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The Complete Guide To Ecommerce Photography

the-complete-guide-to-ecommerce-photography

Whether we like it or not, converting traffic to sales has much to do with the photos. First, the catalog photo must make someone click.

Then, the detail shots on each product page must convince them to add to the cart.

Not everyone is a professional photographer, and if you’re tight on funds, hiring one is not always realistic. The solution is to take your on-brand seasonal photos at home. With the help of accessible tools like smartphones and photo editing apps, such as Photoleap, you can unleash your creativity and craft captivating visuals that showcase your products in the best light possible.

With a couple of inexpensive tools and these easy-to-apply techniques, taking attention-grabbing product photos at home is more accessible.

Let’s dive in and elevate your Shopify store photos!

How to elevate your ecommerce product photography in 6 steps

  1. Set up your studio: Create a dedicated workspace for photographing your products.
  2. Style your shots: Experiment with different props and set-ups.
  3. Get the lighting right: Use natural light and diffusers to soften shadows.
  4. Take photos from every angle: Get as many shots as you can so your customers can envision the product in their hands.
  5. Edit your photos: Adjust the white balance, sharpness, brightness, contrast, and saturation of your photos.
  6. Prepare your image files for uploading to Shopify: Make sure your images are optimized for fast load times on your ecommerce store.

 

1. Set up your studio

If you’re going to be taking a lot of product shots, it helps to have a dedicated area for photography. A well-organized studio and a streamlined workflow can help you take a lot of professional product photos for your ecommerce business in a short period of time.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Camera: You don’t have to buy a fancy DSLR camera with a range of lenses to take good product images. If you have one, great! If not, don’t be afraid to take product photos with your iPhone. Contemporary smartphones have fairly advanced cameras, and the quality of your images will depend more on your shot setup, lighting, and post-processing than on the camera you use.
  • Tripod: A good tripod will help keep your shot steady and reduce blur. If you need to take many shots of different products from the same angle, a steady tripod will help keep your shots consistent.
  • Light: Good lighting is essential. Window light gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. We’ll discuss lighting strategies below, but in the set-up stage, it’s important to know that natural window light is best, so set up next to a large window.
  • Table: You need a stable shooting surface to place your product. A table or desk will work for most products. For more oversized products, it’s easiest to use the floor—just keep in mind that you’ll want to pick a spot that gets a lot of window light.
  • White background: You can invest in a white sweep (a backdrop that curves down into the floor) or, if you are on a budget, buy craft paper or poster board and mount it over a table.
  • Reflectors: A reflector is anything white or metallic that bounces light onto the far side of your scene to brighten it and soften shadows. This “bouncing” of light is why reflectors are called “bounce cards.” Because they “fill” the dark side of your scene with light, they’re also called “fill cards.”

How to set up your table

You’ll want your setup to be lit from the side. Side lighting helps highlight the shape and textures of the object being photographed. Start by placing your table beside your window, with your background behind it. Set your backdrop in an L-shape to create a table/wall effect.

backdrop and table creating a L-effect for ecommerce photo

Mount your reflector opposite the window to bounce light back onto your subject.

reflector bouncing window light on to subject

If you don’t have a reflector, a white poster board or a trifold poster board works just as well. Trifolds like this one are great because they stand up on their own.

trifold reflector bouncing window light onto ecommerce photo subject

With this studio setup, you can swap products in and out quickly to take multiple product photos. You can also experiment with different tripod and camera placements, depending on which angles work best with your subject.

2. Style your shots

Full-white backgrounds are great for your main product images, but experimenting with different props, angles, and styling will help breathe life into your photos and give your audience a better sense of your products' physicality.

There are a lot of composition styles that you can try, but when it comes to ecommerce photography, two of the more common compositional styles are the diagonal and the “C.”

The diagonal

A diagonal setup is excellent for eye-level shots where your camera lens is positioned at the same level as your product. The idea here is to place objects in a diagonal line from back to front, with the tallest objects in the back and the shortest in the front.

ecommerce photo of bottle of bright orange brunch punch accented with vibrant orange slices

Consider objects a customer may use with your subject when choosing background and foreground props. For example, a bath poof and towel make sense with a skin care product. Alternatively, you might select attractive objects that fit your color scheme, even if they don’t relate to your product.

For background objects, try glass bottles, vases, plants, or a fruit bowl. For foreground objects, try a sprig of greenery, citrus slices, flowers, or a sprinkle of something textured, like coarse salt, oats, or loose tea.

Let’s build a diagonal using a skin care product to understand better how to employ this technique. Start by placing one or two tall props directly in front of your vertical surface in the back right or left corner.

overhead shot of marble surface with grey luffa and white hand towel in top left corner

Place your main subject near the center of your horizontal surface, at least six inches before the vertical backdrop. Keeping it at least six inches from your vertical surface will blur it when you shoot with a shallow depth of field.

Same overhead shot of marble surface with luffa and towel but now with a bottle of hand cream in the center

Place a short prop in the opposite front corner to create a diagonal line when you look down on it.

Same overhead shot of luffa, towel, and bottle, but now there is a silver plate with a dollop of cream in the bottom right corner

That’s seriously it! The diagonal composition might look strange when viewed from above but shot from the front with a shallow depth of field; you start to see why this style of composition is so typical in ecommerce photography:

The same composition as the previous photo, but now being shot from the front, centering the bottle of cream and creating depth with the objects placed behind and in front of it

When creating a diagonal, imagine your surface as a tic-tac-toe grid. This will help you place each object into a square. Alternatively, create overlap by placing the foreground prop on the intersection of two grid lines.

Overhead shot of a new composition, overlayed with a three-by-three grid, highlighting ecommerce photography composition strategy

To create overlap between your foreground prop and subject, place the foreground prop on the intersection of the grid lines (like I’m doing in this photo) rather than in the front corner square.

Ecommerce photo of a scented candle that uses the diagonal composition technique

See how good that touch of overlap looks? Slight overlap adds visual interest and makes your photo more professional-looking without distracting from your subject.

The “C”

A flat lay may be a better angle if your product is flat (like artwork or paper goods). The second composition is the “C,” and it’s fantastic for flat-lay product photos. The trick is to arrange your subject and props in a crescent shape, leaving the middle area bare.

Overhead shot showing the C-composition technique for ecommerce photography with various candles, matches, and velvet pouches arranged in a C-shape

Learn more: 40+ Tools and Resources For Creating Beautiful DIY Product Photography

3. Get the lighting right

Lighting is essential for really defining your images. If possible, use natural light. Placing a table next to a large window usually works well. This gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. If the shadow is too sharp, you can place a screen inside to soften it.

But the “natural” part also means it changes throughout the day, depending on the season, weather, and direction your window faces. Typically, photographers refer to the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise as the “golden hours” because these times provide the perfect amount of light for shooting.

Shooting on an overcast day is also best to avoid direct sunlight. Like strong backlight, direct sunlight can be too harsh and create unsightly dark shadows.

If you have to use artificial lights, two identical softbox setups can usually do the job, using one as your key light and the other as fill to soften shadows.

Assessing your shadows

No matter what you photograph or what type of light you use (natural or artificial), you will get shadows. The goal is to assess and modify your shadows to achieve a look you (and your customers) will love. As you look at your scene, try to observe two things about the shadows: location and quality.

Location

Shadow location depends on two things: prop position and light position. If you’re shooting objects of different heights, make sure a shadow from a tall object isn’t landing on a short object and obscuring it.

ecommerce photo of a fig-leaf body wash next to a shorter bowl of fig leaves with light source on the right casting shadows to the left

In this photo, you can tell the light source is on the right because the shadow from the bottle is covering the shorter lavender dish on the left. To fix that, you can swap object positions.

The same photo of a bottle and bowl of fig leaves, only now the bottle is on the right casting a shadow onto the fig leaves on the left

See how the dish is brighter? The downside is that this changes the composition you already decided on. The fix? Switch the direction of your light by carefully rotating your setup.

The same as the previous photo, only now the items are being lit from the left and casting shadows to the right.

Quality

The quality of your shadows is an assessment of how hard or soft they are. Hard light creates crisp shadows with a sharp transition between the shadow and the background, so you can easily trace the border with a pencil. Soft light creates subtler shadows that blend gradually into the background.

Two ecommerce photos side by side; on the right is a photo of coconuts casting a soft shadow, on the right is a eucalyptus leaf casting a hard shadow with defined lines

The quality of shadows is determined by light distance and light size. Distant light sources create more complex shadows, while close light sources create softer ones. To achieve soft shadows, place your setup right next to the window. Move (or roll) your setup further from the window to make more complex shadows.

The size of your light can also impact whether shadows appear hard or soft. Small light sources (like a ring light or a phone camera flash) create hard light because they concentrate light over a small area. Significant sources (like big windows or artificial lights) create soft light because they disperse light over a greater area.

To soften your light, consider using a diffuser. A diffuser is anything placed between your light source and your subject to reduce its intensity and spread it out over a larger area. Diffusers make light sources appear larger than they are.

To diffuse natural light, you have a couple of options: you can hang a white bed sheet or a translucent shower curtain over the window. If you shoot frequently, you may want to hang translucent white curtains instead.

Woman shooting ecommerce photography with a white shower curtain in the background to diffuse light

Of course, you can’t make your window more prominent, but this is where your reflector comes in. Using a reflector to diffuse and spread the light over a large area will help soften your shadows.

Let’s look at different combinations of diffuser and reflector in photo form:

Three nearly-identical ecommerce photos of a cup. The first uses no diffusor or reflector and casts a hard shadow. The second uses a diffuser with no reflector and casts a soft shadow. The third uses both a reflector and diffuser and casts almost no shadow.

Notice how the white reflector softened the shadow even more than with a diffuser alone. It also brightened the whole left side of the cup and the background.

That’s how to modify light using two easy and affordable tools: diffusers and reflectors. Now that you’ve achieved the shadows you like best for your product and brand let’s get to shooting!

4. Take photos from every angle

Good product photographers know to capture products from any angle that might be relevant to customers. Your product photos create a vivid mental image of your product for your customers, as though they’re seeing it in-store. Close-ups, eye-level shots, and even bird’s-eye view shots can help them do this.

When setting up your shots, here are some things to consider:

Focus, stabilization, and consistency

Remember to underestimate the importance of a tripod to minimize blur and keep the angle consistent across multiple products.

Two ecommerce photos of a coffee mug. One is heavily blurred and the other is not.
Source: Pixc

The whole purpose of product photography is to sell more on your Shopify store. That means capturing a customer’s attention while keeping your product the star. The best way to do that is to take pictures from any angle that might be relevant to your customers.

For those of you who are a bit more advanced, if your camera allows, set the lens to a small aperture, a.k.a. a high f-stop, and set a slow shutter speed. The higher the f-stop setting, the smaller the aperture. This will give you a wide depth of field that brings your entire product into focus, giving it a crisp look. But your camera must always be well-fixed on your tripod, or you will get blurry images.

Two photos of the same plate. One uses a lower f-stop and is blurrier.
Source: Pixc

The key to creating that gorgeous blur is shooting with a shallow field depth. Only a narrow (or “shallow”) strip of your scene will be in focus. On a DSLR camera, widen the aperture using a low f-stop like f/2.8 to f/4.5.

Going even lower than that works, too, but your background and foreground will be very blurred—it’s up to your eye whether you like that.

Using a phone camera in portrait mode gives you a similar effect. Rather than changing the size of the aperture like DSLRs do, phone cameras use machine learning to blur the background and create a similar effect.

Once you’ve taken a few shots, try mixing and matching different backdrops to experiment with various effects, like we did here:

Nine ecommerce photos arranged in a three by three grid. Each photo contains the same golden pineapple decor with golden straws, but has a different backdrop.

Mixing and matching different vertical and horizontal backdrops will give you much content without extra styling effort. With just one photoshoot, you can change your product page photos to suit the season (if you want to), and you’ll have an abundance of content for social media.

Choose backdrops of different colors and intensities that complement your brand aesthetic and look great together. That way, you can create light/light, dark/dark, and mixed dark/light combinations that add variety to your listings and catch your attention on Instagram.

5. Edit your photos

After you’ve taken your shots, you’ll want to move on to retouching them. Expensive photo editing software isn’t necessary for this step, as many free photo editing options are available for post-production. If you’ve taken great shots, you’ll only need to do some light editing to make the images pop.

Here are some things to consider when editing your photos:

  • Sharpness: With good lighting and a stable tripod setup, you should already have reasonably sharp images. The goal here is to lightly sharpen the image to give the edges in your image a more defined look.
  • White balance: White balance is the level of blue and red tints on the white areas of your photograph. Adjusting the white balance of your image can make it look more “cool” or “warm,” depending on your intention. Generally, commercial photography should look warmer since it brings a sense of coziness to the photos.
  • Brightness and contrast: Brightness can highlight specific areas of your image more, but be careful not to reduce the brightness. A high brightness level can give an image a “washed out” quality. Contrast describes the separation of light and dark areas of your photograph. Slightly higher contrast can give your photo's textures more depth, but again, don’t overdo it. Excessively high contrast can stifle the range of colors in your photo and make the image appear flat and lifeless.
  • Color saturation: Slightly increasing the saturation of your photographs will help bring out more color and breathe a sense of liveliness into them. Again, though, don’t overdo it. Too much saturation can look otherworldly and make it hard for customers to envision your product's appearance in real life.

Once you’ve edited your photos, it’s time to prepare them for uploading.

6. Prepare your image files for uploading to Shopify

It would be a colossal waste to create and edit stunning product photography only to find out it slows your ecommerce site down. That’s why this step is essential. After you’ve edited your photos, you’ll want to compress them to ensure they load quickly and easily in your Shopify store, Amazon, and other online marketplaces.

On Shopify, the maximum image size is 4472 by 4472 pixels with a file size of up to 20 megabytes; however, even this is quite large. While images this size will load, they won’t load quickly. You should use a size of 2048 by 2048 pixels for square product photos.

Also, keep in mind that many Shopify themes have a “zoom” function that allows users to take a closer look at your photos. When users zoom, they view the full size of the photo, so anything smaller than 2048 by 2048 pixels might make the zoom function difficult to use.

Online tools like TinyPNG and Compress JPEG can help you compress the file size. Most photo-editing software tools (like Adobe Photoshop) also have compression functions.

Use these product photography tips to elevate your product photos

Good product photography is essential to online selling. When browsing your ecommerce store, product photos help potential customers envision what the product looks and feels like in real life.

Product photos showcase your product’s best features and can help answer questions customers might have about how they’re used and why your product is worth buying. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good product photo is better than any sales pitch.

Ecommerce Photography FAQ

What is ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce product photography is the art of producing high-quality commercial images to sell products and services online. Good product photography remains a crucial aspect of selling online.

How do I photograph my product for ecommerce?

  1. Set up your studio.
  2. Style your shots.
  3. Get the lighting right.
  4. Take photos from every angle.
  5. Edit your photos.
  6. Prepare your image files to be uploaded.

What are some excellent ecommerce photography tips?

  • Create a streamlined workflow and dedicated studio.
  • Use product photos to sell the quality of the product.
  • Showcase your products’ most important features.
  • Show your products in use.
  • Use natural light and light from the side.

What are the benefits of ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce photography helps increase conversion rates by showcasing your product’s best features and developing your brand’s visual identity. Good ecommerce photography can put your products above the competition by showcasing their best features. For more free stuff about photography visit https://photographertouch.com/

This originally appeared on Shopify and is available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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