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Lighting for Product Photography: Everything sellers need to know

With the fast-growing adoption and growth of e-commerce and online shopping, more businesses are trying to elevate their customer experience in every imaginable way. One of the fundamental aspects of an online shopping experience is product imagery. It comes as no surprise that 75% of online shoppers rely on product photos when deciding on a potential purchase. The human brain processes images way faster than words i.e. 13 milliseconds. This means that sellers have significantly less time to capture their audiences’ attention through alluring and accurate product photography. 

Product Photography

Product photography is commercial photography used by businesses to capture and display their products for selling to potential customers. Product photography has become the frontrunner for driving e-commerce sales with Google Shopping ads and evolving customer expectations. What’s more, photo and imagery-based posts are the most used content type across social media channels. 

Having a powerful portfolio of product images is essential for e-commerce businesses of all sizes since images are the only real way your prospects and customers get to know your product before buying it. Interesting and vivid product photography can be the key to moving your customers to the next stage in their buying journey while offering them a memorable browsing experience. 

Now, there are several key elements that create compelling product imagery, including composition, background, environment, and lighting. Good lighting for product photography is one of the ‘absolute musts’ to capture your audience’s attention and drive conversion. 

The Right Photography Lighting Makes a Huge Difference

The right lighting for product photography can instantly elevate your customers’ and prospects’ buying experience, allowing them to make confident purchases. While there are no defined rules, hiring a professional photographer can help businesses portray their products in the best possible way. 

Having an impressive catalog of product images translates into measurable business growth for e-commerce businesses. The results may be any of the following-

1. Reduce product returns

Returns are a major cause for concern in the e-commerce industry, considering a jump of 16.6% in 2021 versus 10.6% a year ago. The costs are daunting – more than $760 billion worth of merchandise is returned back to the warehouses. 

It is interesting to note that 22% of product returns occur because the product looks different in reality. Good product photography can help you alleviate this by ensuring that the images do justice to the products. The right lighting setup can ensure that the photographs display the product accurately by controlling the source of light or subject, depending on whether you choose a studio or natural setting.

2. Enhance image quality

93% of shoppers say that visual appearance is the key deciding factor in their purchasing decisions. Photography lighting can make a sea of difference in the product image quality, by toning down the background or controlling other elements of the composition, such as highlights and shadows. 

Natural light produces beautiful images, capturing your product as close to real life. By manipulating the angles between your model and the sun, you can add depth and character to your product images. 

Studio lighting setups, however, offer more control over the source of light than natural environments. You can choose from a variety of lighting options, including continuous LEDs or strobe lights. 

3. Ensure brand consistency and voice

Playing with lighting in product photography can be an excellent opportunity for e-commerce stores to build moods and desired aesthetics that help them bolster their brand voice. Intelligent use of specific colors, lights, and camera angles can make your product imagery a vehicle for brand consistency.

This is important for not just your e-commerce website, but also your social media presence. Producing quality product images can help you build shareable imagery and integrate your brand image across channels.

4. Accurate colors and representation

E-commerce brands must display product images with accurate colors to avoid any discrepancies and mismatches between the actual product and the displayed photograph. Not only is this essential to check the return rates, but it also allows brands to build credibility and trust amongst customers. 

Well–balanced photography lighting can greatly impact the product’s appearance in the final images and let the product and its details take center stage. 

Lighting for Product Photography – Best Practices

There are several technical elements of product photography, including textures, colors, angles, exposure, and environment, that help brands clearly convey their values and personality while helping customers make informed decisions. Photography lighting is likely paramount when it comes to displaying your products as they are, and potentially even better. 

Here are some of the best practices that will help e-commerce brands create a compelling portfolio of product images through specific lighting techniques – 

Lighting for Product Photography

If you are planning a product photography shoot in a studio environment, it is important to have three types of lights – ‘Key’ lights, ‘Fill’ lights, and ‘Back’ lights. 

Key light is the main source of light for your photoshoot, pointed directly at the subject. (In the case of natural light photography, the sun acts as the key light)

Fill light is secondary lighting that offers lower intensity light and is placed at a distance from the subject, often on the opposite side of the key light. 

A back light is often used in studio product photography and is placed behind or above the product. 

Off-camera lights are those lights that are unattached to your camera. They can be strobe lights or continuous lighting. It is important to set up at least two off-camera lights.

Some other factors to consider when setting up your photography lighting setup are: 

  • Quality, number, and type of lights

The most common type of photography lighting used is continuous lighting, including LEDs and Tungsten tubes. Strobe lights are helpful to create sharp focus images of your products but can be tricky to work with. 

  • Light Modifiers (Umbrellas)

Light modifiers like umbrellas can disperse and soften the light and encourage light spill to create a beautiful effect. 

  • Placement of lights 

One light should be 45 degrees behind the product and the other 45 degrees in front of it on the opposite corner. Choosing the correct angle of light can make a huge difference in the final images. 

  • ‘Inverse-square law’ in photography 

This principle states that the further the light source is from the subject, the softer the fall-off of light compared to a light source that is closer to the subject. 

Lights and shadows add mood to your images

The composition of a photograph has two essential elements that direct the viewer’s eyes – highlights and shadows. Your photography lighting needs to consider the right ratio of the two to build the optimal ratio of ‘softness’ and ‘hardness’ in the images. The right light helps brands convey intended emotions and can be powerful in setting moods for your photoshoot. 

Controlling the size of the lights can help you achieve softness and hardness of light. A small light will create sharper shadows, while a larger light will render soft shadows. If you want to draw your audience’s attention to textures, using a hard light will get the job done. Diffusers can help you alter the quality of light. Product photographers often steer away from harsh lighting as it can fade the final images.

Have photography guidelines for brand consistency

Photography guidelines are specific for brands and include a technical style guide, including elements like color palettes, saturation, composition, location and context, shadows, and more. If you take a look at the most successful e-commerce brands, their product images convey a story through a concerted choice of colors and unique style and aesthetic. 

Choose soft or neutral backgrounds to highlight product details

The background plays a significant role in complementing the product by adding contrast to the product images. This is essential because a busy or crowded background can defeat the purpose of product photography, distracting customers and prospects from the point of focus (i.e. the product). 

A common background used for e-commerce products is the white backdrop. While it is a reliable and widely accepted background for product photography, it does not work well for all product categories, and can actually be conceived as boring. 

360-degree spin or 3D images

The technological revolution has taken over the product photography world, allowing e-commerce brands to offer AR-powered product images. Technologies such as 3D images that allow customers to view the product from different angles are fostering an immersive and seamless online shopping experience. 

Online shoppers are eager to ride this new wave, with over 91% of individuals wanting the ability to turn products around in a full 360° spin, according to Adobe Scene 7. What’s more, products using 360° views products have shown a 30% higher conversion rate than those without. Hence proving the importance of lighting for product photography!

Conclusion

E-commerce businesses rely heavily on product photography, with images acting as a determining factor for customer buying decisions. With over 78% of online shoppers wanting photographs to bring products to life, brands need to ensure displaying strategically planned and skilfully processed product images that allow customers to find the perfect product for themselves, and help brands improve customer retention while reducing return rates.

With advanced technologies such as AI-enabled photoshoots, brands are now adopting cost-effective ways of generating and displaying product images on their eCommerce websites. Platforms such as FlixStudio enable fashion brands to create high-impact, high-quality product imagery through AI-enabled on-model shoots at a fraction of the time and cost compared to traditional photoshoots. The results are transformational – fast, eCommerce-ready images that foster higher sales and conversions for your online business. 

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Arunava Acharjee

(Product Marketing Manager)