And we remember 80% of what we see and just 20% of what we read.
So if your product photos are, let’s just say…less than stellar, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
How many websites have you gone to and immediately said “nope – not for me,” just because of the images on the homepage?
But taking amazing photos of your products doesn’t mean you need an expensive camera and equipment.
You can use your iPhone, natural light and free editing apps to take photos that will help you convert more sales.
Today’s guest, Chaitra Radhakrishna, walks us through exactly how to make it happen.
*There’s a 100% chance this has some spelling errors. I know you won’t hold it against me.
Dave Gerhardt: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening to another episode of the Ecommerce Marketing Show. I’m super excited because today we’re actually switching things up from a traditional interview where we kind of…well, not that it’s switching up from a traditional channel, but we’ve never talked about the importance of product photography. So I’m super excited because I have Chaitra with me and she has a really interesting story. She’s going to not only tell you her background, but most importantly, dive into the power of product photography. She’s seen some amazing results for her own business and hopefully leave you with a couple of tips. So hopefully we we can help give you a little bit of a makeover on this episode.
But first, give us some background on who you are and how you got into this, because I know you started your career as an engineer, and then now here we are on the Ecommerce Marketing Show talking about photography for your Shopify store. So what’s your journey been?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. So in 2014, I moved to the United States. I was working as a research scholar in Carnegie Mellon University. And at that time I started a blog, just as a creative outlet, it was a beauty and lifestyle blog. So at that point I started blogging in the evenings, but I quickly got curious about how to grow my audience. And I started doing a lot of research on how to build an audience, how to build traffic and that kind of stuff. At that point, when I was doing all this research, I came across this story, which I think I should share, because it’s just so important, even in the context of product photography.
So the famous vacation rental, Airbnb, was founded in 2008 and it was close to shutting down in 2009. The company’s revenue was at $200 per week at that point, and the founders were forced to max out their credit cards, they were close to shutting down. One afternoon while browsing the New York City listings, they were just trying to figure out why things weren’t working for them, and they recognized a pattern. All of the 40 listings had photos that sucked. The photos were dark, unattractive and of poor quality. So people weren’t buying just because they couldn’t literally see what they were paying for. So the team came up with a simple solution, they went to New York City, rented a camera, went to each of these 40 listings and replaced all the amateur photos with beautiful, high quality photos. And just one week later, the revenue doubled to $400 per week. So from $200, they went to $400 in just one week, and that was a turning point. And now they’re a big billion dollar revenue business.
I think that story kind of says it all about product photography, but in my own journey, at that point, after I read that story, I came back, I looked at my blog, the photos sucked, and I looked at all these other blogs that were doing really poorly. So I started trying to improve the quality of my photos. And as I improved the quality of my photos, my audience started growing – it went from 4,000 page views to 50,000 page views in just a matter of six months. And then I had brands, like many lifestyle and beauty brands approaching me for content collaboration. So that’s how my journey started in photography. And then I started sharing more about design and photography on my website, that grew, and I started my own design and photography studio. It’s been running for five years.
Dave Gerhardt: Amazing, that’s an amazing journey. You’re having fun too.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Oh yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Why do you think that…because it’s interesting, we talk a lot about growing, doing the things to grow your business. So we talk about ads, we talk about email, we talk about copywriting, we talk about conversion, but you wouldn’t think on the surface that like, hey, make your stuff look better and you’re going to bring in more traffic. Why do you think that works? Why do you think making your site experience look better, why do you think that actually works from a traffic perspective?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: So the brain actually processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and that’s some kind of nerdy thing we all know. So basically when a customer lands on your website, they’re unconsciously forming their first impression based on the images. So before even they read text, they’re looking at the images. So people buy from brands that they trust, and if the images are of poor quality, then it’s really hard to build that trust and connection with your customers. Also, people remember 80% of what they see and just 20% of what they read. So again, product photos have that little bit of a competitive advantage when it comes to capturing attention and creating memories about your brand, which I think is what marketing is all about.
Dave Gerhardt: I love that you brought the engineering side to explain the logic there, which is like, the actual math behind it. It makes sense. The first impression is everything, especially in ecommerce, whether everybody knows that if you’re scrolling on Instagram, you need within that first three seconds of that video or that ad to catch somebody’s attention. So I think a lot of people know that, but why do you think a lot of people know it, but then you actually go to the website and it doesn’t look great. Is it that they think like, I’m not a photographer. I can’t go do this. Do you think that’s why that happened?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: I feel like they’re into all the other marketing pieces and they just sometimes ignore the product photography part. And sometimes they feel like they want to spend money on all the other things and when they come to product photography, they just don’t have the budget for it sometimes. So there are a mix, and sometimes when they’re trying to do it themselves, they try to take their own product photos, they just don’t have the right techniques and tools or whatever that is required to do the product photography.
Dave Gerhardt: So if you were starting a new, just I want to understand like how important this is. If you were starting a new e-commerce brand, you said, typically people think about it last, we figure out Facebook and website and email. Would you start with photography first if you were building the foundation of new business?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: I would, because it’s a huge piece of the marketing material. So even before you go to Facebook ads, or even before you build your website, it’s important to…I’m also a website designer. And before building the Shopify website, I need the product photos in place because content first. Just like how your copy is important, photos are just as important. I remember you did this episode with Val Geisler and she was talking about this dinner party strategy, Remember?
Dave Gerhardt: Yes, yes.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Saying the whole dinner party strategy thing about calling somebody for dinner. But I feel like product photos is like the invitation to the dinner. If they don’t like the invite itself, they’re not even going to show up to the party. So I think it’s one of the most important and first pieces that people need to pay attention.
Dave Gerhardt: I love it. I always do this, but that’s what I want the clip of this episode to be, like product photography…yeah, this is where we’re going to clip that. It’s perfect. It’s the perfect analogy. It is the dinner party strategy, it lets people know, like what you said earlier. This is how you get people to know, like, and trust you. They’re going to walk, it’s no different than a brick in mortar store. Who knows if we’ll ever go to one of those again, but you walk into the store and you instantly make a first impression about whether this place is for you or not.
Okay. So I want to get into some of the tactical stuff, because you have really good stuff and I want to make sure that we give people that. So one thing that stood out for me in the prep notes and questions and stuff that we had is you can do a lot of this without fancy equipment. We all have one of these, and it seems you think that we can do a lot of stuff. Take me through some of it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. So people often think product photography, let’s buy a DSLR camera, invest in all these crazy lenses, lighting equipment. And then their photos still don’t look great. That’s because it’s not the tool, but it’s the technique that matters. So if you know the right techniques, then you can take better photos with your iPhone than many people would with their expensive DSLR. So I just feel like it’s about mastering the techniques on your iPhone and the basics of photography, and that I think can help you take much better photos.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay. Can you teach me? I actually want to know. I feel like I should have this, but I don’t want to have that photographer’s eye. Teach me, I want to know exactly what I can do on my phone right now to start taking better pictures. Teach me live on this call.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: So one of the first, okay, let me grab my iPhone too. So one of the first things you got to master when it comes to photography is lighting. So before even going to the camera, first thing you need to do is set up your scene for the product well. So start with a $10 Ikea table, your smartphone, a small tripod and some phone apps and you’re golden. So the regular iPhone camera app is great for taking the photos, that part, then next thing you need to do is find the biggest window in your house and set up that $10 Ikea table next to it, within zero to three feet, just so we can ensure even lighting.
Dave Gerhardt: Do you want the light behind you or from the side?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: From the side, from the side, from the side for most products, unless you’re selling something that has a glare to it, like reflective surfaces, like glass, jewelry, that kind of thing. Then you want back lighting. For everything else you want side lighting.
So the next step is to set up a background on which you want to take photos. For backgrounds, you can order seamless paper backgrounds on Amazon, or you can order some really fancy ones online too, if you want to step up your game. Third thing, set up your scene on it and if the lighting is low, then just put a $1 foam board on the opposite side of the light to reflect the light back onto the surface. So the foam board-
Dave Gerhardt: Got it, so literally just can go on Amazon, get a foam board somewhere and then that’s just going to act like it’s boosting the light on the side from behind it to give it a little glow?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: From the side, yeah. And the back you would just have your background.
Dave Gerhardt: Got it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Natural light is what I recommend, the sun is good enough for lighting. People order all these great artificial lights and whatnot, but all you need is natural lighting, unless you are in a really dark room and you have absolutely no light, then you would go for a small light box. There are so many YouTube tutorials to help you set up a simple $10 light box. So go for natural light whenever possible. You don’t need to have sunny days to shoot for photos. Contrary to what most people think, cloudy days are the best days to take product photos. So yeah, all that you need is some sun, a tripod, a $10 Ikea table. And then now let’s go to the phone, because you asked about the phone.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. So, when you open…
Dave Gerhardt: You have the 11 too, the camera on this is amazing. So like that alone probably does a good job.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: No, it doesn’t.
Dave Gerhardt: No? It doesn’t?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: That alone will not do the job. There are so many other things to it.
Dave Gerhardt: Ah, okay. I’ll shut up. Go ahead.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Okay. So first the thing is when you tap on the screen, you can see a square up here. Can you see that?
Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, I can see it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Okay. And on that you can see a sun icon on the side.
Dave Gerhardt: I don’t have a square icon.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: You need to tap it.
Dave Gerhardt: Oh, there we go. Okay. I see the sun.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. And then when you put your finger on the sun and pull up and the lighting goes up, like the exposure goes up.
Dave Gerhardt: Oh, uh-huh. I got it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: When you come down, the exposure comes down.
Dave Gerhardt: I had no idea.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Most people don’t. Whenever I share this they’re like, this was awesome, because it just instantly changes the exposure in your frame, which is awesome.
Dave Gerhardt: Yeah.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Which one do you want? How do you know? How can you just use your eye to know if it’s too bright?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah, I would say adjusting on the less brighter side, if possible, than going very bright, because then you can fix it during editing. But if you go very bright, then you can’t fix it on editing.
Dave Gerhardt: Got it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: So just be good enough, not too much. Use your judgment, yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Got it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. The first step is lighting. These are some simple things, like what I just shared is a simple thing you can start off with. And the second very important thing is styling your photo. Like you said, oh, so my camera should do a good job. Yeah, but if the scene is not good enough to start with, then no matter what you take, it’s important what photo you’re taking. So what is in the photo also matters a lot.
So the second step which I recommend taking care of is styling. So styling is basically visual storytelling. This is where you bring in all the evoking emotions, part in your customers and connecting with your customers, that kind of a thing. So when I say styling, I’m basically referring to the way you design and layout your scene for a photo. So styling often people think, let me just put pretty things together, put a prop, put a background and put some products together. It’s not just about that. It’s about doing it in a way that’s meaningful and conveys a message to your customer and evokes emotion. So for example, a candle company, when a person lands on a candle company’s website, you probably want them to feel calm and relaxed, if that’s what your candle is about.
So take photos that evoke that emotion, but if you go on a website where they’re selling hiking gear, then you want to feel adventurous and excited. So you need to use photos that evoke that emotion. So making sure to choose props and backgrounds that evoke emotions that you want to evoke in your target customer, I think that’s huge.
Dave Gerhardt: I love that advice because it forces you to think about the whole brand, not just like I’m taking this picture of this water bottle right now. Where does this fit in the setting of my overall brand? Oh, this is about being outdoors and being active. Okay. So you have to almost visualize where that’s going to fit as you’re building up the product story.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yes. And exactly why it helps your customers visualize the same thing. When you show them what your product does, they are going to visualize using that in their own life. And that is so important before the customer actually takes out their credit card to make the purchase.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay. After styling, you have advice about actually capturing the photo.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. So while capturing photos, basically what I want to talk about here is composition. So great composition is really very important for a great photo. It’s something that’s very easy and easy to define and achieve, but people still miss it. The basic thing you can do is switch on the grid on your iPhone. So if you go to settings on your phone and go to camera, and then there you can see grid, and turn that on. Can you see the grid? There’s a grid option when you go to camera settings. Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Yep, I see it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. So just turn that on. And now when you go back to your camera, you have a grid appearing on the camera. So that really helps.
Dave Gerhardt: Ah.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Nice. So now it frames it. I never paid attention to this, but there is a rule about framing, right? So now I have the grid, if I’m trying to take a picture of you right now, you should be in the middle?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: So there are two things. There’s this rule of thirds, that’s what it’s called. So if you divide your…
Dave Gerhardt: That’s what it is.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah, rule of thirds. So if you divide your frame into a three cross three grid, you want to place your product along one of the lines or at the intersection points, because that’s what the rule of thirds says, that that creates interesting compositions. So placing the product little bit off center at the intersection points is a great composition principle that you can follow. Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Nice. Love it. Camera, go to settings, go to camera and go to grid. I did it. You can easily do it. That’s good.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: What about editing?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Yeah. Editing, there’s one thing I want anyone to take away from this, it’s that editing cannot fix a bad photo and take it to a good one. The photo has to be good. Often people think that they can take any kind of photo and just throw some filters and transform it. Filters are not bad, but there’s definitely more to editing. It’s more about making your product look the way it is in real life on the photo as well. So there are lots of editing apps that you can use, but I’ve done the research. There are two apps that I’ve rounded off. One is Snapseed, It’s from Google and it’s free. And the other one is Lightroom mobile. So Adobe has, I don’t know how they did it, but they’ve kind of wrapped that huge software into a tiny mobile app, but it has the results. It’s a great app and it does great things. So Snapseed and Lightroom.
Dave Gerhardt: Not to give you the cliche podcast line, but we will put the links to those in the show notes. So you can go in and find them after, I’m assuming I’m the Google one is free. The Adobe one is paid?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: No, both are free.
Dave Gerhardt: Oh, that’s great. Even better. No excuses then, no excuses.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: No excuses at all. Exactly. Yeah, and after editing, it’s about exporting the photos in high quality so that you can actually use them on social media and your website. So, some things that you want to make sure is the iPhone has two cameras. So one on the back and one on the front, now the back one has three cameras, that’s a different story, but there are front cameras and the back cameras. So you always want to make sure you want to use the back camera because that is a higher resolution one. The front camera is more for video calls and selfies and that kind of thing. So for product photography we always make sure to use the back camera. And second thing, I have to say this, don’t use zoom on your iPhone. Don’t zoom on your iPhone, unless you’re using the iPhone 11 Pro. And even on that, beyond two X, if you zoom in the quality of your photos is going to reduce a lot, because…
Dave Gerhardt: Stop zooming.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yes, stop zooming, because it doesn’t use optical zoom, it uses digital zoom. So that’s not a good thing, because it crops the photo and reduces resolution. So don’t zoom on your photo, instead zoom in with your feet and walk closer to your product and then…
Dave Gerhardt: Zoom in with your feet. That’s what people came for. I love it. Yes.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah, exactly. And lastly, I think editing photos too much, like taking them from multiple apps, like take them from Lightroom to Snapseed and to another app and just keep editing. That kind of, again, reduces the resolution as well.
Dave Gerhardt: How often do you think should brands be updating product photography? Is that something that you’re doing a lot, or are you doing one photo shoot and then you’re done? How do you think about that?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: I think it just depends on the product. If they have just one product line, which they’re selling over and over again, I think that’s fine. Just do a photo shoot. But if there’s a brand that’s coming up with new releases every now and then, then you need product photos to reflect the new collections and whatever. Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Right, and you can’t be like, you could have everything ready to go, except the product photography for the website. So that’s why it’s great to be able to do it on the fly on your own.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yes, exactly. And also hiring a photographer, you’re going to hire them once, twice, but you need photos for everything. Instagram, Facebook ads, product photos, of course for your website, wholesale catalogs, if you’re doing wholesale. It’s just an endless list of photos you need, so better to have the skill in your pocket. And you can because the iPhone is in your pocket.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay. Should we talk about the seven different types of photos? Because I think this is good, because this gives people good ideas of different types of photos to go get. So studio, lifestyle, scale, detail, multiples, packaging, and process. Maybe let’s go, I’ll say the name and then you give me one or two lines on each. Okay. So this is studio.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Okay. So the first shot you need to take care of is the studio shot. This is pretty much your product photo taken on a plain background. It’s just your product straight up the way it is and nothing else. The main intention of this shot is to clearly and attractively present your product to the customer.
Dave Gerhardt: Love it.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: So must make it simple as my biggest tip for the studio shot. And the next one-
Dave Gerhardt: What about the lifestyle shot?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah, the next one is the lifestyle shot, and this is the shot you would use to show your customer how their life will look by using your product. So for this, you will present the product in its natural environment where you expect it to be used. So for example, in case of the candle example that we were talking about, the shot here showcases the candle, for example, you can showcase your candle on a nightstand where it’s probably going to be used, like in the night, just before you are unwinding for your nighttime routine or something like that. Or you can use it on a tabletop just next to a vase, just show a few scenarios as to where your shot for product is going to be used. So that’s the lifestyle shot.
Dave Gerhardt: Yeah. Like if I’m selling this water bottle, you want like a sweaty arm drinking it after a workout.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: And then what is scale? Like just show the actual size of something?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah, exactly. The scale shot basically shows, because a customer cannot see the product in real life. You want to give them the feel for how big or small it is. So the scale shot is about showing how big or small the product is. Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: What’s detail?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Detail shot is basically the closeup shot of your product. So this shot helps your customer understand all the details and quirks, little quirks of your product. So this also helps take away any confusion or answer any question that your customer might have about your product. It’ll just make it easier for them to make the buying decision.
Dave Gerhardt: I like this list. So is this like, if I hired you to come take photos, this would be your checklist of what you’d go and take.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Whatever applies. Sometimes some shots apply more than others. So then we have multiple shots where basically multiple shots are great for documenting products that are sold in multiples, such as like bowls, jewelry especially, something that’s available in different finishes. Like let’s take a ring that’s available in silver, gold and rose gold. It’s just grouping can be a great way to depict that depth, variation and different sides and angles of the product in one compelling image. So that’s the group shot or the multiple shot. And then there’s the packaging shot, which I want to talk about.
Dave Gerhardt: Yeah. Why take pictures of the packaging? Who cares? That’s what I thought.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: No, they do. Because knowing how your product is packaged, gives customers a better sense of your branding and what to expect in the mail. So a beautiful packaging shot can also help convey to them that this could be a really good gift, they can think of it as a gift. So that’s a great idea, to have the packaging shot if your packaging is great.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: And lastly, I think we have the process shot. That’s one thing I do sometimes when a process shot can basically be used to emphasize the level of workmanship that went into creating that particular product. So if you’re a handmade seller or you’re in the handmade business, showing the process behind how that product is made can be incredible in terms of building trust as well as connection with your customers. And also these shots do really well on Instagram. So showing the behind the scenes kind of a thing.
Dave Gerhardt: Okay. That’s a good segue, because I want to wrap up and talk about..that’s how you’re going to produce photos for your website, but leave us with some social media tips, like Instagram specific tips to get people clicking on more of my stuff with my photos.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. First of all, you want to make sure your Instagram feed looks cohesive and consistent with your brand. So using photos that are great, that look standalone, they look great, as well as additionally, they’re also great when they’re viewed with other photos in a grid. So just make sure your grid has a cohesive theme and it ties all your photos together with your brand and tells the story, and also make sure the photos are streamlined and it’s a curated set of images that are on brand and they kind of sit well with each other and look good when they’re viewed together. Also like I said, packaging shots, process shots, all of these do really well on Instagram. So if you are a jeweler, for example, it’s a great idea to show work in progress kind of photos on Instagram. It just adds that extra connection and customers just feel like, I don’t know, what’s the word you use, just feels special to see the product being made and then they can buy that. It just adds that next level of connection.
Dave Gerhardt: I think that’s more important now than ever. You mentioned earlier about the importance of getting people to know and like and trust you, and there’s no better way to get them to know you than like…it started with food, and people want to know where sustainably sourced and all that stuff. And they want to know the same thing with clothing. I think the same is true with any story, maybe you make, back to the water bottle example. Maybe you make that in a different way, through your marketing and your site is a great way to tell that story.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Exactly. And also user generated content is really good, because it just creates social proof and people want to buy your product when they see others using it. So create a hashtag and encourage customers to post photos of that new jacket or hat or whatever they bought. And that is great for social proof on Instagram as well. So all these few little things you can do for Instagram.
Dave Gerhardt: Love it, Chaitra, this was awesome. Super, super helpful. Thanks for coming on here and giving us some product photography tips. Where can people go find more of your stuff if they want to just connect with you or check out your business?
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. I am at PinkPotStudio.com, that’s my website. And also I have a free email course on ProductPhotographySchool.co. Yeah. I can just send you the links and maybe you can link it in the show notes, but yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, that’d be awesome. We’ll do that. I don’t know why, if you’re listening to this episode, you better, and you need help with product photography, this is the episode that should convince you to go take that course. So go and check it out.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: All right Chaitra, I’ll talk to you later. Thanks for doing this show. Appreciate it. Thanks everybody for listening. If you like the show, leave me a review, because I love reading the reviews on the Ecommerce Marketing Show on Apple podcasts and Spotify and wherever else you listen. Otherwise. I will talk to you on the next episode. See ya.
Chaitra Radhakrishna: Yeah. Thanks Dave. Bye
Dave Gerhardt: Bye.
This article originally appeared in the Privy blog and has been published here with permission.