Every commercial photographer and ecommerce retailer knows the importance of product photography. Most consumers want at least three images, prefer product photography over user-generated photos, and will leave your site if they can’t find the product content they seek.
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And when it comes to consumers’ woes, the second-biggest complaint is “ordering a product online that looks different than what I receive” (with “not enough photos of the product” coming in at third).
78% of online shoppers want to see more images on ecommerce sites, but acquiring all those high-quality product photos could be a challenge: from hiring a professional commercial photographer to understanding how to budget for your needs.
That’s why some DIY and creativity can help you save money without sacrificing the quality of your product photos. A professional product photo stylist alone could cost hundreds of dollars for a single day, so here are some ways you can play the role yourself.
Make a Plan
Though it may seem predictable advice, starting out with a documented plan could be your quickest way to success in your first go as a product photoshoot stylist. Your plan needs to touch on a few key areas: the logistics, the creative and the market.
When it comes to any photoshoot, there are many tiny details that must be considered. It’s easy for something to fall through the cracks, especially if it’s not written down. If you have colleagues or employees helping you, it becomes even more important to document everything.
Creating a schedule is essential to ensure you’re on track and everyone at the shoot is on the same page. If people don’t know where to be and when, the shoot will become chaotic and not as productive as you’d hope it could be.
Establish a budget beforehand, estimating extra expenses for props you’ll have to purchase, as well as other supplies that will help you style the photos.
As far as the creative execution and the styling you’ll be doing at the shoot, it’s always helpful to start with a specific vision or inspiration.
Create a mood board of other photos you like and will fit the brand. Make note of the specific styling choices in those photos, and look for consistencies. Those are commonalities you’ll want to replicate in your own way.
After you’ve documented your vision, make sure you have the supplies you need to bring that vision to life. It’s always helpful to think of an overarching story you’re trying to tell about the brand or the product, and make sure every photo ladders back up to that story.
While your personal creative vision is great, it’s also important to understand whether it will resonate with your target market. At the end of the day, you need these pictures to sell the product you’re shooting.
Research who your target market is (essentially, they are your ideal customers) and see what they’re talking about online as it relates to your product. Browse forums, look at social media, and eye your competition to glean insights into the market.
Get the Right Supplies
After you’ve documented your plan, creative ideas and audience, you’ll need to ensure you have everything to style the shoot accordingly. If you’re a professional photographer, some of these items might already be on your must-have list:
- White background
- White bounce cards made of foam
- Plenty of lighting
- Table cloths
- Binder clips
Props are one of the biggest parts of a product photoshoot stylist’s job. The props set the scene in which your product is living. Without the right props, your photos could fall flat. The first rule of thumb is to have plenty of props. You don’t want to run out, and it’s always better to have too many than not enough.
When you’re looking for props, keep an eye out for interesting elements, such as height, color, shape, texture and dimension. The more unique the better.
Take a look at the example below from Fugoo, an ecommerce retailer that sells mobile speakers. Instead of a standard drink glass, they used a coconut with playful garnishes. It’s eye-catching and creates a more visually appealing product photo.
Go to stores like Walmart or Target, search local vintage or secondhand shops, and browse artisan fairs to stock up on items. If you plan to DIY the styling for many product photography shoots, it’s a good idea to build an inventory of interesting and brand-cohesive props.
Remember to avoid props with logos (although we can edit those out for you), and account for color variations of your product. It’s ideal to shoot the different colors, but if you’re unable to do so, we can also help you edit the colors to look realistic.
It’s okay to go outside the box. In fact, it’s encouraged — as long as it works with your brand and jives with your target market.
Brooklyn Candle Studio uses natural elements to stage their product photos for their extensive candle collection. The brand describes themselves as “simple and minimal with a hint of charm,” and their product photoshoot styling complements that brand identity.
Sell the lifestyle
The ultimate motivation for your customers to purchase your products is the lifestyle aspiration that accompanies the product. In fact, 78% online consumers want images to bring products to life. Style the photos so they promise the dream to life for customers.
Take a look at an example: Rather than selling outdoor gear and apparel, REI sells the lifestyle of an outdoors enthusiast. A photo of their products literally in the wild is much more compelling than a camping chair against a white background or in a beautifully landscaped backyard.
Consider the channel
REI’s lifestyle product photo of one of their camping chairs in use is a great strategy for social media, but for the ecommerce product page, the main image should probably be simpler and on a white background.
When you’re styling your shots, remember which medium or channel you’re taking the photo for. If it’s meant for the product page, simpler is usually better. If you’re looking to spark engagement on social media, more creative executions are warranted. Take a look at watch retailer Bulova. One of their products, the men’s Curv Chronographwatch is featured on the site and on social media in different ways. On the product page, the retailer uses the standard all-white background, multiple angles and simple execution.
On social, they took a more creative approach to the product shot. Instead of a plain background, the watch is depicted “in the wild.” The wearer is skateboarding, has stylish sneakers and a dress shirt sleeve peeking through, exuding playful yet sophisticated.
Showcase the product
Make your props point back to the product to always draw the eye back to what you’re trying to sell. This also helps to avoid overwhelming users with the lack of a focal point, as they’ll be visually directed where to focus their attention.
Match the brand
Regardless of your creative vision, the product photos must have a visual aesthetic that matches your brand. For example, REI uses vivid photography of nature and people in action. A staged photo with models posing for the camera wouldn’t match the brand aesthetic.
Shooting the Photos
About the same number of consumers (38%) say they’re most likely to buy a product if the images have a plain white background as the number who say they want to see photos contextually (37%).
What does that mean? You can’t please everyone.
When you’re shooting the product photos, remember to get a lot of a variety. Try different backgrounds, isolate the image, set the stage with lots of props, play with the lighting, and shoot from different angles.
You want to show the product in its best light, and to different consumers that could mean different things.
Play with lighting to create different effects — change the light sources and the positioning of the lights to create the look you’re going for. For example, light that’s directly above the subject typically achieves a more neutral look, while more shadows add drama and depth.
Find other ways to add drama and depth with the items in the shot, including the product, props and background. If you can add dimension somewhere, you’re likely to capture a visually interesting shot.
Examples of Styled Product Photos
It’s always helpful to take a look at some examples to see these tips in action.
The textures in the above product photo are exceptionally interesting: the tablecloth, the dish, the cookies themselves, the product packaging, the background and the tiniest touch of colorful dusting work together to showcase the cookies.
The cool koozie is especially great for use on the beach, hence the seashells peeking through in the background. The ice-cold drink and beach-friendly background make customers want what that koozie promises to deliver.
Above is a great example of a more playful execution mixed with modernity and simplicity. The texture of the wood background also makes a nice contrast to the black video game controller, which allows the product to stand out and be the star of the photo.
This is another example of exceptional creativity. Instead of the standard approach to the lipstick photographs, this particular photo highlights multiple colors and stays true to the Revlon brand.
If you’re a freelance product photographer, make sure you set clear expectations and deliverables with your clients beforehand. Always establish the budget beforehand, and make sure you’re clear on who pays for the post-shoot photo editing (or if it’s included), who is responsible for prop expenses, and other potential incrementals.
It’s also essential to understand what your client envisions creatively. Showing them some sample photos before the shoot to test the waters is always a good idea.
If you’re answering to a boss instead of a client, communicate the amount of work, time and budget required to pull off the styling for the shoot. It’s helpful to document everything (refer back to your plan) so your manager can see everything in black-and-white.