Ecommerce photography – 15 ways to take photos that sell

I just revived this old article for OpenSky merchants learning to take better product photography. Cross-posting here in all its glory.

Great photos are your best attention grabber, whether in shoppers’ feeds, in emails, or on your product pages. You don’t need a fancy camera to take product photos that convey your brand and your products’ quality. Instead, simply focus on making your images:

  • Bright
  • Detailed
  • Clear

Here’s 15 steps to improve your product photographs. Keep them in mind to get more glam for your goods!

Lighting your product photographs

You’ll get better photos with some unconventional thinking about lighting:

  1. Don’t use your camera’s flash. Using a camera’s flash might create harsh shadows and bright highlights, obscuring details and washing out textures. This is more true as you move your camera closer to your subject.
  2. Indirect lighting is best. Unlike a flash, indirect lighting softens shadows and highlights. You can diffuse your lights by pointing them away from your product – consider them reflecting off a white surface like a flat bed sheet. The soft reflection will allow the light to reach every part of your product.
  3. Natural light is best. On cloudy days and in the early morning, when the sun’s light is diffused by the atmosphere, natural light is the ultimate indirect light source. You can complement it with a few additional diffuse lights if you see any harsh shadows forming.

Keep the backgrounds simple

Don’t make your background the unintentional subject of your photographs. Patterns and textures compete with your products for a viewer’s attention.

  1. Keep backgrounds simple. Use solid surfaces, such as flat, painted walls and tables. Be careful with backgrounds that demonstrate 3-dimensional space in your pictures, such as plants and landscapes.
  2. Choose a solid background color. Avoid patterns. Remember that even simple patterns like grass, wood grain, and upholstery can distract viewers from your products.
  3. Use neutral colors. Let your products, not the setting, create the drama. Think white, tan, grey, and muted hues. Placing your object on or near a white or light-colored background will also create some diffuse reflections (see the indirect lighting tip above).

Framing your shots

Maximize your images’ impact with strong visual compositions that keep the product at the center of attention.

  1. Keep it close. This isn’t a formal family portrait! Viewers want to get up close and personal with your product. Get as close as you can and let the product fill the frame. A tight focus will often show details of your product while blurring the background.
  2. Look at your corners. When framing your shot, take a moment to look at all 4 corners of your camera’s viewfinder. Those edges build your shot in subtle ways, so choose a different angle if they don’t look great.

Take multiple shots

Digital photography makes it cheap and easy to experiment. Take lots of different shots during your photo shoot, then step back and compare the results to select your best option (and consider sharing the results with some people you trust, so you can learn more about what works).

  1. Get details. Many products have lots of interesting details that surprise and delight shoppers. Take a moment to explore your product and look for interesting details, from buttons to fixtures to accessories, and include them in your photos.
  2. Try every angle. Once you have a good “normal” angle, take some time to explore alternative options – you might discover a dramatic new way of looking at your product.
  3. Remember the packaging! If your product has interesting packaging or labels, include them in your photographs. Help viewers understand that the product is a great experience from start to finish.

Create a unique voice

Once you’re confident that you can clearly showcase your product, explore options for adding a unique or dramatic twist to your photos to help them stand out from the crowd.

  1. Use styling to communicate your brand. Think about what different kinds of backgrounds or product angles “say” about your brand. Consider adding simple items (as props) to your photos to communicate a specific scene.
  2. Highlight the product in use. Build a narrative and show how people actually use your product. Open packages. Put clothes on people. Fill cups and bowls with attractive food. Help viewers’ imagine how they would use the product themselves.
  3. Choose interesting mannequins. If you need to hang or prop up your products, give some thought to what you use as a “mannequin.” Natural elements can make great mannequins: try wood, coral, large seashells, and other interesting forms.

Steady Freddy

And don’t forget to steady your shots. Use a tripod or place your camera on a flat, steady surface to avoid any blurring in your photos. This is particularly important if you’re shooting without bright lights and flashes.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you look through an online shopping site like OpenSky your favorite catalogs. Notice when the photographs seem to “follow the rules” and when they break them. As you become more confident, try breaking some rules too, to create a voice that’s unique to you.

Not selling with OpenSky yet?

Do you sell great products? Learn more about becoming an OpenSky merchant and connecting with your friends and fans.

Thanks Tasra!

This article originated as some ecommerce photo tips from Tasra Mar, who used to be active on OpenSky as a photography expert. Though I don’t think she’s active on OpenSky any more, her blog is still a great read.

Join OpenSky again, for the first time

Back in 2009 I invited all of my friends to join me at OpenSky. We were young and enthusiastic and naive back then; in the intervening 18 months we’ve become less young and naive but more enthusiastic than ever, because we relaunched OpenSky just a couple of months ago and our growth and shopper responses have been phenomenal since then.

I’m finally at a point where I’m proud of the work we’ve done and eager to give you an inside look. And if you know me then you know that’s saying a lot.

I’d also like to offer you a couple of incentives for joining right now with this link:
http://osky.co/jdxP0r

First, we typically only allow shoppers to follow 10 curators (and access their sales), but if you join with my link and send a quick email then I’ll use my secret powers to allow you to follow an unlimited number of OpenSky curators. (Be warned, though, that each curator’s weekly sale triggers an alert email – we’re working on improving that.)

Second, there’s a fair chance I owe you an email or call, a lunch, a beer, an alibi, or something else. If so, I promise that if you join OpenSky today then I’ll finally stop wasting my time wondering how to make OpenSky better and start talking to you instead. Yes, it’s sad, but I’m a man obsessed.

Again, the link is: http://osky.co/jdxP0r

You’re smart, empathetic, and generally good looking. I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts about OpenSky and the experience in general, so I can continue to improve it. Please leave a comment and let me know.

Here are some quick questions to get you thinking:

  1. How would you describe OpenSky to a friend? Why would you suggest they join?
  2. What other sites or services would be effective alternatives to OpenSky?
  3. Do you think you’d ever want to use OpenSky? What type of person do you think would really like OpenSky?
  4. What’s the single most important thing we could do to improve OpenSky?
  5. What curators should we add to OpenSky?

Finally, I’m going to stretch my luck by asking you to please tell to your friends about this blog post and ask them to join and post their thoughts as well.

Again, the link to join is: http://osky.co/jdxP0r

Thanks, and have a wonderful weekend!
Chris

Less stuff, more relationships and experiences

This weekend I read 2 interesting articles from the NYTimes that relate to our vision for the new commercial community we’re building at OpenSky:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08proto.html
It’s too bad the good folks at Daily Grommet don’t know of anyone else in their space, given that OpenSky is creating a Daily Grommet in every niche, for every interest. Why limit this “referral and endorsement” role to a limited population of thought leaders when everyone knows someone they trust to recommend the perfect product or solution for any number of needs? Let a daily grommet bloom in every home, in every conversation. There’s an opportunity for every OpenSky seller to watch and learn best practices from Daily Grommet’s success.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html
This is the new American dream: editing down to the right stuff, not having more stuff. OpenSky’s role is a proponent a new, quality-oriented economy rather than a traditional marketing machine: the purveyor of rampant consumerism.

A joint note from the 2 articles: the founder of Daily Grommet claims consumers have “a burning hunger for real leadership and access to authentic experiences and trustworthy people.” According to sources cited in the happiness article, experiences and relationships are the key to persistent happiness.

So the question for us at OpenSky and anyone else trying to innovate in this space isn’t “how can we sell more stuff?” It’s “how are we providing great experiences and connecting people?”

I got a new gig, so you get a special offer? Weird.

For anyone who wasn’t on my big ole email, here’s some news from the home front:

As some of you may know, I’ve recently joined OpenSky, a startup that’s changing the way people shop online. I wanted to share with you what we’re creating and ask you to get involved (yes, there’s a payout at the bottom).

OpenSky is a simple idea: connect customers to independent, expert Shopkeepers and special curated goods, with a mission to build a Modern Main Street. We’re trying to get people out of the big boxes and create a place where commerce is powered by passion, authenticity, and a sense of community.

So far, it seems like other people believe in this idea too. We currently have a team and over 100 Shopkeepers (and growing) in parenting, gardening, cooking, action sports, and other areas. They’re helping us connect with manufacturers and vendors of unique, high-quality goods. Every day, more people show up at OpenSky to find expert-recommended products.

Now, we’re trying to take it to the next level. Here’s what you can do:

Become a member of our Friends and Family community; share your feedback, suggestions and ideas with us. Be vocal. Share OpenSky with your friends and neighbors, introduce us to outstanding Shopkeepers (experts in any field or niche), and tell us about manufacturers and vendors of your favorite unique goods and those seeking powerful distribution. Most of all, become a part of the future of retail.

It’s simple to get started:

  1. Go here: http://osky.co/jdxP0r.
  2. Sign up in 10 seconds.
  3. I’ll make sure you receive an amazing discount on any purchase you make.
  4. If you think this is a good way to shop, please tell your friends and family. (Tell ’em to mention my name for better deals!)

If you’re wondering why this is the only thing you’ve heard from me in ages, it’s because these OpenSky people are, like, crazy ambitious. We’re bucking a long trend of big brands using big stores to push mediocre products at the lowest prices, regardless of the effects on the consumer, the producer, or the world. It’s not an easy task, but I think we can change all of that over the coming months.

I’ll make sure that I keep sharing OpenSky with you (unless you ask me to leave you alone – I won’t be offended). We add new expert shopkeepers and new uncommon goods almost every day, and soon we’ll be launching new features and user experience designs to recreate a place where human interaction has a real place in our shopping experience. I’m also happy to discuss all of this with anyone who has questions about what we’re up to.

Thanks and Happy Holidays
c

Get your coupon here: http://osky.co/jdxP0r

After you shop, please send me an email and tell me what you think. You can also: