What Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods Could Mean for your E-commerce Business (Part 1)

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Ready to have your granola and freshly-ground coffee gently placed at your doorstep by a drone? That dream may have become one step closer today. The recent announcement of Whole Foods’ acquisition by Amazon has come at a surprise to many, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect match. Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about the massive $13.7 billion deal that may affect those selling on Amazon.

 

This may (finally) be the moment for grocery delivery

Though drone delivery continues to be unlikely in the short-term due to FAA regulations in the U.S., that doesn’t mean we won’t see it’s development alongside traditional home delivery in the next few years. Grocery delivery has always been a problematic industry, from its inception with WebVan at the dawn of the internet to more recent entrants like Instacart. So far, the convenience, limited selection, and affordability haven’t been enough to break the industry into the mass-market, but this could change. Specifically, Whole Foods adds a massive network of locations around the U.S. to Amazon’s already extensive network of distribution centers, allowing the company to make grocery delivery available to more than a few niche cities. With Whole Foods under its ownership, Amazon will also have a guaranteed customer for building out its distribution network to optimize for perishable goods, something that was lacking with Amazon Fresh when it launched.

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It’s not a done deal

While this deal has been monumental for Amazon, it may only signal the beginning of a larger trend. Rumors are growing of potential new acquisitions of grocery store chains from other tech-focused companies. In fact, this may only be the beginning of a large bidding war for and between larger grocery chains like Kroger and Publix in order to adapt to the age of Ecommerce.

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Amazon Go could be coming sooner than expected

Amazon Go, the company’s magical new initiative to build grocery stores that will allow people to walk in, grab their food, and leave without ever having to wait in line or pay via a terminal, may be getting it’s legs sooner than expected. While the 2017 opening of first Amazon Go’s location in Seattle will likely continue as planned, this acquisition could mean a much faster ramp-up for the service. Amazon will now be able to leverage its technology in existing Whole Foods locations rather than build its own physical network of stores.

The addition of Whole Foods takes Amazon’s physical presence to a new level. The grocery chain includes more than 460 stores in the United States, Canada and Britain with sales of $16 billion in the last fiscal year. Mikey Vu, a partner at the consultancy Bain & Company who is focused on retail, said, “They’re going to be within an hour or 30 minutes of as many people as possible.” – The New York Times

 

Imagine the implications for businesses in the e-commerce market, which could be about to experience a huge explosion! For more thoughts on this subject, stay tuned.

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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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Guide: How to Photograph White/Clear Products on a Pure White Background


If you’re a sole proprietor or small business selling products on Amazon, you’ve probably done some form of the following when trying to get a pure white background for your products: You either use Amazon’s Seller app, which will take care of most of the work for you, or stick your images in a basic editor and turn up the highlights/exposure until the background is as close to a pure white as possible.

For most products, these techniques can create quality images. But if you are trying to sell a product that is either white or made of a clear material, then you’ve probably experienced poor results using typical methods. These products will at best appear washed out, or at worst completely disappear against the background. Here’s a few tips on to get around these problems.

1. Experiment with Backlighting

Backlighting is the easiest approach, and is what most photographers will recommend. However, it will only work well for matte white, non-clear products. If your product is made of plastic, glass or metal, skip ahead to the next tip.

The whole point of backlighting is to make sure your background is a different color white than your product. Since Amazon requires backgrounds to be a pure white (RBG 255, 255, 255), your product will need to be a darker shade of white than the background. The dance here is to: a) make sure your lighting isn’t blown out, making your product lose detail in its highlights, and, b) make sure your product doesn’t look dirty/muddy because it is a darker shade of white.

If you already have your white background (could be a light box, a white sheet of paper that is curved behind/underneath the product, etc.), all you will need to do is make sure you’ve got your main light source behind the product. In the case of using a lightbox or light tent, your background will be your light source. Otherwise, you have to make sure that your background is more lit up than the front of your product is. This may mean shining another light on the background. No matter what, you should also have a second, softer light shining from the front or at an angle, so that the front of your product isn’t a silhouette. See the example below:


Note: You can substitute studio lights here by using the sun as your main light source, and a piece of white cardboard/paper as a reflector at the front of the product to reflect soft light onto it.

2. Use Something Dark to Make an Outline

This is a more intense process, but it produces absolutely gorgeous photos. It’s the solution I recommend and works perfectly for glass products. The idea here is that if there’s a dark object very close to your white or clear product, it’s dark color will reflect on the outside of your product, giving it an outline. Let me show you using an example of the initial set-up for a glass picture I photographed:

This method is the simplest way you can accomplish this. Try cutting out black pieces of paper in the rough shape of your product. The black of the paper will reflect on your glass or white surface and create a pleasing gradient around the outside, almost like someone traced the outside edge of your product in a dark color. In this way, the inner part of your product can be a similar shade of white to the background, getting rid of the muddy look that some products have. However, this will — as you can clearly see from the above photo — require a lot of editing, which leads my to my next point…

3. Cut Out Your Product With Editing

Most product images can get close to a pure white background just by adjusting up the brightness of an image, but doing so will blow out the detail in your white/clear products! Instead, you’re going to to need to cut out your product from the background in editing. Here’s a quick video of what this looks like:

I used an application on the iPad called ProCreate to do this, but there’s tons of options. I recommend using Adobe’s Photoshop Mix on your phone or tablet, or if you want to use a computer, try Photoshop (Or Gimp for a free alternative). All you need to do is use the cut out/scissors tool built into the application to trace the outline of your product, and then either erase the background or brighten it. You’re probably gonna want a more in-depth tutorial for this part, so here’s a couple:

Gimp tutorial

Photoshop Tutorial

4. Cheat! (Don’t even use a white background)

If you’re already planning to cut out the background, who’s to say you even need a white background? This is mostly applicable to non-clear products, but there are exceptions. For example, check out the two images below:

The first image was shot using the black paper technique I mentioned earlier. It’s color balance fits with the pure white, but that’s not what color the Edison bulb is actually going to look like in real life. The second image was shot against a dark background to show the warm light of the Edison bulb, and then cut out to be placed against a pure white. Because of its warm tones and contrast against the background, it is arguably the more striking photo. (Don’t even ask how the bulb was lit without being screwed in. It involved a hole being blown in my background and tripping my studio’s breaker).

Continue reading “Guide: How to Photograph White/Clear Products on a Pure White Background”

A Guide to White Background Photography on a Budget

 

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If you’re not in the market for a third-party photographer, you probably don’t have a huge budget for your product images. Fear not! With a little know-how, it’s more than doable to get amazing product images and spend less than $50. I’ve compiled a guide on how to get great pictures on the cheap from start to finish below…

Setting things up

Camera ($0-30)

Unless you’re constantly releasing products, you have two good options for your camera.

1. Use your phone. Your gut may say that this is too amateur, but reserve judgement for now. I have photographer friends who shoot product images for companies like GAP and Apple using only their phones. If you have a high-end smartphone made in the last couple of years (think iPhone 6S and forward, Samsung Galaxy S6 and forward, Google Pixel 1 and forward), that will be good enough for most products. Your photos won’t have a very high resolution, but the quality will be just as good as spending money on a $500-600 camera. There’s a reason modern smartphones cost near $1000 – they have amazing cameras!

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2. Rent a quality camera. People often compromise their photos because they can only afford a camera in the $300-500 range, but you don’t have to! Your shoot will only take you a day or two, so it’s a no-brainer to spend $20/day renting a great camera. It’s best to visit a local camera store, where daily rentals are often allowed, versus online companies that will require that you rent the camera for at least 4-7 days. My personal recommendation for a camera rental would be the 5D Mark IV.

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Background ($5)

This one is simple. Professional photographers will shoot with a Cyclorama, which is essentially just a two-sided large white box with round corners, but this is far from necessary.

I’ll show you an example. I took the following photo of my setup when I was first getting into product photography. I had a 100sqft studio at the time, which is probably smaller than your closet. I shot with some cheap lights I borrowed from a friend, a sheet of white paper, and stool/table I picked up from Goodwill.

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The champagne? It’s cream soda mixed with water. Don’t be afraid to get creative on a budget; product photography is all trial and error. Even a setup as primitive as this can be used with some amazing results if you’re not afraid to experiment and fail a little.

Lighting ($0-40)

You have a couple of options here:

1. Use a lightbox. You can find tons of these for sale online, but most are cheaply made. The goal of these is to eliminate most of the editing you’d have to do, as they blow out the background to be as close as possible to the pure white (RGB 255, 255, 255) that Amazon requires for the background of your main image. They make things easy, but they aren’t very flattering on products, and make shooting white or clear products almost impossible. You will end up with mediocre (though totally usable) images, but your workflow will be really efficient. This will also be the simplest background solution.

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2. Use natural light. This is what I personally recommend. Set up a sheet of paper near a window as depicted earlier. Make sure it’s not direct, harsh sunlight, and try to shoot in the morning. You can get a phenomenal soft look to your photos using this technique, but you’ll have to spend a little more time editing them to remove the background in post-production.

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Taking the Photos

Main Image

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I try to produce all main images so that they can be used on Amazon, because most will need to be eventually. Here are the list of the main points you need to hit to make sure your listings comply with Amazon’s guidelines:

The full product must be in frame (and take up at least 85% of the image); don’t cut off corners.
The full product must be in focus (Shoot at a high aperture and in good light).
Backgrounds must be pure white (RGB 255,255,255).
The image must not contain additional text, graphics, or inset images.

The main image is often what will make or break your product, and it’s very important to get it right. Experiment with lots of angles and have a few different photos that fit the above requirements. From there, you can cycle these as your main image and see which gets the best conversion. Customers will often latch onto an image that you never expected to be successful.

Complimentary Images

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This category is made up of every image other than your main image. Do not just take the same photo from multiple angles. Take the opportunity to get close-ups of the features you want your customers to see about your product. I recommend looking at the text list of features on your listing and take a photo that clearly displays each of those. Many customers only look at the images and reviews of a product and completely ignore the rest of the listing text. Your photos need to tell your story.

Editing Your Photos ($20)

If you’re shooting with a lightbox, you may only need to adjust things like the shadows, contrast, saturation, and highlights in your photos to make sure the background is close to a pure white and your product is attractive. Make sure to crop your photos as close to the edge of your product as possible.

If you shot with natural light, you’ll have to edit a little more (but it’s easier than you think!). A subscription to Adobe’s photography plan ($10/month) will get you Photoshop, Lightroom, and their full suite of mobile apps. Let’s assume you’re not an experienced Photoshop Master. If you’re an amateur, you can fairly easily do this on your phone. Download Photoshop Mix on your phone or iPad. It’s explicitly made to cut shapes out from backgrounds, and even has an automatic tool to accomplish this. Look at its tutorial, use the automatic tool, and then adjust it a bit manually at the end. Also, make any needed modifications to the color and contrast. See example below:

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Continue reading “A Guide to White Background Photography on a Budget”

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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