ECommerce 101: Capture Your Audience

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DIY Photography Skills For Your Smartphone

Snap - Snap - Snap. Almost every moment of life is captured on camera nowadays. But while your mum might ‘like’ all of your photos on facebook out of solidarity, your customer is a little less forgiving.

Creating appealing and beautiful visuals is crucial for a successful online store. Missing out on the touch and feel of the offline shopping experience, customers rely on photos of your products to make their purchasing decisions.  Your visuals are what push your customers over the “maybe” line, and show your added value.

But that doesn’t mean you have to sell your kidney to invest in a fancy DSLR camera or hire a professional photographer. Most smartphone cameras can take fantastic product shots – if you know how to use them.

This post helps the budget-conscious ecommerce business owner get started with some professional photo techniques you can do from your phone. Read on to learn about making your very own DIY photography studio and some basic photo capturing and editing skills.

Build Your Own Photography Studio During Your Lunch Break

Simply taking a quick snap of a pair of earrings doesn’t cut it anymore. If you are serious about your online store, professional-looking design is an important factor not just in attracting customers, but converting browsing into purchasing. The following set-up will help you build your own little photography studio.

What Do I Need?

Here’s what you’ll need; you probably already have the last four.

  • Tripod - this will help you take steady photos whilst capturing all necessary detail

  • White Background - Having a white background helps your product stand out, and professionals use what’s called a sweep. If you don’t want to get a small white sweep, watch out for a thin, white Mat Board at your local frame or art store. You can use a sheet or a tablecloth if you don’t want to invest in a mat board. 

  • Foamcore cards - these cards will help you get the best lighting possible. pieces. Ideally, it would be the same height as your product, and three times as wide. You can reuse these, and can get them cheaply on Amazon – or ask your nearby art store if they have any leftover pieces they don’t mind giving away. 

  • Table - standing and folding tables work best, and it should be big enough to carry all the equipment

  • Tape or Clamps - to secure the white background

  • Room with a window - this provides shots with the best light

  • Smartphone/Camera - that’s an obvious one, but make sure you choose a phone with the maximum amount of megapixels possible (or grab your coworkers’ if theirs is better than yours)

Quick Tip: Are you a “glamping” kind of DIY person? Try Foldio – a portable mini studio specifically for smartphone users that saves you the hassle of setting up.

Building Your DIY Studio Is Easier Than IKEA Furniture; I Promise 

Now that you have all the equipment, what do you do with it?

Your New Favourite Position

Even, natural light produces the best results. However, you want to avoid direct sunshine. Position the table close to your window without catching the shadow from the windowsill. Make sure that there is some space around the table so that you can move around and experiment with different angles later on.

(Back)drop It Like It’s Hot 

It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but the goal is to create depth behind and underneath your product. If you are using a mat board sweep/screen, roll it up from being flat on the table to being vertical. If possible, tape it to a wall behind the table, or let it fall from the ceiling onto the table. Also tape your set up to the sides of your table to avoid it moving or even falling off if you’re accident-prone.

Get Your Product To Hair and Makeup 

This might seem obvious, but clean your product before snapping it. You’d be surprised how many people forget this step, and end up having to use excessive photo editing to make up for it later. Once your product sparkles, place it in the middle of the flat part of the sweep and make sure to leave enough space to use your reflector card later.

Hold Steady 

This is where the tripod comes in. Set it up in front of the table, and position it in a way that your product shows up exactly in the middle of your smartphone screen (use gridlines if available). Because you’re using natural lighting and taking a shot up-close, stabilising using a tripod makes a very large difference in quality. It also guarantees that your photos are taken with (roughly) the same frame so that you don’t have to crop and edit too much later on.

Light It Up

The foamcore card acts as a light modifier. Position it at different angles to your product and pay attention to how it changes the brightness and exposure of your photo. Especially with darker products, a bit of extra light brings out structures and textures a lot better.

You are now ready to start snapping away!

Lights...Camera... Action

Now that you are all set up and ready to go, you can start taking the first product shots with your smartphone camera.

Let your phone do the work: The Setup

The default camera app on your phone is usually pretty good already, and there’s no problem with using it. But there is plenty more out there to try, including a few different apps that upgrade your phone camera, each of which helps you in a different way to capture your product.

There are a few settings you want to pay attention to.

  • Zoom and Flash are not your best friends. If you have a decent studio that you’ve just made, you shouldn’t need them. But know where they are and play around.

  • The grid function helps you position your product in the centre of the shot and achieve consistency throughout your photos.

  • The live exposure setting shows how your camera automatically adjusts the settings, so that you can make changes if you need to.

  • White balance (WB button) adjusts the colouring based on a white background. Hit the WB button and then press on your white backdrop on your screen.

  • Once you place your product in the centre of your screen, you can tap it to engage the focus feature, which should automatically clarify your product’s image.

  • The Macro setting (usually the shape of a flower) helps you take clear shots from very close up, such as for jewelry or tabletop items.

  • Opt for the highest resolution possible, or HDR if you don’t have a choice.

Get Shooting

Once all relevant settings are adjusted, it’s time to hit the button and take your product shot.  And one more, and one more, and one more. After each shot, adjust the settings to your likings, until you’ve found ‘the one’. This takes some time and experimentation, as you should try out different settings as well as angles of your product. Providing the customer with a range of angles and views of the product increases sales conversion immensely – it’s your best attempt at replacing a pick-it-up-and-hold-it experience for your product.

The Editing Process – Makeup For Photos

It’s time to familiarise yourself with your photo editor.  Practice and an eye for detail are what makes someone a great photo editor, but let’s start with the basics.

A word of caution: just as with applying makeup, there is a fine line between looking beautiful and looking fake. Make sure that your edits stay true to the product, and don’t manipulate the image too much.

The Foundations of Editing 

There are five categories of basic settings you can adjust 

  • Crop and straighten

  • Sharpness and focus

  • Contrast, highlights and shadows

  • Brightness and exposure

  • Saturation, vibrance and colour tones

Here are a few rules of thumb, though it’s perfectly fine to use your own style depending on what you and your audience like. 

Crop, don’t zoom

Zooming in on your image means zooming out on quality. Instead, opt for cropping. Zooming is done through guess work by your device, but cropping is based on sampling pixel info that’s recorded. Nowadays, most smartphones have 8+ megapixels of resolution, so display on the web will still be clear and crisp.

Keep your colours natural

Product photos should try to reflect what it is people will actually be buying. You might get some customers who aren’t pleased by a surprise soft lilac when your photo was oversaturated to shot a bright purple. 

Use an app for fancy focus, or get yourself an extension tube

You might not need to focus on anything in particular, if you just have your white background and product. But if you’re showing your product with anything else to frame it, you can fake a DSLR focus using an app or an extension tube (available online or in photography stores).

Edit, don’t filter

You are trying to sell a product, not make your friends jealous with Lomo filtered holiday photos. Try to stay as natural as possible, simply highlighting and underlining the characteristics of the product. Choose to manipulate brightness, contrast, saturation and the like instead of relying on a retro filter to cover potential flaws.

Want more photography tips for your new DIY studio? Check out some advice here. 

Share Your Masterpieces

The moment is finally here, the moment we have all been waiting for. You have graduated to product photographer extraordinaire. Shopify automatically resizes your photos at upload, so that they won’t end up skewed and stretched, and you can load your images directly to your online store.

We make smartphone photography sound easy-peasy, but patience is a virtue. Attempting your first couple of photos might not leave you with an award-winning shot. As with other skills, practice makes perfect. There are plenty more tools and resources out there that help you on your road to discovering the Annie Liebovitz inside of you.

Elkfox is here to help. We can take your online store to the next level by integrating your product shots in the overall web design, to really make them stand out. Get in touch today to find out more.

Next Up

We’re rolling out a series aimed to get your ecommerce store in shape on the cheap. Last time was our guide to setting up your store. Next up: considering your shipping options.