Know your basics: learning the types of product photography & why it matters
The product photography to an ecommerce store owner is like wheels to a car — a default part of the system, that keeps the rest of the vehicle on the move. It is a fundamental ingredient of an ecommerce business, so everyone uses it and the default industry standards are high.
This article is for ecommerce nerds who love getting down to the bottom of things, tearing the matter down to the atom level to polish every inch of the process and beat the competition through perfection.
We broke down the types of product photography for the ecommerce beginners and pros alike: we classified it, defined them, illustrated with examples of usage. Some types of product photography are for everyday use, some are unique and can only be used in certain cases or niches: learn about them all to mix & match in your ecommerce store sales channels and communication strategy.
How photography affects business
Product photography can affect all KPIs of an ecommerce store: average check, Return rate, ROI, CTR, CPC, customer LTV, etc. Staggering 90% of all online buyers singled out quality imagery like the one vital factor for an online sale.
The math is simple: if you underestimate the power of professional product photography you may be stuck forever trying to figure out why nobody buys your stuff; if you pay due attention to the product imagery, clients will convert more often, returns will be less frequent, abandonment rate will go down and your average check is much more likely to go up.
Every beginner in ecommerce makes mistakes when it comes to product images — we are here to help you avoid them and get down to the bottom of what great ecommerce images are.
Types of product photography with examples
We haven’t found any comprehensive guide or classification of types of product photography, but we figured this would be useful for ecommerce pros. So in this article, we attempt to classify different types of product imagery based on different factors:
A number of objects in a shot:
Based on size & dimensions:
- Regular sized
- Large product
- Detail / close up / macro
Based on purpose:
- Packaging shot
Based on the props used:
- Flat lay / Simple studio shots
- White background shots
- Social media shots
Based on the info provided in a shot:
- Promo images
Based on usage:
So let’s deep dive into each one of them now:
Individual product photography
Whenever there is more than 1 product per shoot — it’s group photography. While budgeting for this type of imagery, mind, that price for product photography of this kind goes up with every product in a shot.
When to use: to upsell, to provide context, to show-feature the entire collection, to highlight style. Imagine, when you have purchased something from a store and an email gets into your inbox in a few days with your purchased items positioned together with just the perfect accessory to go with it. This is why you need the group images.
Benefits: a can showcase one product in all its glory, providing a good factual evidence of the greatness of your product. An ecommerce photographer can usually focus on ensuring the object is centered, well lit, is in focus and all details can be seen.
Group product photography
While this one sounds boring and mundane to start with, some industries spend thousands of extra fees just because their products don’t belong to this seemingly boring subcategory. Such businesses will be specifically choosing studios, who don’t differentiate the size of the product or have its regular-sized products classified in the upper end of the spectrum.
Bulkier products are more expensive to ship, unload, handle, store and photograph — they may require extra manning to move from A to B. So is your ecommerce store trades in products of regular size — you are the lucky one who may keep thinking it’s a boring one.
When to use: businesses often use group shots in website product photography to showcase a series of products. Jewelry, accessory, cosmetic images will commonly include some of the group images.
Benefits: you can show the entire color palette in such images, so that your customers can pick a better color of T-shirt or a sweater. Businesses often upsel by showing ready-made looks combining items that complement each other.
Regular sized products
Businesses, like furniture, truck parts traders, bicycle shops have a whole lot of extra worries due to the fact, that their photo objects are irregularly big.
In terms of dimensions, many studios will start qualifying the objects as large and respectively charge an extra buck for the shoot for objects exceeding 5 KG or 3 feet.
The extra efforts and extra funds will apply for many stages of the product photography shoot for bulkier objects:
- manning to package for delivery
- delivery costs
- manning to unload
- photo studio specifications
- photographer trained to shoot bulky objects
- extra manning for handling and positioning of a large object in the studio
- retouching & colori
When it’s used: Automotive industry, furniture stores, real estate businesses, and equipment photographers deal with this type of bulky objects.
Benefits: sometimes the objects are so bulky, that you only rely on natural light - so instead of dealing with complex lighting systems you just wait for a sunny day. Joking aside, big objects usually command a higher checkl as well - as they require so much extra effort to shoot.
Detail photography / close up photography
This is a type of photography that requires specific settings for camera and lighting to be able to zoom in on a part of the object — to capture only one detail of the entire photographed item.
When to use: Detail photography is often used for product pages of an ecommerce store as well as in commercial shots for social media. Specifically, close up images are widely used for jewelry product photography, in the premium segment and for antiques and vintage online stores. It is a great way to set adequate expectations of a client regarding the condition of a used item.
Detail photography is also a find for mass-market clothing, that has slightly imperfect seams, for example, but is a great value for money. In such an example, a wise ecommerce store owner will use close up images to set realistic expectations as to the level of quality and reduce the returns rate significantly.
Benefits: the main mission and advantage why close ups are so widely used in professional product photography is that it bridges the gap between online and offline shopping. Premium clothing and accessories stores usually boast excisitie detailing and original design decisions by zooming in on a small part of a garment.
Another size-related type of product photography, that is utilized by ecommerce business to give a context to an object in terms of comparison to the size of other objects is scaled photography.
The best way to find examples illustrating it is to google “Kickstarter smallest in the world”. See a couple of cases below.
But overall scale photography is used to render the size of an object quite often. Even rucksacks differ in size and may need more context and an indication of the size used against a human back or next to an iPhone and a notepad. In a way, the popular #TetrisChallenge is also an example of scale photography. Look below, that's not the type of a product picture you usually see on Shopify:)
Yes, it may sound a bit over the top, but in the era of design-oriented visually saturated consumerism, even package shots matter. Unpacking youtube videos get millions of hits. Businesses spend thousands of dollars designing & manufacturing their unique branded packaging, so it is only natural to also capture the result of that investment in a shot.
When to use it: Use it if you have invested or have gone to the length of elaborating the branded packaging. Use it if your packaging echoes the brand’s identity. Use it if your packaging is damn cute. Use package photos if it carries protective function and may ensure a client the purchase will safely reach them.
Benefits: there’s an education component in packaging shots when it comes to premium perfumes and alcohol, as packaging is relied on by manufacturers as an extra layer of protection against counterfeit. So when you provide a packaging shot, a savvy buyer can use it as the reference to distinguish the real thing from the fake ones.
360-degree images are a given for many sport shoe brands. They resonate with the demanding and highly technical target audience of sports shoe products. They are almost a default setting in this specific niche in fact. It is understandable, as shoes are ubiquitous, the technology is very similar from brand to brand, but the design is what sets one brand apart from another brand.
When to use: use 360-degree photography if your ecommerce store carries sports shoes. Use it if you have good hosting and ample memory to support the hefty files without detriment to the speed loading. Use 360-degree imagery with all premium products, like accessories, jewelry, bags, belts — this is a client’s expectation and a differentiating point in the premium segment.
Benefits: when talking about business product photography, leaving out 360-degree images would be critical only for a few rather specific niches. Shoe, jewelry, and bag photography use those rotating tables quite a lot. The objects are so small and have so much dimension and decor to them, that a full view is appreciated and expected by the online shoppers.
There are different layouts utilized by photographers, one of them is hanging. This type of photography is great to give an object a 3D effect.
When to use it: use it with unusually shaped objects, like jewelry pieces, accessories, that need extra depth and dimension. Or for apparel, when gravity could work as a stylist.
Another popular layout when it comes to product photography, mannequin images are great for clothing photography. The volume, that comes with the mannequin allows the client to get a better idea of how a piece of clothing will look like on a client.
When to use it: use it for all your clothing lines, when the fit matters, if the fabric is elastic. Use it for basic collections & fashion pieces.
Benefits: There are multiple benefits to taking mannequin images, but if we were to cut a long story short - it’s to make a garment more personable, more looking like it would look on a potential buyer. You know how with age you come to one simple conclusion about buying clothing: you have to try it one to understand if this thing belongs to your wardrobe. A mannequin effect is a half-way to actually seeing a thing on yourself and seeing it in a flat lay technique.
Flat lay / Simple studio shots
Flat lay photography or simply standalone objects shots are the most basic type of photography when it comes to professional product images. They only requirement is that they have to be done in a professionally equipped studio. They can be individual or group images, standalone objects, against a white background or arranged with other props against a rainbow-colored background for social media placement.
When to use it:
- whenever your ecommerce store is big enough to be able to afford professional photography.
- whenever your ecommerce store aims to be big enough to be able to afford professional photography.
White background shots
White background shot is the most basic type of studio photography, yet the most popular and effective too. Most of the product pages of individual brands or on Amazon will feature specifically that type of basic imagery — shots of an item against a white background.
When to use it: Use it if you have an ecommerce store. Use it if you trade on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc.
Benefits: you can sell them on major marketplaces like Amazon and eBay; you can also easily replace the white backdrop with any other color quickly in photoshop.
Social media shots
One of the newest and most creative types of photography — social media product imagery has a huge social following. Instagram is the place to hunt for the best examples, to learn new tricks and become a trendsetter.
The combos, backgrounds, graphic design, models, creatives seen in social media may be as diverse and un-combinable, as humanly possible to imagine. There is one mission of this type of photography though: to get viral. It has to be cute enough or outlandish enough to get viral: to get liked, shared and commented upon.
When to use: if your ecommerce brand needs social media following (and we bet you do).
Infographic is an absolute godsend for an SEO-obsessed ecommerce business owner. Getting to the top of the Google charts takes thousands and thousands of investment in content. But when it comes to Google images ranking — one well-made infographic may quickly do the trick.
When to use it: if you are starting a project on Kickstarter. If you have a product that is highly technical and has a lot of features to be explained in an infographic. If your ecommerce business is looking to get onto the first page of Google rankings — on Google images to start with.
Benefits: It’s an easy way to educate your customers about boring technical parameters and stress the quality of materials.
Hero shots are usually used for social media placement and advertising campaigns. Just like regular product photography for online stores and marketplaces, you still ensure the object dominates the composition in terms of central placement and how much of the shot it takes up.
However, a hero shot will have some creative twist to it and is not necessarily done against white background. While primary images on Amazon are very matter-of-factly with little emotional interference, the hero shot is still rather minimalistic in essence, but will have the emotional trigger in the shape of an unusual angle, background, props or a combination of those.
When to use it: for social media, category pages, and advertising campaigns
Benefits: It’s an opportunity to grab users’ attention in social media, drive loyalty and brand awareness.
GIFs have grown on us with Instagram popularity for all the right reasons:
- You can tell a story with a GIF
- You capture attention by dynamics of the visual
- It weighs less than a video and has a comparable impact onto onlooker
- There are GIF stocks where a business can make their account and benefit from backlinks
- You can showcase an entire clothing collection in one GIF
Unlike regular photography for ecommerce products that is shot against white background and takes up 80% of the frame, GIFS have very little limitations technically. We recommend making them short and to the point.
When to use it: social media, ads, website articles, for free distribution on GIF stocks
FREEZE FRAME PRODUCT PHOTOS FOR ECOMMERCE
Freeze frame images require quite a bit of skills and experience even from the most seasoned ecommerce product photographer. The trick captures a moment in time when objects are moving - sometimes at speed.
Freeze frame images are often used for such product photography categories as: jewelry photography, sportswear and footwear imaging, food photography and for marketing purposes in the automobile industry.
When to use it: for shots where objects or models can be in movement when using an object and images with water splashes.
Promo product photography may come in all sorts of shapes, fonts, colors, and sizes and used across all channels. Promo photography is a combination of photography with some type of commercial inscription on it: starting from placing a logo against an image finishing with a collage for a social media campaign.
When to use it: for promo campaigns, for social media, for email marketing.
Process photography, also in-context photography, is a type of photography that captures an object being made or used.
When to use: heavily used in hand made segment or the beauty industry. If your items are handmade, give your clients a better idea about the process of hand-making by doing pictures of the object being made.
Lifestyle photography is a whole chapter on its own in the commercial photography book. Images of your product as part of a life scene or in action. This is mostly taken with a model but can be just placed in a real-life-like context without a model too.
Lifestyle images are used a lot in the premium segment and advertising for all media — online and offline.
When to use it: use it if your brand is positioning above mid-market. Use it for fashion magazine ads. Use it for launching a collection.
Benefits: Lifestyle images have an instant appeal with your ICPs, they resonate with your audience and drive their purchasing decision. It’s a type of social proof in fact, as people see other people using this product.
Product photography tips for taking pictures that sell
- Make sure to allocate enough resources for this marketing activity — as hardly any other action on a marketing plan yields as big an ROI as product photography does.
- Remember you are competing with thousands of visual promo materials every person is exposed to on a daily basis — the standards are high, make sure to live up to them as a minimum requirement.
- Hire a professional product photography company specializing in ecommerce imagery whenever possible — whilst the prices may seem steep, the results is given due to experience in the field.
- Combine different photography types across your channels of communication.
- Choose the appropriate types of photography for specific channels and purposes — TOV in the visuals is as important as it is in contextual communication.
Hiring a product photographer
Product photographers with years of experience will be the best shot and highest value for money for ecommerce stores, which have been in the market for a year and managed to survive. When the marketing budgets soar with soaring revenues, the only way to a quick scaling is professional product photography.
Use Google business to find the best suppliers near you or search for photography companies, which service your niche or even your competitors. And heck out Squareshot product photography folio for inspiration.
For all your product photography needs Squareshot is happy to provide our commercial offer for your photography order of any type. Send your requirements our way via a form or give us a buzz!