Practical Ecommerce

Photography: More Than a Decent Camera

A picture is worth a thousand words. And in the ecommerce world, a product image can determine whether a customer makes the purchase, or not. But for potential merchant photographers, it turns out taking something as simple as a picture isn’t really all the simple. The process often times becomes complicated and confusing and requires navigating between the sometimes-perplexing world of digital cameras, megapixels and software. Fortunately, there is help available.

Outsourcing photography

For one, merchants do not necessarily have to take their own product pictures. Realf Schermer, a photographer and founder of Focusjohnny.com, offers a service that takes product pictures for clients, whether it is for print or ecommerce. Schermer’s customers include smaller manufacturers, merchants and craftsmen, and his business looks to provide digital product photography solutions at affordable prices.

Based in New Jersey, Focusjohnny.com’s product photography starts at $39 per image, but can vary with the overall package. Clients typically send in the product(s) and FocusJohnny then stages and takes the picture, and both the product and the images are then sent back to the customer. Depending on the size of the project, the turnaround is usually two or three days.

Tips For Better Product Images

Realf Schermer, founder of Focusjohnny.com, offers the following photography tips for ecommerce merchants.

  • Emphasize viewpoints: position the product to obtain its best view or position.
  • Get closer: many product photos are not close enough.
  • Master gear: become very familiar with your camera so you can then emphasize the more important elements of lighting and position.

Improving in-house photography

For those who do take their own pictures, Schermer, who previously worked as a New York photographer in various mediums, encouraged ecommerce merchants to think about photography as more than just a camera’s megapixels.

“A lot of people think they buy the camera and that’s it. It is often, and easy, for the conversation about ecommerce photography to get lost in camera sizes and computer speeds,” Schermer said. “The real focus has to be on the elements that make a product image captivating to the customer, and add value to your work. Equal attention needs to be paid toward lighting and answering the question: What visually is being accomplished? Which is to say, a bad visual can do lasting harm.”

Schermer also suggested aspiring ecommerce photographers consider Dpreview.com which helps “decide which camera to buy” and Robgalbraith.com, which helps “operate your camera once you buy it.”

Matt Montgomery, a professional photographer with ForSports, a retail sporting goods store located in Fort Gratiot, Mich., recommended ecommerce photographers start small, generally in the three to five megapixel range, when it comes to choosing a camera, and to get a good feel for that camera before upgrading. Montgomery said both ForSports and its corresponding eBay store use a 3.3 megapixel Minolta S304.

Improve Your Lighting

Several companies offer affordable solutions for portable, easy-to-use product-photography lighting. These solutions include light boxes, lights and backgrounds, at Sharpics.com, Litestage.com and Ortery.com.

Importantly, Montgomery also recommended ecommerce photographers concern themselves more with proper lighting above anything else, including the camera. “You need good lighting more than $600 camera. Find a room where you can control what light moves into it. Experiment with the lighting, especially different kinds of lighting. It’s really going to help with what you’re trying to sell.”

Montgomery suggested ecommerce photographers use eBay’s Community resource, which offers both an answer center and discussion boards that deal specifically with merchant photography.

Additionally, Kodak.com, through its Tips & Projects Center offers information designed for the ecommerce merchant, called “Pictures for Online Auctions.”

Online photography courses

For those interested in taking an online course, there are plenty of options. Lynda.com offers courses in both digital imaging and digital photography. Betterphoto.com, Photo-seminars.com, Schoolofphotography.com all provide a range of courses, from basic to advanced photography, and some offer courses based on either a specific category or skill level. Betterphoto.com, for example, offers the option to search classes based on individual photographer categories, which include beginner, serious hobbyist, intermediate and advanced. Prices for each online course vary, and typically begin around $300.

Pat Callahan

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  1. Legacy User July 19, 2007 Reply

    As an amateur photographer, I dabble in taking (eccomerce) photos of products and I agree that is much more difficult than it looks, and lighting is such a key component to the finished photo. I'm mildly dangerous with the camera, but still working on getting better lighting. I was a little surprised that there wasn't any discussion on the topic of software mentioned at the beginning of the article. Software like Photoshop can address many of the sins of photography – poor lighting, shadows, focus, color correction, undesireable background, etc. to make a OK picture look "great". It can't however correct pictures that don't capture the key elements of the subject. I also use a Photoshop filter add-on program from Alien Skin called Eye Impact to add those nice shadows that make a flat photograph look more 3-D. Really adds that extra punch when the original picture background doesn't have the right shadows to give a sense of depth.

    Very helpful article.

    Bob
    http://www.adsvalue.com

    — *Bob*

  2. Legacy User July 20, 2007 Reply

    I love the fact that you really address the issue of lighting. As you have made clear in your article, lighting is the key to good product photography.
    In my photography class in college, we had to do product photos, I hated it. It wasn't as fun as shooting some of the other assignments, but now I am so glad we did it.

    — *Julie*

  3. Legacy User July 21, 2007 Reply

    I misspent a couple of decades as a freelance commercial photographer in Los Angeles, doing many procuct catalogues for everything from furniture to diamonds.

    I've traded in my Hasselblads for digital hobbying at this point, but if those years taught one lesson, it was that to take a good product picture, you have to pause for a moment and think about it: think about what the designer accomplished when creating it, what makes the product likeable, and, most importantly, what a potential user (read 'buyer') might find striking and appealing.

    Then circle the thing, find the angle (then lens or, in today's terms, zoom setting) that best captures what you decided to emphasize, and then move the lights until you've got it. After several thousand shots, the lighting will be the easiest part.

    — *michael alkus*

  4. Legacy User July 31, 2007 Reply

    Great Article. I found it to be very informative and helpful
    Thanks

    — *Caroline*

  5. Legacy User October 4, 2007 Reply

    I found this article very helpful. We are cookbook publishers and in addition to product shots, we frequently take food shots for web use (opting to use professional photography for book covers). The links you included in the article are an asset. THANKS Sheila Simmons, Publisher, Great American Publishers http:/www.greatamericanpublishers.com

    — *Sheila Simmons*