E-commerce photography in 5 simple steps
E-commerce is a booming industry, and with it, e-commerce photography. Done correctly, e-commerce photography can be a quick and easy way to make money, but there’s a few tricks to getting it right.
In two recent ‘How To’ videos that I did with broncolor’s Urs Recher, we showed you an effective setup for shooting e-commerce fashion as well as pack shots using continuous lighting. Whether you’re shooting fashion or products, I’ve outlined a few important guidelines that will help you produce the best possible results simply and easily.
How to shoot e-commerce photography
There’s no denying that strong photography can help sell images (that’s why product photographers are some of the highest earning photographers in the industry). E-commerce, although much simpler than advertising photography, is equally powerful in persuading consumers to buy, but there are a few key details to keep in mind when shooting.
Whether it be ironing clothes, cleaning and dusting a bottle of shampoo, thinking about the shots you need or testing your lighting before, preparation is key to any successful shoot. You can never be too prepared when it comes to photography, so take your time with this part of the shoot.
Some of the key things to do before the shoot include prepare your item(s), create a shot list and think about/prepare your lighting.
Preparing your items could include a variety of things — it largely depends on the item you’re shooting. For clothes, make sure the items are clean and ironed. Pay attention to details like loose threads or missing buttons — these may seem like minor details but correcting them before you start shooting will save you a lot of hassle further down the line. If you’re shooting pack shot products, for example a box of tea, check to see the box sits well and that there are no open edges.
Before you start shooting, make sure you have a comprehensive shot list that you can refer to throughout the shoot. This should include details such as which items need to be photographed, how many different angles are required for each product and what (if any) props are required for each image.
Once you have an idea of the shots you need, you can start thinking about your lighting. What products are you shooting? What surfaces do they have? What colour are they? Do you want soft light or hard light? The key thing is to bring out the best in your product, but ideally you also want a versatile setup that will allow you to shoot a multitude of images without having to adjust your lights for each shot.
Really, e-commerce requires very little in terms of equipment. You can get away with little more than a few lights and reflectors for your lighting, any DSLR or mirrorless camera, a good base for shooting on and a tripod.
Other useful accessories, which you’ll see me and Urs use in the e-commerce fashion video, include a base for the model (or product), a white acrylic sheet for the base surface, white foamboard and black material, a computer/laptop for tethered shooting, a tethering cable and a large silver reflector. These are just some of the basics you’ll need for any product shoot, which you’ll find come in handy for many different situations.
While there are many blog posts out there that advocate for natural light, there’s no doubt that studio lights will allow you far greater control and allow you to shoot at any time of day. E-commerce photography typically features clean white backgrounds with bright, well lit products, which can easily be done in a small studio using just a few studio lights.
My top three tips for creating white backgrounds:
- Consider the position of your light: The height, angle and distance from the background all have an impact on the result.
- Measure your RGB values: Check your RGB values to see if you’re at 255. Ideally you want to be a little bit below this before lighting your products (to learn more about this, watch our Pack Shots Product Photography live show, where I show you exactly how to do this).
- Check for flare: Flare can make your subject appear flat and washed out, which you want to avoid.
The setup shown in the first How To video is particularly good if you’re shooting fashion, but if you don’t have three lights, you can also achieve some great results using just one light and a large octabox from overhead (as you can see in this portrait photography class here) or this easy two-light setup which uses more affordable modifiers (which you can watch here). Continuous lighting is also an option, as you would have seen from the pack shot 'How To' video.
When it comes to lighting and shooting products for e-commerce, you can easily get away with a two light setup using just a reflector and large softbox (as you can see in this live show). Other accessories that you may find useful include diffusion, mirrors and white or black foamboard. Depending on your subject, you may want to either maximise texture or reduce unwanted reflections, so you’ll have to think carefully about the position and distance of your light in relation to the product. And again, keep in mind the fact that you need a versatile setup that will allow you to work quickly and efficiently.
4. Shooting process
Once you’ve set up your lighting, made sure your tripod is firmly in position and that your product/subject looks as good as it can, you’re ready to start shooting.
In theory, this is where all your planning will come together. The better you’ve planned, the smoother your shooting should go. Although you want to work quickly, don’t forget to pay attention to the details (this is where tethered shooting can be particularly helpful). Remember to refer to your shot list throughout the shoot and double check it at the end — you don’t want to miss anything out. If you’re collaborating with a team of stylists, make sure to work together to get the best result.
5. Post production
While I strongly encourage you to get as much right in camera as possible, don’t neglect the finishing touches in the post production stage.
Typically, this could include applying simple crops, increasing the exposure slightly or liquifying rough edges. While you don’t want to spend hours on each shot, correcting these little details will make a big difference.
If you’re looking to share these images to social media or upload them to an online store or your website, there are a few things you’ll have to do before putting them out there.
Some of the common adjustments you may need to make include:
- Resizing the photos (we have a full class on this, which you can watch here)
- Sharpening the images
- Applying a final crop / straightening
- Adjusting the exposure
To learn more about each of these, make sure to visit our Post Production section, where you’ll learn a number of useful Photoshop skills to help you enhance your images. You can also watch this full practical demonstration of a product shot retouch here.
Actions can also be a big help when it comes to finalising your images. You can speed up your workflow by creating actions for simple, repetitive tasks such as resizing images, applying an overall contrast boost or applying a brand logo (take a look at our Post Production classes to learn more about using Photoshop and creating actions).
To learn more about product photography, make sure to visit our Product section, where you'll find a wide selection of informative classes that cover everything from planning to lighting or post production. Below is a selection of classes that you might find useful.