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, 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,’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, 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 which helps “decide which camera to buy” and, 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, and

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,, 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. offers courses in both digital imaging and digital photography.,, all provide a range of courses, from basic to advanced photography, and some offer courses based on either a specific category or skill level., 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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