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Why Presentation and Context Are Crucial to E-Commerce Product Photos

Images are powerful. They can tell a story, persuade, inspire, and much more. When used correctly, they can even help you sell a product. For instance, adding a photograph to a restaurant menu can increase sales of an item by as much as 30%.

When it comes to running an e-commerce store, images are not optional. Before buying, shoppers like to check out an image to get a visual sense of the product. And the image can make or break the sale.

So in this post I want to give you some tips on what makes great product photos and how you can take them yourself. (Please note: in this post, I use the words “images” and “photos” interchangeably.)

Principles of Good Photos

I’m going to run through some factors that help create great product photos, including:

  • Surroundings
  • Environment
  • Details Matter
  • Show the Product Being Used

Surroundings – When taking a product image, what do you have surrounding it? Is it a white background, with just a focus on the product?

It’s important to ask these questions because what is around a product matters more than you may think. Do car companies show their luxury cars by a swamp, covered in mud? No, because the swamp image and mud would become associated with the car in the consumer’s mind. So, it’s about two images, the background and the product, and how the product looks when placed in different settings.

Let’s use Schwan’s and how they display their products as an example. Selling food online is a little difficult because you lose a key sense, smell. Also, consumers can’t sample the product. So the photos have to make up for those shortcomings.

Schwan’s has one of the highest conversion rates of all e-commerce sites, and their skill at using images to sell certainly is a key factor in achieving that success. Here is the image they use to sell their ham:

schwans ham

Some key qualities in this image: The first thing you notice is the ham. The perfectly cut slices make it difficult to say no. This could turn someone from a prospect to a buyer.

Second, the asparagus (which is not included in the order) adds a complementary healthy green vegetable to the image.

And, third, blackberries are at the forefront.

Adding the other foods to the image helps put a taste in people’s mouths. Instead of using asparagus and blackberries, what if Schwan’s had placed 5 pounds of raw beef next to the ham? Would that make it seem as appetizing? Do you think it would hurt their sales of ham? I sure do. The point is that how you exhibit a product is very important.

Environment – At one point in time, Square had this as their homepage:

It’s a great above-the-fold design, but let’s focus on the image:

square homepage background

The image does a number of things. Let’s run through them:

  1. It shows the product at work. We can see that Square lets people process credit cards using their mobile phone. This is done by using the app and attaching a card reader to their phone.
  2. A big benefit is that it’s completely mobile. We see, by looking at the product in the environment in which it will be used, that people are processing a credit card on a mobile device. This is totally unique, as consumers are used to seeing a large, archaic point-of-sale device being used indoors. Thus, it positions the Square product as being simple, innovative, and elegant. And, the image is targeted as well. Small businesses that need a mobile payment system view the homepage and know that Square fulfills this need.

Many of Square’s competitors have similar images. Here is Intuit GoPayment:


And, here is PayAnywhere:

pay anywhere image homepage

Details Matter – People can’t touch or hold your product in an e-commerce store. They can only look at it. It’s much like having a product behind a glass window. Shoppers don’t know how it feels, or how it makes them feel, until it’s theirs.

So the goal is to make the visitor feel as if they know exactly what it is like to touch and hold the product. This is especially true for clothing and any kind of mechanical tool.

Check out all of the images DODOcase uses for their classic iPad case:

The images are taken from multiple angles. Here are a few:

When you want to use your iPad and case for reading:

Another angle showing the self-supported standing position:

Kindle Fire HDX product page:

With this image (and the many more on the product page), visitors can get an understanding of the Kindle Fire HDX UI. They can see how it looks in both the landscape and portrait mode.

A lot of companies now allow visitors to hover over an image so they can zoom in and view the details of the product.

In order to show the product in as much detail as possible, many companies give a 360 degree rotating view. If you don’t know how to set up a 360 degree rotating image, there’s a simple workaround. Just take a picture from all angles of the product. Amazon does this with many of their products (and adds the ability to zoom).

amazon 360 zoom product

Show the Product Being Used – As we’ve seen with the Square and mobile payment example, it’s important to show your product working and being used.

HOM Furniture has a queen bed frame for sale. Instead of showing only the bed frame and the barebones of what comes with it, they show the final product and give it context.

Do you think putting the bed frame in a bedroom makes the product more attractive than just a plain shot?

When selling something like a refrigerator, showing the product in use presents a clear benefit. People can imagine how much food they can put into it. GE shows this with an array of pictures for their Profile fridges:

ge profile fridge

And if people want a little detail, they can hover over the image and see what food items fit in this fridge and which do not:

ge profile fridge zoom

Apple says that how a product makes someone feel is what matters most. In many of their ads, they show people using their products. The emotion they’re experiencing is clear.

Netflix does this as well. Below is an image that was well circulated in Netflix advertisements and on their website:

old netflix homepage

This is what Netflix is about. It’s the end user experience of their service. This is not an image of a person selecting a movie or writing a review for a movie. It’s about sitting on the couch with the family watching a movie. Netflix is showing their product being used and how it makes people feel.

Taking Product Photos

If you’re looking for tips on how to take professional product photos, I’ve collected a list of resources to help. Don’t put another product photo on your website until you read these articles:

Is Awful Product Photography Losing You Sales? – Shopify provides some tips for taking product photos. Factors considered are lighting, colors, level of detail, etc.

Improve Your E-Commerce Design With Brilliant Product Photos – Smashing Magazine gives their list of sites with great product photos. Then they delve into how to make your own great photos.

How to Take Gorgeous Product Photos – A short but insightful article on getting a camera and studio set up for product photos.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography – A wonderful article detailing tips to get the most out of your product photos.

How to Take Great Product Photos for Your Online Store – A detailed article that covers cameras, studios, and editing.

Final Words

There are a lot of factors involved in running an e-commerce site: design, copy, product photo(s), website speed, security, navigation, selection, pricing, and much more. Out of all of these factors, product photo(s) is one of the most important. People look at a product before buying, so the quality of the photo becomes a selling point.

I hope this article has given you some ideas and helpful advice for using product images on e-commerce websites. Let me know of any feedback or additional tips you may have in the comments.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here.

  1. Very well presented article. Will surely use them… thanks

    • Absolutely agree with you. ZERO UI does not make sense, this article or the movement should have been called ZERO GUI, for graphical user interface.

      An interface for the user does not necessarily have to be visual, as this is true for so many other products (think of a Braille keyboard, not visual but tactile interface).

  2. This is a great article, it touches on all the elements needed in e-commerce photography. It is worth noting, however, that it can be very frustrating for people to take their own e-commerce photographs. The planning, styling, framing, lighting, retouching, etc of these photos is quite a lot of work. It’s always worth considering trying it yourself (especially if you have no budget for photography) but keep in mind that when I have a new e-commerce photography client, we consult, consult, consult about the imagery to make sure it sells the product the way it needs to and even with many years experience as an e-commerce photographer there are still challenges that come up that I need to use all my training and skills to work around. One thing that always is disappointing, is when someone invests in a camera, a lightbox, some strobes and then doesn’t understand why the images don’t sell. When you have already spent thousands to try and equip yourself to take your own e-commerce photos it can be very hard to find the budget for the professional photos you may need. It’s always worth talking to an e-commerce photographer first. Even if it’s just to get an idea from them what level of production your images may require to see if it is even possible to do without a full studio and team.

    • I would tend to agree with this. If you’re a young eCommerce startup it may best to take the photos yourself. Or you can use the photos that the manufacturer supplies you. If they can afford it (depending on what they’re selling), they will probably want to a professional like yourself.

    • This advice is better than most of the blog article. Photography is an art, and e-commerce is a specialty within that art. Your brother-in-law may be a fantastic wedding photographer but will probably miss the mark for e-commerce. Same thing with using photo’s that are great for Social media as your e-com PDP art. It is a different format and shoppers have different expectations.

      This is an area of your site where you should invest in a professional.

      Vendor Provided Art can be good and certainly saves a lot of cash. It gets tricky when you are trying to present a consistent experience across brands/categories as the product views can vary.

    • John Williams Jan 18, 2014 at 6:33 am

      Kate is providing incredibly good advice on top of Zach’s detailed article.

      Many of the readers are actively searching for information on how to take their eCommerce idea/operations to a higher level and achieve better performance.

      Experienced eCommerce photographers like Kate can quickly get through the volume of options and advise on the relevant topics around your type of product photography (the how and why it works for your clients).

      Of course, we all begin our journey somewhere and budgets are not deep at first – prioritize where you will get the most return and spend there.

      Great images yield great results – John

  3. Images are unbelievably important when it comes to website design especially with an eCommerce site. The website visitor is not at the store where they can pick up the product and feel it so your image has to be able to convey the qualities of the product better than your competitors.

  4. Hi Zach,

    Fully agree – I am more willing to buy something if the product shots are solid (especially if they are stunning).

    My issue is that I sell an online meeting software, and I struggle with trying to figure out what type of images would help sell it. The feeling you get when you’ve had a productive meeting is hard to convey (happy? excited people?), and they wouldn’t be shown holding our product. If I show people in a meeting, then that doesn’t represent the “virtual meeting” experience.

    Any suggestions?

    • Hey Tricia,
      I’m against using generic stock photos. A photo of a bunch of people in a board room smiling is boring and ineffective.

      For a SaaS product you definitely want enough screenshots of the main selling points of your product. You don’t need dozens of screenshots, but enough to pique the curiosity of your visitors.

      If you wanted to use people, I’d recommend taking video for a demo so people can understand how your product works. If you really wanted to use images of people on your site, then it would be best to show pictures of people using your product. If they can use your product on mobile devices, show someone using your product outdoors (it may work better with video). Or show a picture of someone using your product at their desk.

      Does this help?

  5. Great post! I love the example with the ham paired with healthy foods. All the examples are really good. I’ll send some of our users who are working on product photos over to this article for inspiration and guidance.

  6. Great. tnx!

  7. Thanks KissMetrics for sharing a great thought. But just to add, from webdesign point of view. Make sure to place the images at the heat map points of each website. Also touching raw image with Photoshop or photoscape software will also add appeal to picture. I agree with you the fact, a good picture can make your item to sell fast in online markets. Thanks again.

  8. It’s all about visual. It always was and it always will. It’s hard enough to sell something in real life, where people can touch and smell the product, but online it’s even harder. So yeah, good visuals are very essential. Thanks for posting this.

  9. Great post and for eCommerce visual is definitely very important.

  10. James Abbott - Modern Approach Jan 14, 2014 at 12:28 am

    A really great article that makes some solid points about the use and importance of imaging.

    Where possible, we find, if you are able to have professional images of the products taken yourself rather than manufacturer supplied it helps give your site an added edge to stand out from competitors. Also, if they are technical products or at the higher end of the retail scale it can allow you to focus and crop in on the elements that you know will help persuade and tempt visitors to complete. Quite often manufacturer images focus on the overall product but not necessarily the details that make it really worth while.

    Also, for certain items, professional high quality images on rotation loaded into a HTML5 viewing window can also really help e.g. footwear.

  11. Great qualitative tips.
    I am looking know more about the quantitative aspects
    – How would one measure the quality of photos as perceived by customers? conversions with Image details viewed/overall conversions?
    – What is the benefit/uplift of using 360 degree rotating photos?

  12. Thank’s for good tips. I’m preparing ecommerce site and this post gave me good directions and more ideas.

  13. Some great tips here. The stakes really are too high to simply think that a basic picture will be sufficient for an e-commerce site anymore. The right product images can be the difference between buy, buy or bye, bye and as companies continue to add value at different stages of the e-commerce process, clear information, general design (particularly mobile) and clever use of images all become vital parts of the online product browsing experience.

    The visual browsing experience then becomes analogous to scanning the aisles and shelves in a physical store and showing every edge and angle in high resolution by using interactive, 360 degree images is a great method that allows you to virtually place the product into the hands of your customers. Pop over to for a demo.

  14. Thanks for great tips. I did and will do apply these in my present and in future projects.

  15. Michael Atman May 15, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Zach, great article! I was searching for info on increased conversion rates due to high quality product images, showing multiple product views etc… and stumbled upon this. You really hit the nail on the head. One thing i would point out that might be useful to your readers is we have developed a product photography software designed to enable users to efficiently create high quality images, regardless of experience. Additional info can be found on our site:

    I am curious to know if you have done any conversion rate testing using multiple product views vs. showing a single product image?

    • I haven’t done much with product views, but I’ve found the more detailed you get with the view, versus a general image that doesn’t showcase the product well, typically your conversion rates will go up.

  16. Presentation is the most crucial thing in product photography. Thank you for sharing some special guidelines on this.


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