Breaking Into the Product Photography Market (Part 1 – Background)

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Product photography can be a difficult industry to break into, but there’s actually an incredible amount of demand within this space. Because of this, it never feels cut-throat, and there always feels like room to grow in the industry. However, different photography industries are better suited for different kinds of people. Some people can’t stand wedding photography but love gallery shows, while other people have an aversion to galleries but enjoy commercial photography. Everyone is different, and the product photography industry can be particularly polarizing. On this subject, I remember something my pastor told me a couple years ago:

I’ve met a lot of people that have recovered from failure. I’ve met very few people that have recovered from success.

The danger here isn’t trying to break into a market and failing; it’s the opposite. If you’re not careful when choosing the right place in the photography industry, you may find yourself at the head of an incredibly successful business, in an field that you want nothing to do with and feeling miserable.

Before you decide if this industry is for you, consider a little of my background first…

I have often been asked why I chose the field of product photography. Initially, for several years, I experimented with making my way in the photography world via portraiture and commercial photography. Those were great years and helped me to understand the value of my time and work, and many of the clients I had the pleasure of working with genuinely brightened each day. However, I ultimately found the senior portraits, headshots, etc. somewhat unfulfilling (though not all people will!) and not in line with my skill set. At the time, I was also developing the strong desire to build a photography business that had the opportunity to scale up. In other words, I wanted to create a vibrant business and not just be a photographer, an ambition that is more viable with product photography. It is worth mentioning that not every photographer should think this way. Many people that are driven more by the creative side of photography than the problem-solving and business aspects of it, and may find product photography to be a poor fit.

You should always be skeptical of anyone that says they plan to start a photography company that will scale up, because the reality is that it rarely happens. Less than 3% of all photography businesses in the US have more than 4 employees according to IBIS World, which means you’ll likely never be growing a company past that point. However, scale doesn’t necessarily have to do with employees; it can also relate to finding a market where you can gradually increase your prices or increase your number of sales. This is where product photography becomes a viable industry. It is a space that has tons of room on the low end (i.e. shooting for first-time sellers on Amazon) and lots of room to grow upwards to bigger companies.

Now that we’ve covered the background and the validity of the product photography market, my next post will continue with steps you should follow to choose your scope and niche.

Hope this was helpful to you; thanks for reading!

Design Tip: Photographing Your Product’s Function

How your product image looks is not the most important element in your product photography.

Your immediate reaction to this should probably be horror. You care about your product depictions, and you want others to care about them just as much. Believe me, as a photographer, letting go of the “style-first” mindset can be the hardest part of learning this craft. The important concept to note, though, is that you aren’t giving up on design; you’re just expanding your understanding of what design means.

Famously, Steve jobs said on this subject,

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”- Steve Jobs

Take the example of the shower head below.

A product like this is all about context. A shower head isn’t like a vase or a scarf. It’s primary purpose is to be used, not to be looked at. It is a functional product. Functional products should always be shown as customer will use them. In fact, it is doing a disservice to your product to only show it outside the framework in which it will be used. For a shower head, that means depicting it with with water cascading from it. Customers care as much or more about how water flows from the shower head as they do about the intricacies of how the shower head looks. In this case, you are’t selling style. You are selling function, and your photos should reflect that.

So how do you portray an item’s purpose? First, think about the features that customers will have in mind when searching for a shower head. They will probably be looking for characteristics like how wide its stream of water is, and the level of water pressure it provides. It is VERY difficult to actually photograph water coming from a shower head against a pure white background. Trust me, I’ve tried! But it’s actually quite simple to edit some water in. This gives you the opportunity to: a) show your product in the context the customer cares about, and, b) also answer questions the customer has about your product.

These factors, at the end of the day, are what drives sales. So take a closer look at your product images and ask yourself if, in addition to their visual appeal, they show the primary function of the product. An image with truly good design will portray not just what your product looks like, but how it works.

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Using Artsy Photos to Sell on Amazon

People tend to look at the creative, artsy pictures on Instagram and the cut-and-dry product pictures on Amazon as totally different categories, but that is not necessarily the case! In today’s online environment, artsiness can be a tool to communicate your brand identity and to enhance the features of your products. Let’s examine these respectively:

Complimenting the Brand

Not everyone on Amazon is selling a cool technology product or a trendy pair of sunglasses. Most items on the site are going to be simple and utilitarian, but still have real value for the customer. The trick for these product images is to communicate the excitement of the brand in simple product photos. Take a look at the picture of some basic mens accessories below:

It’s not a complicated photo; just a few items that may look uninteresting alone, but together make each item pop through color and arrangement. The bow-tie is clearly the star of the show here, and is probably the feature item they are selling, but the other items compliment it well. In fact, this image has the added benefit of showing the customer additional products they may want to buy along with their initial purchase. Amazon allows for this use of props in your photos. Just make sure it’s in your secondary images and not your main image.

Enhancing Product Features

Let’s assume for a minute that you are selling lightweight, spring scarves on Amazon. Historically, communicating the seasonal dimension of a product is a difficult task and can be confusing for consumers. But this is an easy fix. Along with emphasizing the warm weather nature of your scarf in its title, consider images that clearly highlight the spring nature of the product:

Artsy photos, both on your social media platforms and on your Amazon listings, are a great way to draw in customers and keep their attention once they’re browsing your products. Don’t be intimidated by the process, just start experimenting with your product and see what comes out! Each of the images I used here were shot without any studio lighting, and just with some construction paper as a background. Adding a little bit of playfulness to your listing can go a long way towards building interest in your brand and attracting a young demographic.

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How to Cut Out Product Backgrounds for Amazon

 

Above is a super quick video to show you what it looks like to cut out a clear product in order to give it a pure white background for use on Amazon. This may seem complicated at first glance, but it can be easy to do in a couple steps once the process becomes familiar. I’m using an application on the iPad called ProCreate, but the same thing can be done in pretty much any sophisticated image editing platform. Here’s a breakdown of how to do it.

You may be used to just bringing the exposure up in your images until the background is close to a pure white, but that will often overexposed your products. In some cases, such as working with white or clear products, it will make the photos totally unusable. Instead, you’re going to need to manually cut out the product through the editing process. Other applications might call this something else like a masking tool or a scissors tool, but it usually operates in this same way. Ideally, you want to work in an image editor that lets you create layers. If so, you want to cut the product out with either your mouse cursor or with a stylus, and then put that cutout on a separate layer above the background. As seen in the video, you can then either get rid of the background completely, or bring up the exposure in the background (bottom layer of the image), which will keep the shadows reflected on the white background. After this, you’re free to adjust the colors, contrast, highlights, etc. in your image as you see fit. That’s it!

The image in the video is sped up, but in reality it only took me about a minute and a half to do the whole edit. It will take longer at first, but once you get the hang of it, manually masking a product (like in the video) will give you incredible image results.

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5 Product Photography Tips from Professionals

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When you don’t know what to do, do what’s right and what’s in front of you. But not necessarily what’s right in front of you.

– Brent Weeks

Product Photography is (rightfully) seen as one of the most complicated and difficult niches in the photography world, but it’s also one that many non-photographers are thrown into.

There are thousands of sole proprietors pouring their time and hearts into making and releasing great products across the web, and most have never touched a professional camera before. Being thrown into this world can be intimidating, but knowing a little can go a long way towards improving the quality of your listings and saving you a lot of money. Whether you’re an Amazon seller, a marketer, or a budding photographer, here’s 5 short product photography tips to get you started in the field…

1. Learning a little about light goes a long way

Product photography in its simplest form is about understanding how light behaves and reacts to different surfaces and colors. Move your product around when taking photos to experiment with different amounts of reflection, illumination and brightness. Do not photograph your product in a room without studio lights or windows. Here’s a couple of basics:

  • Light is your best friend; get as much of it as possible! I don’t mean get 50 lamps piled into your bedroom studio, but avoid dark locations. They will leave parts of your images out of focus and make the colors worse.
  • Color temperature is how warm the colors are of the light is around you (more orange/red = warm CT). White background photos typically look best at a cooler color temperature, so no lousy house lighting. Try shooting in natural light for an easy fix.

Take a look at this post to get a better understanding of color temperature and light.

2. No budget? Go natural

As a general rule, if you can’t or don’t want to pay for a product photographer, you won’t want to spend enough to get a lighting setup that will outperform natural light. Try going to a local arts store, picking up a large sheet of soft white paper, taping it to a wall with easy access to a natural light, and shooting your photos in the early morning for the softest light and best color temperature.

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3. Sweat the details!

Things small enough that you would never notice in person can become huge issues when reviewing your photos. Take the time to prepare a product with as few scratches and blemishes as possible, wipe down every surface, and clean your product with a camera lens/eyeglass cloth every few minutes during your shoot to get rid of smudges and dust.

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4. Editing is Cheap, Easy, and Necessary

No matter how hard you try, there will always be blemishes on your product, and no matter how good your background is when you are photographing it, it will never result in the pure white that you need for webpages. $10 a month will get you access to Adobe’s full suite of photography applications on your computer and on mobile. For the PC/Mac, try options as simple as Photoshop’s paint bucket tool to make your background a pure white, or Lightroom’s excellent blemish-removing features. For iOS, try Adobe’s Photoshop Fix or Pixelmator for blemish removal, and Photoshop Mix for background removal. If you want a more professional solution, try Affinity Photo.

5. Know Your Platform

Each online platform like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy has its own guidelines for product photography. Amazon has especially strict guidelines for their listings, so take a couple minutes to look over the guidelines for the platforms you’ll be selling on. Also keep in mind things like image size when uploading your photos. Huge images = huge load times, so take the time to optimize your images for the platform you upload them to.

Amazon Guidelines

Ebay Guidelines

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