Breaking Into the Product Photography Market (Part 3 – Choosing a Product Niche)

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Once you’ve determined the desired marketplace where you want to target merchant customers, it’s important to decide what category of customers you’ll be catering to. Deciding on the kinds of products you’d like to photograph could ultimately change your business model completely, so think about this process carefully. To get you started, here’s a basic picture of how the market works:

It’s relatively easy to break into the low end of the market without an industry reputation. However, the higher you go up the pyramid, the more you will need a reputation and referral power. Some industries, such as food, really only exist at the higher end of the market. This should be heavily considered when you’re deciding what kinds of products to shoot. Here’s a basic breakdown of the main categories:

Kitchen and Lifestyle

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Kitchen Products are plentiful on platforms like Amazon, especially on the low-end. This is a very good market to start with, as it’s easy to break into and the shoots are typically not too difficult. Be careful when shooting glass and white products, though, as you may end up spending a lot more time on these shoots for not a lot of return.

Clothing

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Interestingly enough, clothing tends to be a harder market to break into. You can’t quite waltz into doing a good job on a clothing shoot, as this category often requires the process to be automated down to a science. Many clients want things like the invisible body effect, which necessitates special editing expertise and a specific shooting setup. Consider either going into this market exclusively to begin with or working your way up to it.

Technology

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Tech products are a lot of fun to shoot, but don’t really exist in the low-end market. You may need to work up to this industry, but once you do, the shoots aren’t too difficult and clients tend to be willing to pay more per shoot for fewer products.

Fitness Equipment and Activewear

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Fitness is a large, fun market, but exists more on the high end and is difficult to break into. Many clients in this market also desire lifestyle photography with models, which is great for business, but complicated to do at scale. If you’re not willing have lifestyle photography be a part of your business, this market may not be for you.

Food

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Sigh. Food photography is a fascinating and engaging market to work in, but very demanding. Except for non-perishables, it exists almost exclusively on the high end, and requires an impressive reputation in order to gain access. Additionally, while each of the other product categories can work at scale by allowing clients to ship products to you, most food photography shoots will require you to travel to the client. This is a very difficult market to break into, but it is also probably the most profitable market in the product photography industry. Those that do food photography typically only do food photography.

Takeaway

These are only a few example categories, but should give you a good idea of how to get started in the industry. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to choose just one of the markets. Watch the Market closely as a whole to learn what customers want and where there is demand, and then shape your business around that.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up on my mailing list in the sidebar to get similar content every few weeks.

Breaking Into the Product Photography Market (Part 2 – Choosing a Marketplace)

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If you’ve decided that the product photography industry would be a good fit for you, that’s great! From here, it’s time to consider the specific markets and segments that you’d like to focus on.

First, you should understand and choose the marketplace where your customers are going to be selling. The major players are as follows:

Amazon

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The largest player and easiest market to break into is the Amazon market. There are two main reasons. First, the company operates at a scale way beyond its competitors, providing more potential customers needing photographers. Second, Amazon has incredibly strict guidelines for its photography. Main images for a listing on the platform have to fit numerous standards, the most important of which is the need to have a pure white background (RGB 255, 255, 255). This is an immediate barrier to entry for many sellers that want to take their own pictures. Thus, even in the low-end of this market, sellers often have to hire professional photographers that have the ability to shoot according to Amazon’s standards. This provides a huge opportunity for photographers, and is especially good for those interested in photographing one-off products.

Shopify

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While Shopify isn’t a central marketplace in the same way as Amazon is, it has an incredibly connected community of sellers and experts. Sellers on the platform are constantly sharing resources and tips, which includes their go-to photographer. Additionally, Shopify has an Expert Program that allows you to partner with them and advertise your service to customers for free. This is an excellent way to get a slow-but-steady stream of clients. Specifically, it is perfect for getting clients that need huge batches of products photographed for their websites. This means your business can succeed with a lower number of big deals and partnerships, compared to the much higher number of lower-paying one-off jobs usually found through Amazon.

eBay

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There’s not a ton to say about eBay honestly. It is important to keep the company on your radar, but it is definitely harder to break into and make a good return from than the first two platforms mentioned. This is because customers on eBay tend to expect (and even desire) a lower-quality standard of photography, even from professional sellers. In fact, if the quality on a listing is too good, customers on eBay can easily start suspecting that the images aren’t representative of the products they illustrate. However, eBay does have an incredibly close community of sellers, and provides a great market for those wanting to do more quick, straightforward work in the product photography industry, versus the specialized, technical work of Amazon photography.

Etsy

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Etsy is a small but gratifying market to build a presence in. Customers aren’t going to come out of the woodwork for your service on Etsy like they will on Amazon and Shopify, but the shoots tend to be more enjoyable and clients tend to be more relaxed about the results. This is a great market for those that are more creatively driven, and enjoy the positioning and setting up of products rather than the editing process. The easiest way to break into Easy can honestly be to reach out cold to potential customers and have an honest discussion about their inferior photography. Don’t be afraid to give sellers advice on their photography, even if you get nothing in return. This builds good will with the customer and may even drive referrals to your business.

Be on the lookout for the final part of this series coming soon. Hope this has been helpful to you! If you enjoyed reading, continue subscribing in the sidebar.

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!

Quick Tutorial on Retouching

Here’s a quick look at retouching a photo for an Amazon listing. It’s generally easier just to clean your product thoroughly before and during a shoot to minimize dust particles and smudges, but sometimes a dusty product can’t be avoided. The video above is an extreme example of some snorkeling goggles. The goggles were made of a sticky rubber that was absolutely impossible to get dust off of. In fact, the dust visible in the picture came from the microfiber cloth that was used to remove the particles of dust already on the product.

It’s always a frustration to have to retouch thoroughly in post, but the process can be frictionless once you get used to it. As seen in the video, I begin by using an inpainting tool. Essentially, this tool just uses artificial intelligence to fill in all of the blemishes that I paint over, with the computer’s best guess at what belongs there. I used Affinity Photo (available on Mac and iPad), but the same tool or its equivalent can be found in any professional piece of editing software equivalent to Photoshop.

Next, I touched up the rest of the photo with a basic blemish removal tool, which replaces whatever you selected with the texture you choose when dragging your pointer. The video is sped up, but the whole photo only took me about five minutes, and this is an extreme case. After retouching, don’t be afraid to adjust the crop, color, contrast, and rotation of your photo for the best results.

Good luck and happy editing! If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to our email list in the sidebar for similar occasional content.

Tip: How to Photograph Boring Products

Let’s face it, not every product on Amazon is going to be a fidget spinner or a tech gadget. Most products, as they should be, are normal, everyday objects that aren’t intended to stand out. However, great looking photos are still just as important for ordinary, utilitarian products to help distinguish your listing from the competition. A photo also serves to communicate the purpose and function of your product to the customer.

Let’s examine something incredibly cut-and-dry: rotary blades. Now, you may not be teeming with excitement at the thought of this product, but it has real value to many customers, and it’s important to capture the blades in a way that is creative, attractive, and functional. Here’s one possible shot for them:

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This image conveys varied lighting to give what is normally a flat product some depth, and it also serves to show off features like product count and size. Finally, the image is spatially and aesthetically pleasing, and is more likely to draw the customer in.

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Here’s another example of how one might photograph this product. This image shows everything that the box for the product contains, and uses a more eye-catching black background to distinguish the clear case the blades come in, an element that would have been difficult to capture on a white background.

Finally, let’s examine a more extreme example with another cut-and-dry product: small industrial magnets.

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The image above is partially photographed, partially edited together in post to give what is normally just a gray circle with no depth, a greater sense of movement and character. It’s still a simple image, but helps give the listing more personality, and clearly conveys the product to the consumer.

Simple products don’t have to have boring images! In fact, they present a great opportunity for hyper-functional images that draw in the customer’s eye.

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Quick Tip: Add Effects to Your Product Images

Above is a brief example of how you can add simple effects to your product images in order to better show off your products’ features. In the video, I used the example of a shower head. Customers in this scenario will not be shopping just for the aesthetic of the shower head, but primarily for the function it serves (i.e. they way it projects water). This applies to any number of products, such as kitchen products that people operate with food or exercise equipment that people use. Sometimes it is easy to photograph your product with necessary props in-frame to begin with. But sometimes (as in the case with shower heads), it is easier to add those effects in afterwards.

Take a look at the video above for a example of how to accomplish this. The process can be complicated depending on the product being photographed, so feel free to reach out with questions.

Here’s a “before and after” of the images I used.

Before:

After:

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How Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods Could Affect Your Ecommerce Business (Part 2)

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Continuing from my previous post regarding Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, let’s examine several more key outcomes of this historic acquisition:

This means change for the whole grocery industry

The grocery industry is notorious for it’s poor margins (1-2%), and self-checkout kiosks have done little to alleviate the many pain-points that physical grocery stores still have. This doesn’t mean that it’s a poor market to enter; it means that it’s a market ripe for disruption. If Amazon does to the physical grocery network what it did to online retail, the rest of the traditional grocery companies will have to adapt. Traditional grocers were already down 10% in pre-opening trading after the announcement, a foreshadowing of potential change. While companies like Walmart may have already mastered distribution, they have nowhere near the level of technical prowess necessary to compete with Amazon. Even though Whole Foods doesn’t give Amazon as extensive a level of distribution as the larger grocery chains have, this won’t matter if grocery delivery becomes the new norm. Many in the e-commerce industry have already adapted to Amazon’s distribution network, and they will be poised to take advantage of this entirely new market.

Amazon’s Ambitions aren’t to be an online retailer; they are to be wherever the customer is

Before the launch of Apple’s original iPhone, Palm CEO Ed Colligan famously said,”We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” Similarly, it was only two years ago that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey made the statement that groceries would be Amazon’s Waterloo. The issue with both of these statements is that they misunderstood Apple and Amazon’s goals. Apple, a computer company, didn’t want to build a phone, they wanted to build the most personal computer ever. Similarly, Amazon doesn’t just want to sell products (and groceries) online, it wants to own the market wherever the customer is.

This aligns perfectly, with Amazon’s Mission Statement:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company”

Ultimately, it is a customer-focused services company, not a retail company. Having Whole Foods under its umbrella will allow Amazon to have a guaranteed customer for building out its distribution network to optimize for perishable goods, something that was lacking with Amazon Fresh. This won’t only bring nifty new technology to Whole Foods, but will incentivize the network Amazon can use for Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh delivery, and eventually drone delivery. This goes doubly for the company selling through Amazon, as it only provides more distribution channels and product opportunities for you to consider.

Takeaway

Even given these facts, you may still be unsure about the acquisition. Regardless, it is undeniable that Amazon’s culture and identity are perfect for entrance into this market. The value of physical grocery stores isn’t in the quick accessibility of picking up the 2-3 things you need for dinner, but in the experience of walking into the store and stumbling upon dozens of other purchases that you didn’t even realize you needed. If there was one website in the world that gave you the same experience, what would it be? That’s what I thought you’d say.

Heavily consider what it means to prepare for this change and go into a new market hand-in-hand with Amazon, as it could mean the future for many Ecommerce businesses.

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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”