Investing in high-quality product photography is the best thing you can do for your ecommerce store’s conversion rate. According to a 2018 study, product images had the largest impact on digital purchase decisions, with 83% of respondents saying that product images and photos were "very" or "extremely" influential in their decision process. Product photos were ranked as more important than product descriptions/detailed specs, reviews and star ratings, and video. What this boils down to is that product photography is the most important thing to customers deciding to make a purchase — people like to see what they’re buying.
When shoppers first visit your store, their first instinct is to skim over your product images to see if something catches their eye. When on a product page, a quality product image can make the difference between getting a customer to click “add to cart” or “close tab". If your images are high quality and show the value of your product, customers won’t hesitate to add the item to their cart, hit checkout and boom! You’ve made a sale!
With that being said, product photography is no cakewalk. Whether you’re taking your photos with an expensive camera or a humble smartphone, there are some steps you have to follow to produce the best images possible.
Preparing your photography tools
First, you must have all your tools complete before you even begin to conduct your photo shoot. The good news is that the only thing you REALLY need is a camera, but using some of the pro accessories below can help you take better photos more easily. We’ve picked out some of our favorite options for product photography, and have also included a few DIY and low-budget options. If you’ve already got your equipment together, skip down to Part 2 where we cover camera and studio setup.
Pick the best camera (or smartphone) for taking product photos
For those with limited resources, a smartphone can do the trick. Thanks to technology, there are smartphone cameras that can even outperform some high-end DSLRs. The longstanding myth that phones can’t yield high-resolution images? It should absolutely be disavowed. Of course, it goes without saying that professional cameras are always capable of taking better photos, but don’t feel defeated if you don’t own one at the moment. If you’re strapped for cash, your smartphone camera is more than enough.
Equipment List: Camera
If you’re unsure of which camera to purchase, here’s a quick list of some of the best for product photography:
Google Pixel 3: While the iPhone is always touted as the smartphone with the best camera, the Pixel is quickly joining the top ranks. It boasts a single lens camera rated at 12.2 megapixels, an f/1.8 aperture, and support for HDR and optical image stabilization.
Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70: A point and shoot camera is also a great option for product photography neophytes. Some of its notable features include a 20.3-megapixel sensor, 5-axis hybrid optical image stabilizer, control ring for setting customization, and a post-focus function.
Canon EOS Rebel T7i: If you want to go all in and invest in a professional camera that will last you a long time, you won’t go wrong with this one. It comes armed with a 24.2-megapixel sensor, high-speed continuous shooting of up to 6.0 frames per second, dual pixel CMOS AF that allows for quick snap focus, and DIGIC 7 Image Processor that produces high-quality images even in low-light conditions.
Get a tripod for stable, consistent product photos
In order for your product photos to be considered top-notch, they should be crisp, consistent, and free of blurs. To ensure that you take the sharpest images, you need a stabilizing accessory like a tripod. If you’re using a smartphone, a phone mount can do the trick. You can even get resourceful and use a table or a stack of books too.
If you’re interested in getting a tripod, here are some options worth checking out:
Benro Mach3 2 Series Aluminum Tripod: Perfect for newbies, this tripod features a straightforward design that won’t intimidate those who are only starting out. It can accommodate compact and lightweight cameras and comes equipped with screw-in rubber feet for enhanced stability.
Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2: If you’re looking for a tripod that would best suit your smartphone, point, and shoot, or a mirror-less camera, look no further than the Pixi Evo 2. It offers complete flexibility with its adjustable leg and leg angles, and its compact design allows you to tote it around anywhere.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Aluminum Tripod: Ideal for taking overhead shots, this tripod has legs that adjust to 25, 50, and 80-degree angles to allow for low angle photos. Its swivel stop-n-lock system makes sure that your camera is secure in place, while the multi-angle central column enables you to move the camera in various vertical and horizontal positions.
Product photo lighting equipment
When it comes to product photos, the largest 'bang for your buck' will be a good product photography lighting setup. Good lighting will do more to improve the quality of your photos than anything else, so before you go drop a thousand dollars on a new DSLR make sure that your lighting setup is squared away.
Proper lighting is one of the main differences between professionally-created and amateur photography, and tends to be the main thing holding new photographers back. Here's a list of some of our favorite (affordable) product photography lighting kits:
Neewer 48 Macro LED Ring Flash Bundle:
This is a low-cost and no-frills lighting gear that you simply adhere to your DSLR’s hot shoe. It offers a variety of lighting modes, and the brightness of each ring can be adjusted depending on your preferred level of illumination.
Fancierstudio Lighting Kit:
This kit is your one-stop shop to all your lighting needs. Compatible with cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and more, it includes three lights to employ a three-lighting setup: a key light, a fill light, and a back-light. It even comes with a backdrop and background stand.
Get a backdrop to save tons of editing time
To ensure that you get the best results, it’s usually recommended that product photos be shot on a white backdrop. This will significantly reduce the amount of editing and post-processing you would have to do later on. It would also help in creating a consistent look throughout your ecommerce store, making it appear more attractive and professional.
Basic poster board
This is a no-brainer, but you can easily set up a white backdrop just by procuring a standard poster board from your local arts and crafts store. If you’re on a budget,
this is your best bet.
AmazonBasics Portable Photo Studio
This photo studio already has the complete setup. It has built-in LED lights so you no longer have to install your own, and it comes with an easy-to-store portfolio carrying case with a strap for taking with you anywhere you go.
Julius Studio 6 ft X 9 ft White Photo Video Photography Studio Fabric Backdrop Screen
Now if you’re shooting larger items like furniture, this backdrop is your best bet. It’s constructed from lightweight fabric so it won’t be a pain to lug around, and it has a reflective and non-gloss surface, making cleaning a breeze.
LimoStudio 10 x 20 Foot Muslin Backdrop Background
If you’re hiring a model or using a full-length mannequin, a backdrop of at least 10 x 20 feet is required. This particular one already includes crossbars, legs, and clamps, saving you the trouble of sourcing and purchasing additional equipment.
We highly recommend that you put together what we call a “Photographer’s Toolbox” that you can always rely on.
For keeping things in place while they’re being photographed. Clear and double-sided tape work best, and masking tape is great for delicate items.
If you’re using a sweep (a white backdrop) or a reflector (a piece of reflective equipment that bounces light), you’ll need clamps to hold the equipment on the same spot throughout the shoot.
Pencil and paper
These are necessary in case you need to jot down notes about (aperture width, other photo-y stuff that might need to be written down or remembered later)
Shooting tiny items like jewelry? You would find a fishing line useful for holding them up and keeping them steady.
For getting rid of loose fabric threads in clothing and for cutting the fishing line.
Glue dots are small blobs of removable adhesive, and can be great for keeping small items in place during your session.
For hanging and organizing clothing or items
If you’re photographing pieces of clothing and want to drape them on hangers, make sure to hang them on non-damaging hooks. There are adhesive and nail-free hooks you can opt for.
These are useful for when you’re using a mannequin or hiring a model and want to make sure the items of clothing fit.
Iron or clothes steamer
Come on now, no one would buy a dress that’s wrinkled!
Spare batteries or a charger
What good can your camera do if it suddenly runs out of juice in the middle of a shoot? Always make sure that you have a backup battery or charger in case it dies while you’re snapping away.
Since you’ll be taking hundreds (or even thousands, if you have tons of products) of photos, it’s vital that you carry a reserve memory card so you won’t have to waste time transferring pictures to a computer when you run out of memory.
Taking your product photos
Ecommerce is a different ball game: unlike in a brick and mortar store, customers cannot touch, feel, or try your products, so you have to make sure that the product images you display online are realistic, extremely detailed, and looks as close to the real thing as possible. Buyers expect a clear, accurate representation of what they’re buying, and if your actual product looks even slightly different than your product photos, you can expect complaints and returns to go through the roof.
In order to make sure you’re giving your customers all of the information they need to feel comfortable making a purchase, there are two main types of ecommerce photos you need to take individual, product-only shots and lifestyle/marketing shots.
Individual product-only shots come first
First things first, you need to take individual, product-only shots. These are product images that are shot against a white or very light background with ample lighting and consistent shadows. They give your store a uniform look and allows customers to easily visualize what the item is like in real life. When shooting them, keep in mind that they should depict the accurate color, size, and other features of the product to help the user make a purchasing decision.
Given that product-only shots are simple images that require no extra props, shooting them is relatively simple. You would only need a camera, stable surface or tripod, craft paper or mounted sweep, and a space with a window that would allow for as much natural light as possible. You can also use a lightbox if you’re shooting smaller items in areas with low light conditions.
Lifestyle images bring your products (and your sales) to life
If you want to add more oomph to your photos, you can also opt to shoot in-context or lifestyle images, which show your product in its intended environment and showcase how its meant to be used. These type of shots allow for more creative freedom, and are primarily for branding, not for informative purposes.
The main advantage of in-context images is that they make your products more relatable to potential consumers. While product detail photos might be very informative, lifestyle photos can bring your product to life and elicit an emotional impact. Find the things that consumers love about your products and make them relatable. If you sell outdoor gear to avid hikers, your marketing campaign might focus on the toughness of your products and the toughness of the people wearing them. If your audience is rugged hikers and your product photos are of someone walking in a manicured park, you’re probably missing the mark.
Unlike product-only images, lifestyle images don’t necessarily have to be added to your individual product pages.
You can also display in-context photos on your homepage and collection pages, as well as marketing materials such as newsletters, social media, flyers, posters, look-books, and other marketing paraphernalia. However, a few lifestyle images after your product detail photos can add an emotional impact to your pages, and cause potential customers to imagine what it would be like to actually use your product. If your audience is passionate about the kind of products you sell, a lifestyle image can go a long way towards making a sale.
How to set up your camera for professional product photos
The quality of your product images largely depends on your camera settings. Of course, you’ll need to tailor your setup to best fit your camera and studio, but this quick four-step walk-through gives you basic recommended camera settings for product photography:
Choose the largest resolution and the highest quality setting.
Adjust the image settings to capture the largest and highest-quality photos possible. Remember, you can always shrink images, but blowing up a small photo to a bigger size while preserving the quality is next to impossible. You have to make sure that the size setting is large (L) and the quality setting superfine (S).
Set your ISO to control the brightness of your photos
This refers to how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. It can go as low as 25 or as high as 204,800. But the only thing you need to remember is the lower your ISO is, the less sensitive the image is to the light, and therefore would take longer to take an image. By following this very logic, you want to set your ISO as low as possible. If working with natural light, you can set it to around 200 to 800. And if you’re working at a darker location, you may use ISO 800 and above to make up for the lack of ample lighting.
Set the aperture width to change the depth-of-field
The aperture is the hole within the lens that determines how much light travels into the camera. It’s directly linked to the depth of field, as in the area of the photo that is in focus. Measured in f-stops, the smaller the number is, the larger the aperture would be. If you’re new to the product photography game — or just photography, in general — your safe bet would be setting it to between f/4.5 to f/7.1. This results in isolating the subject by blurring the background, as well as enhance the sharpness and detail of the product. But say you’re unable to work with a plain background, an aperture of f/2.8 or lower would aid in blurring everything that is not within the area you chose to focus on.
Choose a shutter speed that will give you crisp photos:
And lastly, shutter speed is the speed at which the camera curtain opens and closes. If you’re using a tripod to stabilize your camera, opt a shutter speed of 1/125 or higher can ensure that the images you take are sharp. If you’re working with flash, use at least 1/60.
Setting up your smartphone camera for product photography
If you don’t yet have the funds to invest in camera equipment, buy yourself time by learning how to take great product photos with your smartphone. Your smartphone can serve as a great interim camera while you save up for the real thing.
Here are some simple guidelines on how to improve the product photos you take on your phone:
Find your device’s manual photo settings. The first step in shooting professional photos is to learn everything you can about the internal camera on your phone and how much you can control out of the box. Many smartphones come equipped with several manual settings, including exposure controls, white balance and post processing. Take the time to understand how to use each of these tools to enhance your images. If you use a smartphone that doesn’t include these features, consider adding an application like Camera+, Camera ZOOM FX or VSCOCam. These tools provide helpful manual controls, include editing and sharing capabilities, and are used by many professional photographers.
Choose the highest quality/resolution setting you can. Choose the largest file size and the highest resolution setting your phone allows. This will give you the best image possible to start with, and you can reduce file size when you edit. Just be careful to make sure your phone has enough storage before beginning a shoot. You’ll be able to take about 250 high-resolution photos per gigabyte of free memory.
Don’t zoom in. Digital zoom is not great for picture quality, and it’s the only type of zoom you’ve got with a phone camera. If you need a close-up shot, just move in close to your product. You’ll get a better finished product photo than zooming in.
Forget taking a selfie. Use your rear-facing camera instead of your selfie cam. It will almost always be higher resolution than the front facing camera. Also, trying to take pictures with the selfie camera will almost always give you weird angles. Not worth it.
Edit. It’s time for editing to bring out your photos’ best qualities and help you convey the perfect brand message. Photoshop Touch and AfterLight are great editing tools. To get a head start on getting that perfect product photo, try playing around with these basic settings:
- Brightness: Increasing the brightness of your image will hide any imperfections and give it an attractive glow.
- Contrast: Increasing the contrast will help your image pop against the background.
- White balance: Sometimes your camera doesn’t get the white balance adjustment right. Playing with this scale to get the most natural colors in your image is a quick and easy fix.
- Sharpness: Increasing the sharpness of your image will help highlight the intricate details of your product and improve image quality.
- Use an app: You can download third-party camera apps from your app store. Some of these offer a hugely increased functionality over your default camera software. Download some of the highest rated apps and see what you can do.
Clean your lens. Lenses are easy to carry everywhere in pockets and purses. Make sure you clean your camera lens well before your photo session. Dust, dirt and smudges on your lens will be super noticeable.
Turn the flash off. The flash on your phone is...not so good. Get your lighting right and let your flashlight remain a flashlight, because it’s no good for photography.
Using a lightbox for individual product shots
Using a lightbox will make it easy to take high-quality product shots. The Amazon Basics Portable Photo Studio is our go-to lightbox for taking product photos. It’s portable, can be set up or taken down in about a minute, comes with its own integrated LED lights,and is easy on the beginner’s budget.
With everything that’s included, you really can’t beat the price of this lightbox. Someone with little to no experience can get quality product photos using this setup. The bright white light isn’t perfect for every single product, but the majority of merchandise will work quite well in Amazon’s photo box. This is a great beginner option if you’re just getting started and want an affordable lightbox for taking product detail photos.
Setting up a DIY natural light studio
Once you have all the necessary photography tools, the next step is making sure that your chosen shooting area is well-organized to facilitate a seamless shooting session. If you’re relying on natural lighting, you would need a table, as well as craft paper, two pieces of scrap wood, and clamps to create a makeshift sweep.
As you can see below, the two pieces of scrap wood are taped on the edge of the table. You then attach the white craft paper using the clamps on each piece to ensure stability. If you don’t have an extra table, a large sturdy chair would also work.
Ideally, you should be shooting around noon or early afternoon when the sun is at its brightest. But make sure that your table isn’t being directly hit by the sunlight. If you find that the lighting is too intense, you can stick a sheet of paper on the window to diffuse it. And if you notice that the shadows are too harsh, you can use a foam board as a reflector to control it.
As for setting up the products, arrange them in a way that they will remain stable. You’ll find that smaller items are trickier to stabilize, but you can use tape or glue to set them in place.
A backdrop can bring your product details to the forefront
Looking at these two photos, which one would you say is better at selling the product and making you want to purchase?
The item on top coveys a bright white background, which brings the product to the forefront. The graphic on the right is unclear as to what’s being sold, since there are three different options. The background takes away from its clarity and may drive traffic away. The easier it is for your customers to see what they’re purchasing, the more likely they are to stay on page and continue down the purchasing path. You have 8 to 10 seconds to keep their attention, make it count!
The best desktop apps for editing product photos
It’s no secret that Adobe Photoshop has and probably always will be the gold standard of photo manipulation apps. It packs a laundry list of features and doesn’t set a limit on creativity. It’s capable of basic editing tasks such as color adjustment and exposure enhancement, and it can also do major tweaks like background removal, graphic design, and a whole lot more. The only caveat is it costs a pretty penny, but it’s worth the investment if you’re planning on being a power user.
If you don’t want to spend a dime but still want an app that can accommodate your photo editing and retouching needs, Gimp is very much a viable option. It’s an open source image editor that’s compatible with various platforms including Windows, Mac, and Linux. Like Photoshop, it features layers, filters, and masks, and it has useful tools like saturation slider, auto white balance, and healing tool. You might find Gimp’s interface clunkier than standard photo editing apps, but it gets the job done.
The latest iteration of the much-revered PhotoScape, this app can serve as your all-in-one photo editing solution. It has all the features one would expect in a powerful platform including an intuitive editor, batch editing, collage maker, background remover, brushes, filters, and special effects. It’s perfect for beginners who don’t want to deal with an app that has a steep learning curve since the interface is easy to use and understand.
The best smartphone apps for editing product photos
Photography is such a great visual way to communicate with customers. You can showcase products, behind-the-scenes looks or even publish your entire look-book! But with so many apps, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are four options to get you tapping away on your phone to photo greatness.
1. VSCO Cam
This is app is the go-to for a lot of photographers. It has filters that come with the software, and additional filter packs are available for an additional cost. You can choose your favorite filter and make it “the look” for your business, applying it to all your photos before you post them. There are additional image-editing tools in VSCO Cam that allow for a lot of precision, but are intuitive and easy to use. You can tweak sharpness, white balance, grain, etc. Then you can easily export right into Instagram or to your camera roll for sharing. (Available on Apple and Android phones.)
2. Adobe Lightroom
If you’ve used Adobe Lightroom on the computer then the features in this app should look familiar, but a bit scaled down. It isn’t quite as intuitive to use as VSCO Cam, and doesn’t have as many filters available, but the precision with a lot of the tools is fantastic, which is perfect for those detail-oriented photographers. (Available on Apple, Android, and Windows phones.)
Snapseed is an app similar to Lightroom, in that it allows for some more specialized tweaks. One great feature is the “healing” tool, where you can easily remove scratches. However, if you’re not wanting to fiddle with all those details, then you may want to stick with something easier. (Available on Apple, Android, and Windows phones.)
Add impact to your photos with great captions
People read captions more than they read the headline.This means the detailed descriptions throughout your site may go unread, whereas those small snippets that clarify what your product images are more likely to be read.
Without context in photos, users can be left with ambiguity, asking questions about the size of the object or wondering how it works. Let’s take a tobacco pipe, for example. You may post a picture of a luxurious pipe for sale against a white background, but without a caption users may be unsure of the size or material. Is the wooden pipe as big as the user’s hand or just big enough to produce a few good puffs before being refilled? Is it made from an oak tree or an olive tree?
The description should be more than a few words and less than a few sentences. When writing, it’s important to:
Know your audience. Target a description that details how the product is used or what it is used for. Is your product for profesionals? Is it innovative? Knowing who you are selling to will help you create relevant descriptions that appeal to that demographic.
Be descriptive. While images on product pages may work together to paint an obvious understanding of the product, images that appear elsewhere on your site may confuse visitors. Make sure your captions explain what is happening in the picture. Your image may show a person in an armchair smoking a pipe. Captions can help users understand that you are only selling the pipe as opposed to accessories or herbs to go in the pipe depicted in your picture.
Keep it simple. Since your shoppers are more likely to read your captions over your product details, you will want something engaging and easy to digest. The goal is to find the balance between something that piques their interest and has them wanting to learn more and something that showcases what your product has to offer over your competitors. For example, a basic caption can be made into a better caption by adding descriptive content.
Be inclusive. Captions can also double as alt text, which not only tells search engines what is in the image but also helps visually impaired people interact with the image to understand what it’s about. Modern technology allows websites to be accessible by reading captions aloud to allow everyone to interact with the image and visualize the contents. An unclear or missing caption can confuse potential buyers.
Overall, providing captions under images can help shoppers make a decision more quickly and give them confidence that this is the product they are looking for.
Make your photos rank with image alt text
One often-overlooked way to make your photos rank in search engines is adding image alt text. Image alt text is a simple HTML tag that lets you display text in the event that an image doesn’t load properly. Since search engines take them into account when deciding which sites and photos should rank first, it’s important to make sure that your alt text includes the keywords you’re trying to rank for. If any of this sounds technical or difficult, don’t worry: it’s actually very easy. Volusion (and most other ecommerce providers) will let you type alt text directly into the image’s attribute fields.
Editing image alt text within HTML
If you’re working directly with the image’s HTML, you’ll need to add an Alt attribute within your image tag:
Product photo HTML without anchor text:
Product photo HTML with anchor text:
<img src=”waxedcanvastote1.jpg” alt=”Waxed canvas tote bag with leather handles and two external pockets”>
Writing great alt text for product photos
The good news about writing alt text for product photos is that it’s usually super easy! Product photos tend to focus on one single item (the product), so all you have to do is describe your product. Start by pretending you’re describing the photo to a friend who isn’t able to see it, and write that down. After that, find the 1-2 most important things you listed and summarize them in a single sentence.
Guidelines to writing great image alt text
- Be descriptive, but brief. Alt text should describe the image to those who can’t see it.
- Limit alt text to 15 words or fewer
- Make sure that your most important keywords are near the beginning
- Avoid keyword stuffing (cramming your alt text full of SEO keywords). Pick 1-2 relevant keywords to include
- Don’t include “picture of” or “image of” within your alt tags. Also, avoid including information like resolution, file format, and other technical information in your alt text. Alt text is about the content of an image, NOT the image itself.
- Avoid writing alt text that isn’t descriptive of the image
Real world examples: Writing image alt text
Sometimes it helps to see a real-world example, so we’ll walk through the entire process of writing image alt text for product photos. We’ll use this cotton tote bag as an example.
Step 1 is to write a description of the object, in whatever words feel most comfortable to you. It can help to pretend that you’re describing the image to someone in another room. Here’s mine:
Photo description: A waxed-canvas tote bag sitting on a wooden desk with a white background. The bag has a leather handle attached with rivets, and two pockets on the front. It is light tan/brown in color, and has some visible creases from the wax.
Now that we have a full description, we’ll make a list of all of the features we included and decide which are most important:
Two front pockets
We’re not including any mention of the wooden desk or white background, since those are background features and aren’t important to the image. Since this is a photo of the entire product, we’ll also avoid going too deep into detailed descriptions by not including the rivets or the visible wax creases.
Now we’ll use our important features listed on the previous to write some image alt text:
Waxed canvas tote bag - light brown with leather handle and front pockets
While this alt text doesn’t convey all of the details about our product, it gets the most important information across. If our example photo were a detailed close-up of the way the handle is riveted to the body, we’d want our alt text to focus on the rivets and leather handle instead of providing a broad product description.
Now, the final step is to add the alt text to our image:
If you want to check an image’s alt text on your site, right click the image and choose “inspect”. This will bring up the HTML image tag, where you can find the alt attribute. If you’re not able to find an alt attribute tag, or if it’s blank, that means that you don’t have any alt text for that image.
That’s all there is to it! Image alt text can provide your site with the SEO boost it needs to rank, so make sure to add it to all of your product photos.
Start taking product photos like a pro!
Product photography may sound intimidating especially if it’s your first time having a go at it, but you have to remember that ultimately, your product photos would serve as ambassadors for your brand.
The photos are what consumers would look and scrutinize when browsing your store, they are what you amplify on social media, they are what your current customers share with other people — in short: product images speak for you. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.
If you don’t pin down a seamless process right away, there’s no need to worry. You can always experiment with angles, lighting, and techniques until you find a system that works best for you.
The secret is getting all your photos to appear informative and consistent, so customers — both old and new — can better visualize your slate of product offerings, which would then yield in a boost in sales.
Even if you’re not a professional photographer, with a few tools, tips and tricks you can take great photos for your online store. And once those shots are ready to go, you can take things to the next level with a professionally-designed ecommerce theme that will perfectly complement your images. In no time you’ll have an online store that impresses customers and makes the sale.
Have any questions about product photos? Ask them in the comments!