Product photography has advanced significantly over recent years. And as ecommerce continues to grow, your product images are increasingly important. Below, we’ll look at the definition of product photography, as well as best practices and examples to inspire your own.
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What is product photography?
Product photography is any image of a good for sale. Also known as commercial photography, these images are meant to entice shoppers to purchase the photographed products. They feature product details and features, supplemental to written copy and product descriptions. The idea is to give potential buyers a full impression of the product.
As an umbrella term, product photography can also include renderings or renders, which are 3D graphics that look life-like and can almost pass as a real photo. You’ll often see these on sites like Amazon and eBay. Cranium Care, a brand of “hair” products for bald men, outsources their 3D renders. If you’re strict about the definition, renderings don’t count and only images taken of a real object with a real camera are categorized as product photography.
What is object photography?
Object photography is when you take a photo of an inanimate item. As such, product photography is technically a form of object photography — unless the product is living, like a succulent. In object photography, items are typically non-moving, or still.
Types of product photography
Product photography is a type of object photography, but you can get even more granular with product photography:
White background photos are the ones you see on ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, AliExpress, and eBay. Also noted as individual product photos (though sometimes white background shots feature multiple images). This is arguably the most common product photo type you’ll see. In fact, when we analyzed the product photos from the top fashion brands, we found that 95% of them had white background shots.
“Superfood self-care” and wellness brand Golde uses white background for their product collection pages. The continuity and lack of background distractions make it easy for shoppers to differentiate between products.
Contextual shots feature products in use. These types of photos are ideal because they show shoppers how to use the products in their own lives, and it also gives them a sense of scale. People can imagine themselves using the product when you have these types of photos.
The barstools pictured below show context, giving shoppers an idea of what they could look like in their own home.
Season Three takes a more artistic approach to their contextual shots. The outdoor footwear brand showcases creative product shots with rock climbing accessories as props, keeping the background simple.
There’s a lot of crossover between contextual and lifestyle product photography. There is one key difference, though: lifestyle photography includes and is often focused on actual people. Some contextual shots lack humans.
The lifestyle product photo below shows people enjoying one another’s company over a beverage and meal. This image depicts an experience others can expect if they purchase the beverage too.
Scale shots are product photos that give a frame of reference so people can envision how big the products are. While product specs and dimensions are descriptive, sometimes shoppers need an image to see how big or small it is in comparison to common objects.
The below image shows a teacup and accompanying dish, along with someone holding it to give you a sense of just how tiny this item is.
Detailed product shots show small elements that aren’t necessarily visible in a standard product photo. You’ll often see this with apparel, footwear, and accessories — especially as you get into the luxury categories. Pagerie, which makes luxury pet accessories, shows the details of their carefully manufactured dog harnesses and collars.
The tactic applies to other industries and products, too. Skincare brand 456 uses detailed shots to show how their products look on a real person’s face.
Group product shots feature multiple items. Typically, these products are related in some way. You might bundle them together as a promotion, or feature the same item in different products. That’s what Spicy Caribbee Spice Shop does in this example:
And from Spirit of the Herbs:
Flat lay product photos hit their stride on social media, Instagram in particular. Flat lay photos are taken from a bird’s eye view. The layout lends itself to creative ways to arrange your products, so it’s a good way to have fun and add diversity to your site’s imagery. Plus, these images play particularly well on social media.
Beauty supply brand Bread uses the flat lay approach to showcase the different items included in one of their haircare kits. This gives buyers a positive visual impression because they can see how many items they’ll get.
Packaging product photos are the images that go on the box, bag, label, or whatever packaging holds your merchandise. These photos are important because they appeal to in-person shoppers. It’s especially important to consider this if the packaging hides the product, which you commonly see with food and beauty items.
You can even add product packaging to your other photos as well. This adds dimension and creates brand recognition for people who interact with you both online and offline.
User-generated content (UGC) includes product photos taken by anyone other than your brand or employees. These photos are typically shared on social media, so you can repost or feature the content on your own website as a form of social proof. UGC product photography isn’t ideal as your main photo, but it’s a great complement to your product pages.
Skincare brand Topicals has a carousel of UGC photos at the bottom of their website. It shows authenticity and social proof of their products.
20+ product photography statistics
We’ve compiled recent product photography statistics, studies, and surveys:
Consumer and human behavior
1. People process images in just 13 milliseconds
One MIT University study found that the human brain can process images after viewing them for just 13 milliseconds. That means they can process a product image just as quickly. Your product photos play a huge role in the first impression, so it’s important they’re high-quality.
2. People can also recall 2,000+ images with 90% accuracy
One 2013 study showed people 2,560 photographs for a period of just 1 second. After viewing all the images, they tested the participants’ memory recognition. The participants were able to recall more than 2,000 images with at least 90% accuracy, even after a period of three days.
3. Product photos are very influential to more than 75% of shoppers
When it comes to product photography specifically, one Weebly survey found that more than three-quarters of people find these images to be “very influential” to their purchase decision. It’s an important area to invest in for your online business.
4. 88% of ecommerce sites use inspirational product photography
According to the Baymard Institute, “bespoke imagery is one of the biggest factors in positively influencing the user’s initial perception of the site.” 88% of brands have responded to this and incorporate such images on their websites. Plus, a growing number of online brands are using these images as paths to purchase. Only 47% of sites linked to products featured in inspirational imagery in 2013, compared to 91% in 2019.
5. Inaccurate product photos cause 22% of ecommerce returns
Weebly’s survey also found that nearly a quarter of ecommerce returns happen when an “item looks different than the photos.” It’s important to create image shots that are realistic and give shoppers an accurate representation of how the item exists in real life.
6. Marketers use visual content 10.5% more in 2019 than 2018
According to one survey from Venngage, 63.5% of digital marketers said at least 70% of their content featured visuals in 2018. A year later, that number grew to 74%.
7. Visual content is essential to 49% of marketers
The same Venngage survey found that visual content is “very important” to nearly half of marketers.
8. Consumers order more than half of print photo products on a computer
The Suite48Analytics 2020 Photo Products Survey found that when people purchase photo products online, they most often do so on a computer (51%) or a smartphone (37%). It’s important to optimize both the photos featured on the products and the photos of the products themselves for mobile and desktop users.
Product photography market statistics
9. 13% of photographers use smartphones for client work
According to the Pro Photographers and their Camera Use from Suite48Analytics survey, 13% of professional photographers capture at least half of their pro shots with their smartphone. This percentage increases to 64% when you ask them about personal pictures. Learn how to take product photos with your smartphone with advice from photographer/writer Alexis Mera Damen.
10. 9 camera companies dominate the global market
The Global Digital Cameras Market Recent Trends, In-depth Analysis, Size and Forecast To 2027 notes nine top camera companies in the world:
One survey of UK-based wedding photographers aligns with these insights. Of those surveyed, 40% shoot with a Canon camera, 31% Nikon, 22% Sony, and 7% Fuji.
11. Annual commercial photography sales hit $1.8 billion in 2018
Market research found that in 2018, commercial photography sales totaled $1.8 billion globally. From 2015 through 2018, the industry grew at an annual rate of 1.9%. These statistics come from the 3,803 companies in the industry.
Product photography case studies
12. Ice Cream Castles shortened their photo-editing workflow from 7 days to 1 day
Children’s clothing brand Ice Cream Castles used to take an entire week to edit product photos before they were ready to use them. This took too much time they could’ve spent growing and improving the business — doing the things they love. They started outsourcing their edits and shortened photo edit turnaround time from 7 days to just 1 day.
13. Larger product images lead to higher perceived value
Conversion XL, an agency that helps websites and brands optimize their websites and landing pages for higher conversions, ran an A/B test to find out which size product photos performed better. They used an image of a button down shirt as well as an enlarged version of the same image. The average perceived value of the larger shirt was $1 higher than the normal photo.
14. Formkraft took 5 days to shoot photos for their new website
Photography Prodoto shot product images for Formkraft’s new website that sells a range of merchandise and consumables. The shoot took five days and shot initial concepts for 18 Master Category images and four additional website banner images. It takes time to get high-quality shots!
15. Medalia paintings convert at 17% when they feature artist photos
A/B testing tool VWO’s customer Medalia sells Cuban and Haitian art online. They ran an experiment to see if featuring artist photos as well as product photos would boost conversions. It did. Products that featured artists converted 17.2% of the time compared to 8.8% without.
16. Social proof boosts conversions by 23%
GoodUI ran an A/B test of their own, this time incorporating UGC on product pages to see its impact on conversions. Adding that social proof increased conversions by 23%, up to 8.1% from 6.6%.
COVID-19 and product photography
17. 99% of photographers have been affected by the pandemic
PetaPixel’s How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Photo Industry survey found that an overwhelming majority of photographers have been affected by the pandemic. A survey data from Lensrentals had similar findings, with more than 96% of photographers and videographers responding that they have been affected by the pandemic.
18. Most had to cancel at least one job due to the pandemic
Unfortunately, many of those impacts were negative. 90% of PetaPixel respondents said 80–100% of their bookings had been affected in the first two months of the pandemic, while 34% said 80–100% of bookings had been canceled altogether. Another 47% of photographers said that less than half of their bookings had cancellations, while the rest were rescheduled.
The Lensrentals survey looked at booking impacts throughout the pandemic. Their findings broke down as follows:
19. Half of product photographers have had bookings impacted by COVID-19
While the above statistics look at the professional photography industry as a whole, product photographers were actually one of the more minimally impacted subgroups. Newborn photographers had the most cancellations, but product photographers had the fewest. Half of product photographers said their workload has been unaffected, according to PetaPixel.
20. 72% of photo and video professionals can’t sell like normal
As bookings are impacted, so are sales and revenue. Nearly three-quarters of photographers can’t sell as they would during “normal times,” according to the Suite48Analytics COVID-19 Mitigation and What's Next Survey Report.
21. Nearly one-third of professionals in the industry plan didn’t need financial assistance
Despite all the canceled bookings and lost revenue streams, as much as a third of photographers didn’t need any financial assistance, per Lensrentals’s survey.
22. Digital camera sales plummeted globally in March 2020
As global economics have been hit, discretionary spending has also gone down. Digital camera sales fell 53% year-over-year in March 2020.
23. The photography services industry is expected to decline by 2%
As an industry, photography services is seeing a small decline as well. It’s expected to fall 2% this year, a decline from $36.8 billion in 2019 to $36 billion in 2020. “This is due to decline in demand for professional services as a result of trade restrictions and lockdowns imposed across countries owing to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
But the outlook is positive. The same report expects the market to recover and grow annually at 4.3% to hit as much as $40.9 billion in 2023.
24. More than 80% have no plans to switch careers
Another positive outlook: Lensrentals survey respondents say they have no plans to switch careers, despite the challenges they’ve faced due to COVID-19. Photographers are a passionate and resilient bunch.
How do you take product photos?
While the art of product photography requires much more than a single article (we’ve listed courses below!), the high level process is as follows:
- What: Determine what you’re shooting, including the product itself as well as any props, models, backgrounds, equipment, etc.
- Who: Figure out who’s involved with the shoot — including models, stylists, lighting specialists, photographers, assistants, clients, and more.
- When: Beyond establishing a time and date, build out a schedule for how you envision the day to go. This keeps people on the same page and on task so you have time for everything you need to accomplish.
- Where: Location includes where you’re having the shoot as well as where your “what’s” and “who’s” are.
- Why: Last but certainly not least, you want to know the why behind your shoot. In other words, set clear goals. Instead of “10 product photos for Amazon” aim for “10 product photos to launch on Amazon as part of our customer acquisition strategy for a key demographic.”
For more information about shooting your own product photos, check out these articles:
- How to Build a Photography Studio from Scratch: Everything You Need to Take Your Own Product Photos
- Etsy Product Photography Tips: How to Sell Lots of Products
- Fundamental Photo-Editing Checklist: 11 Steps to Perfect Product Photos
What equipment do you need for product photography?
For product photography, all you really need is a smartphone camera. But for high-quality shots that convert shoppers, you’ll want the following as a bare minimum:
- dSLR or mirrorless camera
- 50 mm lens
In addition, you may want:
- Macro lens
- Zoom lens
- Tilt-shift lens
- Grip equipment
- Props and shadow boxes
Product photography best practices
While your product photos should reflect your unique brand and appeal to your specific target audience, there are a few universal truths and best practices:
- Get the gear. While smartphone photos may work for social posts or email, you want high-quality photos for main product pages. Invest in a high-quality camera and lens or hire a professional who has their own equipment to shoot your photos for you.
- Choose your background wisely. Some ecommerce marketplaces require plain white backgrounds, and if you’re shooting for other channels you have more leeway. Whatever the background, it should reflect the aesthetic you’re after while keeping the focus on the product.
- Think about the context. We’re talking about context for your products and for your shoppers. It’s important to show the product in use, using models and contextual backgrounds and props. But it’s also important to consider the context in which your shoppers are viewing the photos. If they’re on mobile (they likely are), offer zoomed-in shots and closeups of important product features.
- Shoot with repurposing in mind. Professional product photos are a significant investment, and you want to make the most of it. Think about using your product photos on more than just ecommerce pages, but also in digital marketing and ad campaigns, on social media, in emails, and for labeling or packaging.
- Remember the details. It’s always important to edit your photos afterwards, no matter how great the original shot is. You may have to fix imperfections that have the potential to distract potential buyers and negatively impact conversions.
- Outsource the tedious bits. Lots of photo edits, like background removal and color changes, are so detail-oriented and time-consuming. It can take an entire day just to edit a small batch of photos. If you find your time is bogged down with post-processing, consider outsourcing the edits. Be wary of any providers that use automation and AI, as they run the risk of imperfections the human eye won’t miss.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have fun. Even though you have constraints on what you can do with the images, you can still get creative with it. Use outsourcing and other ways to take some of the stress out of your day to day so you can find your passion and get back to the work you love.
3 product photography examples
1. Grounded Plants
I love the product photography over at Grounded Plants. Their brand has such a distinct look and feel, and the product photos are a continuation of that. The backgrounds are plain so not distracting but interesting enough to fit with their overall aesthetic. Plus, variety breaks up the monotony of a single hue.
2. Southern Elegance
Southern Elegance has a creative touch to their product photo backgrounds. They stage shots of their candles from different angles and perspectives, changing up the scene and the props to match the product or collection.
3. Anna Elizabeth
Anna Elizabeth sells jewelry that was handcrafted in Jaipur, so the magic is in the details. And the details aren’t lost when it comes to their product photos. Plus, hot spots on the photos themselves encourage browsers to click, browse, and buy. The perfect mix of white background, detailed, and lifestyle shots, Anna Elizabeth’s photos are as beautiful as the designs themselves.
Product photography courses
There are tons of product photography courses out there — ranging from beginners to advanced, and many specializing in specific niches. Here are some product photography courses worth checking out:
- Product Photography for Ecommerce, Shopify Compass (free): Learn how to take product photos to sell online, including white background shots, home studio setup, and step-by-step process to outsourcing. The course is put together with the help of Co-Founder and President of Products On White Photography, Jeff Delacruz, who has shared his expertise on our blog more than a few times.
- Commercial Photography Classes, CreativeLive (prices vary): Browse a range of commercial photography courses from CreativeLive, choosing from different areas of focus, instructors, cost, and more. This class, for example, takes you through tabletop product photography.
- Product Styling and Photography E-Course, Passionshake (39,00€): Learn product photography and styling for ecommerce and Instagram. The course takes you through creating your visual identity, product styling tips, types of product photography, equipment, and even editing.
- Product Photography at Home, Craftsy ($29.99): Professional photographer and small-business owner Jessica Marquez leads the course. You’ll learn how to create tabletop setups for product shoots, including lighting, backgrounds, working with models, and post-production.
- Prop Styling Workshops Online via Zoom, The Prop Styling Experience (prices vary): Prop stylist Robin Zachary leads you through a variety of workshops, including styling with botanicals, setting up your home studio, and photo composition hacks. Check back for the 2021 schedule.
- Shoot Products Like a Pro, Phil Stills (£197): 13 short modules take you through everything from lighting and studio setup to white backgrounds and cut-outs. You can try the first two modules for free.
- Mobile Product Photography Class, Weebly (free): This product photography course shows you how to capture shots with your smartphone. The course is from 2017, so while some of the tactics may be outdated, a lot of the principles still apply.
- Still Life Photography, UCLA Extension (?): Learn lighting and camera techniques, food and product photography, and basic Photoshop edits. This course is only available at certain times, so check back for enrollment information and updates.
- Strobist (free): “Strobist is the world's most popular resource for photographers who want to learn to use their flashes like a pro.” Browse tons of courses, from introductory lighting 101 to advanced workshops.
Moving forward with your product photography
Ready to take your product photos up a notch? Check out the following resources:
- 9 Things Photographers Should Do Before Starting a Product Photography Business
- A Pro Photographer’s Guide to Spending Less Time Editing Product Photos
- How to Have a Safe Product Photoshoot During COVID-19
- How to Land More Clients With Product Photography Packages (+ How to Price Them)