The reason that we bang on about photographs
The number one thing to get right when selling online is photography, no questions about it. Your photos are your shop front, the main cue for a customer to click into your listing, and once they’re there, they can’t touch or pick up this item, turn it around, or feel its weight or texture – your photos and description have to do that for them.
Your photos need to do your product justice. You might be making the most incredible thing in the world, but if sub-par photos are the only visual cue your customer has to go on, they will take their hard-earned cash elsewhere. You don’t have to be a professional photographer, but there are some basics that it’s important to learn, or to get some outside help with.
Key elements of great product photographs
Lighting is the main challenge most people face – it’s the hardest thing to get right, and the thing that makes the biggest difference to the end result.
In most cases, you want lighting that is bright but soft, preferably diffused to avoid harsh shadows. When using lights, your lighting should all be one tone (light bulbs come in warm and cool tones, and will cast different colours on your photo). Natural light is often best, avoiding direct sunlight as it casts dark shadows and creates high contrast. For the same reason, don’t use the flash on your camera unless you have bright studio lighting to soften the shadows.
- Use lighting that’s bright but soft – natural light is best
- Don’t use the flash on your camera
- Avoid direct sunlight or harsh directional light
- Use lights that are all the same tone (ie. warm or cool)
- Don’t mix natural light and artificial lighting
There are lots of online tutorials for do-it-yourself photography light tents that can help you make use of lights and materials that you already have. There’s so much information out there (YouTube is GOLD for this sort of thing), so take half an hour to do a bit of research and find out how to get good results with what you have.
You can do interesting things with focus and depth of field – softening the background of an image can be very effective. Just make sure any soft focus is intentional! The key focus area of your photo should be absolutely sharp.
- Use a tripod or prop your phone or camera against something, set a timer, and take the shot hands free
- If you don’t have a tripod, a wheat bag can be a handy way to position your camera and keep it steady
- Check the settings on your camera or phone – you may have options for
- Use the advanced features on your smartphone camera – 15 minutes of googling can help you find useful tools to improve your photos
- Ask a teenager to help (seriously) – digital natives are often great at intuitively solving the mysteries of technology
Faceted Kauri vase by Gwyneth Hulse Design: a beautifully simple lifestyle shot that can also be clear cut.
Attention to detail
Open up a magazine or jump on the website of any retail store and have a look at the way they present their items. There’s a few easy things to check before you take the shot, that can make a world of difference to the end result.
- Make sure your items are tidy and arranged nicely – check for specks of dust and wrinkles
- Choose a simple or relevant background, and avoid clutter: focus attention on your product
- Iron where applicable (that includes fabric backgrounds)
- Watch where your shadow falls – is it in the shot?
As well as showcasing the beauty and value of what you’ve made, you can use your photos to emphasise and support the information in your product description.
- Include at least one simple, well-lit, beautiful shot that shows the full item clearly
- Show the product in context or in use: if it should be worn or hung on a wall, then take a photo of it being worn or hung on a wall
- Think about ways to show or hint at the creative process
- If your product has special features, highlight or demonstrate them
- If you use props, make sure the focus is on your product, and it’s obvious what is product and what is prop
- Don’t photograph your product on carpet – unless your product is furniture or belongs on carpet, it never looks professional
Images for Instagram or other social media also benefit from a styled approach – flat lay is a popular technique that can be very effective. Take a look at brands you admire on social media, and try analysing how they’ve approached their product photography – not to copy, but to learn and develop an eye for different styles and techniques.
Do you have photography tips to share? Or questions or topics you’d like us to cover? Comment below or drop us a line.