Online retailers have their work cut out for them when it comes to product photography, particularly e-commerce vendors that offer hundreds – even thousands – of SKUs. Today’s online shoppers are increasingly savvy, and to make smarter buying decisions, they’re more likely to conduct research and view products from every possible angle. What that means for e-commerce companies, then, is that every product must be showcased from every angle, requiring a series of high-quality product photos for every single SKU. Have products that come in multiple styles, colors, and sizes? Your product photography to-do list just got exponentially longer.
Fortunately, digital asset management solutions like MerlinOne make it easier for photographers, e-commerce companies, and creative teams to manage the thousands of photos, other images, and content required to successfully operate an online retail store. Download our e-book, The Content Lifecycle, to find out how MerlinOne can help you streamline your content creation process, from creative briefs to initial photography through versioning, approvals, and even distribution.
When it comes to product photography for e-commerce companies, scalability is key. To help you streamline your product photography processes, we reached out to a panel of e-commerce pros and product photographers and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the most important consideration for e-commerce companies looking to scale quality product photography?”
Keep reading to learn what our pros had to say about how e-commerce companies can improve and scale quality product photography.
Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics
“For any business, but especially for e-commerce companies…”
The quality of the pictures displaying your products is incredibly important. As part of figuring out your overall styling as well as how to scale the images, you should first decide if you want to display the product alone or if you want to show the product alongside people or in a specific type of environment. The former gives a cleaner look, but the latter might make your product or brand more relatable to the public. Whatever you choose, your decision will affect the type of photography and graphics that you use, as well as the sizing and orientation of the images. Alternatively, you can opt to include both types of images and photograph the product accordingly.
Anders Ankarlid, Founder of A Good Company
“The single most important consideration for e-commerce product photography is…”
To invest in a scalable solution with a camera, backdrop, flash-lights and macros in Photoshop, to streamline the production without losing quality.
Jimmy Rodriguez, CTO and co-founder of 3dcart
“Being a platform that serves e-commerce businesses, the biggest consideration we see is…”
Whether to have a studio in-house or outsource to professionals. What we have seen to be the most effective is e-commerce companies that outsource their photography. This creates consistent quality, costs, and timing. A lot of times trying to do it yourself will involve hiring new employees and project managers as well as buying equipment – all of this while trying to perfect the process and take good photos. The businesses that outsource are finding more time to focus on marketing and growing their e-commerce business rather than getting caught up in the nuances that come with product photography. It is an entire business on its own and can be tough to balance.
Moritz Schmittat, Professional Amazon Product Photographer
“Probably more than half the work of product photography is post production…”
Depending on the complexity of the brief I need about 30 minutes to retouch a photo in Photoshop. In the last couple of months I’ve shot more and more products (especially for Amazon retailers) and had to start outsourcing the image post-processing. My advice to e-commence companies looking to scale their product photography would be to start outsourcing all post production. There are excellent companies in India that deliver fantastic quality. Costs per image are around $2-5 per image (depending on the brief) and I usually don’t wait longer than 48 hours to receive my images back.
Peter Hyman, Founder of SmokeSmith Gear
“There are several factors to consider for e-commerce companies looking to scale quality product photography…”
But the most important one, in my mind, is ensuring that they are all of a singular size so that the product photos appear consistent on the site, no matter how a user is viewing (mobile, desktop, laptop). This is best done before the images are uploaded, using a tool such as Photoshop. There are some plugins that are available that will resize photos once they are loaded to the e-commerce site (especially if one is using Shopify), but these can resize photos in ways that cut off parts of the image. Another key consideration is to name the photos in way that is consistent and which provides some information (and SEO value). So, for example, a photo of a blue blouse should have file name such as Calvin_Klein_Blue_Blouse.jpg. It is even more crucial that these photos have proper alt text language that is descriptive. That has a bigger SEO value than the image file name, but both are important. Finally, it is crucial to ensure that the image weight is low so that the images do not slow the site down. Ideally all product photos should be 150KB or less. This can be also be achieved before photos are uploaded with a batch editing tool. Product images should be JPEGS not PNGs, as PNGs are much heavier.
Shannon Roddy, Amazon Consultant
“Consistency and cost are the most important factors for companies looking to scale quality product photography…”
We like UpgradedImages because they provide the most consistent and cost-effective product photography. E-commerce companies can gain access to quality product photos from anywhere in the world without the expensive costs of maintaining a studio or setting up expensive product photography shoots.
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Her.CEO
“Companies looking to scale high quality product photography need to be consistent…”
This means they should have a set room / space for the product photography with a consistent background, lighting, and shooting equipment. The photography needs not only to be high quality, but it needs to be consistent across the board or it will scream unprofessionalism.
Jon Kline, Freelance Photographer & Cinematographer
“I’ve learned two key components of scaling product photography…”
The first is that it pays to be color-accurate from the beginning. It’s possible to work across multiple photographers and camera systems, as long as white balance is precise. Don’t believe that’s it’s as simple as always shooting on the same camera. When possible, photographers should deliver raw files and color adjustments should be done by an in-house team. A brief style guide can help photographers keep a uniform look.
Second, not all products are created equal. A majority of products will look great under the same traditional lighting, but certain products need a much more nuanced touch to look their best. Products that are translucent, transparent, or reflective are usually much more challenging. They take more time to shoot and benefit from the skills of a more senior photographer. As an example, I was called in to shoot this product series, because the in-house results from the traditional tabletop setup didn’t look good.
Shea Drake, Content Strategist with Business.org
Shea Drake is a content strategist with Business.org where she manages B2B content. She’s been a photographer for over 10 years with 5 years of experience in product photography, having worked for multiple e-commerce companies where she was in charge of all content on site.
“Most people might think the camera used is the most important, but really, it’s not…”
Just about any DSLR made in the last 10 years is going to give great quality photos.
The most important consideration that e-commerce companies need to keep in mind for scaling product photography is consistency and organization.
Keep lighting and environment, or the background, consistent. All lights need to be the same type. Every piece of your setup should have its
dedicated spot. The product always in one spot, the lights always in one spot, and the camera always in one spot. This will keep photos looking consistent and post-processing faster since you can copy and paste settings across all photos.
- Always have the same type of photo taken, e.g., front, back, angled photo. Consistency is key on your site so customers have a good experience.
- Depending on your editing software, create actions or presets to quickly paste settings across multiple photos.
- Create a process of product in, product in-processing, product out.
Organization is another key element to scaling product photography. Due to a bad process, I once had a product that was received but not imaged for over a month.
Donny Minchillo, CEO and Co-Founder of Pineapple Development
“Quality product photography I would say is…”
Among the top three most important investments for an e-commerce website and company. We all know a picture is worth 1,000 words and consumers have shorter attention spans than ever, meaning your visuals MUST capture them in order to get them to convert. If you have a lot of products and it’s going to be a major investment, I’d say find a photographer whose work you’re impressed by, and strike an agreement with them to get all of your products photographed over time. Focus first on your most popular/best selling items. Keep those working for you. Then move onto to a group of your leading products (maybe with the best margins) in each category. And so on. Using the same photographer though for consistency in the images will be key (same lens, angle, background, resolution, editing style, etc.). This way no matter how long it takes to complete, the end result will be a seamless visual shopping experience for your customers.
Meeting product photography deadlines is a big concern for e-commerce companies. After all, you need to get your products out there to potential buyers as soon as possible to ensure a continuous revenue stream. Download our e-book, 5 Ways a DAM Helps your Team Meet Deadlines, to discover how MerlinOne can keep your product photographers and your entire creative and marketing teams on-schedule.
Maya Page, creative director of Social Mediately
“When e-commerce companies are looking to scale quality product photography, I always recommend that…”
Less is more. Sometimes, brands want to add a lot of background noise which takes away from the product and confuses the consumer. Keep things simple – always shoot on a white background. Think Amazon listings – they always require your images on a square white isolated background.
If your budget allows, and your packaging is standard, instead of shooting photos or spending time or money on photography, consider using product mockups. If you search for packaging mockups on Creative Market, for example, you’ll find there’s a lot available.
Brandon Ballweg, Founder/Editor of ComposeClick
“In order to scale product photography efficiently, there are a couple of things I would invest in…”
1) Hire an experienced photographer and pay them well.
By having an in-house, dedicated product photographer, you get someone who’s dedicated to the task and doing it well. You don’t want to have your marketing specialists/managers spread themselves too thin by doing it themselves. Plus, you’ll get much faster and higher quality results by having an actual photographer do it.
2) Have the proper space and equipment to shoot all the products you want to regardless of size.
If your products are on the large size, this may mean investing in a larger studio space. For smaller products, you need to be sure to have all the lights and light boxes necessary. Having this gear from the get-go will save a lot of time and hassle.
Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager of Moriarty’s Gem Art
“Our company sells high end jewelry and we have plenty of product photos that need to be taken on a weekly basis. The biggest issue for us was…”
Time. It was taking hours for us to take just a few pictures correctly. We then hired a professional product photographer to help set us up a light room, choose the right lens and camera, and train us on our photo software. It was almost like a one day boot camp. Expensive, but allowed to easily and quickly take dozens of quality product pictures each week for our online business. Was the best money we have ever spent, as we don’t have to hire in help or try to figure it out as we go. And of course, now we can do about a dozen pictures in a little over an hour.
Mike Lindamood, Founder of WalletGear and Lamood Big Hats
“The most important thing to consider in our e-commerce business’ product photography is…”
The lighting. To get high quality product shots like showing the detail of the grain on leather wallets and the dark cloth on hats, the lighting must be great. Invest in lighting and experiment with different angles of the product to show the fine detail of your products.
Kyle Ford, Commercial & Editorial Photographer
“Too many companies falsely believe that content is their problem…”
For an e-commerce company looking to scale quality product photography, the photography – or as we call it, “content” – need is real and ongoing; however, the barrier to scale is viewing content as a periodic problem to be solved, and not as a functional, ongoing system.
In the traditional content acquisition method, quality product photography is be commissioned on a project basis; a photographer is hired for a specific project and the job is complete when the work is delivered. Didn’t get everything you needed? Now you have a content problem.
Today’s 24/7 marketplace doesn’t stop, so why shouldn’t your method of content acquisition adapt? The answer is to find an ongoing source of content photography, defined as a strategic form of commercial and editorial photography focused on creating relevant and consistent visual content for brand storytelling. While seemingly redundant, as all photography could be considered content, content photography is created specifically to engage or inform a brand’s audience. It encompasses everything from stunning product shots, to lifestyle imagery designed to bring your brand or product to life in context. Content photography is needed on a regular, ongoing and consistent basis. So, just how does an e-commerce brand achieve this?
To scale, e-commerce companies need to shift their thinking to view content creation and acquisition as an ongoing process, not a project with a start and a stop. There are two ways to accomplish this: the first is to bring a content creator in-house; the second, and perhaps most cost-effective, is to place a content photographer on retainer. While a retainer may sound expensive, imagine this: a content photographer is scoped for a certain number of images over a set period of time. Whether you launch a new product, need regular content created, or want to react to a viral or cultural trend, you now have a photographer (and a regular content stream) at your disposal to create quality product photography to scale. That means: no shoots to coordinate, contracts to negotiate, budgets to allocate, or shot lists to ideate every time you have a photography need. You’ve just become 24/7, meeting the needs of the marketplace and your consumer.
Donna Gehl, President of Image Studios
“When it comes to e-commerce photography services…”
Businesses are looking for three things: speed, cost, and quality. Unfortunately, one of those three areas will suffer when there’s too much focus on the other two. Ask yourself: What’s most important? Is it speed and cost? Then you can’t expect premium quality images. Quality and cost? Then don’t expect a quick turnaround. Or speed and quality? Then don’t expect a low rate.
While price is often what people look for first, it’s also important to find an e-commerce photography partner that can offer quick turnarounds while still providing quality images.
Taylor Mack, Bookstore Owner & Blogger at SmallBizRefined.com
“The most important consideration when scaling product photography is to…”
Make sure you’re able to stick to your brand’s aesthetic, and keep the focus on the type of audience you’re trying to attract. Anyone can take a photo on a bright white background. But using texture or interesting backgrounds will make your product stand out and keep your brand recognizable. For example, a vintage wooden background fits well with the aesthetic of rustic home decor. The right customer for your brand, one who prefers that style, will be more drawn to your photos. Basically, you don’t want to sacrifice your brand recognition for higher quantity.
Alastair Evans, Admin at OneSource Commercial Furniture
“It’s easy to dabble in product photography…”
Put up a white backdrop, shine a light, take a photo, and move on. But to have a system, it’s important to be able to replicate the same type of photo over and over again, but with different products. A permanent miniature studio where fixtures stay in place is the first step.
Devin Zander, CEO & Founder of SMART Apps
“The key to scaling quality product photography is to maintain consistency…”
The images don’t have to look like they came straight off the conveyor belt, but using the same angles, filters, and backdrops will create a cohesive, enjoyable shopping experience for browsers.
Images in the catalog shouldn’t include any elements that will take attention away from the product. These images should be a front and center hero shot of the product. Any image variations on the product page can
include action shots or any fluff that may accentuate the product.
On the topic of image variants, they should also focus on the products unique selling points. In addition to the hero shot, each product should
have images that elaborate and visually explain the benefits and texture of the product that a prospect is considering. One disadvantage that comes with selling online is that the customer is unable to view the product in person, so we must rely on our product images to be our strongest selling point.
Roman Rabinovich, VP of Business Development at Eventige Media Group
“The most important consideration for e-Commerce companies looking to scale quality product photography is…”
Finding the studio that has the talent and ability to match the brand communication.
If a photographer or team has trouble communicating the brand visually, then managing that process at scale when new products are launched or added to the inventory across different channels and marketplaces will be difficult to scale. Make sure the studio you choose understands and has the ability to reproduce your brand look and feel while maintaining the ability to connect it across the omni-channel experience.
Ready to eliminate the hassles of inefficient product photography? For rapidly scaling e-commerce companies, MerlinOne’s robust, fast, and fault-tolerant system grows right along with your needs. Schedule a demo today to start reaping the benefits of streamlined workflows, centralized, comprehensive rights management, and complete visibility and control over your growing product photography library.