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by Michael P. Hill June 16, 2015

When offering products and services for sale online, one of the best ways to showcase your products within your Shopify theme is to use eye-catching, quality photography.

Great photography goes a long way in taking a great Shopify theme and making it even better — as well as converting browsers into customers.

However, getting good, high quality product shots for your Shopify theme may seem like a challenge if you’re not a professional photographer — but there are some easy do-it-yourself “hacks” you can use to get great photos for your Shopify store at little to no cost.

Background on backgrounds

One of the most popular ways to showcase products on online stores is to photography them against a white background.

This is a great way to keep the focus on your products and make your store look polished and professional.

If you have Photoshop and the skills to use it, modifying almost any photo can be edited to have a white background — but what about if you don’t have the time or resources to do that?

To get around these editing challenges, the easiest thing to do is to start with a white background — and it’s surprisingly easy to do this even.

The first step is to locate a smooth, white surface.

If you only sell smaller items, a white piece of poster board is a good option since it’s thick and sturdy. Try pushing a table against a wall and taping the top of the poster board to the wall, letting it curve gently onto the surface of the table. This will allow you to photograph both items laid flat on the table or, for items with more dimension, from the front.

For larger items, you may need to locate a larger sheet of white paper or use multiple sheets to create a large enough space. If items are too heavy or cumbersome to put on a table, consider using the floor as a “table.”

An example of using a sheet of white paper on the floor to create a white background for your Shopify theme product photos

For clothing items, you may want to locate a clean, empty white wall in your store or home and add a hook that can be used to hang front hangers on for photographs.

If white is too boring or you prefer a more unique or textural background for your photographs, you can create a similar setup utilizing wood, stone or fabric backgrounds.

Let there be light

The biggest secret to great product photography, however, is lighting. Generally it’s best to avoid using the flash on your camera because it tends to create a flat, washed out look, especially if the room you’re shooting is darker.

Instead, a good alternative is to purchase clamps lights at your local hardware store and use them to light your improvised product photo studio.

For larger items, painter’s lights can be a good affordable option, but sometimes can be too bright, so look for ones that have adjustable brightness.

Finally, if you’re willing to make a bit of an investment, it’s also possible to buy affordable photography lighting for just a few hundred dollars from major online retailers.

In general you’ll want at least two lights positioned on either side of where your camera will be. This helps not only increase the amount of light but also helps cut down on ugly shadows.

A clamp on utility lamp, left, and painter's lights, right, are affordable lighting options available at your local hardware store.

It’s a good idea to designate a spot in your store or home to use for photography for your Shopify theme so the lighting remains consistent across all of photographs. If possible, you can even leave your backdrop and lighting up all the time — this is especially helpful if you need to take pictures of new products often.

Also keep in mind that most incandescent light bulbs tend to give off a yellow-ish light, while fluorescents tend to skew slightly blue, and this can affect how the colors of your items show up on camera, although most camera phones and standalone digital cameras do a decent job of compensating for this.

Say cheese

For a camera, you can get surprisingly good photographs using most smartphones. Manufacturers are equipping these devices with better and better cameras every day so you often have a great camera already.

You’d probably be surprised with how many smaller online stores are using camera phones to take photographs of products.

If you don’t have a phone with quality camera, check your local electronics store for an affordable digital camera.

Don’t be tricked by high megapixel counts (that often come with higher price tags) — most likely any device with at least 5 megapixels will be more than adequate for product shots.

The shoot

When taking photographs for your Shopify ecommerce site, it’s often a good idea to take as many shots as possible. You’ll want to include different angles and perhaps zoom in on specific parts of your product to show off the quality or features.

It’s a good idea to err on the side of taking more photos than you think you’ll need and saving them on your computer.

This way, if you ever find that more photographs might be needed to adequately illustrate your products or a customer asks for more detailed photographs, you already have them taken and they’ll be consistent with what’s on your Shopify store.

While you obviously don’t want to go overboard, in general, the more photographs you can offer the better. Remember online shoppers can’t pick up an item so it’s up to your photos to give them a sense of scale, materials and dimension when browsing your Shopify site.

Besides the photos taken against a background, you may also want to consider taking photos of your item either being used or held by someone or sitting next to a common object to give shoppers a sense of scale.

For example, a handbag could be photographed on someone’s shoulder in profile so shoppers get an idea of how big it might be when they carry it. Jewelry or other smaller products could be photographed with a coin, ruler or other small household item next to it.

In general, these shouldn’t be your main photography, but are great options for additional photographs users can browse.

Uploading and managing

Once you’ve transferred the files from your camera to your computer, you can upload them to your Shopify store using your admin backend and product editing screens (hint for Apple and Mac users — the AirDrop feature in newer iOS devices is a great way to transfer photos quickly and easily).

Shopify has built a robust image management system that handles all the sizing issues, making it easy to integrate them seamlessly with your Shopify theme.

Getting advanced

If you do have access to a photo editing program, you can use it smooth out any wrinkles or imperfections in your background and adjust the color balance and levels.

On many products, boosting the white levels slightly while also reducing the black levels a bit help make product photos look bright and crisp while also bringing out the details subtly.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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