It’s worth noting these tips aren’t just for service products — many of them can also be applied to your traditional product photography, especially if you sell products that are harder to photograph.
When considering what image to use, there are a few key factors to consider:
The photo should make it clear that the user is purchasing a service and not a product to avoid any confusion or disappointment (when setting up your products, also consider clarifying this in the product description just to be safe).
Images should also make it easy, once the shopper understands it is a service, to tell what, exactly, the service is.
As with any product image, service product images should be eye-catching and high quality. Look for ways to incorporate bright colors that match your brand and showcase your attention to detail.
Here’s quick list of tips for finding photos or other imagery for a wide variety of services:
Seminars or workshops: Stock photos of presentations, conference venues, classrooms, students, people taking notes or images related to the specific subject being taught.
Art and crafts classes: Either your own photos of art supplies or equipment used, people taking the class, a photo of your instructor leading the class or stock photos of any of the above.
Exercise and dance classes: Photos of the class in session, the room where the class takes place, any equipment or gear used during the class or an image of the instructor.
Spa and beauty treatments: Photos of the service being performed are a good route here. Alternatively, these types of services can be illustrated with photos of beauty supplies, decor from your treatment rooms or close ups of a set of hands performing the service.
Personal shopping: A photo of someone — the actual personal shopper if possible — shopping or creative close ups of hands browsing shelves, clothing racks or products.
Consulting: Images of people talking, going over notes together, pointing at a laptop screen, or similar photos that show a connection between consultant and customer
Trades and freelancing: If you are a builder, designer, craftsperson or creative of any kind, use a recent work sample to represent a service, such as a shot of a chair you built under construction to represent “custom carpentry” or a table or food shot from a recent event to illustrate “catering services.”
Getting more abstract
Sometimes, however, it might just be too difficult to get a photo that accurately depicts your service. In these cases, there are a few “fallback methods” you can consider:
Create an image using your business logo and text describing the service offered in large lettering. Be sure to set the alt text in your image file to match for SEO reasons. You can liven up these images by using a background photo or color that matches your brand or by adding graphical pops of relevant text.
Use a stock or generic image of a credit card or gift card with, if possible, the name of the service in large, bold letters. This can be a good way to convey that no actual product will be delivered. It might be advisable to avoid using any elements such as ribbons or bows (or the word “gift card”) unless your services are meant to be gifts.
Stock elements such as ribbons, bursts or simple shapes can be another simple alternative.
Use generic stock photos of people working that communicate the idea that the “product” in question here is not actually a product — but rather something that involves interacting with you and your business.
As a last resort, you can also consider creating a generic placeholder style image for services.
Keep in mind, however, that these images are best saved for when it’s really not possible to illustrate your service well. In most cases, you’ll find you will have better luck with using photography than some of these methods.
Where to get photos
Of course, you can always take your own photos — and it’s not difficult to take a good quality photo of most of the suggestions listed above as long as you keep these factors in mind:
Make sure photos are well lit, well composed and easy to understand at a variety of sizes. Look for ways to include unique colors, textures and background elements.
If possible, avoid using flash, as this typically washes out shots and makes them look less professional. Instead, bring in extra light or shoot outdoors or near windows for best results.
Consider using creative angles, especially of rooms or objects. Try shooting from below, above or various angles and see if you can get a unique perspective.
There are numerous apps and services available that can apply filters to your images to make them look brighter. In general, the brighter and sharper your photo is, without looking washed out, the better (I’m particularly a fan of boosting the “brilliance” setting under “light” in the iOS photo editor). Just be sure that any app you use still outputs the photo at high resolution. Of course, it’s also possible to take it too far with filters — so avoid any that change skin tones or other colors to sickly shades (unless that’s the style you’re going for) or that may misrepresent what you’re selling.
Be sure any people featured in them look their best. They should be wearing appropriate clothing — preferably bright, solid colors. It’s sometimes difficult to take photos of people who are talking without ending up with odd facial expressions, so you may need to consider posing or staging photos.
When including people in photos, you should consider privacy concerns. Be sure you have permission to use the imagery of anyone recognizable in the photo — and you may want to consider having them sign a release or waiver giving you permission. Alternatively, document their permission with an email or written note.
Likewise, for any creative close ups you take, pay attention to how all elements shown look, down to small details such as hiding any distracting or irrelevant labels and ensuring any people or body parts shown in them are well groomed.
When considering using a stock photo, be sure that the photo you pick still accurately represents the service you’re offering. For example, you may want to avoid photos that showcase equipment, supplies or elements that you don’t offer to avoid disappointing customers.
In the end, it will greatly add to your credibility and trustworthiness as a service provider if you use good quality images of yourself and/or your services in action, rather than relying on stock photos.
Depending on where you are selling services, there might also be specific rules about using misleading photos.
For example, in the United States, if you are selling a food item, you generally have to use real food in the photos — props or substitutions aren’t allowed. However, if you’re selling, for example, a baking class, then the cookies shown in in the photo may not have to be real.
To be sure, double check or research local laws.
It’s also possible to get a shallow depth of field, stock photo “look” by using the “portrait” mode on many popular cameras and smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone.
Text in images
It can be tempting, especially if you’re having trouble visualizing your service in the form of an image, to add text directly to the image to help make it clear what’s being sold.
While this technique can be effective if done right, be sure to consider and test if the text is legible at various sizes, especially mobile devices.
It’s also a good idea to not only include any text in images in your alt tags, but also in the product description if you’re concerned about SEO or accessibility.
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. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.