E-commerce isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Surveys report that over 50% of Americans prefer to shop online than in the store. That places a high priority on quality product images.
Quality images drive online sales. They create a first impression and also identify the brand. Ever notice that all the photos from one company look the same, from style to background?
If you manage e-commerce photography for your business or an employer, you’re wise to invest time, budget to product photography and photo editing. Handling your product photography in-house is doable.
When building your e-commerce photography studio in-house, the key is method over hardware.
That is, focus on processes as much as you do equipment and photo editing software. Regardless of your industry, you’re in the business of production.
Here are some guidelines for setting up your e-commerce photography studio.
E-commerce Photography Workflow
Posting your products online hinges on your workflow efficiency. The basic workflow for everyone is
3. Test shooting
5. Post-production processing
You’ll need a plan for accomplishing each of these steps and their related processes.
Step 1. Organization:
Cataloging Your Products
Organization and productivity go hand-in-hand for good reason. You should have all your products cataloged by whatever category is more applicable.
Typically, that’s by description, color, size, product name, and associated tags.
Often, you can use the information on the product’s packaging from the brand. If you create your own products, you’ll need to create your own system.
Whatever number you assign to each product should match a folder in your inventory software. That way, all your products are ready and identifiable.
With this kind of consistent naming convention, you’ll be able to upload the correct images to the product with ease.
Catalog Your Images
Just as it is essential to organize your products, it is equally important to organize the digital photographs and files associated with them.
Once you have cataloged your products, you’ll want to follow suit with your e-commerce product images. Sort image files into folders and rename them with the same or similar naming convention as your products.
You must rename one-by-one unless you have an image cataloging software program.
When you’re finished cataloging, you will have the product’s name, date, and description in the name of the file folder. You may even have them in each file name if you are precise enough.
Back-Up Your Images
Next, it’s time to back up your files. Cloud storage is widely available now. The most well-known providers are Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, and Dropbox. Virtual cloud storage makes it easy to access your files no matter where you are.
Though, external hard drives remain a reliable option as well. Hard drive prices have dropped quite a bit. You can find 1TB and larger drives for under $99.
Document Your Processes
Even if you are the only one in charge of cataloging and photography, take some time to document your processes. Create a how-to workflow manual with the step-by-step instructions and naming conventions.
Write a manual that details your photo production processes and methods. The goal of any company is to grow. You’ll hire new employees who will need training. You may even outsource some of these processes to parties.
Having your guidelines adequately documented and available will ensure consistent quality.
Be sure to update your manual whenever you update processes. This way, everyone remains in the loop and production won’t skip a beat.
Step 2. Prepare Your E-commerce Photography Studio
After you have organized your products and working folders, you should prepare your products to be photographed. We are getting closer to the physical e-commerce photography studio now.
Clean Your Items
Build-in time for prepping each item. Specks of dust and link make unwelcome additions to an image. You can use anything from brushes, blowers, and lintless wipes to clean the surfaces.
You can edit specks and other mistakes out during post-production image editing. Though, preparing the product now saves that time later.
If you’re a novice, then your skill with product photography software is not as proficient. Prepping is the best time-saver in this case.
Organize Your Products
Once they are ready to photograph, place your items in the order you plan to shoot them. Group identifying information with them.
Since you have already cataloged your products, you can line them up now in the same order. As you photograph, you can mark them off your inventory list. Remember, consistency improves efficiency.
Select a Camera and Lens
Your camera should be professional quality, though it doesn’t have to be the most expensive model. A basic Canon PowerShot or Nikon are always good choices.
Regardless of the camera, choose a high-quality lens for photo shoots. Many professionals recommend you go with a professional lens from the same manufacturer that made your camera.
Your choice should also support consistency across your catalog images.
There are two basic types of lenses, a zoom lens, and a prime lens. A zoom lens enables you to vary the focal lengths. This is a good choice if you work with a variety of products (including live models).
You have the flexibility to use the same lens as you move around to shoot different products in different places if required.
A prime lens has only one focal length. If you catalog similar products like dishware, then a prime lens will provide better quality and consistency for your needs.
Choose Your Image Capturing Software
Image-capturing software enables you to photograph while your camera is tethered to a computer. As you shoot, the software uploads the images to a chosen folder on that computer.
Tethering your camera means you don’t have to stop to reload your SD card. You can skip all the transfer steps. You can also see live previews on your computer screen if needed, in effect, jump-starting your post-production processes.
Choose Your Post-Production Processing Software
You need to be able to edit images as part of post-production. The Adobe Suite is the standard here. Adobe Photoshop is widely-known and is capable of advanced post-processing.
If you are already using Adobe Lightroom, then Photoshop is your natural choice. There are other options out there, though Adobe Photoshop is an industry-standard.
Customize Your E-commerce Photography Studio
E-commerce images should have a clean, consistent look. To accomplish this, create a simple studio setup that fits your needs and style.
The essential components are the same across the board. How you configure them is up to you.
You’ll need a white, seamless fabric or paper roll, camera and tripod, and foam board. For lighting, you’ll need at least one fill light one window light.
Position your equipment how you want it but take care to keep cords and other equipment from becoming a trip hazard. Keep your walkways clear. Wrap your cords to keep from tripping on them.
Use the Gaffer’s tape to keep cords in place. Other options are Velcro strips, zip ties, clamps, and sandbag (for anchoring lights).
Now, you’re ready to test shoot.
Step 3. Test Shooting
Once you’ve set up your workspace, you ready to set up products. Test shots help you establish your settings and preferred composition. Take a few shots and see what looks best.
Once you find what you like, be sure to document the settings or studio measurements.
Mark the distance from the floor to the top of your shooting surface. Also, mark the distance between the lower part of your lens and the floor. Doing this is crucial when it comes to maintaining consistency across your images.
What kind of lighting are you using? Lighting is possibly the most critical part of your studio setup. It’s also the most difficult to master.
Once you find the perfect lighting, record the settings. You’ll be glad you did.
The same applies to your camera settings if you use manual mode. Note your preferred settings, including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Also make a note of the focal length and white balance, basically anything that varies as you take your test shots.
Your camera has several types of settings for image quality. Whichever you pick, be sure it fits your needs. Then, as with all settings, use them consistently.
RAW files have the best editing capabilities. Though, the files are large. You’ll need editing software to open them. If you are using the same images for different media types, RAW files are a good option due to their flexibility.
For the web, “JPEG Fine” (either large or medium) is suitable. JPEGs also take up far less space and are easy to edit.
Step 4. Shooting
You have cataloged your products, developed a naming convention. You’ve gathered equipment and determined your settings. Finally! It’s time to start shooting.
While you know you have your editing software, you’ve done enough replanting that you can shoot your products without relying on that software.
You don’t want your shooting sessions to be hurried and sloppy. Fixing mistakes later take more time than you may think.
Have a little fun and enjoy this part of photography for e-commerce.
Step 5. Post-Production Processing
Post-production begins after you’ve captured all your images. You’ve transferred them to your computer and weeded out the ones you don’t want. The goal is to make your pictures look as polished and professional as possible.
At this point, many e-commerce photographers choose to outsource post-production tasks. Image files transfer easily, and outsourcing costs are often worth the time savings.
Post-production editing includes performing color correction, white balance adjustments, for example. Providers can synchronize these adjustments across your entire image catalog.
They can also save different versions of each image. In addition to the original, there should be a separate file containing changes. This file size is large, so you’ll need a smaller version for loading to the web (100 dpi).
For print, your files should be saved at 300 dpi resolution. Smaller
Practice, Fine-Tune, and Outsource
On average, a retailer spends several days to two weeks preparing their products before shooting. That level of preparation is necessary to keep up your productivity.
Larger companies outsource their e-commerce photography altogether. If you are looking to build your own photography studio, take the advice presented here to heart.
From organization through whatever post-production processing you choose to keep in-house, make the time to lay it all out. Set your preferences and document your processes.
You’ll save time and money now, not just down the road. E-commerce photography is about tuning and fine-tuning. As you practice, your skills grow. Modify your processes to grow your business along with it.
If you have any questions about e-commerce photography, please contact us.