The axiom “photo, photo, photo” may be to online selling what “location, location, location” is to real estate.
To put it simply: knowing how to take pictures of items to sell online has almost as much of an impact on your success as the actual object. It’s the presentation, the first way a shopper sees your product.
Often, entrepreneurs who start an online business aren’t photographers. Sometimes, they don’t even have a background in a creative industry and it’s unlikely they will have camera equipment beyond their smartphones. They’re passionate about their businesses selling vintage clothing or refurbishing vintage furniture, but they’re self-taught. For many, the internet has been their teacher.
Pro Advice on How to Take Pictures of Items to Sell Online
But don’t worry, we’re about to let you in on some tips to make bank on. We consulted with the pros so you don’t have to do all of that legwork. Instead, let two eCommerce gurus guide you through the art of putting your best foot forward — photographically speaking, that is.
1. Decide What Style Photography You Want
Before Christine Soojung Han of Vintage Sooj even shoots a photograph, she asks herself some philosophical questions. What is she trying to achieve with this photograph? What is she hoping to emulate or what kind of mood does she want to evoke? In essence, what story is she telling with the photograph.
With clothing, much of that comes down to style: do you want something moodier with shadow or do you want crisp and clean images? Is this a stylized portrait or is this simply about the clothes? Researching and having a style of image in mind that you want to achieve makes it easier from the outset.
You don’t have to have fancy equipment to start: smartphone cameras work fine.
2. Find the Right Background. Be Consistent.
Aesthetically oriented social media sites like Instagram show images in a grid pattern, so it’s important to have a background that you can replicate each time. If you’re at a friend’s house when inspiration strikes, consider whether you’ll be able to return to their house each time to shoot a new product. The answer is probably not.
Both Han and Sara Chen of the upcycled furniture company Sara Chen Design suggest keeping the background clean and neutral. Chen uses white walls as her backdrop, but in the last year, she has spruced it up by adding board and batten wood paneling to her staging wall. Chen has a space in her house specifically designated for staging, a luxury not everyone has.
Han, who started her business in a tiny apartment, began taking photos with a bedsheet as her background. That got tedious because she had to steam the wrinkles out each time. Now, she uses color paper backdrops that she bought cheaply from a photographer who was looking to downsize equipment. Examples of Han’s backgrounds can be studied on Etsy. Scroll through the pages to see where she used bedsheets.
“You see people use printed backgrounds or landscapes, but I think, no matter what you decide to use, it shouldn’t be distracting, because you want the attention to be on the clothing,” Han said.
Chen echoes the same premise for furniture.
“Avoid a crazy wallpaper wall,” she said. “That’s not for everybody and it really becomes a distraction. You want to be able to look at your furniture and not your wallpaper.”
3. Lighting Matters
Lighting was the first piece of advice that Chen offered. Finding the right place in your home is a matter of finding south-facing windows and, ideally, more than one window. You want to have lots of natural light. How the light comes through your window will change by season and time of day.
Chen doesn’t like to use artificial lighting, because she finds it changes the color of the furniture in photos.
Han found natural light to be too fickle. She started out with simply soft sunlight, but that was too dependent on the weather. So she bought soft boxes for light and studio lighting for about $100 and that upgraded her lighting set-up.
4. Stage Your Photograph
When Han first started, she used props in some of her photos, like pampas grass or a stool. She found the props to be distracting, so now she models the clothes in most of her photos and adds accessories to the outfits. She doesn’t want to take attention away from the product itself.
For Chen, staging is pivotal to creating a lived-in scene with her furniture. The important thing with staging is to strike a balance between domestic beauty and distraction. Chen suggests simple objects like a round mirror or a couple of white or black-covered books. She always likes to have vases on hand to hold flowers cut from her garden.
5. Capture the Details of Your Items
When it comes to furniture product photos, Chen says, capturing the details is key. What makes your piece special? Take a photo of that. Examples of Chen’s clean photo styling can be studied on Instagram.
Chen takes photos to show how deep a dresser drawer is or what the top surface looks like. She shares photos of the furniture legs and hardware, because that can make a difference to a buyer and is often another aspect of her design. If she can add a video, she does. A video gives people the sense of the full scope of an item and what it looks like in natural daylight.
6. Edit Your Photos
Chen’s photos might sound perfect from the first take. But there is a lot of work involved. Part of that is in the editing. Chen uses the Adobe Lightroom editor as her image editing app. She finds the platform easy to use. In editing, Chen can adjust the lighting and the effects to make it look just as it does in real life, rather than to make it look better or more beautiful.
7. Use Multiple Photos
Chen would post as many photos as possible if she could, but social media sites limit how many photos a seller can post. Chen’s adage is: take as many photos as possible. More photos offer more details and more chances for someone to fall in love with your item.
Photos Make a Difference
Both Han and Chen say photos have made a difference in attracting buyers. Han will often reshoot a piece that hasn’t sold after some time. She might try different lighting or a different background to highlight the piece. Once she posts that new photo, she can usually sell the item right away.
Chen calls taking a good photo “50% of the work.” She recently bought a dresser online for $50. Although Chen usually sands, paints and refurbishes the furniture she sells, this piece was in such good shape that she did nothing to it. She took some well-lit and aesthetically appealing photos and sold it for $595. She made almost $550 off of the dresser with little additional work.
“Photos make such a big difference,” Chen said. “You need to take time to take better photos if you want to sell for more money.”
Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.