E-Commerce Photography – Part 1

Part 1 will deal with hiring a professional photographer, part 2 will deal with taking the photos yourself.

When you are creating your online store, many are lucky enough to have access to photographs created by the brands they sell but many entrepreneurs are not so lucky as to have pretty and professional photographs to use on their websites. In fact, if you are creating your own products, you will need to take your own photographs. Even if you do have access to stock photos, it may be important to take your own photos just to personalize your website, or adding more content to distinguish yourself from the competition.

This means you as the store owner need to either take the photographs yourself, or hiring a professional photographer to take those photos for you. If you have a single brand or product, it might make sense to hire a photographer to take those pictures (especially if you are the wholesaler), but if you have lots of products it may not be cost effective.

Let’s talk about the best way to go about photography for your website. This is coming, not from a photographers angle, but a business owner, and one that has taken my own and used professional photographers. Many photographers will disagree with me on some things I suggest and I welcome their input but I feel strongly about these items.

Using a Professional Photographer for your E-Commerce Store

Especially if what you are selling is a particular product you manufacturing or you are building a strong brand awareness, having professional photography is probably worthwhile, unless of course you have hundreds of products.

Ecommerce photograpy

Photo credit goes to: https://flic.kr/p/3iPUBP

There are photographers that specialize in product photos but I have also had good luck with photographers that have a studio with proper lighting and equipment. You will need to negotiate how much time in the studio you want with them, the number of “touched up” photos you want, raw photography and copyright transfer or licensing when you interview potential photographers.

On a single product I have spent close to 90 minutes trying different “poses” and backgrounds. In a 90 minute shoot, you should be able to get 10 – 15 great shots to be used for your purposes. I negotiated before hand to have all the raw photographs placed on a DVD for me at the end.

Negotiating Copyright/Licensing

This is an area that can get touchy and one I personally don’t screw around with when it comes to deciding on a photographer. Remember, the minute the photographer clicks the shutter, he has created a work of art with full copyrights. The more high end photographers will then “license” your product photos back to you with restrictions in how, where, when and how many times a photograph can be viewed. This might include restrictions on those photos only be used online, or for print, or even more restrictive like, only valid for 1 year, or for x number of views.

If I am hiring a photographer to take photos on my products, I always make sure to put a clause into the contract that states all copyrights transfer to me (or my company) upon payment of agreed upon invoice. In fact I state this up front when I first contact them, and if they start talking about licensing, I cut it off right there. I will not use a photographer that restricts licensing of my own product photos. That may mean I don’t get to use the greatest photographer out there, but, if they are that good, I probably can’t afford them anyway.

What I will agree to is the ability for them to use it in their portfolio but when it is all said and done, these are my products, not theirs. If you really want to use a photographer and they will not transfer copyright, then at the very least, you want an unrestricted license in perpetuity. This not only allows you to use them but if you wholesale the product, your retailers to use them as well. Can you imagine a retail partner getting a take down notice on your product photos because you didn’t pay attention to licensing?

Come Prepared to your Photo Shoot

Just like a model comes with makeup, changes of clothes and other props, you should do the same with your products being photographed. This can include things like props to convey size, shape, or width or even complimentary items to tell the story of your product. You can use these to add color, depth or emotion to your photographs. Your photographer can then position these for you during the photo shoot. As an example, you have seen product pictures next to a quarter to convey size.

Product Size ComparisonThink about what you want to see in your photographs. Not only do you want pictures of every side, but I also like to do close ups to show construction quality or points of interest.

What about “action” Shots?

I take this one on a case by case basis and it might make sense to have your photographer come and take photographs when your product is being used but given how easy it is to make videos, I default to have a product video made showing the product in “action”.

On an extra tight budget?

Sometimes we as entrepreneurs are bootstrapping our way to our products and may not have a ton of budget left over after paying for prototypes, inventory or down payments to our contract manufacturers. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a design school, reach out to them about having a session for their portfolio. Or, talk with one of the instructors about using your product for a class project, you might be surprised what you can get with nothing but time out of your pocket.

Quality photography can make a big difference in conveying the look, feel and mood of your products. Take the time to figure out what you want to convey, where you think you might use them and then start reaching out to local photographers to see if they have the capability to convey the image you want.

Have you had experience with product photos? I would love to hear your thoughts for others to learn. Just leave a comment below!

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About Chris

The founder and principal of Online Store Help. Chris has held multiple positions at Fortune 500 companies such as eBay, Gateway and Capital One before starting Online Store Help. In addition to working with business and entrepreneurs, Chris also runs multiple ecommerce stores of his own giving him insight into what business owners want and need to do.

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  1. E-Commerce Photography - Part 2 - Online Store Help - April 2, 2014

    […] This is part 2 of our posts on taking product photos for your e-commerce website. If you want to read Part 1, you can find it HERE. […]

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