Images: Mastering Product Photography for Small Businesses

It is fair to say that a picture is worth a 1000 words but a poor quality picture is worth nothing – in fact it will do you more harm than good. Think back to when you were last on a website which had poor quality images. Did this make the site appealing to you? Did you hang around? The chances are that you would have clicked off and moved onto the next one as quickly as you could. The content and the text might have been brilliant, the site informative but if poor images were the first thing you saw, that was likely your first impression. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Make your images stand out from your competitors

If you look at the most popular e-commerce websites on the Internet it is no coincidence they will have the best images, give the best impression and look and feel professional. These websites spend time and money creating the best images to show off their products/services to their best advantage. They want to tease you, please you and make you buy from them. Unfortunately, these large websites often have budgets in the hundreds of thousands of pounds and whole teams working on image production.

So, if you are a small to medium size business, unable to afford a large web design budget, how do you make yourself stand out? How do you ensure that your images are professional and give the correct impression?

Tools of the trade

All e-commerce websites depend to a great degree on the quality of their images and the fact that very often they will be shared across social media channels. The web design will make it very easy to share images, products and selling pages. The opportunity to maximise social media channels as a promotion tool is open to all websites, from relatively small to huge. However, while images are the easiest element to share, you still need to have the correct tools to create them.

Mobile phone cameras

In the past you may have got away with a relatively sharp image of a product using your mobile phone camera. It is fair to say that mobile phone cameras of today are extremely detailed and powerful but the quality of the image is often down to the operator. They can be difficult to hold, almost impossible to get the same angle for different products and therefore the end images can lack connection and continuity.

Professional cameras

Digital cameras are extremely popular in this day and age both in terms of e-commerce businesses and personal use. You will see an array of digital camera images used in web designs and, as we touched on above, there are extremely easy to share via social media. The cost of cameras has reduced significantly in recent times. For just a couple of hundred pounds you can buy a camera which will create professional images with the opportunity to introduce various editing processes.

Continuity is the key

How many times do you see images of similar products but in different colours which look almost identical in terms of the angle of the photograph and size of the product? In many ways we take this for granted but if you see a website with similar products in different colours but the main images are different sizes, perhaps a slightly different angle or even shaded, it looks terrible. For many people the key to continuity with regards to images is the use of additional tools such as tripods. Yes, this may seem a little bit over the top, a little adventurous and professional for a small/medium-sized website. However, when you see the results, continuity, similar sizes, angles and professionalism you will be surprised!

Background images

In many ways it depends on the product or the services you are looking to sell but background images do have a major impact upon the quality/appeal of an image. For many images where there is one product as a focal point, a white background tends to work well, for images looking to bring in a variety of different objects and even people, the background would likely be very different. Again, the key is in continuity, if you have a range of products of perhaps different sizes and different colours then one way to connect them is to have the same background.

Don’t be afraid to edit your photographs

It is very rare that you will take the perfect photograph at the first attempt. In reality, taking the perfect photograph by natural means is extremely difficult. Therefore, you should not be afraid to use editing software packages which can change the lighting, improve the sharpness and sometimes give a whole different impression compared to the original image. It may take some time to perfect the use of editing software but it is certainly worth investing the time and money.

Building your own website

There is a wide range of different website services online. From researching and choosing your domain name, through to hosting packages and even our own website builder. In the early days of an online business ensure the budget may be limited with many people “testing the water” before committing significant time, money and effort. Do some digging and find a  website builder plan that also supplies a range of images which can be used on your new website. To ensure the images perfectly fit in with your website theme and business it may be useful to introduce your own images in due course.

Images are extremely important

Over the years we have seen some very striking surveys regarding the use of images in tandem with content. Some reports suggest that content with relevant images can attract 94% more views than the same content with no image. This perfectly illustrates the need to invest time, money and effort into creating professional images either yourself or hiring the services of a professional photographer.

Testing, testing

If you are certain that a product will sell, and a professional image will enhance your offering, it may be sensible to take a leap of faith and hire the services of a professional photographer. These are the type of expenses which can be difficult to budget for but in reality they can be a game changer. In fact, it may be worthwhile doing A/B conversion testing to see which content gets the most traffic (ones with images or those without images) and even extend this to products. Once you are clear in your mind of the power of images then it is simply a case of obtaining one-off professional images which will pay for themselves over and over again.

The power of social media

Whether looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the other major social media channels, they all have one thing in common when it comes to successful posts. Images! This is the reason why many social media images have speech bubbles and comments attached as opposed to keeping the content and the images separate. Businesses know that images attract attention, encourage people to share and in many ways the content is but a side show. However, it can be a very useful means of getting an additional message across!

SEO optimisation

When you set up your first online business you will regularly come across the term “SEO optimisation”. Many people assume this relates to site design, content and navigation but it also takes into account images. There are ways and means of increasing the value of images on your website by adding meta-data and tags. Have you seen Google images?

Optimising your images can in some cases bring in some significant traffic but there is some debate as to the value of the traffic. Are people simply looking for images to copy for their own use or are they genuinely looking for products and services which you provide?

Sizing your images

There are many different types of image files such as vector, high resolution, low resolution, JPEG, PNG, GIF and PSD to name just a few. While each and every one has a role to play you will need to be very careful about which file extensions you use on your website. Even the most efficient web hosting services will struggle to load up a website in a split second if there are a number of huge images. However, finding a balance between an image which will load very quickly and one which is large enough to make a difference is not easy.

On pages where you have a number of images it will likely be sensible to scale down the size of these images. Where you have relatively few images and the page may benefit from a large centre piece image then you may be able to increase the size. In many cases you will need to test load speeds when using different file types and image sizes.

Some websites use the hover process which will expand a relatively small image when you hover over with your mouse. Alternatively, some websites will give the option to click on a small image to see an expanded version. By all means take advice from your hosting company and those within your business circles but test, test and test again. It will take a while to find the optimum size but once you have solved the riddle, it will be worth the time and effort.

Images complement your content

Now we have looked at images, and how valuable they are for small, medium and large sized businesses, lets remind ourselves that content is still extremely important. It is content that will get you indexed on Google and other search engines, content that will keep your visitors coming back time and time again. If you can complement your content with eye-catching images, all the better!

Then there is the power of image sharing, which is where social media comes in…