What is Product Photography? and why you need to hire a professional

Almost a quarter of the global population buys products online, and 90% say photograph quality is the most important feature they look for before they click “checkout”. In a world of marketing tricks and advertising magic, picture quality seems the most reliable way to work out if that product is really as impressive as it sounds. That under-exposed digicam picture you took in your garage isn’t going to cut it. Every image you use to sell your product is an advertisement in its own right. With one fell swoop of a poorly-chosen lens, you can undo all the good work the rest of your campaign has done to attract potential buyers. The eCommerce landscape has created a fiercely competitive online marketplace, so the buyer pool can afford to choose only the best and brightest products in their purview. There’s plenty of variety to choose from, and it only takes one picture to convince the world that yours is the best in the pile.

What's in a Professionally-Handled Product Image?

Every great image has decades of knowledge behind it and plenty of expensive equipment. A studio shot with the right lighting and setting will convey your product accurately so that shoppers receive the items they expect to receive in the mail.

Product photography wears many hats. Sometimes, it produces all the listing variations you sell and gives your customers the information they’re looking for. Sometimes, it faithfully reproduces colour, texture, and size. Sometimes it zoomes in on key details like lining, binding, and stitching, sometimes it documents products that are sold in different shades, glazes, or variations.

Types of Product Photography:

  • Basic studio shots: A simple, well-lit product shot is the shelving of your digital store, marking space and telling your buyers why they want your product instead of your rival’s. There’s more to a great studio shot than you might think. A glittering ring needs wholly different lighting than a bottle of perfume.
  • White background shots: Much like instore merchandising, white background shots add an alternative view of your product. Their lack of geometric frame gives web designers a way to fill space with extra information that your studio shot lacks.
  • Grouping shots: These tell the story of your product range in living colour.
  • Lifestyle shots take things a little further, putting your product in its natural environment. This way, a photographer conveys more than just an object—they convey a lifestyle, a set of values, your brand identity, and more. They tell the world you’re more than just the objects you sell. You’re a brand who can change someone’s life for the better.
  • Packaging shots: Branding is the reason many retailers choose to include packaging shots in their product photographs. Your packaging tells your buyers what they’ll see in the mail. If it’s impressive enough, a packaging shot tells the world your product isn’t just a consumer item—it can be gifted. It also tells buyers you care about your quality and branding.
  • Process shots: Some products are carefully hewn, and process shots communicate that. By recording the stages of workmanship, a process shot can tell your audience how much love and care went into that handmade mechanical chronograph or wooden writing desk.

A collection of different kind of product photographs tell a story—and that story sells by doing all the work your retail staff do in your brick and mortar stores.

When Quality Shows

Products aren’t easy to photograph, even if you do have the latest phone or camera. The lens does, indeed lie. It alters hue. It invites in shadows. It makes everything in its reach look smaller, duller, and less important. There’s a reason London photographers spend years earning their degrees and even more years refining their talent. There’s a reason the best in the industry spend years just building a studio that’s properly furbished with the right lenses, lighting equipment, and cameras.

The slightest details can change the value of an image. A simple macro lens can add depth of field in a way that screams “quality” and even “value.” The simple addition of a few colour nips and tucks post-processing can mean the difference between a refund and a satisfied buy. The simple use of a diffuser can give your texture the quality it needs to truly impress.

Lifestyle photography takes all of those tricks to new heights. Professional lifestyle photographers know what appeals and what sells. The best of them have worked in the London marketing industry for many years, so they understand how ISO choices and apertures translate into profits… and, make no mistake, they do.

An image really is worth a thousand words. You’ll know this if you’ve ever bought a watch or jersey because you saw a celebrity wearing it on a billboard. Images teach, grab attention, and communicate tough concepts. More importantly, they inspire and emote—and when your e-tail product pictures can achieve both those things, price becomes unimportant. Your audience is going to buy that feeling or source of inspiration no matter the price.

The human brain is wired to process visually, so it takes us only 100 milliseconds to recognise a familiar object. We respond to visual cues, so the e-tail revolution revolves around the eyes. You might think your buyers are easily swayed by your text, but the tiniest visual cue can lose a sale before you even have time to screw on a new lens. A professional knows exactly how to include the most convincing cues.

The Digital Storefront

Product photography is about more than basic marketing. It also acts as the “window” to your retail space and the shelves inside it. eCommerce is cheap, globalised, and easy to manage. It’s also popular, with 51% of consumers preferring to shop online than in a brick and mortar space. In this environment, your photographs act as your service professional, giving your buyers a sense of security and a sense of your products.

Digital shelves need to communicate your brand in the same way that the interior design of your store does. Your photographs thus need to be consistent, so it’s not enough to use your iPhone for one product line and a macro lens for another. Your entire ecommerce site must function as a unit. This is the work of your London photography studio. They’ll use backing boards, lighting tricks, sharpened shadows, and other strategies to give your images a consistent look that fits your business’ culture. A unified aesthetic raises your brand’s perceived value and tells your potential buyers which site they’re on. If you’re reliant on sites like Shopify, a strong, consistent look will underline your branding, no matter where on the web they find themselves.

Most retailers use 8% as a minimum return on investment for new sales channels. eCommerce ROI is rising by 13 to 16% every year. Add the reduced overheads of an online store and the extra ROI it makes against your brick and mortar store, and you’re looking at an image that’s significantly more attractive than an amateur product photograph.

The Aesthetic Nip and Tuck

Post processing will transform a good picture into a superlative one. Your studio will need to correct the colours in your picture so that they more closely resemble the products themselves, but that’s just the beginning. Photoshop can fix under or over-exposure, enhance the textures on your products, whiten your background, and add subtle details that improve your image. You probably know how much post-processing goes into model shots, but even products need retouching.

With Photoshop at your side, even your iPhone photography can be edited into greatness. Scratches and dust must be cleaned away. Contrast and colour balance must be corrected so that whites are genuinely white and blacks are as dark as they need to be. In product photography, you can take nothing for granted.

A Little More on the Technicalities of Product Photography

If you’ve ever sat down to an unappetising menu of photographs at a restaurant, you’ll already know a few things about product photography, even if you don’t realise it yet. An uneducated amateur won’t be able to make even the tastiest pizza look delicious. Food photographers have a veritable encyclopaedia of tricks for making food look edible, from superglue and careful lighting to toothpicks and motor oil. Faking it until it looks real is all in a day’s work, and the same applies to any product photograph. That beautifully-cut coat you’re selling will probably need some careful pinning and lighting if it’s too look its best. That diamond won’t shine brightly enough without a macro lens and the right white balance. In fact, some forms of product photography are so complex to shoot that they form their own niche entirely. Your stock will only look shiny, sparkly, yummy, or svelte enough if it’s shot expertly. And one beautiful product shot can be so impressive it can become its own billboard: just ask perfumiers like Chanel or Dior. The tiniest details can make the world of difference, which is why Fahrenheit’s product photograph includes a coloured shadow—the detail elevates the simplest perfume picture into a masterpiece.