Getting The Best From Product Photography
Updated: Mar 25
First impressions really count and now, more than ever we buy with our eyes. We
can’t help it! Across websites, social media and digital marketing, we browse
photographs before we decide what to buy. And without realising it, we make a
judgment on a brand, its quality and its value for money.
Even though quality photography is such a critical part of the customer’s journey to
purchase, it is often removed from budgets. Photography is often thought of as “one
more cost” and that a shot with a ‘good’ digital camera will suffice.
But until a business understands that their photography needs to look professional to
get the sales they want, all the time and money they spend in other areas will be for
Everyone’s a photographer?
Yes everyone can take a photograph, but not everyone is a good photographer. And
the smart phone has a lot to answer for! Unlike any other creative practice, many
business owners think they can take good photos, or that photography is also a
I guarantee that if I gave a bunch of people a pencil and paper they wouldn’t believe
that they could all be illustrators. So, why do they think they can be photographers? I
think it’s a combination of everyone having phone cameras; and believing that a
photograph looks pretty much like the thing you point it at. As smart phone use has
increased, more people have the self belief that photography is easy. And this
makes it hard to explain how damaging bad photography can be to a brand or
Sometimes, sharing examples of good photography from competitors can help. And
getting a business to think about how their own customers browse and shop online
and how photography influences decisions can help, too. A clear understanding of
how much time a business owner (or marketer) spends doing the photography can
also produce a lightbulb moment. Very often, a business is spending far more time
than it realised on its DIY photography.
But I’m mindful of how businesses – especially start-ups – juggle budgets. So, I tread
carefully, because explaining that photography may not be good enough can feel like
telling someone they have a terrible singing voice.
And in the end, like every decision a business makes, they have to see the value of
the investment to understand how this becomes a benefit.
Product, creative and lifestyle photography
Product photography is used for websites or digital marketing, social media and print
marketing such as magazine articles or fliers.
The product photography that offers the best value for money is basic pack-shots
taken on a white background, which can be used for all areas, especially
ecommerce. If a business wants to sell products through other retailers or on
Amazon and eBay these shots are an essential part of the customer journey.
Pack-shots are incredibly versatile photographs, because they are shot on a white
background they can be resized more easily – quite simply, there is no background to
The humble pack-shot, however, may seem simple – but they’re the hardest to do
‘well’. There is nowhere for the product to hide so any imperfections need to be
touched up and reflective product or packaging is challenging to photograph. And,
finally, getting a pure white background takes skill...the grey background or badly
cut-out product often seen on a Facebook or Amazon shop inventory can cheapen a
Lifestyle and creative shots, where products are in situ, being used or with creative
backgrounds not only add to a portfolio, they can be used across a range of
marketing tactics to draw the customer in. This is especially true of those aspirational
images at point-of-sale that are so compelling that the customer wants to purchase –
Time is often critical and I do caution businesses – and sometimes the marketers
they are working with – that in the rush to get a new product online, a rubbish
photograph uploaded to their ecommerce site is a false economy. Ad-hoc photos sit
awkwardly next to professional imagery and will instantly cheapen the brand.
But does every photograph need to be professionally shot? The one exception is for
social media. Because of its nature, this real-time, storytelling content needs to look
authentic and relatable. And sometimes a professional shot can look too contrived.
As with professional shots, social media photos should never be blurry, wonky or
badly lit. They are still part of storytelling so they need to represent the brand
authentically – and professionally. While not every business has the in-house skills, I
often find that marketers have a basic eye for composition and can edit a photo to
work well because they understand how it will be used.
Questions you should ask your photographer
Just like authors specialise in different writing styles, photographers have specialist
knowledge of particular areas and it rarely crosses over – so ask them! Even if you
know a very good wedding photographer, they probably won’t enjoy shooting
Personally, I always refer lifestyle work to someone in my trusted network, even
when I’ve handled the product shots. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone, and it
does the best job for the business I’m working with.
Make sure you know where the images are going and tell the photographer what
cropping ratios you will need. A cropping ratio is also super important if the photography is to be used on a website. There’s nothing worse than having a square crop in a gallery that cuts into the very thing you are trying to showcase – especially when you’ve paid for the photography!
Ask your photographer to include the various crops and a contact sheet so you can
reference the image name to the photograph when you make your selections. This
stops you wasting time trying to crop images or searching for what you need.
Copyright and photographs from the Internet
Copyright can be a tricky thing to understand and I’m afraid you can’t just click on
Google images and take an image that you like and use it. Every photograph that’s
taken belongs to the person who took the photograph, unless they sell or give the
copyright to you. If you use an image without permission, the person who owns it can
legally ask for compensation and money for usage. Just because it’s on the Internet
doesn’t mean it’s free.
You also need to ask permission if you take an image from social media. Pinterest
and Instagram are often misunderstood, photos posted here are not copyright free.
And while some people are happy for a tag or mention, others may ask for money,
so always check. And never assume a client owns the usage rights just because
they sent an image to you.
Photo libraries are great for generic photographs, but they won’t of course be
unique. They won’t have the product you are showcasing but stock images may work
for background shots or social media storytelling.
Copyright can be a minefield so do talk to your photographer about this. Most
photographers will keep the copyright of any images they shoot, but will give you
unlimited usage rights. So, make sure you have it all in writing.
A note about current times
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the way the current pandemic is affecting retail and
I’m mindful of what the future may hold for all of us – photographers and marketers
alike. We all know that online sales are increasing and many retail shops are closing,
which means many businesses are looking at ecommerce in a way they didn’t
Sadly, businesses who are used to relying on their direct sales pitch to customers –
whether that be tasting, seeing or touching – can no longer rely on this face-to-face
This means photography will play the lead role now in the customer journey. The
visual experience can convey experience that takes the emotive experience of
marketing copy one step further. Photography has never been more important in
attracting customers and encouraging them to buy.
As told by Pip Hayler, of Pip Hayler Photography
Find more pictures of the beautiful tables featured in this article at Extraordinary Tables.