Friday, November 04, 2005

Worth a Thousand Words

One of the challenges that Internet commerce has always faced is the lack of tangible interaction between customer and product. When I go to a store, I can see the product, pick it up, heft it, and see how it works. On the internet, that’s more difficult.

This isn’t a new problem. Actually, catalog and mail-order companies have been dealing with this problem for decades. A major key to overcoming this challenge is the product photograph. Having a good photo (or more) of each product on your website is very important to being able to sell it.

But where do you get those pictures?

If you’re reselling a product that someone else is supplying, then usually they’ll provide you with pictures. Those are usually all ready for the web, and can be downloaded from their website or are sometimes provided on a CD-ROM.

But if it’s a product that’s handmade, or something that you’re supplying yourself, you’ll have to take the picture yourself. That can be a challenge in and of itself. Hiring a professional product photographer can yield excellent results, but it can also be cost-prohibitive.

Here are some tips to getting good product pictures:

1) Go digital. Get a digital camera. The picture will be shown digitally, and taking the picture digitally in the first place saves a step. In addition, you’ll be able to set up the picture, take it, load it into your computer, preview it, and then be able to make adjustments to the setting and the lighting to get a better picture immediately. You won’t have to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.
2) Create a setting. Cut the top and two adjacent sides off of a large home appliance box, and drape some cloth in the inside corner it makes. Put a couple of books on the base under the cloth to support the object.
3) Get lots of light. The most common error I see in home-shot pictures is poor lighting. The brighter the light, the more of the product you’ll see. Low lighting also causes color distortions, like a blue or green cast. Using a flash brings all the light directly from the camera, off the object, then right back to the lens. This leaves no shadows to shape the object, and one big harsh shadow right behind it. Two very strong lights, one on either side of the object, and above it, will light the object very well and create gentle shaping shadows.
4) Take several views of the object. This will give your customers the opportunity to look at it from many angles, as if they were holding it in the store.
5) Try lots of things. Move the lights around. Move the camera. Try different draperies for the background. Test and see which gives you the best results. Then duplicate that with other products.
6) Once it’s in your computer, edit it. Don’t be afraid to adjust the colors. Does it look to blue? Too red? Remember that if you do something that you don’t like, you can undo it, or start over with the fresh picture.
7) Resize the picture. It will likely come off a digital camera much, much larger than this. Set the resolution to 72 dpi. For web display, make it no larger than 200 or 250 pixels on a side. A great freeware graphics editing program can be found at
8) Once the picture has been resized, do a “Save As” command. I usually just add the letters “sm” to the end of the filename to remind myself that it’s the “small” version. I keep the larger, high-res version on my computer, because I might need it someday for a poster or printed brochure.

These tips can help you get some great results and display your products as good as possible, whether you’re selling them from your website or on eBay!

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