Getting shoppers to your store is only half the battle. If you can’t convert them when they get there, what’s the point of the traffic in the first place?

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One element that could be bleeding money: your product photos.

11 ways to optimize ecommerce product photos

  1. Keep photos simple and focused on the product
  2. Choose the best angle
  3. Incorporate video
  4. Highlight important details
  5. Invest in high-quality images and edits
  6. Consider your page layout
  7. Get the right number of product photos
  8. Use a mix of white background and lifestyle photography
  9. Test, test, test
  10. Be mindful of mobile
  11. Remember SEO
  12. Invest in high-quality images and edits

Keep photos simple and focused on the product

There are millions of online merchants across the globe. Online shoppers have their pick of any product from any vendor, so it’s up to you to make sure your images give them a clear idea of what they’re buying and from all angles.

One analysis of the top fashion brands found that 95% of the product photos on the top 25 fashion sites are on a plain background — 89% being some version of white.

“Main product photos should have a white background, but that doesn’t mean these images have to be simple. The main photo is what the consumer is going to see first; they should have a white background,” says Drew Kalinski, founder of Amztut. “Add extra lighting, adjust angles, and touch up defects with Photoshop.”

Keeping it simple minimizes unnecessary distractions that could give an unrealistic impression of what the product’s like in real life. Remember, the customer is purchasing what they see online and trusting you to represent it accurately.

Learn how to remove the background from your photo in Photoshop

Choose the best angle

Think about the shape of an item, its silhouette, and how it’s meant to be used or worn. Have you placed the product in a way that matches this intended use? For some items, a single image might provide all the information a customer needs. But for most, this isn’t the case.

“Try changing the angle of your main product image or have the product take up a larger amount of space in the image,” says Kalinski. 360-degree photos are also popping up. While it’s still a new medium for most retailers, early adopters will benefit by differentiating themselves.

AMADI shows clothes from the front and back, plus a zoomed-in view, so shoppers can see what it looks like on a real person:

Incorporate video

Of the top 25 fashion ecommerce sites, more than a quarter use video to showcase their products. “If you can, invest in 3D videos, as they’re a perfect way to showcase products properly,” says Irena Zobniów, co-founder of Insightland.org. “Users know then what they’re buying.” These videos are supplemental to still shots, providing as close to a real-life impression as you can get.

Video does a great job of accurately displaying how a product fits on our models. – Brandon Chopp, digital manager, iHeartRaves

Here’s an example of a tank top from iHeartRaves with a product video. “This just so happens to be one of our best-selling products, so we plan to incorporate more video on future product pages,” says digital manager Brandon Chopp.

Highlight important details

Each product has unique details that are important to potential buyers. When selling handbags, for example, it’s important to show shots of the interior, as there are key features — inside pockets, key rings, credit card holder, etc. — that shoppers want to see. And if there are multiple pieces or components to your product, make sure you capture each of them.

Not sure what customers are interested in? Scan reviews for most-commented-about features. If you don’t have any, check your competitors’ reviews.

It’s also important to make sure these details are realistic. “Be honest with your users. Don’t show photos of magenta heels if they’re pink,” says Zobniów. Inaccurate product portrayals can lead to unpleasantly surprised buyers, lots of returns, and poor customer reviews.

360-degree photos can also showcase details. “360 view offers a new level of interaction for you consumers,” says Kalinski. “They’re able to engage with your product and have a more accurate understanding of what your product is — which in turn will help your business reduce returns and increase conversion rates all at the same time.”

No budget, no problem. Make sure you have photos that render well for zoom functionality. Here’s an example from Abbott, where you can see the small jeweled design details of the ornament when you hover and zoom on the main image:

By providing high-quality, high-resolution photos that retain their clarity when the customer zooms in close, you will save yourself time (and the sale) plus the customer’s patience of having to inquire with questions about the product.

Consider your page layout

Visual doesn’t mean just product photos — it also refers to the overall layout of the product page. “The most common mistake I see when product photo optimization is concerned is image sizing and image compression,” says Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO strategist at LogoMaker, which sells promotional products on their site. “If your ecommerce platform has minimum height and width requirements for images, meet them. Otherwise your images will look blurred and stretched.”

Bigger picture, create a layout that’s intuitive and easy to use. Many product pages follow a similar format, with common elements like pricing information, add to cart buttons, color variation toggling, and product details.

Take a look at these examples:

Classic Accessories uses a clean, crisp layout, making it easy to see images, product information, and the add to cart button.

DEA Performance follows a similar format, adding extra copy in red to highlight discounts.

And AFTCO has the biggest add to cart button of the bunch, located in a similar location as the other two.

While creatives may be tempted to think outside the box and do something different, product pages aren’t the best place to do that. Online shoppers are trained for the common ecommerce experience, which features product pages following a similar template.

Get the right number of product photos

How many product photos do you need? According to Salsify, nearly three-quarters of consumers want at least three photos.

If you’re a fashion brand, eight is a pretty good bet.

But really you won’t know the true answer unless you test it, as there are so many variables and differences between each ecommerce site and market segment.

One rule of thumb that’s universally true? Use more than one product photo. In fact, make sure you have at least three.

According to one Salsify survey, “if you take two listings that appear side-by-side in an Amazon search engine results page (SERP), the one with more images will convert at a higher rate and outrank the competitor 53% of the time.”

“If you're going to start doing anything to improve your product photos, start by providing alternative photos,” says Strasenburgh. “Alternate product photos that show different angles or pictures that show your product in use are extremely helpful.

PowerA actually uses five photos for this controller, showcasing it from five key angles meant to demonstrate features shoppers are interested in (design and controls, mainly):

Use a mix of white background and lifestyle

“Users need to visualize themselves using the product, and alternate photos help with this visualization process,” says Strasenburgh. So while it’s important to use white background as main ecommerce images, you also want to throw contextual ones in the mix.

Kalinski echoes this advice. “Include a lifestyle image to give context to the product,” he says.

For their product pages, Santa Cruz Bicycles features a white background photo mixed with lifestyle shots like the ones below:

Test, test, test

While best practices are a great place to start, the only way to know what works best on your site for your customers is through testing it yourself.

Some ideas:

  • Big vs. small
  • Number of images
  • Lifestyle vs. white background

“When optimizing your product photography always keep track of the changes you make,” says Kalinski. Keep a centralized master list of the tests you’ve run and their results, as well as future tests you want to run. You can always refer back to this to identify trends over time.

Be mindful of mobile

Online shoppers are also mobile shoppers. And so are in-store shoppers, for that matter.

According to one survey from Adtaxi, 65% of consumers have used a mobile app to online shop, and a Business Insider Intelligence report predicts mobile to account for 45% of all ecommerce sales by 2021. Not to mention the 77% of shoppers who use mobile devices while shopping in-store.

If your product photos don’t render well on mobile devices, you’re losing out on a key segment.

Remember SEO

We won’t go too in-depth here, because we’ve written a post about SEO optimization for product photos, but in sum:

Invest in high-quality images and edits

By 2020, Millennials are expected to control between $19 trillion and $24 trillion on a global scale, according to Deloitte. As Millennials get more purchasing power and even Gen Z gains momentum, brands are exposed to generations who grew up in the digital age. They’re inherently skeptical and acutely aware of online scams.

As such, they have high expectations of brands, and little tolerance for subpar imagery. Editing your shots? Make sure it’s done by a human — not a computer or automated software. While technology has come a long way, you need the most detail-oriented edits to make sure your photos look realistic and you win the trust of potential customers.

“The biggest mistake sellers make is having low-quality images that they took on their cell phones,” Kalinski says. “While mobile cameras have come a long way in recent years, they still don’t compare to a DSLR camera, lighting, and photos taken by a professional.”

“Don’t cheap out on product images,” says Kalinski. “Hire a graphic designer and a photographer.” Speak Skin Beauty learned that outsourcing enabled them to focus on the business, without worrying about the quality of their photos.

DIYing it? Shoot all your photographs in RAW format instead of JPEGs. JPEG files are already compressed, which means that important information and details are removed from the image in order to decrease the file size. This will reduce your image optimization options with exposure, tonality, and colors when it comes to post-processing.

You can also bring photography in-house, hiring professionals with those skills. If you want to explore this route check out:

Recap: how to optimize ecommerce product photos

1. Keep photos simple and focused on the product: Remember who the star of the show is — don’t get too fancy.

2. Choose the best angle: A single head-on shot isn’t going to cut it for today’s online shoppers. You need to show it from the front, back, sides, above, below, and sometimes even inside.

3. Incorporate video: Early adopters know how impactful product videos are for online shoppers.

4. Highlight important details: Show stitching, interior shots, and other small details that make your items special.

5. Invest in high-quality images and edits: Without a brick-and-mortar store to prove how great your products are, your photos have to tell the story for you.

6. Consider your page layout: Make it easy for users to learn about your products and add it to their shopping cart.

7. Get the right number of product photos: Use three at minimum, while eight is the average for fashion brands.

8. Use a mix of white background and lifestyle photography: More than a quarter of fashion brands use contextual product shots to help shoppers envision themselves wearing their products.

9. Test, test, test: You don’t know what works best for your unique audience until you experiment for yourself.

10. Be mindful of mobile: The majority of consumers use mobile devices at some point during the purchase process — are you providing a positive experience?

11. Remember SEO: Images are a key component to getting your site found on Google.

Read this next

Take nitty gritty photo edits off your plate. Learn about outsourcing product photo edits.

Alexandra Sheehan

In her past agency life, Alex has led digital marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s passionate about helping retailers and retail industry leaders harness the power of the written word and fuse it with strategic content, email and social media marketing campaigns.