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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Video Tutorial: Photography Trick for Selling a Product Cluster

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It’s quite common to sell multiples of the same product on a listing, but actually fairly difficult to get a good image for this. For products with any scale, it’s hard to get everything in frame and looking right. The easiest way around this is to photograph one of your products by itself, then edit in the rest later. As an example, I used a set of storage platters for food. In it, I took three images with slightly different food combinations, then edited it all together to look like a set of 6 platters. This composite provided great results for the listing. Give it a try!

All you need is a fundamental understanding of working with multiple layers, and a basic way to get a pure white background for your image. From there, it’s just drag and drop!

Take a look at the video above and if you have any issues, feel free to reach out with questions.

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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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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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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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