Make your products the star - The art of getting product images that really sell

Rob Chettleburgh
By Rob Chettleburgh
20 Aug 2014

In a recent article we discussed how your eCommerce site needs to create desire and answer the questions that potential customers might have. Good quality product images are an indispensable part of the process. Better images sell more products. 

But, what does better mean? And how do you get better images?

If you can afford it, get a professional to do the job for you. If you don’t think you can afford it, read this article, think about how product images affect sales, and then revisit your budgets. 

Duff or ordinary photos do nothing to create desire, either on your site or when your products appear on online marketplaces and shopping comparison engines. In Google Shopping, for example, they could appear side by side with images shot by a pro.

What impression do you want to make?

A new visitor to your eCommerce site is likely to form an impression about who you are, almost as quickly as a shutter click. Before they look in detail, an overall impression will be forming in their mind of who you are and your values as a business.

With a bit more imagination could you help your customers visualise the product in their own homes? Could you help them make the emotional connection with how your product will help them achieve something or make their lives better?

In many cases the first thing their eye rests on will be a photograph.  So here’s a challenge for you: if somebody who doesn’t know anything about you had to form a snap decision about your business from one of your product photos, what would it be?

If you’re not feeling a bit uncomfortable at this point the chances are that you already get the importance of professional, high quality and imaginative product images in effective ecommerce solutions. 

You have an easier job of convincing somebody that you deliver excellent service when you reflect that care in the way you display your product images. Trust and confidence can be created or fatally undermined in the blink of an eye.

Tavistock Screenshot

How product photos help you sell

Once the initial visual impact of your photographs has helped convince people that they’re in a safe place, we are into the selling process. We recently explored the psychology of selling online. We identified how product photos help create the desire to own something. And we also explored the questions that people go through to justify their initial, emotional decision.

People usually have practical questions and often images are better at answering them than words. The job of an eCommerce design agency is to make sense of how all these elements contribute to conversions.

If the size of your product isn’t immediately obvious then you may want to include something in the image such as a hand that provides that reference. Customers might also want to know what the product feels like and a close-up shot to show the texture could help answer a critical question.

Good quality, thoughtfully composed, well-lit and detailed images mean that people get the best possible sense of what they are buying without actually being able to hold it. Confidence is critical and people want to be as certain as possible about what they are buying.

Try to think what you would need to see in the images if you knew nothing about the product and the images were all you had to go on.

Backgrounds

Much of the time a white background will help your products stand out.  Experiment with different colours and textures by all means but always keep in mind that the product is the star. Probably best to steer clear of cream or ivory which can just look dirty.

You could also consider natural textures like wood, slate or stone as your background. These can work really well when they are appropriate to your product.  Walking boots photographed on a bed of pebbles would be an example. White might be too sterile for an outdoor product, while a natural background might evoke a sense of why they want to buy it and where they will want to use it.

Finding a commercial photographer

Finding a commercial photographer

Which brings us into the question of how you choose a photographer. Ideally you want a relationship that allows you to direct your photographer to take the photos you need, while still allowing them to input their skills and experience. Choosing your commercial photographer may have as much to do with compatible personalities as it does with looking through their portfolio.

You also want to be certain that that they have the appropriate equipment and facilities, and ideally experience of photographing similar products.

I would also spend some time finding out whether they have any empathy with your area of business or interest in the products you sell.

Art Direction

Good planning is essential. While you want to be adaptable and allow some creative freedom, you also know the details your photos need to show. Important features might not be visible if you allow a photographer just to compose the most visually appealing shot. You understand the product and its ‘story’. You know what is most likely to appeal to your customers and you are the expert on your brand values.

You’ll know when you have the right photographer: they’ll give you all you had imagined, only better.  Their creativity will be directed towards taking the photos you need to sell your products.

Ultimately you want authenticity and the values of your brand to come across in the images. Try to avoid ending up with anything that resembles a stock photo.

Merchant Fox Screeshot

Composition

A straight front-on or side-on shooting angle is unlikely to be the best. Experiment by shooting from different angles to make sure you show off your product most effectively. You should also think about the context in which your product is used. If it goes on the wall then show it on a wall rather than laying flat.

Your product as a hero

Back to the earliest days of print advertising it was established that photographs of products being used (or worn in the case of clothes) generate more sales than simple photos of the product on a background.

With a bit more imagination could you help your customers visualise the product in their own homes?  Could you help them make the emotional connection with how your product will help them achieve something or make their lives better?

Victor Schwab Quote

Taking this further, beautifully crafted lifestyle shots incorporating your product will ‘sell the dream’, and help people buy into your brand values. This is where product photography can power your overall brand as well as selling a particular product.

Can you afford it?

Better, more imaginative photos will increase sales. How much budget you want to put behind it is a reasonably straightforward decision.  Will the profit from the extra sales be greater than the additional cost of taking the photos?  Maybe try some experiments and compare conversion rates to help you decide. 

And remember that once you have some top quality images you can use them in other aspects of you marketing: email, flyers, print adverts and so on. Eye-catching images that represent your brand are fantastic marketing assets.

All I’ll say at this point is that we have yet to find a client who hasn’t more than recouped their investment in better quality product photos.

Photo editing

Tool Bar

There’s probably another article to be written about photo editing. The basic points are to crop your image so that you take out unnecessary background and to adjust the hue and saturation of your images to show a realistic colour representation. You’ll also need to resize the images so that they are appropriate for your site – otherwise you could slow your page loads and affect your search performance.

And finally - image rights

Don’t assume that because you paid for photographs to be taken that you have any intellectual property rights. In UK law the creator of anything owns the rights unless they are specifically assigned to you in the contract. Make sure you clarify this with your commercial photographer and that your contract gives you full intellectual property rights.