When building trust with your customers, your website’s design is key. You probably wouldn’t go into a shop that looks like it’s just had a tornado come soaring through and you wouldn’t buy from a shop that looks like it hasn’t been maintained in fifty years. The same runs true for your ecommerce website. It needs to convey quality and a HUGE part of this, is the quality of the images that you use to represent your products. I will show you how you can take high quality images with the help of everyday tools, and by using free software that is readily available to anyone.
In one of my previous articles on using video to boost an ecommerce website I opened with the line ‘If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a video worth a million?’. That article then went on to discuss the power of influence that video can have when a customer needs to make a decision about a purchase online. The aim of this article however is to focus on the value of images, and how good quality images can be equally as important in helping a customer make a confident purchase decision.
One common problem facing many ecommerce companies, particularly start-ups, is the cost of creating your own product images. There is a preconceived notion that to make good quality product images you need to spend money on expensive equipment and software in order to achieve the best results. This simply isn’t true. We have come a long way over the past 5-10 years and the quality of images we can take has steadily improved.
Undoubtedly the biggest worry in the minds of most people will be the cost of the equipment needed to produce good quality images. Expensive cameras, lighting, and software all contribute towards scaring people away from taking the plunge into creating better images. There’s no denying that using expensive equipment can certainly help make life a easier and, a higher resolution will allow for more flexibility whilst editing- but by no means is expensive equipment necessary to take images that are of high quality.
Digital Camera / Smart Phone: Most people these days own a smartphone that has a built in camera, and the quality of these cameras has improved substantially over the past few years. In most cases these should be of a good enough quality to create your product photos. Just make sure you have your camera’s settings set to the highest quality possible.
Tripod: Although not a necessity, having a tripod will undoubtedly make life easier by removing blur caused by camera shake when taking the photo. There are manufacturers out there that make tripods specifically for modern smartphones such as the ‘GripTight GorillaPod Stand’. If you have shaky hands like I do, then this will reduce lots of frustration, but if you don’t want to buy a tripod there are little tricks that you can use to make your hands steady.
Large A3+ White Card/Paper/Sheet: This is another example of an item that isn’t essential, but will reduce that amount of work needed to get that professional looking image. Used as a bed to place your products on, the card can then be folded to go behind the product to help produce a seamless white background as found on many product images from top ecommerce sites. It also acts as a mirror for light to reflect off.
Reflectors: If you’ve ever seen professional photographers or videographers at work you’ll likely have seen an assistant carrying around large circular white discs. These discs are used to bounce light onto their subject to help reduce shadows. Professional light reflectors can be purchased online for less than £20 however a cheap alternative would be an A3 sheet of paper.
Desk Lamps: Forget about expensive fancy lighting. It’s not needed. A couple of desk lamps placed in the right place will do the trick. The most important thing to consider with these is the type of bulb. Ideally you’d want an LED bulb as they provides a more natural light colour; however if you don’t have LED bulbs as an option, make sure that you use the same type of bulb in each of your lights to maintain a consistent colour of light.
Sticky Tape: It could be argued that after the camera, plastic pegs and sticky tape could be the most important piece of equipment needed to help take quality photos. It can be very frustrating to try and balance sheets of paper and card that keep falling over just as you take your shot.
You don’t need to have a dedicated photography room or studio to take your photos. You can use just about any room in your shop, office, or home. There are two directions available here. Both are equally capable of producing good photos. The first is a room that has access to plenty of natural daylight. If you have the luxury of having some large windows that let in plenty of daylight then you’re well on your way to having a great photography environment. Alternatively, if your access to natural daylight is limited, then your best option would be to find a room that has little or no access to daylight and light the room yourself. The main thing you want to avoid is mixing light sources as natural daylight has a totally different colour and tone to artificial light.
Once you have chosen your location you need to set up your base and backdrop. This will vary depending on the items you are using to create your base and backdrop, but the goal remains the same. Your aim is to create a seamless background with no visible edges. This is achieved by bending your base material such as an A3 piece of paper so that there is enough room for you to place your product on it, whilst leaving enough room for it to be used as the background.
Lighting is more than just sticking a couple of lights in a room and switching them on. You need to consider the placement of the lights as this will affect the length, direction and density of your shadows, especially if you are
lighting the room yourself. You want to have your product evenly lit. Preferably with as little amount of soft shadow visible as possible.
If you’re using natural light to illuminate your products then the first point you want to consider is what direction the light is coming from. You want the front of your product to be well lit, so when you’re taking the shots your camera will most often be placed between the light source and your product. Make sure that you’re not blocking out the light, or casting a shadow over the product.
If you’re creating your own light source, place the lights slightly forward of the product with one light on each side. The two lights should help cancel out the majority of the shadows, whilst lighting your product evenly. The height and the distance of the light’s will also affect the shadows. The further away your lights are the softer the shadows will be, but if they’re too far away then the amount of light on your product will be reduced. If you find that you’re having difficulty getting the balance right between the amount of light and shadows, you may want to consider placing a thin sheet or a piece of paper in front of the light, but not so close to the light that it becomes a fire hazard. This will help to diffuse the light so that it spreads more evenly across your product, resulting in a softer light with soft shadows.
Another option would be to place a mirror or a piece of white paper/card to the sides of the product to reflect some of the light back onto the object. It may take a little experimentation at first, but once you get the hang of it the process becomes relatively simple. Your main aim is to light the product as evenly as possible, with as little amount of shadows as possible.
For the purpose of this guide I feel that going into camera settings is delving a little too far and over-complicating the matter. However if your camera does allow you to control things such as the ISO, Exposure and Shutter Speed, then you might want to experiment with these as you become more familiar with taking pictures. Instead, this guide will continue under the premise that your camera is set to auto mode, and should calculate the best settings for each shot as you take the picture. The only setting you will need to set is for your cameras flash. Using a flash can produce hot spots (areas of strong light) on your product. I strongly recommend switching your flash off whilst taking your photos.
One of the biggest culprits in bad photos is blurriness usually caused by camera shake. There are a number of ways to defeat this, with the most effective being the use of a tripod, and if you can justify spending a little then I would definitely recommend getting one. You don’t need any fancy features, just a simple tripod that will hold your camera still. You can pick these up relatively cheap online and long term the investment will pay dividends.
If you don’t have access to a tripod then you need to try and maintain as still of a body position as possible whilst taking the shot. Try resting your elbows on the edge of a desk, or crouching down with your elbows resting on a knee.
Another cause of camera shake is pressing the shutter button on your camera. This can easily be combated by setting your camera to take a picture on a timer. Most cameras and phones have this option available and allow you to pick how long it will delay before taking the image. All you need to do is get into position, press the shutter button and wait for the camera to count down. This alone can reduce the amount of camera shake drastically, giving you a nice, sharp and clean finish to your photos.
When taking the pictures you should consider taking multiple shots from a variety of angles. When shooting from other angles remember that you want to avoid including any unwanted parts of the background. If you are using a base card, then make sure that this still covers the entirety of the product background The corners and edges of the photo are ok as these can be cropped out in the next stage.
If your products are small items then you may also want to consider taking a shot of your product next to another familiar object to use as a scale reference. Using a coin or something of similar size would do the job perfectly fine and would give your customers a better understanding of the product size.
Once you have transferred your photos from your camera to your computer, you will want to apply a small amount of post processing to get the best out of your images before uploading them to your shop. There are many photo editing applications on the market today, the most popular of these being Adobe Photoshop which can be picked up from Adobe as part of their Creative Cloud subscription package from a little under £10 per month. If
you’re looking for something a little more cost effective than Photoshop, then ‘Gimp’ might be the perfect fit for you. It’s completely free, works on Windows, Mac & Linux, and has many of the same features and functionality as Adobe’s offering.
The main aim of the post processing stage is to make your product appear on a clean white background. Depending on how well you managed to light your scene, you may be able to skip this whole process altogether and use the built in ekmPowershop image editor to apply small fixes such as adjusting the brightness or contrast to your images. You can also use our built in photo editor to crop and rotate your images so they are nice and straight.
However if your photos still appear a little dark, then you may want to open them in your image editing software and locate the ‘levels’ adjustment feature under the ‘colors’ menu.
Locate the small white triangle to the right hand side of the ‘Input Levels’ slider and slowly move this to the left until it reaches the edge of the black ‘mountain’. Next move the middle triangle slowly to the left. This will start to brighten up your entire image.
At this stage all you want to do is brighten up your product without washing all the colour out. Once you have your product looking as bright as possible without it reducing the quality of the color, click the OK button.
To do this select the magic wand tool from the tools menu and set your ‘threshold’, on the right hand side of your screen, to a value close to 100.
Click anywhere on the background and the tool should draw an outline around your product.
If you find that the product doesn’t have a steady outline around it you may need to adjust the threshold value until you have a nice smooth outline.
Once you have a smooth outline surrounding your product open up the ‘levels’ adjustment feature again and once again move the middle triangle to the left.
You should now see that your background is starting to lighten up.
Keep going until you get a near white, or completely white background and click the ‘OK’ button.
You should now have a bright product sitting on a clean white background ready to be uploaded to your ekmPowershop. All you need to do now is export your image by clicking ‘File > Export As’ and navigate to the location you wish to save your image. When you click the export button a popup window will appear asking you to select the quality of your image. The higher the quality selected, the larger the file size will be which in turn will reduce page loading times on your shop. I’d suggest starting at somewhere around the 50 mark, and if needed you can increase this, if your exported file isn’t of a satisfactory standard.