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The Complete Guide to Ecommerce Photography

The Complete Guide to Ecommerce Photography

Whether we like it or not, converting traffic to sales has a lot to do with the photos. First, the catalog photo must make someone click. Then the detail shots on each product page must convince them to add to cart. 

Not everyone is a professional photographer, and if you’re tight on funds, it’s not always realistic to hire one. The ecommerce photography solution is to take your own on-brand seasonal photos at home. 

With a couple of inexpensive tools and these easy-to-apply techniques, taking attention-grabbing product photos at home is easier than it sounds. 

Let’s dive in and elevate your Shopify store photos!

How to do ecommerce product photography

  1. Set-up your studio
  2. Style your shots
  3. Get the lighting right
  4. Take photos from every angle
  5. Edit your photos
  6. Prepare your image files for uploading to Shopify

Free Guide: DIY Product Photography

Learn how to take beautiful product photos on a budget with our free, comprehensive video guide.

1. Set-up your studio

If you’re going to be taking a lot of product shots, then it helps to have a dedicated area for photography. A well-organized studio and a streamlined workflow can go a long way in helping you take a lot of professional product photos for your ecommerce business in a short period of time. 

Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Camera: You don’t have to buy a fancy DSLR camera with a range of lenses to take good product images. If you have one, great! If not, don’t be afraid to take product photos with your iPhone. Contemporary smartphones have fairly advanced cameras, and the quality of your photos will depend more on your shot setup, lighting, and post-processing than on the camera you use. 
  • Tripod: A good tripod will help keep your shot steady, reducing blur. If you need to take a lot of shots of different products from the same angle, a steady tripod will help keep your shots consistent. 
  • Light: Good lighting is essential. Window light gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. We’ll go into more detail about lighting strategies below, but in the set-up stage, it’s important to know that natural window light is best, so set up next to a large window. 
  • Table: You need a stable shooting surface to place your product. A table or desk will work for most products. For larger products, it’s easiest to use the floor as your surface⁠—just keep in mind that you’ll want to pick a spot that gets a lot of window light. 
  • White background: You can invest in a white sweep (which is a backdrop that curves down into the floor) or if you are on a budget, you can buy some craft paper or poster board and mount it over a table. 
  • Reflectors: A reflector is anything white or metallic that bounces light onto the far side of your scene to brighten it and soften shadows. This “bouncing” of light is why reflectors are also called “bounce cards.” Because they “fill” the dark side of your scene with light, they’re also called “fill cards.”

How to set-up your table

You’ll want your setup to be lit from the side. Side lighting helps highlight the shape and textures of the object being photographed. Start by placing your table next to your window, with your background behind it. Set up your backdrop in an L-shape to create a table/wall effect.

backdrop and table creating a L-effect for ecommerce photo

Mount your reflector on the side opposite the window to bounce light back on to your subject.

reflector bouncing window light on to subject

If you don’t have a reflector, a piece of white poster board or a trifold poster board work just as well. Trifolds like this one are great because they stand up on their own.

trifold reflector bouncing window light onto ecommerce photo subject

With this studio setup, you’ll be able to swap products in and out to take multiple product photos in a short period of time. You can also experiment with different placements of your tripod and camera, depending on which angles work best with your subject. 

2. Style your shots

Full-white backgrounds are great for your main product images, but experimenting with different props, angles, and styling will help breathe life into your photos and give your audience a better sense of the physicality of your products. 

There are a lot of composition styles that you can try, but when it comes to ecommerce photography, two of the more common compositional styles are the diagonal and the “C.”

The diagonal

A diagonal setup is great for eye-level shots where your camera lens is positioned at the same level as your product. The idea here is to place objects in a diagonal line from back to front, with the tallest objects in the back and the shortest in the front.

ecommerce photo of bottle of bright orange brunch punch accented with vibrant orange slices

When choosing background and foreground props, consider objects a customer may use with your subject. For example, a bath poof and towel make sense with a skin care product. Alternatively, you might choose attractive objects that fit with your color scheme, even if they don’t relate to your product. 

For background objects, try glass bottles, vases, plants, or a bowl of fruit. For foreground objects, try a sprig of greenery, citrus slices, flowers, or a sprinkle of something textured, like coarse salt, oats, or loose tea. 

To get a better idea of how to employ this technique, let’s build a diagonal using a skin care product. Start by placing one or two tall props in the back right or left corner, directly in front of your vertical surface.

overhead shot of marble surface with grey luffa and white hand towel in top left corner

Place your main subject near the center of your horizontal surface, at least six inches in front of the vertical backdrop. Keeping it at least six inches from your vertical surface will keep it blurred when you shoot with a shallow depth of field.

Same overhead shot of marble surface with luffa and towel but now with a bottle of hand cream in the center

Place a short prop in the opposite front corner so that you’ve created a diagonal line when you look down on it.

Same overhead shot of luffa, towel, and bottle, but now there is a silver plate with a dollop of cream in the bottom right corner

That’s seriously it! The diagonal composition might look strange when viewed from above, but shot from the front with a shallow depth of field, you start to see why this style of composition is so common in ecommerce photography:

The same composition as the previous photo, but now being shot from the front, centering the bottle of cream and creating depth with the objects placed behind and in front of it

When creating a diagonal, try picturing your surface like a tic-tac-toe grid. It helps you place each object into a square. Alternatively, create overlap by placing the foreground prop on the intersection of two grid lines.

Overhead shot of a new composition, overlayed with a three-by-three grid, highlighting ecommerce photography composition strategy

To create overlap between your foreground prop and subject, place the foreground prop on the intersection of the grid lines (like I’m doing in this photo) rather than in the front corner square.

Ecommerce photo of a scented candle that uses the diagonal composition technique

See how good that touch of overlap looks? Slight overlap adds visual interest and makes your photo more professional-looking without distracting from your subject.

The “C” 

If your product is flat (like artwork or paper goods), flat lay may be a better angle for you. The second composition is the “C,” and it’s amazing for flat lay product photos. The trick here is to arrange your subject and props in a crescent shape, leaving the middle area bare.

Overhead shot showing the C-composition technique for ecommerce photography with various candles, matches, and velvet pouches arranged in a C-shape

Learn more: 40+ Tools and Resources For Creating Beautiful DIY Product Photography

3. Get the lighting right

Lighting is essential for really defining your images. Use natural light, if possible. Placing a table next to a large window usually works well. This gives you a good amount of light with a soft shadow. If the shadow is too sharp, you can place a screen on the inside to soften it.

But the “natural” part also means it changes throughout the day, and it depends on the season, weather, and direction your window faces. Typically, photographers refer to the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise as the “golden hours,” because these times provide the perfect amount of light for shooting. 

It’s also best to shoot on an overcast day, to avoid direct sunlight. Just like strong backlight, direct sunlight can be too harsh and can create unsightly dark shadows. 

If you have to use artificial lights, two identical softbox setups can usually do the job, using one as your key light and the other as fill to soften any shadows.

Assessing your shadows

No matter what you photograph or what type of light you use (natural or artificial), you’re going to get shadows. The goal is to assess and modify your shadows to achieve a look you (and your customers) will love. As you look at your scene, try to observe two things about the shadows: location and quality.

Location

Shadow location depends on two things: prop position and light position. If you’re shooting objects of different heights, make sure a shadow from a tall object isn’t landing on a short object and obscuring it.

ecommerce photo of a fig-leaf body wash next to a shorter bowl of fig leaves with light source on the right casting shadows to the left

In this photo, you can tell the light source is on the right because the shadow from the bottle is covering the shorter lavender dish on the left. To fix that, you can swap object positions.

The same photo of a bottle and bowl of fig leaves, only now the bottle is on the right casting a shadow onto the fig leaves on the left

See how the dish is brighter? The downside is that this changes the composition you already decided on. The fix? Switch the direction of your light by carefully rotating your setup.

The same as the previous photo, only now the items are being lit from the left and casting shadows to the right.

Quality

The quality of your shadows is an assessment of how hard or soft they are. Hard light creates crisp shadows with a sharp transition between the shadow and the background in such a way that you could easily trace the border with a pencil. Soft light creates subtler shadows that blend gradually into the background.

Two ecommerce photos side by side; on the right is a photo of coconuts casting a soft shadow, on the right is a eucalyptus leaf casting a hard shadow with defined lines

The quality of shadows is determined by two things: light distance and light size. Distant light sources create harder shadows while close light sources create softer ones. To achieve soft shadows, place your setup right next to the window. To create harder shadows, move (or roll) your setup further from the window.

The size of your light can also impact whether shadows appear hard or soft. Small light sources (like a ring light or a phone camera flash) create hard light. They concentrate light over a small area. Large sources (like big windows or big artificial lights) create soft light because they disperse light over a greater area. 

To soften your light, consider using a diffuser. Diffusers are anything placed between your light source and your subject to soften light by reducing its intensity and spreading it out over a larger area. Diffusers make light sources act larger than they are.

To diffuse natural light, you have a couple options: you can hang a white bed sheet or a translucent shower curtain over the window. If you shoot frequently, you may want to hang translucent white curtains instead.

Woman shooting ecommerce photography with a white shower curtain in the background to diffuse light

Of course, you can’t make your window bigger, but this is where your reflector comes in. Using a reflector to diffuse the light and spread it over a large area will help soften your shadows. 

Let’s look at different combinations of diffuser and reflector in photo form:

Three nearly-identical ecommerce photos of a cup. The first uses no diffusor or reflector and casts a hard shadow. The second uses a diffuser with no reflector and casts a soft shadow. The third uses both a reflector and diffuser and casts almost no shadow.

Notice how the white reflector softened the shadow even more than with a diffuser alone. It also brightened the whole left side of the cup and background.

And that’s how to modify light using two easy and affordable tools: diffusers and reflectors. Now that you’re achieving the shadows you like best for your product and brand, let’s get to shooting!

4. Take photos from every angle

Good product photographers know to capture products from any angle that might be relevant to customers. The purpose of your product photos is to create a vivid mental image of your product for your customers, as though they’re seeing it in-store. Close-ups, eye-level shots, and even bird’s-eye view shots can help them do this. 

When setting up your shots, here are some things to consider: 

Focus, stabilization, and consistency

Do not underestimate the importance of a tripod to minimize blur and keep the angle consistent across multiple products.

Two ecommerce photos of a coffee mug. One is heavily blurred and the other is not.

Source: Pixc

The whole purpose of product photography is to sell more on your Shopify store. That means capturing a customer’s attention while keeping your product the star. The best way to do that is to make sure to take pictures from any angle that might be relevant to your customers.

For those of you who are a bit more advanced and if your camera allows, set the lens to a small aperture, a.k.a. a high f-stop, and set a slow shutter speed. The higher the f-stop setting, the smaller the aperture. This will give you a wide depth of field that brings your entire product into focus to give it a crisp look. But your camera always needs to be well-fixed on your tripod or you will get blurry images.

Two photos of the same plate. One uses a lower f-stop and is blurrier.

Source: Pixc

The key to creating that gorgeous blur is to shoot with a shallow depth of field. This means that only a narrow (or “shallow”) strip of your scene will be in focus. On a DSLR camera, widen the aperture by using a low f-stop like f/2.8 to f/4.5.

Going even lower than that works too, but your background and foreground will be very blurred—it’s up to your eye whether you like that or not.

If you use a phone camera, get a similar effect by using portrait mode. Rather than changing the size of the aperture like DSLRs do, phone cameras use machine learning to blur the background and create a similar effect. 

Once you’ve taken a few shots, try mixing and matching different backdrops to experiment with different effects, like we did here:

Nine ecommerce photos arranged in a three by three grid. Each photo contains the same golden pineapple decor with golden straws, but has a different backdrop.

Mixing and matching different vertical and horizontal backdrops will give you a ton of content without any extra styling effort. With just one photoshoot, you’ll be able to change your product page photos to suit the season (if you want to) and you’ll have an abundance of content for social media. 

Choose backdrops of different colors and intensities that compliment your brand aesthetic and that look great together. That way you can create light/light, dark/dark, and mixed dark/light combinations that lend variety to your listings and catch attention on Instagram.

5. Edit your photos

After you’ve taken your shots, you’ll want to move on to retouching them. Expensive photo editing software isn’t necessary for this step, as there are many free photo editing options available for post production. If you’ve taken great shots, you’ll only need to do some light editing to make the images pop. 

Here are some things to consider when editing your photos: 

  • Sharpness: With good lighting and a stable tripod setup, you should already have fairly sharp images. The goal here is to lightly sharpen the image to give the edges in your image a more defined look. 
  • White balance: White balance is the level of blue and red tints on the white areas of your photograph. Adjusting the white balance of your image can make it look more “cool” or “warm,” depending on your intention. Generally, commercial photography should look warmer, since it brings a sense of coziness to the photos. 
  • Brightness and contrast: Brightness can be used to give more highlight to certain areas of your image, but be careful not to turn the brightness up too much. A high level of brightness can give an image a “washed out” quality. Contrast describes the separation of light and dark areas of your photograph. Slightly higher contrast can give the textures of your photo more depth, but again, don’t overdo it. Excessively high contrast can stifle the range of colors in your photo and make the image appear flat and lifeless. 
  • Color saturation: Slightly increasing the saturation of your photographs will help bring out more color and breathe a sense of liveliness into your photos. Again though, don’t overdo it. Too much saturation can look otherworldly and make it hard for customers to envision what your product looks like in real life.

Once you’ve edited your photos, it’s time to prepare them for uploading. 

6. Prepare your image files for uploading to Shopify

It would be a huge waste to go through the process of creating and editing stunning product photography only to find out it slows your ecommerce site down. That’s why this step is important. After you’ve edited your photos, you’ll want to compress them, to make sure they’re able to load quickly and easily in your Shopify store, Amazon, and other online marketplaces. 

On Shopify, the maximum image size is 4472 by 4472 pixels with a file size of up to 20 megabytes; but even this is quite large. While images this size will load, they won’t load quickly. It’s recommended that you use a size of 2048 by 2048 pixels for square product photos.

Also keep in mind that many Shopify themes have a “zoom” function that allows users to take a closer look at your photos. When users zoom, they’re viewing the full size of the photo, so anything smaller than 2048 by 2048 pixels might make the zoom function difficult to use. 

For compressing the file size, there are online tools available, like TinyPNG and Compress JPEG, that will help you do this. Most photo-editing software tools (like Adobe Photoshop) also have functions for compressing the file-size.

Learn more: How to Optimize Images for the Web for SEO

Use these product photography tips to elevate your product photos

Good product photography is incredibly important to online selling. When browsing your ecommerce store, product photos help potential customers envision what the product looks and feels like in real life. 

Product photos showcase your product’s best features and can help answer questions customers might have about how they’re used and why your product is worth buying. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good product photo is better than any sales pitch. 

Learn more about ecommerce photography:

Ecommerce photography FAQ

What is ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce product photography is the art of producing high-quality commercial images to be used in sales of products and services online. Good product photography remains a crucial aspect of selling online.

How do I photograph my product for ecommerce?

  1. Set-up your studio.
  2. Style your shots.
  3. Get the lighting right.
  4. Take photos from every angle.
  5. Edit your photos.
  6. Prepare your image files to be uploaded.

What are some good ecommerce photography tips?

  • Create a streamlined workflow and dedicated studio.
  • Use product photos to sell the quality of the product.
  • Showcase your products’ most important features.
  • Show your products in-use.
  • Use natural light and light from the side.

What are the benefits of ecommerce photography?

Ecommerce photography helps to increase conversion rates by showcasing your products’ best features and helps to develop your brand’s visual identity. Good ecommerce photography can put your products above the competition by showcasing their best features.


About The Author

Mandy Gleason is the founder of Replica Surfaces. Before starting Replica, Mandy had zero photography experience and struggled to photograph her own product. She taught herself how to take stunning product photos at home and now specializes in helping sellers and makers increase online sales using photos they take themselves at home on their phones.

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