Keep your store looking sharp and professional by standardizing your images’ dimension, style, and product positioning. A consistent look makes your ecommerce operation look trustworthy and boosts customer loyalty, which in turn maximizes consumer engagement and lifetime value.
A photography style guide can save you a lot of time. When you have every detail down to a process, you don’t have to think about each step. Having your photography style documented (as opposed to just in your head) helps you delegate to others, and minimizes errors, as you grow your operation, leaving time for more important matters.
Go a step further beyond creating a photography style guide and teach your team basic photography techniques, including lighting, background, and the importance of a tripod. Share editing tips and online tools to remove backgrounds or bulk resize your product photos. Record every aspect of your process including angles, distances, and lights. This streamlined approach automates your photo production and can save you a lot of time while producing great images.
What is a photography style guide?
A photography style guide has examples and detailed instructions for aspects of both photo shoots and post processing images. Images are vital visual elements of your branding strategy since they stand out, may show how your product is differentiated from competitors, and take up a lot of the space on your site and social media. That’s why top brands are exceedingly conscious about their photos' color uniformity and composition, creating instantly recognizable brand images. Think of Coca-Cola and the color red.
In ecommerce, it’s even more important to enhance your branding with images because digital channels are the primary way you communicate with your customers. And those channels—including your website, social media, and email—are proven to work better with images. So the best way to support those key channels and improve their efficiency is by creating a photography style guide that keeps your branding consistent.
What should a photography style guide include?
Your photography style guide should include the following:
Your color palette is one of the most recognizable aspects of your brand identity. And when you extend it to your photos, viewers will often recognize your brand even if your product is not in the image. Your palette should consist of complementing colors and similar hues. For example, if you use a light, pastel color palette you should aim to reflect that in all your images, not jump around to using heavy, muted tones instead.
Your color saturation can dictate the emotions your brand wants to evoke. More saturated “screaming” colors can evoke passion and are more suited for a younger audience, while a more muted color palette is more thoughtful for mature audiences.
This is a technical component, but it’s still important because it affects composition and how much of your image is in focus. Your focal length determines whether you have your images clear with everything in focus or some things out of focus, such as a blurry background. Generally, product photography is shot with a 50mm focal length lens. However, focal length may vary for other brand photography needs.
Shadows are another style choice that you should keep uniform depending on the purpose of the images. Product page photos are usually clean-cut with no shadows while social media images can be more realistic and offer more character if you include shadows.
Lighting is another key component to product photography. It’s always best to shoot with natural lighting when available, as this creates the most natural-looking photo as well. However, natural lighting isn’t always readily available, so artificial lighting may be required. Your product photography guidelines should provide direction for lighting, noting any relevant artificial light setups.
Composition is a major element defined by your brand identity. Your brand can offer a product-focused, minimalistic look with a lot of negative space. Or you can choose a more crowded approach where your images feature multiple products and speak in a more lively voice. Your product positioning within the image is also at play here.
Walmart shows how to shoot photos in a variety of settings while keeping composition consistent and on-brand.
While Amazon has made white background photography the status quo in ecommerce, you have more flexibility when it comes to your own website and other uses. That’s why it’s important to provide guidelines for background selection.
High Horse Coffee Company has photography guidelines which describe what makes an appropriate background, showing a couple of examples.
Types of photography
You want your customers to associate your product with a certain lifestyle or emotion, and you can create that link with your in-context images.
This requires a combination of styles, including clean-cut feature images, close-ups, and lifestyle shots. How much you use each also defines your brand.
Plus, you’ll want to consider the context and use for the photo. Social media images, for example, will be shot in a different way than the white background shots for your Amazon listings. Ben & Jerry’s even dedicates a section to describing how to shoot photography for use on social media in its photography guidelines:
As another example, Starbucks differentiates between product photography and editorial photography with its brand guidelines:
The people in your images should be in line with your overall marketing strategy and resonate with people from the right age groups, community, and subcultures you’re targeting.
The Fenty Beauty by Rihanna photography guidelines are a great example of this. As a brand committed to representation and inclusivity, it explicitly outlines the types of people who should be featured in brand photography.
In its guidelines, the brand outlines the goals of its photography:
- Capture color
- Clean compositions and shots
- Casting that reflects the diversity of our users
How to create a photography style guide
Not only does your photography style guide involve similar angles, composition and content, but should also incorporate more technical post-production work.
Set the stage
Your photography style should match or complement your existing visual branding. So it’s important to understand what your existing brand is, or develop one, if you haven’t already.
Guide how to compose photos
Remember to consider different types of photos as well. For example, white background product photos will have different requirements than lifestyle shots or event photography. United By Blue distinguishes different types of photography in its guidelines, offering examples of each:
Remember to include some of the details mentioned above, like backgrounds, focal length, and composition.
Show how to edit photos
It’s vital to use the same filters, shadows, and retouching techniques in post-processing for a consistent style. Consistent retouching to vintage, glossy, or analog look adds yet another layer to your branding.
You can also provide Lightroom presets and templates approved for internal use. Introducing photo editing consistency can be tricky, which is why a style guide is important.
Move forward with your brand and product photography
To harness the power of good photos you have to understand how they’re made. Do a few product shoots yourself, even with your smartphone, to start understanding lights, backgrounds, and retouching. Come up with creative ways of how to use in-context photos and test their effectiveness on social media. Learn which equipment—cameras, tripods, and lightboxes—has easy tricks that make you look like a pro.
Get your hands dirty, and create your in-house studio. Compare natural lighting with artificial lighting setups. Find out what retouching options you have, how to quickly edit images in bulk and how to have a uniform look across your store. Take as many photos as possible, save them and revisit them to compare your progress. Save your images with SEO-optimized names to give your site a nudge in the right direction.
Once you have the process down, create a template to keep your images consistent and save time. That way you can delegate this task to anyone from your team as you grow and your inventory increases and diversifies. Always think ahead of the curve about how to improve your process so you stand out from the competition. Get into product groups—shoes, jewelry, furniture—and learn the specifics of photographing them. This may include appropriate backgrounds, mannequins, and setups that bring the best out of every kind of product.
Photography style guide FAQ
How do I figure out my photography style?
- Define your visual brand identity
- Find examples of photography you like
- Hone in on the examples that complement your brand identity and identify similarities
How do I create my visual brand with photography?
- Keep your photography consistent
- Ensure photography complements existing visual brand elements, such as logo and colors
- Create photography style guidelines to adhere to
What can be an effective guide for good composition?
Your photography style guide can be an effective guide for good composition. Showcase examples of good composition next to examples of poor composition and point out the differences and takeaways.