A Practical eCommerce Guide to Perfect Product Photos

It’s time to get practical people!

If you have the budget and time to contract professional product photography, great. But the vast majority of Small to Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) are using product images provided by suppliers and manufacturers, or they are shooting product images themselves using digital cameras or their smartphones.

Even photos provided by professional photographers may not be optimized for eCommerce. It’s not their fault! The photography schools simply are not yet instructing student photographers on perfecting their craft for eCommerce.

You might be lucky and get online eCommerce-ready images directly from your product supplier. But in our experience this is extremely uncommon. And besides … we think that most well-meaning folks out there might “think” that they know what makes a great eCommerce product photo, but they really don’t.

This article is about fixing all of that. We’ll start by discussing the quick and easy edits anyone can make, and then we’ll show before and after images to prove our points.

Not (Necessarily) About “Photography”

There are lots of blogs and help articles out there — even from our good friends at Shopify — about how to shoot the perfect photo. There is advice about using filters and achieving the perfect lighting. There are long, authoritative blogs on backdrops, staging, positioning, and using green screens. And there are details on how to prepare your product — steaming wrinkles, waxing surfaces, and displaying at the perfect angles.

Do every single one of these things if you can.

And then there is all the expert advice about “post.” To the average business person or internet user, the term “post” means to put something online. We post things to social media and we write blog posts. But in the world of photography and video, “post” means everything that you do to an image AFTER you take it — the editing.

Quite frankly, most SMBs just do not have the time and resources to pay a professional photo editing crew to drop 20 megapixel product images into Adobe Photoshop for tweaking. Again … it’s just not practical for real people trying to do real business.

This is another reason why most merchants rely on images provided by manufacturers and suppliers or take the best image they can themselves. I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to get the best original photo image that you can. You should. But the vast majority of the time you are sent an image by somebody — professional or not — and now you have sell stuff with it. So what do you do to make that image the best it can be AND stay practical at the same time.

That’s what this article is all about.

No matter where that image came from, you can make it better online by thinking about three things:

Shape — Square is The New Black

One of the biggest changes in the world of images is the shape. For millennia — literally since the ancient Greek architect Phidias designed the Parthenon in 447 BC — 2500 years of artists have been schooled in the inherent beauty of the “golden ratio.” It’s basically a rectangle of pleasing proportions with the long side about 61.8% longer than the short side.

This little historical tidbit of aesthetics has screwed around with us ever since. The proportions have been skewed over time in different media due to available materials and such, but this “perfect” notion has influenced architecture, sculpture, painting, book publishing, and more. It’s even the reason your computer monitor is shaped the way it is. Importantly, it’s the reason that the screens on tablets and smartphones are rectangles too (Steve Jobs applied the “golden ratio” to everything, some say even including the Apple logo).

And this is the BIG point. Displaying rectangle images on rectangle screens “sounds” like a great idea. But it’s a terrible idea if you want people to see the image AND do something else. Something like … oh, let’s say … read a product description or click an “Add to Cart” button.

If you use rectangle product photos, when someone is holding their smartphone or tablet in landscape mode it will take up the whole screen. If they are holding it in portrait mode it will get really small and they won’t see the details. And then there is how it will look on social media.

If you are on the Instagram social media platform — and if you aren’t, get on there now — you already know that ALL images on Instagram are square by default. Even if you wanted to post a rectangle image, the app will force you to frame it as a square. The square image is the only format of image that works well on ALL social media platforms.

Of course, it’s possible that you don’t WANT customers and visitors sharing and posting images of the products that they have just happily purchased from your online store … naw, that’s just crazy talk.

And there is one more reason to make all your product images square. If you have collection pages in your Shopify store that display your products side by side, they will display in different, inconsistent sizes UNLESS all your photos are trimmed to the same aspect ratio. In other words, if all your photos are square, then they will all line up perfectly side-by-side on those pages. This doesn’t just ensure a good-looking page, it looks more professional and clean, and that builds consumer confidence.

So there are three GREAT reasons to ensure that all of your product images are square-shaped:

  • It allows your products to be displayed as large as possible on the widest variety of screens while still displaying text and calls to action.
  • It allows your products to be instantly shared across ALL social media platforms without re-editing.
  • A disciplined aspect ratio makes all product images line up perfectly in your Shopify store.

This is why all modern photo devices — including cameras and smartphones — have a “Square” photo mode built in. It’s true … the object and framing of some photos just does not lend itself to being presented as a square, but most are. We need to educate everyone on this. If you know a friendly photographer, send them this article and help me help them to become a believer.

You are going to have to do some cropping. But the good news is that you likely have basic photo cropping tools built into your computer. Start by squaring everything up.

The Paradox — Size DOES Matter … A Lot

Now that you have a square photo, let’s talk about size. When it comes to image size, we are faced with a seemingly irresolvable paradox:

  1. The higher the resolution and larger the size, the better the image. The better the image, the better it looks. The better it looks, the more it sells.
  2. The #1 reason customers bail out of an online purchase is slow page-load speed. High-resolution images are — by definition — freaking huge. And we online merchants have ZERO control over the speed of a customer’s internet connection or the quality of their cell phone data plan.

So, if a page takes more than 3 seconds to load or eats up gigabytes of their data plan, you are more likely to lose that customer. This means that the highest, best quality, most perfect product photo in the world will never get seen as the customer becomes bored waiting for the download to finish.

The solution is to optimize for both size and resolution with the device and format in mind.

Viva La Resolution

I edit dozens of photos every week for posting online. They come from photographers, stock photo services, my own camera, and from regular folks too. I get them at every size and resolution imaginable. When I’m done with them they are all either 4” x 4” or 5” x 5” and 150 dots per inch (dpi) resolution.

If customers are more likely to view images on a laptop or desktop pc, then I use 5” x 5”. If they are more likely to view them on tablets or smartphones, the I use 4” x 4”. The truth is that when the products appear in your Shopify store they will usually display even smaller than that. But these sizes allow customers to zoom in a bit if they want to.

If you are sending something to physically print out, 300 dpi is better. But even with the INCREDIBLE displays on pcs and mobile devices these days, all those extra pixels are a waste on them. 150 DPI is still plenty for all manner of computer screens and no one will be able to tell the difference unless they zoom in super-tight or display it on the 60” Plasma TV in their basement.

So let’s do the math.

  • A 4” x 4” image at 150 dpi is 600 px x 600 px. Spot on perfect for your shop, social media, AND for including in email campaigns via services like MailChimp.
  • A 5” x 5” image at 150 dpi is 750 px x 750 px — still great and within the limits of 98% of email boxes. This is my go-to format.

You “can” make edits like this inside Shopify. I say don’t. But you don’t need Adobe Photoshop either. Apple computers have had this for years, but all modern computers these days come with basic photo editing built in. I use a Macbook Pro, so resizing for dpi and size is easy.

[Remember to NEVER EDIT ORIGINAL IMAGES — you might need them for something else in the future. Save originals in one file, then create a copy and edit that for posting.]

Who’s Afraid of a Little “Enhancement”

The vast majority of the time you are going to be making photos smaller than they once were, and then they will display a little smaller than that on your product pages. When you “shrink” an image like that, two things happen:

  • Color saturation is muted by a bit.
  • Edges can lose their sharpness.

Again, there is no need these days to get a fancy-shmancy photo editing package. If your computer was made in the last three years, you probably already have what you need. But you can also make changes like this on your smartphone or tablet using an app (some of them are REALLY good!). I keep several apps on my iPad Pro and on my iPhone and you can use any of them for this kind of basic photo editing:

  • Pic
  • Pixamatic
  • Afterlight
  • Adobe PS Express
  • There are a lot of great products out there.

At a minimum you want to increase sharpness AND color saturation by about 10%. You can do a bit more if you like, but that is purely based on personal opinion. I like my images very crisp when viewed on mobile devices, so it is not unusual for me to increase sharpness by 20%. But some prefer images that appear a bit “softer,” so 10% is more than enough.

Another REALLY big advantage of doing this kind of photo editing is that it can make all of your product images feel more homogenous. It starts to look like one photographer took every shot because the images “feel” similar. Again … it just looks more polished and professional without taking a lot of time or costing a lot of money. They key will be to practice making these photo tweaks and then doing them almost identically each and every time. You will get fast at it and your site will look better.

In a Nutshell

Notice that nowhere in this article did I say “spend money.” I just don’t think that you have too 99.9% of the time. Maybe someday your business will grow to the point that you can pay for perfect professional photography and digital editing services. Great … even better. But you may still prefer to do this yourself because it is just so practical and easy. And these same photos are now perfectly prepared for every marketing use, including social media, sharing, and email marketing.

Win … win … win.

If you want to see a bunch of images that all follow these basic editing rules, look at the TaskHusky Instagram page.

Shopify eCommerce Product Photo Samples

This image was produced by a professional photographer and he was paid for the license via Getty Images. I am going to start with the two “AFTER” images because they are so well optimized that they’ll load on your screen quickly. The edits took me less than 1 minute each because I have done it a thousand times. Your first crack at it will take longer until you get used to it.

The last image is the “BEFORE” image and it meets all the uploading requirements of Shopify — you “could” simply use it as it is — by why would you?

AFTER 1 specs (my personal favorite):

  • Dimensions = 750 px x 750 px / 5” x 5”
  • Resolution = 150 dpi
  • Size = 344 KB (fifteen times SMALLER than the original image)

AFTER 2 specs:

  • Dimensions = 600 px x 600 px / 4” x 4”
  • Resolution = 150 dpi
  • Size = 233 KB (twenty-two times SMALLER than the original image)

BEFORE (original) specs:

  • Dimensions = 4472 px x 3419 px / 14.91” x 11.4”
  • Resolution = 300 dpi
  • Size = 5.2 MB

Thanks for reading.

Originally published at www.taskhusky.com.