Posts

Product Photography, Part 14: Optimizing for Speed, Search

The final step in product photography is optimizing the images for search engines and page speed.

This is the 14th installment in my series on helping ecommerce merchants create better product images, following “Part 1: Choosing Backdrops,” “Part 2: Selecting Tripods,” “Part 3: Artificial Lighting Basics,” “Part 4: Angles and Viewpoints,” “Part 5: Choosing a Camera,” “Part 6: Selecting a Lens,” “Part 7: Magnification and Close-ups,” “Part 8: Composition Essentials,” “Part 9: Advanced Composition,” “Part 10: Lines as Design Elements,” “Part 11: Image Editing,” “Part 12: Color Correction and Presets,” and “Part 13: Special Edits.”

In this post, I’ll address making your photos faster to download and more visible in Google’s image search.

Image Search

Optimize descriptions. It’s tempting to keep the default image names from your camera. But don’t do it. Take the time to rename those images with keywords. It will help rank in Google’s image search. Organic search traffic is the lifeblood of many ecommerce businesses. Creating keyword-rich files is as important as the copy on product pages.

For image keywords, think about how online shoppers search for your type of products and apply those patterns to file names. If you’re unsure of those search queries, tools such as Moz, Semrush, Ahrefs, Rank Tracker, and Google Search Console can help.

Consider the example below from my own business. The original file name for this painting as assigned by my camera was a string of numbers, such as 1583.jpg. But that isn’t descriptive. So I changed the name to panamericanartprojects-carolyn-mara-overlapping-circles-2021.jpg.

That description lists important keywords consumers can use to find my artwork via any search engine. Do the same for the file names of your product images.

The camera’s default file name for this image of the author’s painting contained only numbers, such as 1583.jpg. She changed it.

Customize alt attributes. An alt attribute — alternative text — describes an image. It’s essential accessibility for visually-handicapped users and those that do not otherwise download photos. For search engines, it provides additional, keyword-rich info and thus elevates rankings, potentially. Apply the same keyword research to alt text as for file names. For example, the alt text from my image above is alt= “Carolyn Mara, Overlapping Circles, 2021”.

Include model numbers or serial numbers in alt attributes if applicable to your products. But don’t overdo it. Keep alt attributes relevant and straightforward.

Page Speed

The size of an image determines download speed. The bigger the image, the slower the speed — a 200-kilobyte image is slower than 50 kb. Slow pages impact your visitors’ shopping experience. Many will leave if too slow. For organic search rankings, Google’s new Core Web Vitals algorithm assesses speed. Slower sites have lower rankings. Fortunately, merchants can optimize their images for faster downloads.

First, optimize thumbnails. Product thumbnails can be helpful on, say, category pages or even the home page. But use them sparingly and make them as lightweight as possible. Reduce the resolution if necessary. And make sure the alt text of your thumbnails is different from the larger version. Many ecommerce platforms optimize thumbnails automatically.

Second, shoot in RAW format but upload in JPEG. Shoot and edit your products in RAW format. Then convert them to JPEGs. RAW files, unlike JPEGs, capture all of the data from the camera’s sensor, which makes it easier when editing and obtaining the true color of your item. RAW files also provide increased brightness.

But the downside of shooting in RAW is that the files are typically huge, up to 10-times larger than a JPEG. Thus, shoot and edit in RAW. Then convert the photos to JPEGs.

Product Photography, Part 13: Special Edits

Special post-production edits can help create the perfect product images.

This is the 13th installment in my series on helping ecommerce merchants create better product images, following “Part 1: Choosing Backdrops,” “Part 2: Selecting Tripods,” “Part 3: Artificial Lighting Basics,” “Part 4: Angles and Viewpoints,” “Part 5: Choosing a Camera,” “Part 6: Selecting a Lens,” “Part 7: Magnification and Close-ups,” “Part 8: Composition Essentials,” “Part 9: Advanced Composition,” “Part 10: Lines as Design Elements,” “Part 11: Image Editing,” and “Part 12: Color Correction and Presets.”

In this installment, I’ll look at advanced editing techniques.

Special Edits to Product Photos

Straightening an image is a key editing step for sitewide uniformity and creating the most appealing views. If you’re shooting products on a mobile device, use its native straightening and perspective tools, VSCOs skew adjustment tool, or Snapseeds perspective tool. Adobe Photoshop offers more advanced straightening options.

In the video below, photographer Rory Factor uses Photoshop’s Warping Tool to create perfectly straightened images.

[embedded content]

Cropping can improve an image’s composition — the arrangement of items. When cropping, remember that consistency across all photos is key. Crop every product image in the same manner with no switching between square, horizontal, and vertical views. Pick a view and stick with it. I follow Amazon’s cropping guidelines: the product comprises 85% of the overall frame.

Removing a background is among the most common photo editing tasks. Marketplaces often require white backgrounds. Thus shooting your product against a solid white background enhances its effectiveness while saving on editing time. Background removal can be time-consuming and tedious. Consider outsourcing this part of the process to a product photo editing service.

Image from Remove.bg of four items with part of the background removed. Image from Remove.bg of four items with part of the background removed.

Removing a background is among the most common photo editing tasks. Source: Remove.bg.

Removing imperfections. Examine your product before shooting. Check for blemishes, scratches, and damage. Luckily, editing out imperfections isn’t difficult. I use Photoshop’s Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tools. Photographer Amanda Campeanu’s video below explains how to use those tools and clean up misaligned background lines. (She also promotes her course.)  I also use TouchRetouch, a terrific mobile app, for spot removal.

[embedded content]

Color changes. One of the best ways to speed up the editing process of a product with multiple colors is to use the best image and then change the color. The video below from Photoshop’s YouTube Training channel explains how to use Lightroom to change the color of anything.

[embedded content]

Adding shadows can enhance some products that are set against a white background. If you add shadows, avoid darkening the product. Instead, create a realistic shadow that adds to a product’s depth and dimension.

A reflective shadow, for example, is common on ecommerce home pages and category pages.

Image from Shift4shop.com of sunglasses with a reflective shadow.Image from Shift4shop.com of sunglasses with a reflective shadow.

Reflective shadows are common with images on ecommerce home and product pages, such as these sunglasses. Source: Shift4shop.com.

A drop shadow can create a sense of depth and dimension.

Image from Shift4shop.com of four kitchen knives with drop shadows.Image from Shift4shop.com of four kitchen knives with drop shadows.

Drop shadows create a sense of depth and dimension, such as on these kitchen knives. Source: Shift4shop.com.

Phlearn’s YouTube channel includes helpful tutorials on adding shadows to an object and on reflective shadows specifically.

Also, “15 Photoshop Tutorials for Product Photography” by contributor Sig Ueland is a terrific rundown of learning resources.

Product Photography, Part 12: Color Correction and Presets

An essential component of product photos is ensuring the color matches the real-life item.

This is the 12th installment in my series on helping ecommerce merchants create better product images, following “Part 1: Choosing Backdrops,” “Part 2: Selecting Tripods,” “Part 3: Artificial Lighting Basics,” “Part 4: Angles and Viewpoints,” “Part 5: Choosing a Camera,” “Part 6: Selecting a Lens,” “Part 7: Magnification and Close-ups,” “Part 8: Composition Essentials,” “Part 9: Advanced Composition,” “Part 10: Lines as Design Elements,” and “Part 11: Image Editing.”

This post will address color correction.

Color Correction

Color correction is the process of adjusting a photo to match the actual subject. It’s among the most important parts of editing product photos, given the importance of an exact color match. Unfortunately, photography sessions often produce less-than-perfect colors, requiring changing an image’s white balance, contrast, exposure, and saturation.

White balance refers to its hue (or shade) in your image. Whites can appear more yellow or blue depending on the light source.  Adjusting the white balance won’t make your photo brighter or darker; it will, instead, change the overall colors for a more balanced representation of what human eyes associate with a clean, bright white. The result is a better representation of the product’s true color.

Screenshot of a YouTube video from photograph TeeWinScreenshot of a YouTube video from photograph TeeWin

In this YouTube video, product photographer TeeWin illustrates the importance of editing white balance.

Contrast. Changing a photo’s contrast makes the lighter areas brighter and the darker areas more so. Contrast affects your picture in different ways. Images that are too bright or too dark could mask the true colors of the item and otherwise appear inferior, which will decrease conversions.

Image from REI.com of water, rocks, and treesImage from REI.com of water, rocks, and trees

Changing a photo’s contrast makes the lighter areas brighter and the darker areas more so. Image: REI.

Exposure is similar to contrast, but it controls the overall image rather than certain areas. Increasing the exposure makes the entire photo brighter — decreasing produces the opposite effect. Some editing programs call exposure “brightness.” When adjusting those settings, correct the exposure first before moving to the contrast. That process can greatly improve a photo’s impact on a shopper.

Photo of a rolling barren hills from REI.com.Photo of a rolling barren hills from REI.com.

Increasing the exposure makes the entire photo brighter — decreasing produces the opposite effect. Source: REI.

Saturation. Even the best devices may not capture the true tones for certain colors. For example, a highly saturated red can be difficult to capture and recreate in a modern digital camera. Other colors are similar. The editing process can help avoid a washed-out image.

“Saturation” and “hue” are synonymous in most image-editing software. Accurate saturation is as essential as contrast and exposure. To save time, correct the contrast before changing a photo’s saturation, as adjusting the former will also alter colors. Remember, too, that too much saturation will usually make an image appear unrealistic or over-edited.

Photo from TutsPlus of kayaks with differing red densities.Photo from TutsPlus of kayaks with differing red densities.

Saturation refers to the density of color. Note the red variations in the identical kayaks in this example. Image: TutsPlus.

Filters and Presets

Filters and presets in photo-editing software can streamline an often burdensome task. VSCO, for example, includes a wide variety of default filters. Experiment with one of your images in multiple editing apps until you find a filter that works. Then apply that filter to the rest of your images. Consistency in your product photos is pleasing to the human eye and enticing to shoppers.

With Lightroom, another photo editor, users can create their own presets or download them from others. FixThePhoto.com offers over 400 free Lightroom presets for ecommerce merchants. Plus, hundreds of professional photographers produce and sell Lightroom presets for a reasonable price.

As for resources to learn, Creator Pretty Presets and Action has produced informative videos on Lightroom presets. Equally helpful is photographer Ann Young’s article on the 18 best Lightroom presets for product images.

Presets, free or purchased, do not guarantee perfection. You may still need to tweak the white balance, contrast, exposure, and saturation, depending on the image.

Product Photography, Part 11: Image Editing

Editing is a critical step in producing product photos that engage ecommerce shoppers. If you can’t make what you’re selling stand out, consumers will not likely buy it.

This is the 11th installment in my series on helping ecommerce merchants create better product images, following “Part 1: Choosing Backdrops,” “Part 2: Selecting Tripods,” “Part 3: Artificial Lighting Basics,” “Part 4: Angles and Viewpoints,” “Part 5: Choosing a Camera,” “Part 6: Selecting a Lens,” “Part 7: Magnification and Close-ups,” “Part 8: Composition Essentials,” “Part 9: Advanced Composition,” and “Part 10: Lines as Design Elements.”

In this and subsequent posts, I’ll turn to post-production topics. I’ll address the editing process, explaining how to use desktop and mobile software to create high-converting product images.

Desktop Apps

Capture One is a desktop editing program for Windows and macOS. I’ve never used it, but it is the first choice among many professional photographers. The software comes with extensive editing features with studios in mind. It has a steep learning curve, which likely means there are better options for most do-it-yourself merchants. Licensing starts at $294.00.

Screenshot of Capture One's settings.Screenshot of Capture One's settings.

Capture One is the first choice among many professional product photographers, but It has a steep learning curve. Source: CaptureOne.com.

Adobe Photoshop is a desktop editing program you’ve presumably heard of. It’s an amazing tool in the hands of a skilled editor. For example, the Spot Healing feature can quickly remove unusual lighting reflections in an image. The Clone Stamp tool can hide a label or minor damage to a product you didn’t notice before the shoot.

But it does have drawbacks.

You’ll likely spend a lot of time learning the program if you’re unfamiliar. Like Capture One, the curve is steep. If you need to edit only a few images, a more user-friendly program could be a better option. I recommend Photoshop if you’re experienced and have the time to edit every detail of your image, especially now that Adobe has moved to a subscription model starting at $239.88 per year.

Screenshot of Photoshop's software featuresScreenshot of Photoshop's software features

Adobe Photoshop is an amazing tool in the hands of a skilled editor. Source: Adobe.

Adobe Lightroom Classic is a cloud-based, multi-platform editing software for iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows 10. It’s arguably the best desktop editing suite for most product photography needs. Lightroom’s features are mainly free to use without a subscription. It also has a user-friendly interface with slider-based tools and presets to ensure all of your images are consistent.  Lightroom is an excellent option for beginners. You can start a project online using your mobile device or on a desktop, and all the edits will be automatically updated across all of your devices.

Lightroom offers compelling features, such as tethering, healing, and cloning tools; non-destructive editing; and near-universal file conversion. Plus, Lightroom’s popularity among photographers means there is an abundance of how-to guides and plugins for any competency level. The starting price ranges from $9.99 to $19.99 per month.

Adobe Lightroom Mobile is a mostly free application for iOS and Android devices to access all the features and functionality of Lightroom Classic but with the ease of use of touch-based controls. Lightroom Mobile sells thousands of presets for consistent editing in a simple, one-tap way.

Mobile Apps

You don’t need an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and a semi-professional editing program to create stunning product images. Modern mobile applications can facilitate all editing needs. Here are three of my favorites.

VSCO is for shooting and editing images from a mobile device. Available for iOS and Android, VSCO costs about 19.99 a year. It is well worth it for a mobile camera that can shoot in RAW file format and control ISO (light), shutter speed, and white balance. Plus the editing tool is ideal for working with color, light, and contrast.

I use VSCO when working on the color of an image. The app comes with many excellent presets. It’s a good alternative to traditional desktop editing software.

Home page of VSCO.Home page of VSCO.

VSCO is a good alternative to traditional desktop editing software. Source: VSCO.

Snapseed is a free mobile photo-editing app developed by Google for iOS and Android. The app has many professional-level tools, from adjusting an image’s white balance to changing its perspective and correcting imperfections. I use Snapseed to adjust the lighting in a specific part of an image and to add some additional area to a photo I’m posting online.

Screenshot of Snapseed on a mobile phone screen from IphonepPhotographySchool.com.Screenshot of Snapseed on a mobile phone screen from IphonepPhotographySchool.com.

Snapseed, a free mobile photo-editing app developed by Google, has many professional-level tools. Source: IphonepPhotographySchool.com.

TouchRetouch is an inexpensive app for quickly retouching quality images. It’s available for iOS and Android. TouchRetouch can remove objects and lines from images and has a quick repair tool that works wonders. It’s my go-to solution for cleaning up imperfections. It costs just $2.79.

Image of TouchRetouch of a mobile screen from IphonepPhotographySchool.com.Image of TouchRetouch of a mobile screen from IphonepPhotographySchool.com.

TouchRetouch can remove objects and lines from images and has a quick repair tool. Source: IphonepPhotographySchool.com.

Consistency Is Key

Clean, level, aesthetically pleasing product photos are essential. But so is consistency. All of the images on an ecommerce website should go together. Create a formula with presets for programs such as Lightroom, or find a filter on VSCO, to achieve a consistent look across all photos. It’s the consistency that makes your site and its products attractive and engaging to shoppers.

Product Photography, Part 10: Lines as Design Elements

The design elements of a photo include lines, color, shapes, light, texture, and negative space. The use of such elements in product photography can make or break its appeal to shoppers.

This is the 10th installment in my series to help ecommerce merchants take better product images. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined artificial lighting. “Part 4” reviewed angles and viewpoints, and “Part 5” dealt with choosing a camera. “Part 6” assessed lenses and their importance. “Part 7” focused on magnification and close-ups, and “Part 8” and “Part 9” introduced the basics of composition.

In this installment, I’ll look at using lines to make your product photos more engaging.

Lines in Photography

Lines direct the viewer’s eyes to the focal point of an image. Failure to employ lines correctly can make your images confusing or complicated, lowering conversions. Let’s look at the six types of lines for your product photography.

Vertical lines draw viewers’ eyes from the top of your photo to the bottom, or vice versa. Vertical lines can evoke feelings in the viewer, depending on the context.

Woman at a sink washing a reusable water bottle. SourceL TakeyaUSA.com.Woman at a sink washing a reusable water bottle. SourceL TakeyaUSA.com.

Vertical lines can evoke feelings in the viewer. This image of a reusable water bottle conveys the brand’s sustainability efforts and a key selling feature: a removable lid. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

For example, the image above of a woman washing a reusable water bottle sends a powerful message about the brand’s sustainability efforts and a key selling feature: a removable lid. Viewers’ eyes follow the top of the flowing water before settling on the lid and the overall scene. It’s a compelling example of how product photography can provide a visual journey and prompt shoppers to contemplate an item’s utility.

Horizontal. The human eye naturally follows horizontal lines in an image, making their use a powerful tool when crafting a story about a product or brand. Interrupting a horizontal line with the product is an effective way to draw attention, as seen in the example below. I prefer placing a product on top of a horizontal line to occupy most of the upper portion. It forces viewers to gaze upwards and contemplate your product longer.

Image of a water blue water bottle on a tennis court out-of-bounds line. Source: TakeyaUSA.comImage of a water blue water bottle on a tennis court out-of-bounds line. Source: TakeyaUSA.com

Interrupting a horizontal line with a product, such as this water bottle, draws attention. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Diagonal lines can create useful tension in product photography. Tension can improve engagement. For example, the diagonals in the image below of the towel and flowers drive viewers’ eyes to the coffee maker and its “smooth pouring” experience.

Female pouring coffee into a glass. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.Female pouring coffee into a glass. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Diagonal lines can create useful tension. The diagonals of the towel and flowers in this image drive viewers’ eyes to the coffee maker. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Diagonal lines can also create depth in an image, which is helpful in forming a story around a product. The image below is much more interesting with the diagonal shoreline in the background.

Girl standing on a rock holding a water bottle. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.Girl standing on a rock holding a water bottle. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

The diagonal shoreline in the background of this image adds interest and engagement. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Leading lines can be vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. They steer viewers to an image’s focal point. Leading lines make images less static and more three-dimensional. Use them in any number of ways. For example, a product placed partway through a line entices viewers to continue past the item, take in the entire image, and return.

Lines can also lead directly to your product and terminate, as in the image below. The woman’s arms lead to the water bottle.

Image of a lady on a beach sitting, holding a blue water bottle. Lines can lead directly to a product and then terminate, such as the women's legs and her arms, which lead to the water bottle. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.Image of a lady on a beach sitting, holding a blue water bottle. Lines can lead directly to a product and then terminate, such as the women's legs and her arms, which lead to the water bottle. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Lines can lead directly to a product and then terminate, such as the woman’s arms, which lead to the water bottle. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Avoid placing a product at the beginning of a leading line. Provide the viewer the experience of following lines to the item. Also, consider more than one leading line as illustrated, again, by arms and legs in the image above. Leading lines can come from the same or varying directions so long as they direct viewers’ eyes to the product.

Implied lines stem from the arrangement of elements. The photo below is a good example. The placement of the hat, pillow, jug, and glass implies a diagonal line running from the lower-left corner to the top right. The line draws a viewer’s eye to the product (the jug).

Image of a hat, bottle, and a glass arranged diagonally.Image of a hat, bottle, and a glass arranged diagonally.

Implied lines stem from the arrangement of elements in a photo. This hat, pillow, jug, and glass imply a diagonal line from the lower-left corner to the top right. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Converging lines are two or more diagonal lines that run toward each other. They may not touch, but they are helpful in some settings. For max effectiveness, place your product at the point where the lines converge. This becomes the focal point of the image and can engage viewers.  The water bottle below sits on at convergence of two diagonal countertop lines.

Converging lines can become the focal point of the image and can engage vieWater bottle sits at the convergence of two diagonal countertop lines. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.Converging lines can become the focal point of the image and can engage vieWater bottle sits at the convergence of two diagonal countertop lines. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Converging lines can become the focal point of the image and can engage viewers. This water bottle sits on at convergence of two diagonal countertop lines. Source: TakeyaUSA.com.

Product Photography, Part 8: Composition Essentials

Photo composition refers to the arrangement of an image’s items and elements. For product photography, composition has one goal: create an image that draws a shopper closer to purchase.

This is the eighth installment in my series to help ecommerce merchants improve their product photography. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined the fundamentals of artificial lighting. “Part 4” reviewed angles and viewpoints, “Part 5” dealt with choosing a camera. “Part 6” assessed lenses and their importance, and “Part 7” focused on magnification and close-ups.

In this “Part 8,” I’ll explain photo composition and why it’s important. I’ll review two compositional rules to help create exceptional product photos.

Rule of Thirds

Image of a candle from CandleScience.com with the subject slightly off center on a superimposed grid.Image of a candle from CandleScience.com with the subject slightly off center on a superimposed grid.

In photo composition, the rule of thirds dictates setting the primary subject slightly off-center. A camera grid can help. Image: CandleScience.com.

The rule of thirds is critical when shooting products. It’s easy to implement and can greatly impact how a shopper views a product.

Centering a product in the middle of a frame seems logical, but it won’t set your items apart.

Instead, apply the rule of thirds, which is to offset from the center slightly. The rule states that the subject of an image should be placed at the intersection of predetermined vertical and horizontal lines. An iPhone camera, for example, has a grid setting to help, at Settings > Camera > Grid.  Nearly all DSLR cameras have a similar tool.

This type of offset image is useful because it creates a natural focal point that draws in viewers. Having the subject in one-third of the composition with the remaining two-thirds balanced with negative space is attractive, and more importantly, feels right to a viewer.

Rule of Odds

Image from Ivory.com showing two images: (a) three bottles of body wash and (b) three deodorant sticks.Image from Ivory.com showing two images: (a) three bottles of body wash and (b) three deodorant sticks.

The rule of odds calls for grouping multiple items in a photo in odd numbers, such as three or five. This example from Ivory.com uses groups of three.

The rule of odds is another simple yet effective composition tactic for product photography. The rule states that when shooting more than one object, always group in odd numbers. Odd-numbered groupings force the human eye to work harder to view each item.

Our brains naturally seek order and organization. An odd pairing of products makes your unconscious mind work harder. The effect is to force shoppers to spend more time on product images.

Procter & Gamble’s Ivory.com uses the concept. The body wash and deodorant shots on the home page, above, contain three items. But each product within the image is unique, with slight discrepancies in color and clarity, prompting the viewer to pause. The result entices shoppers to click. It’s terrific, powerful photo composition.

Three or five products are generally the best for product photography groupings. Differentiate the items by stacking some of them on a different plane, pairing a larger object with a smaller one, or varying the distance or angle.

This image from Apple features five iPhones at different angles, distrances, and colors.This image from Apple features five iPhones at different angles, distrances, and colors.

This image from Apple features five iPhones at different angles, distances, and colors.

Try to break up a boring, horizontal line of products by forming a triangle or a vertical arrangement. (I’ll address diagonal composition in a later installment.)

Image from PhotoAxis.com of three apples in a triangle.Image from PhotoAxis.com of three apples in a triangle.

Setting items in a triangle, such as these three apples, is better than a simple horizontal line. Source: PhotoAxis.com.

Finally, use a camera’s lens focus to your advantage. Not every subject in an image needs to be completely clear, as demonstrated by the Ivory.com deodorant example. Find an aesthetically pleasing layout and experiment with the best focal point. Try new arrangements and settings. Create images that will engage your shoppers and drive sales.

Product Photography, Part 7: Magnification and Close-ups

The best product photos provide online shoppers with precise detail to know what to expect when the goods arrive. Specialty magnified shots can help.

This is the seventh post in my series on helping ecommerce merchants elevate their product photography. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined the fundamentals of artificial lighting. “Part 4” reviewed angles and viewpoints, and “Part 5” dealt with choosing a camera. “Part 6” assessed lens and their importance.

In this installment, I’ll describe the benefits of macro and tilt-shift lenses.

Macro Lenses

A macro lens acts as a magnifying glass for your camera, producing extremely sharp photos at close range. Macro lenses typically magnify at a 1:1 ratio and can create images larger than the object. The downside, unfortunately, is that the plane of focus is parallel to your camera’s sensor, resulting in a very narrow depth of field. But that shouldn’t matter when photographing small products.

Photo of a Canon Macro 100mm lens from B&H PhotoPhoto of a Canon Macro 100mm lens from B&H Photo

A macro lens, such as this example from Canon, acts as a magnifying glass for a camera, for very sharp photos at close range. Source: B&H Photo.

Moreover, even if the depth of field does affect the focus of your images, a process called photo stacking layers images and creates a single version entirely in focus. I will explain how to do this in a later installment.

My favorite macro lenses include:

360-degree photos are comprised of 20 to 80 shots with a macro lens from the same fixed position utilizing turntables and a variety of cameras. 360-degree images greatly enhance the online experience while boosting trust and conversions. And because they provide unparalleled details, 360-degree photos can remove surprises and thus reduce customer chargebacks.

Sample 360-degree animated GIF image from Product-360.com.Sample 360-degree animated GIF image from Product-360.com.

360-degree photos are comprised of 20 to 80 shots with a macro lens from the same fixed position. This screenshot shows the details of multiple shots in an animated GIF. Source: Product-360.com.

Extension tubes are less-costly alternatives to macro lenses. Sometimes called “macro tubes,” extensions are hollow cylinders that fit between the body of a camera and its lens. They alter how close you can get to a subject and thus increase magnification. Extension tubes do not distort a shot and attach to one another to create the desired magnification with any lens.

The downsides of extensions are having to change the minimum and maximum focus distances and the effective focal length and aperture. A “longer” lens will make your camera far more susceptible to shakes and allow less light to hit your sensor. Vello, Mieke, Viltrox, Kenko, and Fujifilm all make quality extension tubes.

Sample Viltrox extension tube from B&H PhotoSample Viltrox extension tube from B&H Photo

Extension tubes fit between the body of a camera and its lens. They alter how close you can get to a subject and thus increase magnification. Source: B&H Photo.

Tilt-Shift Lenses

A tilt-shift lens is very handy for changing the focal plane of an image to maximize or minimize its depth of field. Tilt-shift lenses allow the movement of a lens up or down and side to side as needed for the perfect shot.

The tilt function is especially helpful in product photography because it allows the focus on specific details. More importantly, a tilt-shift lens projects a much wider area onto your sensor than is required while producing a very sharp image, unlike traditional wide-angle lenses.

My choices for tilt-shift lenses are Canon 50mm f/2.8L Macro or Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8. Both are quite expensive, however.

Sample Canon tilt-lens from B&H PhotoSample Canon tilt-lens from B&H Photo

Tilt-shift lenses, such as this one from Canon, allow the movement of a lens up or down and side to side. Source: B&H Photo. 

Macro vs. Tilt-shift?

Choosing between a macro lens and a tilt-shift comes down to your products and budget. A macro lens with photo stacking is best if you require everything in focus. (Again, I’ll explain photo stacking in a future installment.) For less money, use extension tubes (or even backing up with one of the lenses in “Part 6” and a larger aperture setting).

However, if you’re looking to create interesting and engaging images and have a large budget, consider investing in a tilt-shift lens.

Product Photography, Part 5: Choosing a Camera

I’m frequently asked to recommend a camera. Sometimes folks inquire about the camera I use to display my artwork online. But both queries miss the point. Knowing how to use a camera is far more important than the unit itself. Nonetheless, choosing a suitable camera is critical.

This is the fifth post in my series to help ecommerce merchants take better product photos. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined the fundamentals of artificial lighting, and “Part 4” reviewed angles and viewpoints.

In this installment, I’ll address how to select a camera for product photography.

Merchants have three options:

  • Smartphone camera,
  • Point-and-shoot digital camera,
  • Digital single-lens reflex camera.

Smartphone Cameras

I love my smartphone for lifestyle product shots. It provides a gritty, realistic feeling to my art that I value in the photos of other goods online. Even with Amazon’s strict image requirements, a new iPhone 12 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 is more than adequate with the proper lighting and background.

Photo from Apple.com of the back of an iPhonePhoto from Apple.com of the back of an iPhone

With the proper lighting and background, smartphone cameras such as this iPhone are more than adequate for most product shots. Image: Apple.

However, smartphone cameras have weaknesses, such as no manual adjustment for white balance and aperture. Moreover, smartphones don’t handle bright lights well, producing inferior digital stills. Thus using a smartphone for your product photography requires a superior lighting setup to make up for those limitations.

Point-and-shoot Digital Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras have much more flexibility than a smartphone, and they’re affordable, available at Walmart and similar retailers.

Photo from Amazon of a blue Nikon Coolpix cameraPhoto from Amazon of a blue Nikon Coolpix camera

Point-and-shoot cameras, such as this Nikon Coolpix, are flexible and affordable. Image: Amazon.

An example is Nikon Coolpix. It’s a terrific little camera with many more features than a smartphone, such as settings for shutter, aperture, and optical zoom. But a point-and-shoot camera cannot match a DSLR camera.

DSLR Cameras

I’ll always recommend a digital single-lens reflex camera for product photography. It provides much more freedom than lesser alternatives. A DSLR has the ability to shoot manually, providing control over every aspect of a shot. At $500 to $700, a DSLR may seem expensive. But the investment will more than pay for itself with quality product photos that drive conversions.

What sets a DSLR apart is the option to use different lenses. Like lighting, lenses can make or break product photography. Using a macro lens, for example, an online jeweler can easily increase an image’s product details. That versatility is why I use a DSLR for most of my product shoots.

I favor Canon DSLRs. But Nikon and Sony make great cameras, too. Here are my top DSLR recommendations.

Budget option: Nikon’s D3500. With its 24.2-megapixel sensor and price of $600 to $700, Nikon’s D3500 is an excellent, budget DSLR for ecommerce photos.

Photo from NikonUSA.com of a Nikon D3500 camera.Photo from NikonUSA.com of a Nikon D3500 camera.

With a price of $600 to $700, Nikon’s D3500 is an excellent, budget DSLR for ecommerce photos. Image: NikonUSA.com.

The D3500 takes amazingly sharp images with a high dynamic resolution. Per Nikon, the D3500 is “compact, durable, and versatile.” It’s available directly on Nikon’s website.

Best for beginners: Canon’s EOS Rebel T7. Canon’s EOS Rebel T7 packs a lot of value for a mid-range camera. It will take perfect product pictures.

Photo from B&H Photo of a Canon EOS Rebel T7Photo from B&H Photo of a Canon EOS Rebel T7

Canon’s EOS Rebel T7 will take perfect product pictures. It packs a lot of value for a mid-range camera. Image: B&H Photo.

The Rebel T7 is ideal for beginners because of its 24.1-megapixel sensor and easy-to-use touchscreen interface. But the best feature is the $450 price.

Best professional option: Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is the choice of many professionals because of its legendary performance.

Photo from Amazon of a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera.Photo from Amazon of a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is popular among professionals because of its overall performance. Image: Amazon.

The camera comes with a whopping 30.4-megapixel sensor for superb images. It’s compatible with nearly all of Canon’s electro-focus lenses, making it powerful and versatile for all product shots. The only drawback is the cost, about $2,700 without lenses, on Amazon. But it’s worth every penny.

Product Photography, Part 4: Angles and Viewpoints

Angles matter in product photography. They expose details, helping shoppers make informed decisions. Plus, shoppers who cannot see the particulars of a product will not likely buy it.

This is the fourth post in my series on helping ecommerce merchants take better product photos. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined the fundamentals of artificial lighting.

In this installment, I’ll review the best angles for product photography and the viewpoints to pair them. Let’s start with the viewpoints — the position of the camera relative to a product.

Viewpoints

There are three viewpoints: low, eye-level, and high.

  • Low shots are taken from a position beneath the subject to establish its power in the photo. Low shots work well with lifestyle and in-context shots.
  • Eye-level shots are taken straight-on to provide a view of a product from the level of a human eye. Most product photography is eye-level.
  • High shots are taken from an elevated position looking down on the subject.

Angles

In addition to the three viewpoints, there are six must-have angles for product photos: front, profile, 45-degree, back, top, and macro.

Front angle is the default image of most ecommerce photos because it’s the best for quickly informing shoppers, showing the main features of a product. A front-angle shot should be enticing while also providing enough detail for shoppers to understand the product.

Photo from Walmart.com of the front of an Xbox.Photo from Walmart.com of the front of an Xbox.

Front angle is the default image of most ecommerce photos, such as this example of an Xbox. Source: Walmart.com.

A front-angle shot is typically eye-level against a solid white background. Make sure the lighting is evenly dispersed to prevent visible shadows.

For a front-angle shot and all others in this post, I typically use two off-camera lights with diffusers in a room where I can control the lighting. Place one light 45-degrees behind the product and the other in the opposite corner. Ensure both are elevated and facing downward to dissipate most of the light and reduce the length of shadows.

Profile angle is taken from the side of a product. Its usefulness depends on the item. For example, a profile shot is not helpful for my paintings because nobody wants to see the side of a canvas or frame. But for shoes, say, a profile shot may be essential.

Photo from Adidas.com of the side of sandal.Photo from Adidas.com of the side of sandal.

Profile angle is taken from the side of a product. It’s helpful for certain items, such as this sandal from Adidas. Source: Adidas.com.

Take profile shots at eye level using a quality white background and a steady tripod, as with front angles.

Back angle is a key supporting shot in product photography. Shoppers are rarely satisfied by front angles and profiles alone. Back shots can reveal important details.

Photo from Walmart.com of the back of an XboxPhoto from Walmart.com of the back of an Xbox

Back angle is a key supporting shot in product photography, such as this example of the back of an Xbox. Source: Walmart.com.

For consistency, take a back angle shot from the same location as the front angle — just turn the product around (not the camera).

45-degree angle refers to the position of the camera from the product. It’s also called the three-quarter angle. A 45-degree shot is most often used for food photography, but it’s helpful for many other items, too.

A single 45-degree shot shows multiple sides of a product while providing additional detail. Use a high viewpoint and mark your camera’s position before shooting. Use a tripod to keep it steady.

Profile shot from Adidas.com of a black sandal.Profile shot from Adidas.com of a black sandal.

A single 45-degree shot shows multiple sides of a product, such as this Adidas sandal. Source: Adidas.com.

Top angle is often called the birds-eye-view. It isn’t always necessary, but it does provide more context for shoppers depending, again, on the product.

A top-angle shot can be difficult to pull off — the camera is directly above the product. Place your camera in an elevated C-stand, and then connect the camera to a computer. A nice Matthews 40” C Stand from B&H Photo costs about $183. Impact, Kupo, and GVM also make quality C-stands at similar prices.

Photo from Walmart.com of the top of an Xbox and its controllerPhoto from Walmart.com of the top of an Xbox and its controller

Top-angle shots are taken directly above the product. This example shows the top view of an Xbox and its controller. Source: Walmart.com.

Macro angle shot displays the fine details of products and requires special equipment to get right. I’ll cover it in-depth when I address lenses in the upcoming “Part 6.” Merchants with limited budgets should likely not attempt macro shots.

A photo from Adidas.com showing the closeup details of a black sandalA photo from Adidas.com showing the closeup details of a black sandal

Macro angle shot displays the fine details of products and requires special equipment. This image is of an Adidas sandal. Source: Adidas.com.

Product Photography, Part 3: Artificial Lighting Basics

Quality product photography has less to do with a camera and lenses and more with lighting and its use. Thus if you’re looking to improve product photos, learn about proper lighting.

This is the third post in my series on helping ecommerce merchants take better product photos. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods, including how to choose based on the item and setting. In this installment, I’ll explain the fundamentals of artificial lighting.

There are three main types of studio (interior) lights to photograph products: fluorescent, light-emitting diodes (LED), and tungsten. Each has positives and negatives.

Studio Lights

Fluorescent lighting is energy-efficient, affordable, and produces a bright, diffused light compared to the other options. Unfortunately, diffused light can reduce the contrast of images. This matters when shoppers want to examine fine details.

To overcome, use the fluorescent white balance setting on your camera or manually adjust its color temperature.

Choose 60 to 100-watt bulbs for the best lighting of products. LimoStudios 85-watt 6500k Daylight Balanced Light Bulb is my favorite. It costs about $47 for four at Amazon and matches natural light well, which is handy when you don’t control all light sources.

For an entire fluorescent lighting setup, consider CLAR’s continuous fluorescent lighting kit at Adorama. It comes with dual fluorescent lamps with 5500k bulbs and a carrying case. It costs roughly $135.

Photo from Adorama of CLAR’s continuous fluorescent lighting kit Photo from Adorama of CLAR’s continuous fluorescent lighting kit

CLAR’s continuous fluorescent lighting kit comes with dual fluorescent lamps with 5500k bulbs and a carrying case. Image: Adorama.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are energy-efficient and produce little to no heat. LED lights for photos produce realistic shots that online consumers need when scrutinizing a product. The drawbacks of LEDs are that they often don’t capture true and accurate colors and can make post-production editing more difficult due to the so-called “digital noise,” slight imperfections in the images.

Bescor makes a compelling pair of budget LED light panels which are available at Adorama for $139.99. A more portable and professional option is FotodioX’s SF50 SkyFiller 1×1′ 50w Bi-Color Powerful & Ultra-Portable 2 LED Light Kit, also at Adorama. At $679.95, it is more expensive than most options, but its benefits include a control box to connect to battery power on location and lights that are flicker-free and dimmable from 2800k to 6500k.

Image from Adorama of Fotodiox’s SF50 SkyFiller 1x1' 50w Bi-Color Powerful & Ultra-Portable 2 LED Light KitImage from Adorama of Fotodiox’s SF50 SkyFiller 1x1' 50w Bi-Color Powerful & Ultra-Portable 2 LED Light Kit

Fotodiox’s SF50 SkyFiller LED Light Kit is portable and preferred by many professionals. Image: Adorama.

Tungsten halogen lights produce an even spectrum similar to natural daylight, whereas fluorescent and LED tend to have spikes. Consider tungsten lighting for more accurate colors since it doesn’t amplify the blue color channel of your camera. A drawback of tungsten lights is they generate a lot of heat. Strobes mitigate this problem although they are not suited for continuous light, such as for product shots.

My choice for tungsten lighting is Interfit’s Stellar Tungsten Two Light Twin Softbox Kit because of its durability, and the bulbs themselves are 500-watt and color balanced to 3200k.

Image from B&H Photo of the Interfit’s Stellar Tungsten Two Light Twin Softbox KitImage from B&H Photo of the Interfit’s Stellar Tungsten Two Light Twin Softbox Kit

For tungsten lighting, Interfit’s Stellar Tungsten Two Light Twin Softbox Kit is durable, and the bulbs are 500-watt and color balanced to 3200k. Image: B&H Photo.

Diffusers, Softboxes, Lighting Tents

Diffusers spread out and scatter light so that it isn’t harshly focused on the subject. Diffusers also help illuminate an entire scene to be more appealing.

Softboxes are a type of diffuser to increase the size of smaller light sources. Many lighting kits come with their own softboxes. Umbrellas and scrims are the two other light diffusers used by professionals.

However, in most cases a lighting tent is the best option for small and medium-sized products. FotodioX, Neewer, Interfit, and Impact offer various kits ranging from $109.95 to $385.75.

Image from B&H Photo of FotodioX LED Studio-In-a-BoxImage from B&H Photo of FotodioX LED Studio-In-a-Box

Lighting tents, such as this example from FotodioX, work well with small and medium-sized products. Image: B&H Photo.