Guest post by Russell Ridgeway

E-commerce businesses and sites have taken over the internet, especially after the lockdowns due to COVID19. But creating a captivating and profitable e-commerce site isn’t just throwing products together and making a checkout page. It’s all about creating the same atmosphere as in a real shop, but taking it to the next level by making it much easier to use while using elevated marketing tactics. It includes smart design, captivating and snappy texts, and most importantly, amazing photography.

If you’re a startup, an amateur, or just don’t have the budget to hire a professional photographer or create a designated corner to be your studio, that doesn’t mean you can’t create exceptional photos just like the pros out there.

What is the Goal of Product Photography?

Photo by Alex Lvrs on Unsplash

The purpose of what is called “product photography” is basically to showcase products in an enticing way. But to break it down here’s what great product photos do when catching a potential buyer’s attention.

The first thing it has to do is fly off the page. Photos in general do this by using colors, contrast, composition, perhaps even a scene, and most importantly, a photo flies off the page if it has exceptional quality and resolution. This mainly applies to highlighted photos and the first picture people see of products.

After an interested party decides to get to know the product better, photos can shed the cinematics of the aforementioned composition. What matters after getting their attention is clarity, transparency, and effective communication. There’s no need for the pop of color, the insane editing techniques, and action shots, instead, it should be the bare naked truth of what the product is from every angle, still keeping up with the perfect high quality, of course.

For example, a cosmetics line will use attention-grabbing advertising product photos in drugstores, their website, and for basic ads. These will most likely include a model using the product, but all of them include the product in “extreme conditions.” Foundation spilling on a red marble countertop, body lotion dripping on pearl necklaces, anything that introduces contrast, and an interesting composition. But after clicking on the ad, or the highlight photo, you, the interested customer, will see said foundation or body lotion on a white counter, with white background, showing off its every curve, including all texts on the bottle, and a sample of the product.

This perfectly sums up the two types of product photography this article will be about, and how and what they’re used for. After understanding the main idea behind is, and the motivation of a product photo, anyone can do it. They just have to keep in mind the main pointers of a successful photo: contrast, quality, transparency. Keep it interesting, and try to avoid techniques that belong on Facebook Marketplace.

Bare Product Photography

The clean, product-only images are what make the sale. These are the zoomable, transparent images that showcase the product itself and give more information to the customer. These are shot with a monochrome – usually white – backdrop, and a bare, most likely same colored floor, like a white countertop. There’s no need for props, action shots, or pops of colors, instead, the main character, and the only character should be the product itself.

Contrary to what most people think, a dozen photos work much better than just one or two. So don’t be afraid to work all the angles, and play with lighting and focuses. There can be pictures of just the container, just the text on the back, or any important detail you can think of. If you’re selling clothing items, close-ups of the material, clamps, laces, and fine details should be incorporated next to the main photo of the entire item. Of course, if you’re adding a lot of photos, adding a few in situ images can only help your case, but product-only photos are a must.

These types of photos are very delicate, and you should focus mainly on the lighting, the angle, and the quality of the image. Nowadays a smartphone is enough to make a gorgeous high-resolution image, so there’s no need for special equipment. If you’re shooting in a casual setting, like an apartment, your room, or your desk, make sure to create a neutral setting. And if you can’t find the perfect lighting or don’t have anything to create a spotlight with, instead of using flash, or bedside lamps, try to put it in direct and strong sunlight to bring the most out of the photo.

Context Images & Lifestyle Shots

These types of photos are used in ads, featured and highlighted images, and mostly act as the first photo in the gallery of the product. You can also incorporate a few different shots in the gallery next to the bare only-product images. These pictures have some props, editing, pops of color, or other types of “manipulation” of the product. Manipulation in this context means using it, editing it, even dropping, spilling, or pouring it. They should be enticing and exciting, a picture that grabs attention.

Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

You have all the creative freedom in this, and even if you don’t own Photoshop, or don’t have a fancy camera, you can still use your imagination to create exciting images with just your phone. For example, if you don’t have props you’d like to use, take the shoot outside and use nature. Put the product in the grass, or hold it before an interesting view. If it’s a wearable or usable product, ask a friend to pose with it, and take some action shots. While it’s recommended for product-only shots to use spotlight lighting, context images strive in natural light, so don’t be afraid to take it outside.

If you’re the type of person who prefers props and experimentation for more “extreme” and creative shots, household items are a great way to show off any product. The most exciting item to experiment with is a mirror, as possibilities are nearly endless. But using some jewelry as decorative props, and unusual materials as backdrops is the way to go. Look around, and be creative. If you have a unique sink, countertop, wooden furniture, use their material as the background. You can even try applying for a training course if you want to take it to the next level.

The Big Picture

All your images should represent one style, and complement your brand. Try not to mix or experiment with different styles, as that will make your entire brand and website look scattered and inconsistent. Each photo that will be featured on the site has to complement and frame your style, your story, and your brand. So before making these photos, and before setting up your little studio, think about what you want to communicate with the style it represents.

Any image on a site is a form of marketing and has a statement. Creating captivating and attention-grabbing product photos is difficult, and can be overwhelming, but once someone gets the hang of it and understands the motivation behind such a photo, anyone can quickly learn the process. And after a while, it will become your favorite thing to do, and you will be able to do it in your sleep.

Russell Ridgeway is an American writer based in Budapest, Hungary. He writes in business, tech, and fashion as well as creative fiction. You can find him on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.