The quality of your product photos is crucial to the success of your shop. If you are an ETSY shop owner, then you probably already know that. But did you know that ETSY’s customer research has found that a product’s photo plays a HUGE role in the buyer’s purchase decision; more than its reviews or even price?
So how do you know if your product photos will drive traffic to your ETSY shop? There are two steps:
- Taking great product photos
- Figuring out which photo to use to promote your listing.
DIY Guide to Product Photography
Taking your own product photos with little to no prior experience can be a scary prospect. We tend to think that only a professional photographer can do a good job. But that’s not true! There are many tools and processes you can use to create a basic photography system that works for you. Check out the tools that I use as a designer to create a system that works best for me!
Camera: There are a number of camera options for choose from. I like to have complete control over my shots so I use a DSLR, but there is a lot you can achieve with a smartphone or a point-and-shoot as well. Just make sure to educate yourself on all the features and setting of the device so you make the best use of it.
Tripod: Failure to use a tripod is a common mistake that people make when they first start taking photos of their products. If you want to avoid blurry images, use a tripod!
Table: If your product is large, it could be photographed on the floor. Otherwise, most small to medium products will need a table for the set up.
Backdrop: Your choice of a backdrop will depend on the size of your product. Personally, I love to use a large white seamless backdrop, as it helps hide all the unwanted objects from the frame, as well as reflects light nicely. For smaller products, you might find a few sheets of poster board or foam core works just as well.
Lighting: In photography, never underestimate the power of good lighting. Personally, I use natural light whenever possible. That means making sure that I’m shooting on a bright day and in a room that has large windows. If this not possible, then you can use artificial lights. If you use artificial lights, then I suggest using two lights so that you have more control of the shadows and the highlights. But whatever you do, don’t use two light sources at the same time. Natural or artificial — pick one and go with it!
Diffusers & Reflectors: It’s important to control the quality of the light. That’s where the diffusers and reflectors come in. If the product is directly in line with the rays of the sun, I cover the window with a tissue paper, just to soften the light a bit and avoid harsh shadows. I use a foam board if I want to subtly reflect light onto my subject (you can even improvise here and wrap aluminum foil around a piece of cardboard in a pinch).
- Step stool
- Alternate camera lenses (for example, a macro lens for close-up shots)
- Camera remote/cable release so that the camera doesn’t shake while taking photos. This will help you avoid blurry images!
- An extra set of hands to help out
Creating the Perfect Set Up
Now that we have covered all the equipment that you will need, let’s discuss putting it all together to create the perfect setup for your home studio.
Backdrop: The first step is to pick a wall. Make sure that the wall you choose is well positioned for lighting. Now create a large background area by attaching your seamless high up on the wall. You may need to use clips or duct tape for this. Be careful while rolling it out so it doesn’t create creases. If you are using a table for your product, place it in front of the wall and let the seamless drape over it, touching all the way down to the floor. Place your reflectors and props somewhere close to this set up so that they are easily accessible when needed.
Camera: Your camera settings will depend on your choice of camera and your comfort level with it. Personally, I like to shoot in a semi-automatic mode like Shutter or Aperture Priority. You may also want to tell your camera if you are shooting with natural or artificial light. You then need to select the file type for images. This is again a personal preference. I like to have maximum control at the time of editing, so I prefer to use RAW files (Read more about DSLR camera settings here). Lastly, attach your camera to the tripod — and don’t forget to take the lens off! (Yes, I’ve done this.)
Test: In order to make sure your setup is working well, run a small test. Take a few pictures, upload them to the computer, and make sure everything looks good. Pay attention to shadows, highlights, and blurriness or unwanted background details. If you are happy with it all, then continue shooting.
Consider Your Shots
When it comes to photo composition, start by thinking about the different types of shots you would like to take. Think about the different angles and distances you will need to capture all the details of your product.
- Studio shot: This is a clear, well-lit photo that shows off your product.
- Lifestyle shot: This is the shot of your product in use. For example, a model wearing a piece of jewelry you made or carrying a vintage bag from your shop. The idea is to help the buyer envision what the product would look like when used in real life.
- Scale shot: This shot helps give the buyer an idea of the actual size of the product. This is achieved by placing other recognizable objects in the frame, such as a ruler or a fruit.
- Detail shot: This is a close-up shot of your product. The idea is to focus on all the details of the design, including the texture, material, craftsmanship etc.
- Group shot: In this shot, several of your products can be grouped together. This shot can be used not only in the listings but also as promotional material.
- Packaging shot: This shot is used to show the packaging and branding of your product.
- Process shot: This is a work-in-progress shot of your product.
Essential Photography Tips & Tricks
- If you want to be more focused and organized, compose a shot list before you start taking photos.
- Take more than one shot of each arrangement. In fact, take many different shots. Why? Because the set up for the shoot is a time-consuming process and you want to make sure that you will have a shot that works for each type of arrangement. Take full advantage of all the hard work you put into creating the set up.
- Pay close attention to what the camera is focusing on. It is possible for the camera to get it wrong, so don’t rely exclusively on the camera’s auto-focus feature. Only you know what details in the frame need to be in focus.
- There is a lot you can achieve while editing the photos. But remember, It’s easier to start with good lighting and a clear background than to try to fix it later. So you should always aim to take some great shots right from the start even if you are a master at editing.
- When in doubt, use the rule of thirds! Divide your image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Then position the important elements along the lines.
- Avoid flash if you can. Using flash can create harsh shadows.
- Give your image a generous background. It’s easy to crop the image if you don’t need the background. But you won’t be able to go the other way round.
- Relax, and have fun with it!
Basic Photo Editing
You have taken some great shots. Now it’s time to go through it all, choose the ones you want to include in your portfolio, and make the necessary edits. If your pictures already look great, your editing might only require some cropping and minor adjustments to color.
My go-to Software
There are many editing software to choose from, but my go-tos are Lightroom and Photoshop. I like using Lightroom as it allows me to work on RAW files. It also allows me to apply a correction to many images all at once. Once that is done, I use Adobe Photoshop to make specific corrections to individual photos. (Adobe’s “photography plan” is around $10 a month. But there are many other free editing software options as well. )
My 4 Step Process
By the time I have completed a shoot, I will have taken hundreds of photos. I find that it’s unnecessary to edit all the images. This is my simple 4 step process for selecting and editing photos:
Step 1: I first scan through all the photos on a large laptop/desktop and choose the ones I want to edit. I’ll make a note of each one that I like, and then move them all to a new folder to keep them separate from the ones that I’m not using.
Step 2: Then I make broad edits to exposure, brightness, contrast etc. in Lightroom. At this point, I narrow my selection even further and select individual images that I want to edit in Photoshop.
Step 3: I then edit my photos individually in Photoshop. This involves further tweaking the white balance, contrast, and color levels, as well as cropping the image. At this stage, I also edit out any blemishes or unwanted objects.
Step 4: Once I have finished editing in Photoshop, I work on making the photos ETSY ready. Images on ETSY should be at least 1000px wide and maximum 10MB in size. All the images in a listing should be the same size so that they look consistent. You don’t want ETSY to apply its not-so-pretty default formatting, so make ensure you meet its specifications. (Check out The Ultimate Guide to Product Photography that Etsy has compiled.)
Choosing Your Primary Photo
So you have taken some great shots of your products and you have edited them to perfection. Now you are uploading them to your shop and you’ve got to decide which one to make the primary image. This is a crucial step in the process as it’s the primary image that will drive traffic to your store. But how do you decide which of your product images is ‘THE’ image? Is it the studio shot? The lifestyle shot? Or maybe the process shot?
There are many ETSY sellers that make this decision based on rules. Rules that say whether a lifestyle shot would work better for a particular product compared to studio shot. Then there are some ETSY sellers that simply guess and choose. At Whatify, we have learned from testing thousands of images that the best rules have exceptions. That instead of guessing it is always better to test and then make a decision. So the question is, is there a statistical way to test which product image works best? Yes, there is! Its called A/B testing.
So What is A/B Testing?
Simply put, A/B testing is a systematic way of comparing versions of something with the objective to figure out which one performs better. It has been designed to avoid some specific issues that other kinds of experiments often run into.
And How Does Whatify Use A/B Testing?
Many big businesses like Google, Amazon, and Netflix use A/B testing so they can make decisions backed by statistical results. This is the same A/B test that Whatify uses. The only difference is the affordability of running these tests. While big businesses would charge tens of thousands of dollars for running the same experiments, Whatify not only it makes it affordable, but also easy to use. Many small businesses that have used Whatify’s A/B tests have seen a 5-25% increase in their shop’s traffic.
Why we need A/B Testing
Let’s say you try Photo 1 as your primary photo on Tuesday and Photo 2 your primary photo on Friday, and you find that your shop had more traffic on Tuesday. Does that mean Photo 1 is better performing than Photo 2? Or could it just be that Tuesday generally gets more traffic than Friday? You could try making them both the primary photo, say on Thursday, but you would also want the time to be the same. You could then try testing both photos on Thursday at 7:30 pm, but now you will have to test the photos on separate weeks, and calendar date might matter too. The point being, it is impossible trying to keep all other variables constant whilst changing just the primary image.
This is where A/B testing comes in. When you are running an A/B test, you are essentially “flipping a coin” to decide, which photo will be the primary photo at any given time. You might ask- how does randomly choosing the primary photo, keep the other variables constant? The idea is that if you flip a coin every few hours to decide which image is primary, then the other variables will begin to balance each other out. While you may not be testing the two photos on the exact same days or the exact same times, but you can be certain there are no systematic biases.
But how does Whatify factor in random chance or luck?
Now let’s say we run a test and find that Photo 1 gets more views than Photo 2, how can we be sure that Photo 2 did not perform better due to luck? Once we know there are no systematic biases, we use statistical methods to figure out if one photo might perform better due to random chance and incorporate that into our analysis. This how we make sure that one photo isn’t just getting lucky. Another way to minimize the chances of luck contributing to the results is by running the test for an extended length of time. The logic being that if a photo performs well over a long period of time, it is less likely that its results are a product of luck. We use a combination of all these factors to help us determine which of the two photos performs better and will result in more sales.
And The Result? You will see an increase in sales!
We generate our recommendations using only half of the available data. This is so we can determine exactly how much of our recommendations increase the sales for your shop. The other half is used as a “control” to learn how many more views were as a result of our recommendations or in statistical terms we use what’s called a cross-validation technique. This way, we can be confident that the estimated improvements we generate are as accurate as possible.
Follow the guidelines outlined in this post and take some killer photos. Then sign up to Whatify (if you haven’t already), run tests on your images, receive partial results, and even implement the results on your shop for free.
Be sure to download the Etsy Photo Checklist we’ve created to guide you through creating successful Etsy photos!.