The Essential Product Photography Guide for Your eCommerce Store

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then great product photography is worth more than a thousand conversions.

If you have an eCommerce website, one of the most significant elements that influence your visitors’ and customers’ foundation for brand trust and value lies in how you choose to present your products.

Unlike traditional retail, in this context, visitors don’t have the opportunity to handle products physically by hand.

While eCommerce sales have soared over the last year and continue to rise, this lack of control over the product many customers face drives more than 50% of shoppers to visit a store where they can actually touch, see and demo a product before making a purchase.

Online shopping offers various benefits over traditional brick-and-mortar retail, but the ability to physically touch, test and handle products before purchasing isn’t one of them. To convert the other half of shoppers who prefer shopping online exclusively, you need to present clear and compelling product photography.

Implementing product photography that instills confidence, intrigue and desirability in your products could be the difference between converting a visitor or having them bounce.

However, generating compelling product photography isn’t as easy as simply taking a camera and shooting a few photos. From lighting to editing and everything in between, there’s a lot that goes into product photography. Even the most basic products will still need the proper lighting and background to convert and sell.

If product photography is an area you’re struggling with, don’t worry. While product photos aren’t easy to shoot, they’re not exactly difficult, either. Here’s a list of tips, tricks and equipment to set you on the right track, along with some product photo examples to help you get started!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What do You Need to Shoot Product Photos?

No matter what specific type(s) of product photography you intend to shoot, there’s no one set of hard or fast rules to follow in terms of equipment. A professional product photographer might use an expensive, high-megapixel DSLR, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your smartphone’s camera!

With the right setting, lighting and editing in place, your product photographs will come out looking pristine.

With that being said, here’s a list of equipment and tools to make your product shots shine:

Camera

As we’ve said before, your camera doesn’t need to be an expensive DSLR. A phone camera with a high enough megapixel rating will be more than enough. Smartphone models that came out as recently as eight years ago, such as the first Googe Pixel or iPhone 7, have excellent cameras with sharpness, temperature and many more photo settings built right into the phone!

The Google Pixel’s “portrait mode” provides superb bokeh and sharpness, while Apple’s iPhone line delivers incredible detail overall. Here’s an example of one product photo shot entirely with an iPhone camera:

phone camera product photo
Great lighting in combination with proper diffusion can can make phone product photos shine. (www.candlescience.com)

Lighting Setup

product photography lighting setup

While natural lighting is best, you can’t always depend on the sun to help shine its light on your products. When the sun isn’t available, lightboxes, fill lights, and lamps can provide a soft or sharp look to your products, depending on how you use them.

Again, you don’t have to break the bank or visit a professional studio to get a proper setup going. White, high-lumen lightbulbs screwed into a lamp are a budget-friendly choice for shooting product images on the cheap. Lightboxes are also affordable and can sometimes come with a white background included to help you diffuse light.

No matter which light source you choose, the key lies in consistency, so be sure your setup stays the same throughout all of your shoots!

Here are a few items you should consider for your setup:

  • Lightbox – Many lightboxes will have a background included
  • White background – A sizeable blank sheet of paper or a sweep will work best
  • Bounce Card
  • Fill Light

Photo Editing Software

A professional photographer might use Lightroom or Photoshop, but your phone’s built-in software will more than suffice if you don’t have access to either of those. Including sharpness and contrast, your phone should also have temperature, saturation, highlights, shadows, tint and more to help you get the look that you want for your shots.

Even the most basic product can benefit from some post-processing!

Here’s a list of free photo editing software to consider:

Tripod

product photos tripod

While we don’t doubt the steadiness of your hands, our advice to use a tripod instead of holding your camera or phone or propping it up against a mug has more to do with consistency than stability.

The shot angle, zoom and even the lighting can change drastically depending on how you choose to hold and position your camera. If your arrangement isn’t consistent throughout, you’ll end up with substandard photos that’ll look off when viewed in a sequence.

However, you don’t need a professional photography stand to take stable photos. A mobile phone grip, phone gimbal or even a phone stand will also work, too. If you’re going this route, be sure to mark the position of your grip or stand so that all of your photos can look the same.

Here are a few items you should consider for stability and consistency in your photography:

    • Flexible tripod stand
    • Smartphone gimbal
    • Mobile grip

5 Essential Product Photography Tips and Tricks

With the proper tools, equipment and software in place, it’s time to put theory into practice! Here are some photography tips and tricks to help take product photos that convert.

Shoot From Different Angles

Including multple angles creates more visual appeal and allows customers to better view your products. (http://www.truebotanicals.com/)

When presenting your product online, you want to present it in as many flattering angles and directions as possible to allow your visitors to familiarize themselves with your offerings. Different types of products might benefit more from this than others.

For example, food photography for items such as cakes or pastries that have high visual appeal would benefit significantly from being presented in a variety of different ways. Visitors might also want to see clothing such as t-shirts or hoodies from the front and the back to get a better idea of how it’ll look on the body.

Social media, in particular, is one platform where it pays to have images shot from multiple perspectives.

Even if you’re not selling a product where visual appeal is a focus, it’s still a good idea to be creative and shoot more than one photograph. You never how it’ll end up after a few edits!

Flat lay photography is an aesthetically pleasing way to present a lot of visual information at once. In addition to being visually appealing, it’s also great for social media. Learn more in How to do Flat Lay Photography for Shareworthy Social Media Posts.”

Take More Than You Think You Need

Photography isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. If you go through all the trouble of setting up your lighting, home studio and camera, you won’t want to go through it all again when you find discover you don’t have a shot that you need.

Editing and graphic design can fix many image problems, but you need quality images to create quality edits at the end of the day.

With this in mind, it’s imperative that for each product you intend to create a product image for, you take twice as many photos as you think you need.

In essence, you need to shoot for the edit. The images you end up capturing need to be taken so that only a minimal amount of studio work is required. Touching up images should be used to enhance, not fix. Remembering this bit of advice will save you many hours and headaches in the future.

Use the Rule of Thirds

Also known as “the rule of three,” the rule of thirds is a cognitive and visual principle that helps photographers create a well-balanced composition. The rule of thirds can be applied to all types of product photography and can be incorporated into all photography ideas will ease.

Basically, the rule of thirds involves splitting up your composition into a 3×3 grid of equal segments.

rule of thirds product photos
In this example, the intersection of the gridlines naturally draws attention towards the dog while simultaneously creating a balanced composition. (www.capturelandscapes.com)

Human eyes will naturally drift to where the lines intersect rather than the center of the shot. If used correctly, this principle can control where your audience’s eyes go when they’re looking at the products from your online store.

Emulating the rule of thirds is easy to do with types of products and images.

In fact, many smartphones and cameras will come with a grid setting to help do just that!

In addition to being a helpful tool for product photography, the rule of three is also commonly used in web design, painting and anything else involving visual design.

Use Props

Depending on how your brand is positioned, the choice to use props or not depends mainly on your marketing efforts and how you want your product to be framed. Keep in mind that the focus of your product photos should be the product itself. Everything else in the frame should complement the product, not overshadow it.

For example, a skincare product that advertises its inclusion of herbs, flowers and other botanicals might want to include those in its product shots to emphasize its ingredients. 

Including props in product photos is a great way to show instead of tell, but only if it makes sense in context. (www.herbivorebotanicals.com)

Conversely, technical products such as electronic parts, tools and equipment might not benefit as much from the addition of props, even if they’re simple.

If you choose to use props, ensure that they make sense in the context of your brand and product and that less is more, especially when it comes to product images.

Sell the Product

product details
Showing your products in situ or actually being used can help give customers an idea of how their purchase will benefit them. Here, Arcteryx is showing how much room their multi-day backpack has even with a helmet and other alpine essentials packed away. (http://www.arcteryx.com/ca)

The goal of any quality product photo is to create value and convert the customer. One of the ways you can do this is to frame the product in its contextual and lifestyle setting.

Before purchasing a product, people want to be sure that it’ll benefit or enrich their life in some way. One of the easiest ways to instill that confidence is actually to show your product being used in its correct context.

If you’re selling candles, pillows or any other lifestyle product, displaying them inside a cozy home or being used by a family is a great way to simultaneously hit your marketing goals and your photography goals at the same time.

For technical products such as backpacks, sports equipment or tools, macro or close-up shots that allow visitors to look at the details could also persuade them to make a purchase. If your product description is advertising a durable zipper, show the zipper in your product photography.

In order to truly sell, you need engaging product descriptions that align with your product images. Here’s our guide on Perfecting Your Product Description – How to Create Summaries that Sell.”

Your visitors won’t be able to actually feel and test the product for themselves if they’re shopping online. Showing these digital shoppers the specifics of your product, how it’s used and highlighting your value proposition should be one of the goals of your product images.

At the very least, it’ll be more engaging than a white background!

Key Takeaways for Product Photography

A picture is worth a thousand words, but you don’t need a dedicated photographer to help you take photos that convert. Even if you don’t have access to the best equipment, camera or lighting, you can still take professional-grade photos for your website and business without hiring a studio.

With that being said, practice makes perfect. Over time and as your business grows, you’ll learn what works best and what doesn’t.

When that time comes, you can choose to upgrade your equipment or hire an agency or studio to help give you a hand.

Until that time comes, we hope that we’ve helped you get you started on the right foot!

Vincent Lee

Written By Vincent Lee

The Managing Editor at Advesa, Vincent is a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, a lover of cats, and a purveyor of fine roasted matcha teas. When not writing, he enjoys exercising and biking around his beautiful hometown of Vancouver. He is also a strong supporter of the oxford comma.