, start painting out the lowest part of the reflection. This will make it look as though it fades out.
• Do both, add a reflection and a drop shadow.
No matter what, be sure to make these subtle, you don’t want to call attention to them, you want that to remain on your product. These are just techniques to help make your composite image look a bit more realistic.
Optimizing Your Product Photos
I wrote a whole article about this subject titled: How To Optimize Product Photography For Search Engine Success. While I will give you an overview here, I highly recommend you check it out at some point.
As the photographer of your own images, you will need to know how to first, optimize your photos for your website, then how to make the most out of your photos to help with SEO. Let’s start with web optimization.
People don’t like to wait for websites to load. Unfortunately that is a huge issue in itself because so many things can slow your website down. (Including your hosting company … grrr.) One thing you don’t want is your images to be the culprit.
There are two styles of files I recommend to my clients. The first and most common, is the .JPG file. This type of file offers you smaller file sizes so they can load faster. The second type is the .PNG file, which is a larger file size and can include transparency. There is a third, the GIF file, which can include animation. GIF files can end up being much larger though and can definitely slow things down.
Ways To Reduce File Sizes
Online, you can use a much lower resolution than you can for a high resolution print ad. When printing an image, you want it to be 300 dpi (dots per inch). When viewed on a monitor, the image can be shown at 72 dpi. That in itself is a significant savings in file size.
Online images can be smaller and still appear large on the screen. Different platforms need different sizes. There are guidelines for Amazon, Etsy, Pinterest, Instagram, WooCommerce and the list goes on. By making the images the proper size, you again save on file size and you speed up the load time since the software doesn’t have to scale the image to fit the space.
When scaling images, I always do this in Photoshop and export the resulting file. This will help you get the cleanest image when scaling the photo.
Once the photo is exported, I will run it through a program called JPGmini, which will further reduce the file size, and honestly, you can’t tell the difference even when you pixel peep. (Zoom in really tight and look around for changes.)
As a business owner, you should be doing keyword research on your products. Knowing how people type them into the search engines and what they look for, helps you create content to market your wares.
Your image file names do nothing for you if they are named: R6_2378.jpg. That tells search engines nothing. Rename that file to: Vanilla-Scented-Candle.jpg, and you can bet the search engines will know what the image is!
The image metadata, alt tags and desciptions are important signals for SEO too.
That touches on the basics, so click the link above if you want to know more.
Now Let’s Talk About Professional Photography for Online Sales
Now that you see how much work and knowledge goes into creating high quality professional photography to boost your online sales, the investment doesn’t seem so bad does it? You can save yourself a ton of time, trial and error and lost sales by hiring a professional photographer.
A professional product photographer will have insights from working with clients across a range of product niches, and web developers who share their knowledge of online business. When you add a professional product photographer to your team for a campaign, you’ve got someone who can help your business raise to the next level.
Plus they can offer you additional services we haven’t even discussed yet. As an example, I can also provide my clients with:
Stop Motion Animation
Let’s create some excitement around your product photos with stop motion animation. It’s dynamic, it’s engaging and it’s perfect for websites or social media! Think of it as bringing your products to life, frame by frame.
360° Spin Photography
360° spin photography is the future of eCommerce available today. Static images are great, but when consumers can interact with your images, rotate them to see different angles and zoom in on details, you’ve gone next level! Studies show that product pages that offer 360° spin images retain consumers longer, get more interaction and have a greater chance of getting the sale than a static image counterpart.
How to Choose the Right Professional Photographer
Always check the photographer’s past work to ensure it aligns with your brand’s aesthetic.
Good photography is an investment, but it should also fit within your budget constraints.
Choose a photographer skilled in your specific product category for best results.
Preparing for Your Photography Session
Crafting a Style Guide
A style guide ensures consistency across all images. Click here to learn how to create a style guide.
Product Preparation Tips
Ensure all products are clean, undamaged, and ready for their close-up.
Coordinating with Your Photographer
Open communication is key to ensuring the shoot goes smoothly.
Post-Photography: Editing and Optimization
Professional retouching is crucial for removing any imperfections and making the product shine.
Don’t forget to add alt text, file names, and image descriptions for SEO.
Using Images in Marketing Strategies
Your images are multi-purpose assets that you can use not just on your website but across all marketing channels.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does professional photography cost?
The cost can vary based on the type of photography and the photographer’s experience.
How long does it take to get the final photos?
Typical turnaround times can range from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Can I use these photos for social media?
Absolutely, high-quality photos are versatile and can be used across different platforms.
Are You Ready for Professional Product Photography for Your Online Sales?
Professional photography for online sales is more than just point and shoot. It’s a craft. It’s a commitment. And most importantly, it’s a game-changer for brands looking to make their mark in the digital world.
High-quality images build trust, increase conversion rates, and enhance your brand’s overall image.
Ready to skyrocket your online sales?
Feeling inspired? Take a moment to evaluate your current product photos. Do they resonate with your brand’s ethos? Do they captivate and engage?
If you feel there’s room for improvement, let’s chat.
Reach out using the form below to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation call, and let’s discuss how we can elevate your brand’s visual game.
Discover How Professional Photography Can Elevate Your Brand
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