Why are good item images so important?
From time to time we see photos that can often be significantly improved just by improving light or background. Sometimes, only new equipment will help, but it can be done with minimal expense. Even if you already take good photos of your items, there are likely some tips below that you can use.
If you are unsure what capabilities your camera has, or perhaps ready to purchase new equipment, check out Snapsort.com. Snapsort allows you to compare various digital cameras, or find the specifications and performance information for your current camera.
Why are good item images so important?
- Shoppers almost always scan images first in search results. In gallery view, that may be all they do. The image of your item in search results has to be good enough to persuade the shopper to click on it and come into your shop.
This is the virtual version of window shopping.
- When the shopper clicks on a search result, they come to the page where the item is listed on its own. The first thing they see there is the large version of the thumbnail image that they saw in their search. How well-presented the item is in that image is the first step in selling it to them - It's what stops them from hitting the back button and leaving your shop to return to the search results.
This is the virtual version of approaching your item in a brick & mortar store.
- If you still have the shopper's attention, they will next either read the description or look at the remaining images for the item. If they get as far as looking at the remaining images their level of interest is high. The aim of these images (and the description) is to leave no unanswered questions. Show the item from as many angles as possible while also showing any maker's marks and/or condition issues.
This is the virtual version of examining your item in detail in a brick & mortar store.
What do I need to take good item images?
If you are a keen photographer, with a DSLR camera, professional or semi-professional product photography equipment and are comfortable using Photoshop or similar, you don't need to be reading this. However, most shop owners do not want to learn complicated photography equipment or software and they don't need to. Excellent results can still be achieved with simple and relatively inexpensive equipment.
Camera or phone/tablet?
We say camera because the images we see with the most issues are almost always taken with a phone or tablet. It is possible to take good item images with a phone or tablet but only with a tripod, good lighting, and depending on the item, perhaps some lens attachments. Taking photos of items with a phone held in your hand generally leads to poor, blurry images. Digital cameras need not be expensive and images are easy to move to a computer for editing and upload.
Optical zoom is greatly preferred over digital zoom. An optical zoom mechanically moves the lens in and out from the front of the camera. Digital zoom electronically (artificially) zooms the image, and in almost all cases will degrade the quality of the final image.
Most digital cameras have a macro option. This is the setting you need to take extreme close-up images of small features, maker's marks or condition issues. With it, the camera can be placed within a few inches of the item and still produce a clear image.
A steady support for your camera is essential, the only sure way to prevent image blurring due to camera shake. If you are using a phone or tablet, there are tripod mount options available for those, too. If your item has anything that swings or moves, remember to wait for that to stop moving, too.
Backdrop or Background
Use a suitable photography backdrop, at least for your primary image. This is because when that image has been through Advanced Image Processing (AIP) its background will have been removed and the item will be set against a white background in search results. It is good practice to use a backdrop for all item images. It focuses the shopper's attention on the item by removing any potential distractions. If the item is white, a contrasting background, such as grey, might be better.
Good lighting is essential, and not all light is created equal. If you have good weather where you take your photos, they can be taken outdoors, even on cloudy days. However, you will still need to use a backdrop if you do this because images of indoor items set against an outdoor background generally do not look very professional. If you are taking them indoors, you will need at least two lights with 5500K (white light) bulbs, to minimize unwanted shadows. The lights will work best with softboxes or umbrellas so the light is distributed evenly over the subject. Be careful using a built-in camera flash, which can easily wash out reflective surfaces and cause unwanted shadows.
Image editing software
It is important to make sure that your photographs correctly represent the item for sale and that includes, as far as possible, its colors. Images can be modified by clicking on their thumbnails after an item has been added but there is only an hour to do that before the primary image is sent for Advanced Image Processing (AIP). Also, the on-site Modify tool is fairly limited in what it can do. Instead, we recommend using dedicated image editing software, many versions of which can be downloaded for free online. Then, with the item present, you can ensure its colors are accurately portrayed as well as crop the image so that there is not too much background and generally adjust it until it is displaying your item as well as possible. It might take a little while to learn how to quickly edit your images but most software comes with tutorials.
Images should be a minimum of 1024 pixels on at least one side. The item in the image should fill as much of the frame as possible. If you are far from the item when shooting, then there may not be enough of the item in the image after cropping. Shoppers want to see the item, and at least the primary photo should be composed without loads of empty space around the item. For more info on image specifications, check out our FAQ What are the specifications for my item images?.
How can I take good item images?
First of all, it takes time. Taking and editing good item images is almost always the most time-consuming job when listing an item and unless you are a keen photographer it may not be much fun either. That is probably why we so often see images taken with a hand-held phone or tablet. They are easy to spot as they are so often blurred, not straight and poorly lit. If you go to an important meeting wearing scruffy, ill-matched clothes the people you are meeting are going to think you don't care much and the same applies to shoppers viewing poor item images.
So, if you can, try to set up a mini-studio, where you can leave your camera on its tripod, lights already set up and ready to go and backdrop in place. Then find the easiest way to transfer your pictures to your computer for editing and keep plugging away with your image editing software until you can at least do cropping and color correction quickly. Remember, color correct photographic lighting and use of a suitable background will generally create images that require less color correction.
It is also recommended that you save your images in case you need them again. Good computer file management dictates that you should also backup your saved images. Cloud-based storage can be very useful for this, e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud or Evernote, all of which can keep a copy on your computer as well as one "in the cloud". We suggest creating a separate folder for each item and make sure it is clearly named so you can find it again. If storage space is limited, perhaps keep images for a specific time frame, or until the item is sold, then delete them.
For the photography skills side of things, Internet searches will find you a wealth of useful information. Try searching "product photography tips" for example. Also search for tutorials for the camera and image editing software you are using. There is some great information out there and it's not hard to find!