Professional photography is one of the best investments I have made for my ecommerce business

Professional photography is one of the best investments I have made for my ecommerce business

Originally published 17th December 2015

When it comes to the world of online sales, images are everything. If you can’t feel a product, if you can’t wear a product, if you can’t talk to someone about a product, all you have to go on is a photo, so it better be awesome!

Images are your first impression, they set the tone and feel of your site. According to research, people (in the real world) have 7 seconds to make a first impression but for online, people form impressions about websites in less than half a second. That’s certainly not based on anything they’ve had time to read, it’s all about the look and feel, images, spacing, layout and colours of your site.

When it comes to selling products online think of it this way, images are for customers, text is for google. Ok I just made this up and it’s not strictly true but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind. Google understands the relevance of your site based on the text it contains, customers do this from looking at your images. Of course that’s not to say well written copy isn’t important, you really need both. Product descriptions let you highlight features of your product not immediately apparent in a photo and give you the opportunity to provide additional information, but without quality images the best copy in the world won’t compensate.

I’ve spent a fair bit on photography over the years but I think it is one of the best investments I have made, and one of the best things you can do for your online business.

Why is good photography important?

Photography isn’t just about showing off or selling a product, it also helps set the tone and feel of your store. High-end luxury or casual and beachy can be conveyed to your customers instantly through images without needing your customers to read anything.

Images can explain things much more succinctly than words. For example the way a piece of clothing is designed to drape or fall can be instantly and accurately conveyed in a photo – a picture speaks a 1000 words.

It can also suggests to your customer how to wear or use your product – if you’re selling yoga wear, a photo of someone wearing it doing yoga gets the message across quickly and easily.

It’s subtle. Photos convey your brand identity and leave an impression in a way that copy alone can’t.

Expectations. Your photography will also lead to expectations. People will make assumptions about the ‘type’ of person you are selling to and the price they can expect to pay based on the look/feel of your site ie. The images. If they don’t align then customers are likely to be put off.

So what makes a photo good?

Have it done professionally, especially if you are using a model. Unless you have a high quality camera, an eye for photo composition, are familiar with photo editing software and happen to know a professional model, investing in photography will probably be the best decision you make. Sure there are some cases where you might be able to get away with DIY or it might be ok for social media purposes, high res images for your website are probably best left to professionals.

Decide the look and feel you want to go with. This ranges from the backdrop or location of the shoot, the ‘look’ or expression of your model, poses and styling.

Make sure the product you are selling is clearly shown in the photos, people want to know what they are buying. Highlight the selling points of the product.

Take multiple photos of each product from different angles. I can’t say I have ever been shopping online and come across a product that had too many images to view, but I’ve certainly not bought something for lack of photos, because I couldn’t get a real sense of what I was buying.

Consistency – whatever approach you go for, keep a consistent look and feel across your site. It’s important then to consider the approach you go with. Can it be easily replicated and is it cost effective? If you are forking out for an expensive professional model shoot, what happens if you are launching a new product line in 2 months time, can you afford another shoot? Choose an option that will keep the look consistent.

I have had my clothing photographed using a ghost/invisible mannequin format as well as using a model. This has helped me get around situations when I have just introduced a new colour or design but don’t have a budget for a full new model shoot. It also has the advantage of being very quick to organise so you can get your images up online and start selling asap.

Guidelines and best practice

I don’t think there are any one size fits all guidelines for online photography, but Amazon must be doing something right as the one of the largest online marketplaces in the world. They provide image guidelines to sellers on their platform. They recommend the product occupy at least 85% of the image frame, the product be displayed in full (not cropped), pure white background, no additional text or graphics on the image, in focus and professionally lit and photographed with realistic colour and smooth edges. Nothing all that surprising, I think simple clear photos are the take home message.

Although photography can be a time consuming and costly outlay initially, it will continue to have benefit and value for as long as you are selling that product. For me that's four years and counting! 

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