2.4 Part A: Product Photos

You have one chance to make a first impression.

If you're selling online, photography is your first and only impression. Ecommerce doesn't afford customers the luxury of feeling how soft a product is, examining how expertly crafted it is, or how effortlessly it drapes. To make up for these shortfalls in sensory experience, your photography must carry the extra weight.

I have no background in photography, nor do I own a camera, so please be encouraged that it is possible to learn and apply these techniques without being or having access to a professional.

Over the past 5 years I have tried and tested a number of different photography styles, analyzed each style's performance, and made adjustments to increase customer conversion rates*. In this section, I will provide a synopsis of this process, allowing you to pocket these insights and channel them into your own work.

In Part B I will detail the actual techniques for achieving my current, and highest converting photo style.

*Conversion Rate
The conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a desired action. The archetypical example of conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors who buy something on the site.


 

Style 01

I still apologize to my friend for making her take these pictures with me. These represent my very first stab at product photography. I borrowed a friend's DSLR and had no understanding of how to utilize the added functionality it could have afforded me. Besides the obvious, here are the macro-level issues this style presented:

  • Product is getting lost as every variable changes in each photo
  • No cohesive sense of the brand or unifying element
  • Inconsistent and poor understanding of lighting
  • Attempting to achieve the street fashion style and clearly falling short
    • As a general rule: Better to perfectly execute on a simpler aesthetic, than a poor execution on a more complex aesthetic.


     


     

    Style 02

    To bring uniformity to the photos and better highlight the product, I removed the variables I found most challenging: background, outdoor lighting, model, and DSLR. I opted for a simple mannequin against a white wall, utilized natural window lighting, and shot on my iPhone.

    I continued with this style for my first two years in business. It proved to be a great preliminary style since I was able to pull it off relatively consistently, on a budget, and with my limited skillset.

    Here are the few of the shortcomings of this style, that plateaued my shop growth at that time:

    • Without a face, the products feel a bit more abstract and unrelatable.
    • With so few variables changing between photos, the brand almost feels too uniform (as if it's only a single product in multiple colors).
    • Lacks in character, personality, and visual interest (things that would come thru with scenery, props, facial expressions, hair styles, etc.)
    • Lighting (tone and placement) is inconsistent, and not being used to accentuate the products.




    With time, I improved my lighting and editing (examples below).

    (Aside: Remember when Etsy used to look like this? #mindblown. While we're on the topic...make it a regular habit to screenshot your website and toss it into an archive folder. It's encouraging to be able to scroll through and see your growth over time.)



     

    Style 03

    With 65 sales my first year and only 81 the next, I sensed that my mannequin photography was holding me back. Two other things were also happening at this time (2015):

    1. The knit market on Etsy was getting incredibly saturated and a mannequin didn't stand out.
    2. I started building the brand on Instagram, which for all of us, begins to attach the maker to the product. We each have qualities that others subconsciously then associate with our work. A simple example for me was my top knot. It was regularly commented on, so working it into my product photos was a seamless way to connect my products back to my brand.

    All that being said, I loathed being in front of the camera then, just as much as I do now. However, this style brought my first big jump in sales, moving the needle from 81 to 683 (note that launching patterns was another contributing factor). I still use this style today, but continue to refine my editing process.

     

    Style 04: Today

    Actual step-by-step photos, tools, and tutorials covered in Part B. (Not included in this preview).

    As you can see (and have likely experienced yourself), it took a lot of iterating to achieve a style that best supports my brand and that I can feasibly pull off with my skillset, supplies, and budget.

    It's important for you to consider the breadth of your products, and which photography style will best support them. As I expanded away from knitwear and into patterns, downloads, and supplies, it was integral that my photography style could seamlessly translate across these other mediums.


     


    Makers like LoopnThreads, Two of Wands, Lauren Aston Designs, TLYarnCrafts, and Sewrella (just to name a few) have all nailed unique photography styles that are now arguably iconic to their brands. There's no right way to do it, so take the insights that are most helpful to you, and leave the rest. Plan to test and iterate over time, continually reviewing your data and honing your craft.