For years I have been reading, searching, asking advice givers, about the best thing to do to improve my online sales. The most common answer I have been given is “Post good photos”. However, the advice about a way to accomplish that is not consistent at all. The most consistent piece of advice is “pay a photographer to take professional photos.” For my small business, that was an extremely impractical solution.
There are a few facts about good, professional photos. They could get your products extra attention that might translate into sales. For example, the photos of the products that Etsy chooses to use in their promotional media tend to look very slickly produced, professional and media friendly (like a magazine photo). They use cleverly placed props, beautiful lighting, lovely models and dreamy photo effects. Those photos tend to capitalize on what is visually trendy and stylistically on point. If you have the money to invest in these types of photos, that’s the way to go.
Most of the handmade crafters I meet in my travels can’t afford photos like that. In the early stages of a business, especially if you’re trying to keep it simple and keep your overhead down, you need to know how to do your own photography at a cost that won’t put you out of business. I have pulled together a few simple things that have helped me improve my photos, even if they aren’t fancy.
The camera is the most important thing, of course. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive, fancy camera. I wouldn’t know what to do with a fancy camera if I had one. Unless you’re really into photography, all of the settings and features of fancy cameras are pretty useless. The camera needs to be able to take photos of at least 10 Megapixels. The most important features in a camera for someone like me are the basics like image stabilization and auto focus. You need to be able to take clean, clear, crisp photos, and with the help of a decent camera, anybody can do it.
If you take photos of small items like I do, a pedestal table will be almost mandatory. You need to be able to take photos from all angles, and otherwise you’ll be taking a lot of pictures while in uncomfortable positions, which doesn’t make for very good quality photos. My husband made one for me out of two wood crates stacked on end on top of each other with a small wood finished table top. (Home Depot and other hardware type stores have bare wood table tops for relatively inexpensive and if you stain or paint it, it can serve as a background in some of your photos.)
Lighting is a big deal. The worst photos I’ve seen posted online are the ones where regular inside lighting was used and the flash was added. (I can say this because those used to be MY photos.) TURN OFF THE FLASH. There are simple things I started doing with lighting to improve the quality of my photos.
The thing you will see in all of the books about taking photos of your products, is that everything looks better in natural light and you should try to take photos outside as much as possible. Good advice, but I have not been able to make that work consistently because I live in Utah, and we have a lot of photo unfriendly weather. I also read a lot of info that told me to buy a “light box”. So I bought one, thinking if it helped me take better photos, it would be a good investment. I fumbled around with it for a while and decided I didn’t know enough about photography to make a light box work for me.
What I have found that works for me is inexpensive torch style lamps that usually run around $10 each at Walmart. I have four of them, but generally, I use two of them. The lamp shades need to be white, and the light bulbs need to put off white light. Yellow light does not take good pictures. The purpose is to create light that illuminates your product without casting shadows over it. I think of it as recreating a bright, but overcast day with light that floods diffusely rather than shines directly.
You can move the lamps around easily while you’re taking pictures to place the light in areas that make your products look the best. I also use pieces of white or black foam board (dollar store variety) to either reflect, or absorb light against my jewelry. You will want to experiment with the process of placing your lights and using foam board to direct the light.
Props and Scale:
Occasionally I use props in my photos, but that has to be done carefully so that you don’t distract from the item you’re taking the picture of. Usually I default to a basic background. One important thing I try to include in all of my listings is at least one photo of the item in my hand, or with my hand interacting in some way with the item. This is the least obtrusive way I have found to demonstrate the basic scale of the item. I have tried taking pictures with my jewelry next to a coin, or a ruler, but not only does that look a little out of place, but also isn’t a universal way to communicate scale. If you sell to customers outside of the US, using a dime to demonstrate scale might not mean anything to someone in Europe.
Why is it important to communicate scale? I used to think that if I included the measurements of my jewelry in the description, that should be good enough. But soon I noticed that the only complaints I heard coming back in my reviews were “I thought it would be bigger” or “I was expecting it to be smaller.” Even with a very detailed description of the measurements of the item, their mind’s eye could not conceive how big, or small, that pair of earrings was going to be. When I started paying attention to my own shopping behavior, I found that I was no different. If I did not have some visual way to see the scale of the item, my expectations were nowhere near reality. When I see a charm in someone’s hand, I find my expectation of what I’m going to get is a lot closer to what I end up with. Since I started using my hand as an illustration of scale, I have had no reviews with complaints about the size being different than what they expected. (Just make sure your fingernails are clean.)
The other important thing about your photos in your listings is using as many different angles and ways of displaying the item as possible. I came to know how important this was just recently. One of the features of the search engine optimization tool I use, is a grading system that uses certain criteria to give each of my listings a grade from A to F. At first when this came out, I grumbled about being graded. But a minute later, I realized how valuable this was. It was a simple way of helping me improve the quality of my listings. One of the things that immediately brought my grades up was if I used all of the spots Etsy gave me to put a photo.
So I systematically started to make sure all of my listings had 5 good quality photos. With a goal of keeping close to 500 listings up at a time, this process is still ongoing. But at this point, after several months of working on this, the listings where I have improved the quality and maximized the number of photos, are the ones that are selling most often.
I have a theory. It may be obvious, but it never really hit home with me until I started working on this project. Since purchasing a product remotely is such an act of faith, people want to feel like they are minimizing their risk as much as possible. If there are several different views of the item you are considering paying money for, whether one view is drastically different from the next view is not important. Even a small shift in the point of view makes you feel more familiar with that item. It feels less like looking through a peephole at your prospective purchase. More photos make for a more three dimensional feeling about the item. Since you can’t pick it up and look at it, you’ve got to have some way to get the feel of that experience.
I am far from being an expert on taking photos of things for sale online. But these are simple things anyone can do as a jumping off point. They have had a direct impact on improving my online sales. I talk to people all the time who have no clue where to start, and since I was one of those people, this post is for them.