Show... Or Tell...?

When it comes to product photography, the first thing every business owner has to decide is whether you want to show a product... or tell a story about it. 

Here's what I mean: There are basically two ways to go about shooting products for your online store.

The Beach People Paradise Round Towel "deep etched"

The Beach People Paradise Round Towel "deep etched"

The first tactic is to take a technically proficient picture of your product on a crisp white or black background, so that the product appears to be floating outside of any particular context. 

The Beach People Paradise Round Towel showcased with home decor items that their ideal customer would also love. 

The Beach People Paradise Round Towel showcased with home decor items that their ideal customer would also love. 

The second tactic is to photography your product on some kind of set with props that give the image a considered mood, an ambience, and tell a story about the product and/or the person it's been made for.


What Type Of Product Photo Converts Better on your online store?

So, should you feature products floating on a white background on your online shop, or should you showcase your products in a more editorial way using "lifestyle" photos?

I've done a lot of research into this question, and the answer seems to be... it depends. 


The Pros And Cons of White-Background Product Photos

PRO: If your brand identity is sleek and modern, or if you want to communicate that your handmade, or traditional products are served up in a new way, going the deep etched route might be best for you. 

PRO: While not as evocative, help people understand. Customers can see all the details, and the realistic colour of your product. They won't be distracted by other elements in the frame, and you can take these photos from all angles and sides of your product.

PRO: If you stock a range of products bought from suppliers, or your site drop-ships items from a range of sources, you probably already have access to deep etched photos of most of the products you'll want to list on your site, and using the photos you already have to hand is a huge time and money saver. 

PRO: If you don’t have any white background photography, you’ll be missing out on features, such as gift guides, where bloggers want to be able to fit your photos together with others in a collage, or magazine editors want to show just the product on white.

CON: A site full of deep etched images is that it can look a bit lazy and haphazardly cobbled together if the lighting, tones, and quality of those images don't match up perfectly. It is tempting to stick to manufacturer photos, and you may have to rely on those until you build up your own photo library, but your own images will add distinction to your site and to your brand.

CON: Deep etched images don't give a sense of scale, fit, or fall. Those cues are important for online shoppers who don't have the benefit of inspecting your goods in person. And making sure your customers know exactly what they're getting is in your best interest too, as a high return rate can be very costly to e-retailers. 

CON: Which background images posted to social media look really sales-y. These images are not connective outside of the context of your online store. 


The Pros And Cons Of Lifestyle Product Photos

PRO: Lifestyle photos are images of your product that are styled in a home, on a model, or with props. They help your potential customer imagine having your product in her life. We all know that a blanket looks so much cosier thrown over a couch next to a book and a cup of tea. Jewellery is more beautifully dainty dangling from a lovely model’s ear. You can almost smell the body lotion when it’s styled with the ingredients that go into it, like grainy sea salt, sprigs of resiny rosemary, and paper-thin slices of fresh lemon.

PRO: These types of photos come in many different forms, giving your brand a lot of creative options. They can include:

  • Tabletop photography for photos of items that fit on a table, with or without lightbox setup.
  • Flatlay photography, which is similar to tabletop, but the photo is taken directly from above.
  • The Hero Shot of your product that shows customers how it works and lets them imagine it in their life.
  • Model photography to demonstrate products that can be worn, or that use a human element to showing the scale and/or use of you product.

PRO: Lifestyle photos are perfect for Pinterest and other social media platforms. They also look stunning on the cover of your catalogs and lookbooks, and as featured banners on the pages of your online store.

CON: Lifestyle photos can be harder to take, because you have to get the lighting and editing right for all the different elements in your scene, including the background. It's easier to light one thing, then erase the background. 

CON: You may need to change these images seasonally to make the imagery on your site feel more relevant. Of course, every business constantly needs updated imagery to post to their social feeds, so this may be a moot point, once you and your team have found your style and gotten the hang of producing images that fit it.