10 best practices to easily upgrade your ecommerce photography

by | Mar 7, 2021

types of ecommerce product photography

product photos

there are actually a lot of options when it comes to high-quality ecomm product images. every image doesn’t have to be product-on-white. adding color backdrops to your product imagery allows you to have fun. get creative. and show off your brand personality. some image concepts will require some post-shoot fixes in a photo editing software. just keep in mind: overdoing the edits and adjustments can make your product look ingenuine. 

the most important thing to remember no matter what type of photo approach you take to your content is: tell the story of your product. here are some tried and true ways to do it.

product-on-white

product-on-white images are by far the most common product images used on ecomm platforms. it keeps images clean. consistent. and products stand out – there’s no distraction to take away from the product being shown. it’s always a good idea to have product-on-white images for certain purposes: the color of your item won’t be influenced by other colors in the photo. the shot can be closer to show the texture or fabric in more detail.

we think of product-on-white as a box ecomm sellers have to check. in large part thanks to Amazon. the giant ecomm platform created a requirement that all sellers must have a hero image that shows the product being sold on a solid white background. it’s a necessary image style you need as an online seller but it’s not the only image style you can use to your advantage.

product-on-color

product-on-white images are definitely necessary but they are also boring. adding color to your images is a great way to bring your brand personality out in your content. along with vibrant colors – you can add fun props that help demonstrate your product’s purpose and story. color is also a way to communicate a mood to the customer. there is extensive research on the psychology of color — whatever your brand needs to say to the customer: it can be said through color. imagine seeing a product on a dusty sage background vs. seeing the same product on lime green. the hue makes a huge difference in how your customer visualizes the product fitting into their life!

product-on-color doesn’t have to be one-dimensional either! add multiple colorful layers to really make your product pop. 

if you’re not ready to go with a bold color for your background but still want to get away from plain white: consider neutrals. we love using unassuming colors to make a statement. don’t sleep on nudes & beiges!

ready to go really bold? ADD. MORE. COLOR. your content will fly off the webpage. or social feed. or inbox. consider two-toned or tri-toned images for interesting depth to your images.

lifestyle photos

lifestyle images often seem to be an afterthought for most brands but we are here to tell you lifestyle images are equally as important as standard product images. there are two major things a lifestyle photo can achieve: addressing a pain point for your consumer. and introducing them to an experience they can have through your product. the power of a great lifestyle photo can’t be overstated.

in-context

showing your product in-context is a great way to paint the picture for your customers of what life would be like with your amazing product. it helps them visualize how and if they would use it. more often than not — that ends up being the key to a customer converting. unlike product-on-white images — this option allows you to show the size or fit of your products. maybe you have a granola bar brand: you can just show a photo of your product alone — or you can show it being slipped inside of a backpack or enjoyed as a snack on a hike. it’s easy to imagine which one of these photos gives your customers a real taste of the experience they’ll get from your product. 

🔥 hot tip 🔥 in-context images are also a great place to utilize models. hand models or full-body models give your customers a realistic product experience before ever touching the product. using models can also encourage the customer to imagine your product on themselves.

 

product-in-use

showing your product in use helps bridge the gap between the experience a customer would normally have when shopping IRL and the ecomm experience. product-in-use images are a great way to show off the best features of your product. you can show features in-action customers would want to test if they were able to physically touch and test out the product before purchase. imagine: a cool collapsible design. a unique package. a cleverly placed pocket. these are just a few examples of aspects that can shine through great in-use photos.

build trust with potential customers by flaunting your features. help them imagine what it will be like to interact with the product in person. seeing your product in action will make them excited to purchase.

product groupings

product-only

product-on-white and product-only go hand-in-hand. in a typical ecomm shot you see a single product centered in the middle of a blank frame. this is standard and trite. if you’re not ready to throw out the full standard ecomm look – try just adding a fun prop or interesting shadow play to the shot. or change up the background color to give your photos some personality. 

product categories

when thinking about what you need from your photoshoot – you should consider how you can slice and dice your product line into categories. brainstorm all the ways you can pair up your products to create interesting shots and circle the ones that speak to you. if you had a store IRL: which products would you recommend bundling together? let your product category shots make that recommendation for you.

including product category group shots is a great way to introduce related items to any product page to inspire the customer to buy more. 

consider this: you have a jewelry line. you carry earrings. bracelets. necklaces. and rings. you can create different categories based on color. formality. and style. this helps your customers find what they are looking for and see additional options in that category. this can lead to them buying more than what they originally came to your site for.

 

check out how beauty brands can use this method to win big.

product family

similar to having a variety of categories: it’s great to have product family shots too. 

imagine you offer skincare: the product image for the moisturizer has a serum and a lip balm in the background. you’ve sent a clear message: these products are better together! this approach can really help raise your average order value. you’re making genuinely helpful suggestions that also result in larger purchases. the best part: if your product family is well planned. you’ll end up with a happy customer that has multiple products to recommend to their friends instead of just the one.

video

360 spin

a 360-spin video is a quick but efficient way to show off your product from different angles. it’s eye-catching and offers movement of a product that static images simply can’t compete against. this video style is going to be especially effective with apparel or utilitarian products. a powerful way to incorporate 360-spin into your online customer experience is a hover-over link. the customer sees the image of your product for sale. they hover over that product — and the image becomes a GIF of your 360 spin. viola! now you’ve saved time and made your impression before they’ve even clicked.

unboxing

giving customers a front-row seat to the magical experience of opening your product can do wonders for creating an emotional connection to your brand and product. a great unboxing video replicates the good feelings people are hoping to experience when opening a product for the first time. unboxing incites a desire to get their hands on your product. this can also be an awesome opportunity to include groups of products — like product family mentioned above. opening a box with just one product is fun. but opening a box with a whole set of new and relevant products is thrilling. we get a serotonin boost just thinking about it.

in-use

there’s no better way to showing off your product’s best features than a product-in-use video. this is a great tool for every industry to use to their advantage to earn more click-to-cart magic. it’s also a great tool for building trust with your potential customers. according to the 2019 Edleman Trust Barometer: 81% of consumers said they need to be able to trust the brand before purchasing from them. putting your product on full display in a product-in-use video answers many customer questions about quality. design. size. or ease of use.

steps for great ecommerce photography

 

best practices for all photoshoots

a content plan

before you even book a photoshoot: you should go through the steps of building a content plan so you know exactly what your goals are for the shoot and how you can achieve them. 

you might miss opportunities if you don’t answer these questions for yourself before your shoot. when you’re on a live photoshoot and trying to decide goals last minute – you won’t be as successful:

  • why do I need to book a photoshoot? 
  • what are the goals of this photoshoot?
  • what type of content do I need? flat lay? lifestyle? video?
  • do I need photo and video?
  • is there a primary location this content is going to live? (think: Amazon has specific requirements you don’t have to follow for social media or Shopify.)
  • how many products do I need shots of?
  • are they all individual shots? are they group shots? or is it a mix?
  • do I need any special props? 
  • do I need a model? what about a stylist?  (stylists are often necessary for complex food shoots. shoots with apparel. or if there are props to style.)
  • are there specific colors I want used? (Amazon requires white backgrounds but you can mix it up on your own channels!)

once you’ve answered these questions you should have a pretty solid understanding of what you really need to get out of your shoot which will help you determine whether you need an individual/freelance photographer or full photography service.

form clear ideas of how many photos you’ll need of each type. bust out the spreadsheets to jot down your ideas and keep your photoshoot on track.

content personality

finding your content personality is a big part of building your brand. your content should be a clear visual extension of your brand personality. if you describe your brand as calming and approachable – using content that has dark tones and harsh shadows is not going to be the best representation of your brand. instead you’ll want natural light and soft shadows. knowing these nuances of your brand style is key to a successful photoshoot. here’s an exercise: if you had to describe your brand identity in three words — what would they be? how are your photos relaying those words to your customers?

if you’re not sure what your content personality is: take this quiz.

content gap analysis

once you have an understanding of your brand personality: you can take a look at all your content currently in use and see what needs to be updated and refreshed to match your newfound personality. do your product images tell your brand’s story the way you want them to? if you find that you need a content overhaul — knocking it all out in one photoshoot gives you cohesive and organized photos. this is also a great time to make sure you have a cohesive content experience across all of your marketing channels. there should not be a massive difference in the vibe of your Shopify store to your social media channels to your emails.

find out what you’re missing + what needs to be refreshed and make. that. list!

mood board

creating a mood or vision board for your photoshoot is another great tool for organizing your ideas and ensuring your content is cohesive with your branding. a mood board should be one document (physical or digital) that can be referenced at any time to guide you in your content creation. it should include your brand’s inspirational colors. fonts. quotes. styles. target demographic. etc. if you’re not sure where to start: try this exercise. think of one of your favorite brands that already exists. now imagine what their mood board would look like. based on their website. brand voice. colors frequently used. now open up a simple template and begin to build your own!

requirements

be aware of any restrictions or requirements your ecomm platform has so you can plan to include those shots in your content plan & shotlist. as we mentioned before: Amazon requires single product images with a white background. some platforms may have certain size restrictions for uploading. sometimes large file sizes can slow down page loading times — and this can cause customers to give up on your site. it’s tedious to check for all platform requirements — but once you’ve done it your workflow will be more streamlined. lastly: always prioritize high-quality images. no matter how trendy and eye-catching your product photos are: they’ll always have more impact if they’re sharp and professional.

create a shotlist

creating a shotlist allows you to describe any inspiration images you want to try to

replicate. the more specific you can be – the better! this is the place to list out any preferences on colors (ex: always use pink. or never use pink). lighting. close ups. depth of field adjustments. or different angles.

something like this is a great starting point:

environment: backdrop
backdrop color: light blue
lighting: soft/natural light
angle: overhead
props: mirror and white flowers.
description: product is laying on a mirror surrounded by white flowers. light blue backdrop.

a shotlist helps you create efficiencies in your shoot. you can organize your shoot plan by angle and product type to avoid changing the setup too often.

best practices for product photoshoots


 find a photographer or photography service

this should be an easy decision once you have a good understanding of what the goal of your photoshoot is. you should have an understanding of your budget and what you need to capture within that budget. 

your budget and timeline will be the biggest indicator of whether you should hire a freelance photographer or use a photography service. the short of it is: if you have a bigger budget & a long runway to launch – then a freelancer might be for you. if you have a tight budget. large items. need a lot of variety. & want additional services (like models or stylists) then a photography service – like soona – is going to be your best bet. 

learn more about the breakdown of pricing for each style of photographer here.

 prep your products

do not underestimate the need for properly prepping your products before a photoshoot.

📣 let’s say it again for the people in the back: do. not. underestimate. the. need. for. properly. prepping. your. products. before. a. shoot. 📣

taking the time to prep your products – no matter which industry you are in – is essential for ensuring an effective and efficient photoshoot. Photoshop (or any other editing software) can do photo magic – it cannot work photo miracles. you want your product to look amazing at all angles – from wide shots to close up shots. so take the time to steam your clothing. clean your jewelry (and their packaging!). and collect undamaged packaged goods. maybe even utilize multiples of your products. for example: you want one product to look pristine and the other to be used by a model for an in-use video. 

take a few minutes to get super comfy with prep best practices for your shoot.

best practices for lifestyle / in-context photos

in addition to best practices for all shoots and product-specific photoshoots – there are important factors to consider if you need lifestyle photos.

decide on scenes(s) and a photographer

your product might work in a multitude of settings. you need to decide which are the most important to achieve the goal of your shoot. perhaps you need a kitchen and a living room set up. or maybe a bedroom. or maybe a bathroom. most studios should be able to accommodate any of these set ups. 

independent photographers may have a harder time providing one or multiple scenes. if they don’t have a setup in-studio – you may need to find a home you can rent for the day for your shoot. which is another cost you need to account for when planning your shoot if you decide to go this route. the homeowner may also have restrictions on what and where you can/cannot shoot which can cause some frustration as well.

if you do have to find your own set for the shoot – you will most likely need to hire a stylist and possibly need to purchase props to make the set fit your desired look. 

then there are outdoor shoots. let’s say you have a vegan granola bar brand. you want lifestyle photos of a hiker enjoying your product with a sweeping view. this lifestyle image evokes emotions: who doesn’t want to be enjoying a sunset with a snack? but outdoor shoots aren’t always a walk in the park. always check rules and regulations before you do a shoot on any public or private land. natural lighting can make for beautiful photos — but it can also make for a frustrating day of waiting for erratic weather to cooperate. the best opportunity for natural light is in the morning or late afternoon. when the sun is high in the sky: it can be too harsh. cast unseemly shadows. highlight unflattering angles. because of this — shooting outdoors usually adds a time constraint.

in summary: lifestyle images are best left to the full service studios. you’ll save time & money.

hire additional services

you don’t have to have models to complete a successful lifestyle shoot. but your images will look more genuine and tell a better story if you do include models. remember: the point of lifestyle images is to show your product seamlessly integrated into daily life to help customers envision your product in their lives. you don’t necessarily need a six foot tall model with incredibly white teeth. today’s ecommerce photos are actually enriched by diverse models that allow customers to feel included in their brand story. think back to that mood board. who is your target demographic? will they see themselves in your model(s)?

it’s also recommended to hire a stylist. it’s always a good idea to have additional eyes on set to make sure your exact vision is being captured in the best way possible. it’s amazing to see the difference between styled and unstyled images. those inspiration images you pinned on Pinterest? they most likely had a stylist on set to create a beautiful & eye-catching aesthetic. 

stylists are needed on a lifestyle shoot set over a standard product-only shoot. why? simply because there are a lot more props and details to be aware of. having an entire kitchen or living room setup is much more involved than a seamless white or colorful backdrop with one or two props and your product. 

while you may feel equipped to style a shoot for your own brand — remember that stylists see many shoots with many different brands and products. they’ll have a solid grasp on previous successes and a more objective outlook of your images. the input of a professional stylist is invaluable when it comes to your product photos. hiring a stylist can be the difference between your customer looking at your product and seeing something they want vs. something they can’t live without.

conclusion

your priority is always your brand’s story. and you’re the one who knows that story best. that means you are ultimately in charge of making sure it’s told. from the first little bloom of ideas to the moment you finally hit “post”: we want you to feel like your product photos empower your brand to sell and inspire. 

if you can look at your shotlist. mood board. and content plan — and see a clear path to ecomm success: then congrats! the hardest part is over. we promise: when it’s time to launch these photos to your website and socials. you’ll be confident in your product’s ability to make an impression on your customers. and your customers will be confident in your product’s value. driving traffic and converting customers is — in large part — about the idea of your product. the thing itself. but truthfully: a successful photoshoot is what turns your brand idea into a shoppable customer experience. and an awesome product image is what takes that customer from click. to. cart. 

so now you’re ready for your live shoot. whether you’re going to DIY with a DSLR and natural lighting. or you’re working with a full service studio — like soona. these tips are going to equip you to execute an efficient + cohesive photoshoot. 

now KEEP THAT ENERGY when it’s time to do it again. because successful ecomm brands refresh their content like they refresh their feed.

soona