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The Complete Guide to Ecommerce Photography (2023)



Whether we like it or not, converting traffic to sales has a lot to do with the photos. First, the catalog photo must make someone click. Then the detail shots on each product page must convince them to add to cart.

Not everyone is a professional photographer, and if you’re tight on funds, it’s not always realistic to hire one. The ecommerce photography solution is to take your own on-brand seasonal photos at home.

With a few inexpensive tools and easy-to-apply techniques, taking attention-grabbing product photos yourself is easier than it sounds.

Here’s how to elevate your ecommerce photography.

What is ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce product photography is the art of producing high-quality commercial images to be used in sales of products and services online. Good product photography remains a crucial aspect of selling online.

Ecommerce product photography is often taken on a white background, though lifestyle photography and other styles allow brands to get more creative in their execution.

Types of ecommerce photography

There are many different types or styles of ecommerce photography to consider adding to your mix:

White background

Traditional plain white background shots show the item placed on a white background. This style is typically seen on marketplaces like Amazon. These photos allow shoppers to get a clean, distraction-free look at the product.

Lifestyle photography

This photo style shows the product in use or in context. This allows shoppers to gauge size as well as imaging it in their own lives.

Product packaging

These photos are important for setting expectations, showing how the product is packaged.

Zoom or close-up

Shoppers want to be able to see details—you can also show zoomed-in shots to highlight specific features and showcase product quality.

Group shots

Group shots show the item with other variants or complementary products. This is a style popular for product bundles, upselling, and cross-selling.

How to do ecommerce product photography

  1. Set up your studio
  2. Style your shots
  3. Get the lighting right
  4. Take your photos
  5. Edit your photos

Free Guide: DIY Product Photography

Learn how to take beautiful product photos on a budget with our free, comprehensive video guide.

1. Set up your studio

If you’re going to be taking a lot of product shots, it helps to have a dedicated area for photography. A well-organized studio and a streamlined workflow can go a long way in helping you take a lot of professional product photos for your ecommerce business in a short period of time.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Camera

You don’t have to buy a fancy DSLR camera with a range of lenses to take good product images. Don’t be afraid to take product photos with your phone. Modern smartphones have fairly advanced cameras, and the quality of your photos will depend more on your shot setup, lighting, and post-processing than on the camera you use.

Tripod

A good tripod will help keep your shot steady, reducing blur. If you need to take a lot of shots of different products from the same angle, a steady tripod will help keep your shots consistent. 

Light

Good lighting is essential. Window light gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. We’ll go into more detail about lighting strategies below, but note that natural window light is best, so set up next to a large window.

Table

You need a stable shooting surface to place your product. A table or desk will work for most products. For larger products, it’s easiest to use the floor as your surface⁠—just keep in mind that you’ll want to pick a spot that gets a lot of light.

White background

You can invest in a white sweep (which is a backdrop that curves down into the floor) or, if you’re on a budget, you can buy some kraft paper or poster board and mount it over a table.

Reflectors

A reflector is anything white or metallic that bounces light onto the far side of your scene to brighten it and soften shadows. This bouncing of light is why reflectors are also called bounce cards. Because they fill the dark side of your scene with light, they’re also called fill cards. You can use a pop-up reflector or just a large piece of paper as a reflector.

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How to set up your table

You want to light your setup from the side. Side lighting highlights the shape and textures of the object being photographed. Start by placing your table next to your window, with your background behind it. Set up your backdrop in an L-shape to create a table and wall effect.

Vase with flowers and candle sitting on table with faux wood backdrop
The faux wood backdrop is placed in an L-shape to create a table and wall effect.

Mount your reflector on the side opposite the window to bounce light back on to your subject.

Diagram showing product photoshoot of candle with reflector and white board
See how the light bounces off the reflector and posterboard, illuminating the candle product.

If you don’t have a reflector, a piece of white poster board or a trifold poster board work just as well. Trifolds are great because they stand up on their own.

With this studio setup, you’ll be able to swap products in and out to take multiple product photos in a short period of time. You can also experiment with different placements of your tripod and camera, depending on which angles work best with your subject.

2. Style your shots

White backgrounds are great for your main product images, but experimenting with different props, angles, and styling will help breathe life into your photos and give your audience context.

When it comes to ecommerce photography, two common compositional styles are the diagonal and the C.

The diagonal

A diagonal setup is great for eye-level shots where your camera lens is positioned at the same level as your product. The idea here is to place objects in a diagonal line from back to front, with the tallest objects in the back and the shortest in the front.

Product photo of a bottle of Brunch Punch
This product photo shows a diagonal shot of a bottled drink, with props in the background and foreground.

The C

If your product is flat (like artwork or paper goods), flat lay may be a better angle for you. The second composition is the C, and it’s amazing for flat lay product photos. The trick here is to arrange your subject and props in a crescent shape, leaving the middle area bare.

Flat lay product photo of candles with matches props
Don’t forget to keep some space clear when shooting flat lay photos. 

3. Get the lighting right

Lighting is essential for high-quality images. Use natural light, if possible. Placing a table next to a large window usually works well. This gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. If the shadow is too sharp, you can place a screen on the inside to soften it.

If you have to use artificial lights, two identical softbox setups can usually do the job, using one as your key light and the other as fill to soften any shadows.

Assessing your shadows

No matter what you photograph or what type of light you use (natural or artificial), you’re going to get shadows. The goal is to assess and modify your shadows to achieve a look you (and your customers) will love. As you look at your scene, try to observe two things about the shadows: location and quality.

1. Location

Shadow location depends on two things: prop position and light position. If you’re shooting objects of different heights, make sure a shadow from a tall object isn’t landing on a short object and obscuring it.

 

Three Fig Leaf bottle product photos with different lighting and composition
Sometimes you need to try different things to get the shot you want.

In the first photo, you can tell the light source is on the right because the shadow from the bottle is covering the shorter lavender dish on the left. To fix that, you can swap object positions, giving you the middle photo. The dish is brighter but it changes the composition you already decided on. The fix? Switch the direction of your light by carefully rotating your setup—then you’ll achieve something like the last photo.

2. Quality

The quality of your shadows is an assessment of how hard or soft they are. Hard, bright light creates crisp shadows with a sharp transition between the shadow and the background in such a way that you could easily trace the border with a pencil. Soft light creates subtler shadows that blend gradually into the background.

Side-by-side images of soft light (left) and hard light (right)
Note the difference in aesthetic between a shot with soft light and a shot with hard light.

The quality of shadows is determined by two things: light distance and light size. Distant light sources create harder shadows while close light sources create softer ones. To achieve soft shadows, place your setup right next to the window. To create harder shadows, move (or roll) your setup further from the window.

The size of your light can also impact whether shadows appear hard or soft. Small light sources (like a ring light or a phone camera flash) create hard light. They concentrate light over a small area. Large sources (like big windows or big artificial lights) create soft light because they disperse light over a greater area.

To soften your light, use a diffuser. Diffusers are anything placed between your light source and your subject to soften light by reducing its intensity and spreading it out over a larger area. Diffusers make light sources act larger than they are.

You can hang a white bed sheet or a translucent shower curtain over the window. If you shoot frequently, you may want to hang translucent white curtains instead.

Using a reflector to diffuse the light and spread it over a large area will also help soften your shadows.

Let’s look at different combinations of diffuser and reflector in photo form:

Three product photos of a vase: no diffuser/reflector (left); diffuser/no reflector (middle); diffuser and reflector (right)
Notice how the white reflector softened the shadow even more than with a diffuser alone. It also brightened the whole left side of the cup and background.

4. Take your photos

When setting up your shots, you’ll want to consider focus, stabilization, and consistency. Don’t underestimate the importance of a tripod to minimize blur and keep the angle consistent across multiple products.

If your camera allows, set the lens to a small aperture, a.k.a. a high f-stop, and set a slow shutter speed. The higher the f-stop setting, the smaller the aperture. This will give you a wide depth of field that brings your entire product into focus to give it a crisp look. Make sure your camera is well-fixed on your tripod or you’ll get blurry images.

 

Image showing difference between aperture settings.

Source: Pixc

The key to creating a gorgeous blur is to shoot with a shallow depth of field. This means that only a narrow (or shallow) strip of your scene will be in focus. On a DSLR camera, widen the aperture by using a low f-stop, like f/2.8 to f/4.5.

Going even lower than that works too, but your background and foreground will be very blurred—it’s up to your eye whether you like that or not.

If you use a phone camera, you can get a similar effect by using portrait mode. Rather than changing the size of the aperture like DSLRs do, phone cameras use machine learning to blur the background and create a similar effect.

5. Edit your photos

After you’ve taken your shots, you’ll want to move on to retouching them. If you’ve taken great shots, you’ll only need to do some light editing to make the images pop. There are many free photo editing options available for post production.

Here are some things to consider when editing your photos: 

Sharpness

With good lighting and a stable tripod setup, you should already have fairly sharp images. The goal here is to lightly sharpen the image to give its edges a more defined look.

White balance

White balance is the level of blue and red tints on the white areas of your photograph. Adjusting the white balance of your image can make it look cool or warm, depending on your intention. Commercial photography should look warmer, since it brings a sense of coziness to the photos.

Brightness and contrast

Brightness can be used to give more highlight to certain areas of your image, but be careful not to turn the brightness up too much. A high level of brightness can give an image a washed out quality. Contrast describes the separation of light and dark areas of your photograph. Slightly higher contrast can give the textures of your photo more depth. Excessively high contrast can stifle the range of colors in your photo and make the image appear flat and lifeless.

Color saturation

Slightly increasing the saturation of your photographs will help bring out more color and breathe a sense of liveliness into your photos. Too much saturation can look otherworldly and make it hard for customers to envision what your product looks like in real life.

Ecommerce photography tips

To shoot high quality product photos, keep the following tips in mind.

Shoot from multiple angles

The whole purpose of product photography is to sell more on your online store. That means capturing a customer’s attention while making your product the star. One way to do that is to make sure to take pictures from any angle that might be relevant to your customers.

Good product photographers know to capture products from any angle that might be relevant to customers. Your product photos should create a vivid mental image of your product for your customers, as though they’re seeing it in-store. Closeups, eye-level shots, and bird’s-eye view shots can help them do this.

Adapt to your natural light source

Natural lighting changes throughout the day and depending on the season, weather, and direction your window faces. Professional photographers refer to the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise as the golden hours, because these times provide low, filtered light for shooting.

It’s also best to shoot on an overcast day, to avoid direct sunlight. Just like strong backlight, direct sunlight can be too harsh and can create unsightly dark shadows.

Play with different backgrounds

Once you’ve taken a few shots, try mixing and matching different backdrops to experiment with different effects.

Using different vertical and horizontal backdrops will give you a ton of content without any extra styling effort. With just one photoshoot, you’ll be able to change your product page photos to suit the season.

Choose backdrops of different colors and intensities that complement your brand aesthetic and that look great together. That way you can create light, dark, and mixed dark and light combinations that lend variety to your listings and catch attention.

Use a tic-tac-toe grid to perfect the frame

When creating a flat lay or diagonal shot, try picturing your surface like a tic-tac-toe grid. It helps you place each object into a square. Alternatively, create overlap by placing the foreground prop on the intersection of two grid lines.

When creating a flat lay or diagonal shot, try picturing your surface like a tic-tac-toe grid. It helps you place each object into a square. Alternatively, create overlap by placing the foreground prop on the intersection of two grid lines.
Using a tic-tac-toe grid can help you visualize the whole frame.

To create overlap between your foreground prop and subject, place the foreground prop on the intersection of the grid lines (like in the photo above) rather than in the front corner square.

To create overlap between your foreground prop and subject, place the foreground prop on the intersection of the grid lines (like in the photo above) rather than in the front corner square.
Slight overlap adds visual interest and makes your photo more professional-looking without distracting from your subject.

Choose the right props

When choosing props, consider objects a customer may use with your subject. For example, a bath poof and towel make sense with a skin care product. Alternatively, you might choose attractive objects that fit with your color scheme, even if they don’t relate to your product.

For background objects, try glass bottles, vases, plants, or a bowl of fruit. For foreground objects, try a sprig of greenery, citrus slices, flowers, or a sprinkle of something textured, like coarse salt, oats, or loose tea.

Product photo of Body Satin foot scrub
Props can set the scene and mood for your ecommerce photography.

Compress your image files before publishing

You’ll want to compress your product photos to make sure they load quickly and easily on your Shopify store, Amazon marketplace or social media.

On Shopify, the maximum image size is 4472 by 4472 pixels, with a file size of up to 20 megabytes; but even this is quite large. While images this size will load, they won’t load quickly. An image size of 2048 by 2048 pixels for square product photos is recommended.

Also keep in mind that many Shopify themes have a zoom function that allows users to take a closer look at your photos. When users zoom, they’re viewing the full size of the photo, so anything smaller than 2048 by 2048 pixels might make the zoom function difficult to use.

For compressing the file size, there are online tools available, like TinyPNG and Compress JPEG, that will help you do this. Most photo-editing software tools (like Adobe Photoshop) also have functions for compressing the file size.

Elevate your product photos

Good product photography is incredibly important to get your products sold online. When browsing your ecommerce store, product photos help potential customers envision what the product looks and feels like in real life.

Product photos showcase your products’ best features and can help answer questions customers might have about how they’re used and why your products are worth buying. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good product photo is better than any sales pitch.

Learn more about ecommerce photography:

Ecommerce photography FAQ

How do I photograph my product for ecommerce?

  • Set up your studio.
  • Style your shots.
  • Get the lighting right.
  • Take your photos.
  • Edit your photos.

What are some good ecommerce photography tips?

  • Create a streamlined workflow and dedicated studio.
  • Use product photos to sell the quality of the product.
  • Showcase your products’ most important features.
  • Show your products in-use.
  • Use natural light and light from the side.

What are the benefits of high-quality ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce photography helps to increase conversion rates by showcasing your products’ best features and helps to develop your brand’s visual identity. Good ecommerce photography can put your products above the competition by showcasing their best features.


About The Author

Mandy Gleason is the founder of Replica Surfaces. Before starting Replica, Mandy had zero photography experience and struggled to photograph her own product. She taught herself how to take stunning product photos at home and now specializes in helping sellers and makers increase online sales using photos they take themselves at home on their phones.



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