How to Take Killer E-Commerce Product Photos on a Budget

When your business depends on great photos, tread the DIY route carefully.
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Research different photography styles and decide which will fit best with your brand. (Photo: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the world of e-commerce, product photography can make or break your business.

“A photograph’s purpose is to convey the essence of its subject, to tell a story and to relay a feeling or message. Even if the subject is an inanimate object, there is something to share,” explained Ashley Blencoe, professional photographer and owner of Blencoe & Co. Photographic Arts.

Ashley Blencoe

“A photograph’s purpose is to convey the essence of its subject, to tell a story and to relay a feeling or message. Even if the subject is an inanimate object, there is something to share.” -Ashley Blencoe (Photo: Ashley Blencoe)

The success of your online business depends on how well customers can visualize your product without seeing it in person, but not all e-commerce merchants can afford a professional to capture that perfect shot. Blencoe offered a few tips for small business owners who want to try the do-it-yourself approach to product photography.

Craft your concept

Just like writing a business plan and building a brand takes thought and strategy, business owners should be intentional about their approach to e-commerce photography, said Blencoe.

“You can’t just haul your wares outside in the sun, grab a few snaps and expect customers to be enthralled,” she said. “So much of what a professional photographer does is romancing the product — learning about how it’s used, who uses it and why — then using that info to effectively place and style the product so that the resulting image is an enticing, gorgeous representation of what the consumer will just ‘have to have.’”

When formulating your e-commerce strategy, take time to ponder who would need these products and why they would want them, she advised. That way you have a plan for creating photos that entice, convince and call the customer to action.

Related: Food Photography Tips for Chefs and Restaurateurs

Research different styles

Blencoe said there are three main styles of product photos: clean-cut, lifestyle and in-use.

Clean-cut product photos are taken with a solid white background and show a variety of angles so customers can quickly and easily view the item with minimal distractions. A white box is relatively inexpensive to purchase, or you can make your own white backdrop using butcher paper or white curtains.

Lifestyle photos draw the consumer in by showing the product in a real-life setting — such as a crib set in a pristine nursery or a pair of hiking shoes placed artfully next to a scenic overlook. These are designed to touch upon the socioeconomic and lifestyle expectations of the shopper.

In-use images are educational in nature and give shoppers a glimpse of the product in action. If you were selling a purse, for example, your in-use photo could feature a fashionista carrying the accessory as she walks down the street in an impeccably matched ensemble.

“Each style creates its own expectation and impression of the brand, thus attracting a certain type of consumer,” she said, emphasizing that most online retailers use a combination of all three image types to maximize their appeal to different types of shoppers.

Related: 3 Ways to Use Consumer Psychology to Boost E-Commerce Sales

Invest in a real camera

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Invest in a proper camera — the quality of your images will increase immensely. (Photo: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock)

The No. 1 mistake that many small business owners make when doing DIY product photos is using the camera that’s built into their smartphone, said Blencoe. When your business depends on quality photos to showcase your products, a real camera is worth the investment.

“Shooting on a proper camera is going to boost the quality of your images immensely. At least pick up a simple point-and-shoot from a main brand, like Canon, Nikon, Sony or Fuji. Better yet, get a simple digital SLR (body and lens) from any of these brands and ask a photo-savvy friend how to use it,” she said.

If you must use a smartphone camera for your product photos, at least purchase a cheap phone tripod to minimize blurriness and never, ever use photo filters, said Blencoe. Your photos must always accurately reflect the product as it would be seen by the naked eye.

Related: How to Optimize Your Website Images for Search and Social

Pay close attention to lighting

Any photographer will tell you lighting is key. To capture the perfect shot, Blencoe said you must first understand the impact light plays on a photo’s subject.

“The larger and closer the light source is to the product, the softer and more beautiful the light will be. A small light source further away from your subject will [appear] harsher,” she said.

When scouting when and where you will take your e-commerce product photos, look for an area with indirect and consistent natural light. Direct sunlight or a focused camera flash will create harsh shadows, so try using a large lamp instead to more evenly spread the light.

“Take test shots from various sides of your product to see which looks best,” Blencoe advised. “You can place a white piece of foam board on the shadow side to reflect the natural light and fill in some shadows. This is a great setup for lifestyle and in-use product shots.”

Related: 7 Tips for Creating Effective Client Testimonial Videos

Remember, in an e-commerce environment, your photography is a major part of your brand, said Blencoe.

“It sets the bar for what the consumer should expect upon interacting with [your business],” she said. “Product photography informs, educates, excites, explains. When done well with even a small amount of instruction and effort, the positive end result can make a brand.”

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