Product Photography for Websites
Good quality photographs of your product can convert a customer that is just browsing your website into a sale. Look at the pictures of products on Amazon and eBay. Most of them are quite good, as a matter of fact many wholesalers will hire someone to take excellent pictures of their products and they will make them available to their retailers for use in the retailers' advertising, both print and online.
A good photograph will answer your customers' questions and show them that this product is what they want, so include as many photographs as necessary to cover your product's features, and make sure your pictures are easy to understand. You should describe all the features in your text, but a good picture can often explain a feature quicker and easier.
An aesthetically pleasing image will sell better than a mediocre one. When you are buying an apple at the grocery store, which one do you buy, the one with the discolored bruise or the one that is clean and unblemished? You may be competing with similar products, or even the same product sold by another vendor, so make sure your images are as good as possible to give yourself the advantage.
You can buy a point and shoot camera for less than $200 that will take great product photos. The difference between a good photograph and a poor photograph is the photographer and how much attention they spend on the details. A good photograph will be focused, properly exposed, well-lighted, have an appropriate background, and clean details.
Photographers talk about an image being "tack sharp", meaning you can blow up the image to full size and it doesn't show any blur. Your final image on the web must be very clear, but you can have a little blur in your photograph when you blow it up full size because you will be shrinking it significantly when you optimize it for your website. You should attach your subject to something so it doesn't move, like sitting in on a stand or table, and mount our camera on a tripod so it doesn't move. Then make sure your camera is focusing on your subject when you take the picture. You may have to increase your f/stop if you find that only part of your subject is in focus. A good starting point is f/8, but you might have to increase it to f/16 or even f/22 to get the entire subject in focus. Be careful going any higher than f/22 because the larger f/stop may start causing diffraction error which makes your colors murky and softens edges. In special cases where you are shooting in macro mode your depth of field will get extremely short and you will have to use software (like Helicon Focus) to get your entire subject in focus.
Most point and shoot cameras have an automatic exposure mode and they do a very good job as long as you have enough light on your subject. A proper exposure will make your colors look the best and minimize noise. Increase the time required by the exposure if you need more light, instead of changing the f/stop because you want to maintain your depth of field. This will work just fine if your subject and your camera don't move. If your subject does move, then you may have to use a brighter light or a flash. A flash will be your best bet if your subject is moving fast because a flash is very bright for a very short amount of time. Flash photography is used to "stop motion" because it causes the camera to sample the subject for about 1/10,000 second.
Sometimes even when your image is in focus, and exposed properly it still doesn't look right. Harsh shadows, and bright reflections can obscure part of your subject, or a very even light can make the texture on the surface of your subject disappear. Harsh lighting, which is a brighter light farther from the subject, will cause harsh shadows and highlights and emphasize textures. Soft lighting, which is less bright and nearer to the subject, will de-emphasize texture and reduce shadows and highlights. Usually lighting problems are caused by harsh lighting enhancing the shadows and highlights too much. If part of your subject is hidden in highlight or shadow try diffusing or reflecting the light to make it softer. Hang a translucent shower curtain or a large piece of wax paper or light white nylon between your light source and subject, and make it as close as you can to your subject but make sure it doesn'tget into your picture. Your light or flash unit will light up the diffuser, and your diffuser will light up your subject. The diffuser will be a soft light source since it is big and so close, and the shadows and highlights will be reduced. You can purchase a "light tent" on eBay for less than $100 that is very convenient and will act as a diffuser completely enclosing your subject. They are very popular for product photography, because they are so convenient, cheap and easy to use. If your subject is one color and depends on texture and shape, like a marble statue, the surface details can disappear if your light is too soft because the hightlights and shadows are required to give definition to your subject. If this happens you will have to add harsh lighting to bring out the definition. You can do this by lighting your subject with a small bright light or flash. Experiment with the position of your lights, you may have to move the lights farther to the side to bring out the shadows.
Most small product photographs are taken on a simple single color background, usually white. This emphasizes the product, and is less confusing for customers. This is easy to do, just lay a large sheet of paper on a table and let it form a gentle curve as it bends to go up the wall. Tape the top of the paper to the wall and the bottom to the table. Light the background as well as your subject so the background appears a single color with no folds or edges to distract from your subject. If a single color is too basic, you can add a colora gradient to your background so it changes from one color to another. This adds some interest to the photograph without distracting too much from the product. Use the same paper as before, but light the background from the side or top so it is unevenly lit, or use two lights with different colors on the background. If your product is too large to be placed on a table, you will have to place your product in front of a background that you like. If the background is confusing, you can blur it out by lowering your f/stop and placing your product far in front of the background. This will decrease your depth of field and may cause some parts of your product to be slightly out of focus. You will have to experiment with your f/stop and spacing to the background until you get the best combination of focus on your subject and blur in your background.
I am always surprised by the amount of dust, and scratches on items when I zoom in for a closeup product shot. Clean your product thoroughly before you photograph it, then inspect the resulting image closely. If you find dust, or hairs, or scuff marks or scratches, clean them up and shoot the picture again. It is usually much easier to clean up your product than it is to make the corrections in software, but if cleaning can't fix a problem, like a scratch, you can fix the final image with image editing software like Photoshop.
Your camera probably takes 2 to 10 megapixel images. These can look great if you take care of all the details, but they are too big for your website, and they take too long to download. An 8 megapixel image can take about 40s, even on a 1.5 Mb/s DSL high bandwidth connection, and most customers don't want to wait more than a few seconds at most for an image to download. About 1/2 of Americans have high bandwidth access to the Internet, and customers with a dialup connection may have to wait hours to download an 8 megapixel image. Actually they would probably just stop the download after a few minutes and go to another website. When we optimize images for your website we make the tradeoff between image quality and download time for you. We target download times under 1 second unless there is a good reason to allow a longer download time.
If you can take the photographs we will need in your website, great, just take them and give them to us. We will optimize them and insert them into your site. If you don't have the time or equipment or inclination to take your own photographs, they we are happy to take the product photographs for you.