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Easy Tips for Great Online Product Photos

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Tupperware zoo it yourself toys
Credit: Karen Kirk

Online selling can be a fun and lucrative business! Whether you're selling handmade items, antiques, designer clothing, this season's must-have toys, or any other item, photos are an incredibly important aspect of your presentation. Customers have only photos to go by; they can't pick up, hold, or examine the product before buying, so the quality of your photography can make or break a sale! Here are some helpful tips for showing off your wares in the best possible conditions.

Background

The background is a crucial part of a good product photo. The best backdrops are "invisible" - that is, they make the item the primary focus of the viewer's attention. An overly colorful or cluttered background can sometimes distract away from the item being featured, which doesn't help it sell.

One of the most commonly used backgrounds is plain white. This is almost always a good choice, because it makes the item stand out against the "nothingness" of the backdrop. Most professional catalog photos feature a solid white background for this reason. This can easily be achieved with a large sheet of white poster board, which is available in most art stores for less than a dollar. The sheet can be laid flat, or curved against the joint of a wall and floor to make a seamless backdrop.

Other good choices for backgrounds are neutrals like grey or beige. Wood can also be effective, and usable wood surfaces can be easily found in most homes. For clear or white items, a solid black background can be used, using a sheet of black poster board.

White bead purse
Credit: Karen Kirk

Focus is important too. Try not to have any items in the photo other than the one you're selling. They can distract attention away from the one being sold, or worse, buyers may think that everything in the picture is included and be disappointed when they only receive one item!

Light source

Lighting is vital in any form of photography.  The color, angle, and intensity of the light affects the appearance of the subject in many ways. Even a beautiful item can be ugly and unappealing if the lighting is unfavorable.

Natural light is always best. The human eye is optimized for sunlight, so colors and textures will appear more true under natural light than under artificial light. In my experience, photos are best taken in the shade on a sunny day. Photographing in direct sunlight will cause harsh shadows, but staying in the shade gets the benefits of brightness while minimizing shadows and glare. Cloudy days can also be good for photography, since the clouds diffuse the direct rays of the sun.

If taking photos outside is difficult, they can be taken indoors as well. Many photographers use a device called a lightbox. A lightbox is a box shaped container that can be any size and made of many types of materials. The inside surfaces are white, and several light sources are positioned around it so that they shine light inside and illuminate the box. These are best used with special "daylight" light bulbs that imitate some of the the visual qualities of natural sunlight.

Lots of photos

As we've said before, buyers are limited in online shopping because they aren't able to touch the item. As a result, one of the best ways to sell your products is to include LOTS of photos. Most online selling venues provide at least 4-5 photo slots, sometimes many more. Use them to your advantage! Take a photo of the product at every angle: front, top, sides, back, and bottom, so the viewer has a 360 degree view.

It can also be wise to show a size reference photo as well. For example, show the product held in your hand (make sure it's clean and well groomed, of course!) or with a common item like a coin or key. This may help to prevent the dreaded "smaller than expected" review.

Another aspect to consider is angle. Experiment with showing the item at different angles or distances to find the most attractive presentation. Try a straight-on photo, try snapping pics at a higher or lower angle, or take ones closer or further away from the subject. Items can sometimes look more appealing when shown in ways other than a standard head-on view.

The very first photo should be the best one, since that is the one that is used for the thumbnail. An appealing set of photos goes a long way toward convincing a customer to buy!

Processing

Once the photos are uploaded onto your computer, you can use a photo editor to process them. There are many of these programs available, sometimes for free. They will allow you to alter the photos to adjust things like color balance, brightness, and contrast.

brown paw brooch
Credit: Karen Kirk

For example, a photo taken on a white surface on a cloudy day may have an unwanted blue tint to the background. To adjust the color and get the background back to pure white, you can use the program's color balance tools to remove excess blue from the photo's color level. The sharpen tool can be used to touch up a soft photo and make edges nice and crisp. The contrast setting can help remove excessive glare from shiny surfaces. Experiment with the program of your choice to learn the best ways to make your photos look fantastic!

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6
Amazon Price: $149.00 $142.99 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 12, 2015)

One warning though: don't try to alter the appearance of the item itself. You want your photos to be the most accurate representation of your product that is possible. A customer who receives an item that is a different color or texture than expected will be disappointed, and this could result in a return or a negative review.

Apply these tips to improve your photos, and your chances of making a sale will increase!

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