May 26, 2020

Top Ways To Improve Your Shopify Product Photography

Here we offer some of the top ways to improve your Shopify product photography, from the very start of the process through to post-production.


Customers buy with their eyes, or so the saying goes. However, those eyes move quickly: a little over half of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds reading a webpage. That’s why punchy, eye-catching visual content has become more and more essential for ecommerce sellers on sites like Shopify who want their products to stand out.

Shopify is the third-largest online retailer in the U.S., behind only powerhouses like Amazon and eBay. It’s affordable, flexible, and relatively user-friendly, making it a preferred choice for many first-time sellers who are now getting their first introduction to the importance of visual content, more specifically product photography.

Exciting visual content is ready-made for getting potential customers to click buy, developing a recognizable brand, and drumming up interest on social media. With Shopify partnering with sites like Pinterest, where over 80% of weekly users have made purchases based on pins they like, it’s all the more clear that stand-out product photography is the key to converting consumer interest into purchases.

Here we offer some of the top ways to improve your Shopify product photography, from the very start of the process through to post-production.

1. CHOOSE SUITABLE SHAPES AND SIZES

Before you start setting up cameras, an essential first step is to make sure you know what rules you have to follow: is the website you’re using going to impose its own restrictions on factors like photograph size, quality, or shape? The last thing you want is to shoot a gorgeous, high-definition rectangular spread, only to find it resized into a grainy, cut-off box.

Shopify requires product images to have a file size smaller than 20 MB for upload, but your product images can be as large as 4472 x 4472 px (20 megapixels). That doesn’t mean all your images should be that large, however. 

Over 4,000 pixels is too big, since the image might slow down load times on your page or show up blurry on mobile screens. Conversely, pictures under 800 x 800 pixels will lose zoom functionality, disappointing potential buyers who want to zoom in on a product’s finer details. 

Shopify recommends that square product photos of 2048 x 2048 pixels look the most polished; square images are neat, uniform, and will transition best to mobile screens. Upload your images as JPEG files to preserve their quality. If you do end up using Shopify’s online image editor to make changes to your photos,  make sure you maintain a consistent aspect ratio.

2. USE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT

You might be wondering, will I need an expensive camera to get the kind of photo quality I want?

It’s true that DSLR and mirrorless cameras are top of the line for product photography, boasting features like interchangeable lenses and the ability to control for key factors like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. If you’re in the market for one of these cameras, remember that the higher the megapixel count the camera offers, the higher the quality. 

However, for photographers on a budget, there’s nothing that says you can’t use a point-and-shoot camera or even your smartphone camera, thanks to advances in mobile camera technology. Pair your camera with a mount or inexpensive tripod to make sure your pictures look as crisp and blur-free as possible. There are also external lenses you can use with your phone. 

Always turn off auto-flash, and if you can shoot in manual mode, do so. For more advice on finding the right combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, check out our post on photography tips. Which brings us to...

3. MAKE IT SHINE WITH LIGHTING

“Lights, Camera, Action!” We’ve heard the phrase a hundred times, and there’s a reason “lights” come first. A well-lit picture will look amazing even with a budget camera, while bad lighting can undermine the most expensive equipment. To improve your product photography, here are some general tips for making the most out of lighting. 


Choose the right kind of light 

You can photograph your products using natural light or studio (artificial) light. 

For natural light, set up your product outside or by a window, and turn off the other lights in the room. You’ll get the softest natural light in the mornings and early evenings—the so-called “golden hours”—though you should be careful shooting under direct sunlight at times like high noon, which can look too harsh. Slightly overcast days are ideal. 

Natural light works especially well for products related to the outdoors, food, people, and other lifestyle products. The best part? Sunlight is free.

You may prefer artificial or in-studio lighting, though, if you have products with very fine details, like fashion or jewelry, or if you need to shoot a lot of products on a tight deadline without worrying about unpredictable weather.  

For either kind of lighting, think about what backdrop you want to use. You can buy specific backdrops and scenes to use for in-studio work. If you’re on a budget, you can make a plain white background out of a roll of pure white butcher paper or posterboard from a local art store.


Use multiple light sources

Products look better when lit from at least two different angles. If you’re using natural light, you can use inexpensive reflectors and diffusers to bounce the light around. 

If you’re shooting with artificial studio light, a simple lighting kit will do for beginners. Place light sources diagonally to your product, not directly face-on, to avoid creating dark shadows. 

4. KEEP FOCUS ON THE PRODUCT

When choosing props and background scenery, remember that the main goal of product photography is to sell the product, not (just) to take a beautiful picture. Customers value attractive photos, but also accuracy: 22% of returns for online products occur because an “item looks different than the photos.”

This is why you’ll see so many Shopify product photos stick to the basics, using a plain white background with the product centered in the frame. Even with this simple set-up, don’t forget to photograph your products from a few different angles to find the ones that will look the best on your website.

If you do use props or non-white backdrops, keep them simple and relevant to the product. Too many props will look distracting; if they’re much larger or brighter than your product, or in unusual colors, they risk pulling focus from the product.

Go for colors, shapes, and styles that play off those of your main item and, most importantly, preserve the brand aesthetic you have in mind. If you want a gentle, cozy feel, for example, you’ll want to choose pastels and soft materials over bold splashes of bright red, blue, and yellow. 

Maintaining consistency across your store is key, since you want customers to recognize your style of products anywhere, and to feel like they know what they’re getting when they buy from you.

Highlight important details 

What details make your product stand out? Shopify product photography should highlight the finer details of each item, such as the knit on a sweater, the clock numbers on the face of a watch, or the keyboard configuration of a laptop. These are the types of details customers will zoom in on, and the kind of details that might mean the difference between buying from your store or from a competitor. 

You should take pictures that give your customers a sense of the product’s function. If you’re selling a travel mug, for instance, you may want to photograph it fitting inside the holders of a backpack, briefcase, or car to demonstrate its convenient size. If you’re selling a set of items, make sure they’re all on display. 

It’s also worth including photographs of certain items like jewelry with a scale included or otherwise indicated, since potential buyers will want a visual representation of the object’s approximate size. 

Pulling it all together

The beauty of in-studio creative product photography is that a creative studio will work to consider the desired mood, brand aesthetic, and target audience for your products, while reducing the labor and stress on your part. Professional photography studios have props, backdrops, lighting, and high-quality equipment on hand and know how to use them, which means you don’t have to be an expert photographer to acquire beautiful photographs. 


5. TELL THE PRODUCT’S STORY

Stories are some of the most powerful tools around. When you’re selling a product, you’re not just selling the item devoid of context, you’re also selling a story about what the product can do for your customer. This is where lifestyle product photography can send your conversion rates skyrocketing—product photography that captures products in use, in carefully styled scenes that help tell a narrative. 

Think about it: what’s more likely to get you to buy an outdoor fire pit, a picture of an empty metal grate on a white background, or a picture that depicts friends toasting marshmallows around a roaring campfire? 

People tend to create emotional connections with photographs that align with their own aspirations—scenes with family and friends, high-powered business jobs, expensive-looking homes and kitchens all tap into customers’ desires to live the lifestyles attached to those environments.

Lifestyle photography doesn’t need to involve models, though it often does. Since the number of focal points can add up quickly, especially if you’re using multiple people, you do want to make sure the product remains the main attraction. Taking a basic graphic design or photo composition class can help you learn tricks for balancing numerous subjects in a frame, such as the Rule of Thirds

If you’re shooting lifestyle product photographs, you’ll also benefit from advanced planning about your visual style. Keeping a mood board or style guide for yourself and your collaborators will ensure that your lifestyle photos present the brand image and themes you want to represent your products. 

6. GIVE YOURSELF OPTIONS, THEN EDIT

The last thing you need is to take a handful of pictures, finally open up your editing software, and realize you’re not happy with any of them. With product photography, aim to get a lot of photos, particularly if you’re relying on a finite resource like the hours of natural light in a day. Give yourself as many options as possible with different angles, lighting configurations, colors, etc. 

All these options will give you the greatest amount of material to work with in the editing room. For Shopify product photography, editing, retouching, and other components of post-production are the final step in getting your product photos web-ready.

There are free and low-cost options for post-production software, though Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are the gold standard. Note that it can be more affordable to get these as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud package, which is worth looking into if, for example, you’re a student with discounted access through your school. 

7. USE A PROFESSIONAL SERVICE 

Does this sound like an overwhelming amount of things to keep in mind? One of the best ways to improve your Shopify product photography is, quite simply, to work with the pros. A professional service will act as a one-stop shop for every element of product photography, from pre-production to post-production. 

Not only does working with a professional studio offer the advantages of their experience, equipment, and efficiency, but studios will also have market research and branding strategies on hand to shape your store’s visual style at every step of the way. They can help analyze how your photographs will perform with various demographics, keep organized style guides you can use in later photoshoots, take inspiration from pre-existing portfolios, and work with a team to develop a signature look for your brand.

Plus, working with professionals saves you time and energy—they can capture the perfect look while you focus on other aspects of running your online store. 

If you’re a Shopify seller looking for high-impact product photography, we at Results Imagery would love to hear from you. Whether you’re interested in clean, professional images of products on a white background, creative in-studio photographs, or lifestyle photography, let us help you make your vision a reality. 

Kyle Nelson

About the Author

Kyle Nelson, CEO of Results Imagery has a background in media, branding and marketing. With past start-up success and noticing an emerging need in premium eCommerce media services, he co-founded Results Imagery; allowing the industry to have a full-service studio option serving national clientele ranging from fortune 500 companies to small mom-and-pop boutiques.