How To Shoot Your Own Ecommerce Product Photos

Compelling product descriptions are a best practice for ecommerce (as we’ve written about before), but a great written description is not enough to sell a part or accessory. If you want your site to grow, you need high quality photos of your products.

The good news: It’s easy to produce good quality product photos, even if you have a small budget. Here’s how you go about it.

Equipment and Process

If there’s a “trick” to taking your own product photos, it’s knowing how your process meshes with your equipment. For your specific camera, there’s an ideal lighting setup. For your specific product, there’s an ideal angle. The best way to figure this out is practice, practice, practice.

Still, there are some basics every good product photography process will follow.

1. The better the camera, the greater your margin for error. You can absolutely take a great product photo with a cell phone camera. But everything has to go just right if that’s going to happen consistently. If you’re shooting with your iPhone’s camera (which is surprisingly good), a light that’s off is all it will take to ruin your pics.

If you spend a few hundred dollars on a digital SLR camera (and learn to use it), you have more room for mistakes. Digital SLRs capture more light, and more light allows for more “fixes” in processing. While your budget may not accommodate a brand new DSLR, a nice used DSLR can be had on eBay for a surprisingly small sum.

lighting set up for ecommerce product photos
It’s hard to take a good photo without good lighting. Lighting kits (like this one) are great for taking high quality photos, just make sure you have one that’s big enough for the parts you’re selling…this lightbox won’t work for items much bigger than your shoe. Image copyright Alison Christine.

2. Lighting is crucial. If your lighting is too harsh, the photos will turn out flat and details will be lost. If your lighting is too weak, you’ll need a fantastic camera to pick up all the details.

Generally speaking, you need three things to have good lighting:

  • A main, direct source of light that highlights details, ideally behind a diffuser so it’s not too harsh.
  • An indirect source of light (or more than one) to ‘fill’ light behind the product. The indirect lights remove or reduce the shadow cast by the main light.
  • A background that’s almost always white (at least for product photography).

If you’re on a budget, lights from around your home and a large piece of white cardboard (like the kind you’d buy if you were making a poster for a school project) will get you by. However, product photography tent kits are surprisingly affordable – check out these kits on Amazon and B&H, for example.

3. Plan for professional touch-up. Even if you have the perfect setup, product photos are going to need touch-up.

The good news is that you can find excellent professional photo touch-up services on Fiverr. This highly rated Fiverr provider (for example) will process 10 images for $5, and there are some other Fiverr providers that will do twice that number of photos for the same price.

These providers can also remove backgrounds, placing your products either on a transparent background or a pure white background. Some of them even offer services to make your product photos “Amazon compatible.”

4. Try to focus on details you’d want to see if you were a consumer. Most auto part and accessory manufacturers provide a very basic catalog image for each of their products – you get to see what it looks like, but very few details.

Supplementing this type of photo with some different angles that show specific attributes is a good tactic.

example of watermarked auto part for ecommerceExample of auto engine for ecommerce site
Watermark examples for your consideration.

5. Protect your work with a watermark. Unless you’re putting product photos on a site like Amazon, it’s a good idea to watermark your images. That way, a competitor can’t steal them.

Don’t Overlook Professional Photography

Hire a professional to take product photos

In the old days, professional product photography involved hiring a photographer for a day (or two). They’d bring in their equipment, shoot your inventory, process your photos, and hand you an invoice for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

While you can still get photos done this way, it’s just as easy to package up the parts you want photographed and send them off to a pro that specializes in ecommerce photos:

  • Find an ecommerce photography company like POW Product Photgraphy , ProductPhoto.com, ProPhotoStudio.net, etc. (There are a bunch of these companies.)
  • Package up your parts to their specifications, then ship them to the studio.
  • Wait a few days, review your proofs, and then pay your invoice (photos will cost $10-$25 each, depending on volume).
  • The photography company will return all your parts to you, which you can then return to your inventory.

The advantage in going this route is time and simplicity. It’s easy to ship out a box of parts – you’re already doing that every day if you’re an ecommerce company – and the ecommerce photo company does the rest. However, this can get prohibitively expensive for larger retailers, so you’ll need an in-house process if you have more than a few dozen SKUs.

Encourage Customer Photos

Crowd sourcing is another great way to get product photos. Just ask your customers to send in photos of the products they buy. While most of your customers will not respond to this request, there are quite a few people out there who enjoy taking photos. Quality will vary, but that really doesn’t matter if customer photos are presented as “customer photos.”

Some retailers will offer customers who submit photos some sort of freebie – like a discount code or free t-shirt or sticker, etc. – but this sort of enticement might not be necessary. The key is to ask customers for an image when excitement is high…if you email them a day or two after their order arrives, you can get a pretty good response.

Summary

Customer photos are a great way to supplement your product images and encourage others to buy, but there is no substitute for high quality product photos. Crisp, detailed product photos are an important component to increase sales. You really can’t have a great ecommerce site without them.