As an Etsy seller, you know that photos of your product are important. In fact, Etsy’s customer research has found that photos are one of the most important factors in their decision to make a purchase—more so than reviews or even price. Because of this, quality photography is crucial to the success of your shop. So, how can you use photos most effectively? The first step is to create excellent photos; the second step is to use figure out which of your photos is empirically the “best” through data analytics and to use that photo to showcase the product listing. (If you’re already a photo-wiz, jump down to the section on A/B testing.)
Capturing Excellent Photos
Product photography is a vast subject, and there is a lot of advice to be found on how to create photos for your Etsy shop that will help you convert sales. By no means do you have to be a professional photographer to take effective photos! As a designer, I’ve established a basic, go-to photography system that I can set up in my house.
There are tons of camera options out there. I use a DSLR camera because it gives me complete control over my shots and allows me to take high-quality images—more than I can get with a smartphone or point-and-shoot. Get to know your camera and its settings!
Avoid blurry photos; use a tripod! Experiment with the different joints so you understand all the ways to adjust it.
Unless your products are large enough to photograph on the floor, you’ll need a table to set up on.
I recommend a white seamless; once you have one, you won’t want to use anything else! Having a large background makes it easier to avoid unwanted stuff in your pictures. You can, however, use other materials such as poster board (if your objects are small) or a sheet.
Good lighting is CRUCIAL. In my opinion, daylight is best. To use daylight, you need a bright day and a room with plenty of windows. Alternatively, you can use artificial lights (at least two lights whose direction you can control). It’s best not to mix light sources (i.e. if you use artificial light, close your blinds).
Diffusers & Reflectors
These help you control the quality of the light. If you have rays of sun beaming in your windows, you might want some tissue paper to cover the window and soften the light. I also always keep a piece of foam board handy for subtly reflecting light onto my subject.
- Step stool
- Alternate camera lenses (such as a macro lens for detail shots)
- Camera remote/cable release so that you don’t shake the camera and create blurry images when capturing photos
Once you’ve gathered all of your equipment into your chosen workspace, you’re ready to set up.
- Backdrop: pick a wall that’s in the best position for lighting and attach your seamless. Create a larger background area by attaching it up high on the wall using clips or duct tape. Roll it out carefully so you don’t create creases! If you’re using a table, place the table in front of the wall and drape the seamless over it and down to the floor. Leave a slight curve in the material, and weigh it down in the front to secure it. Keep your reflectors and props nearby!
- Camera: I find it best to shoot in a semi-automatic mode like Shutter or Aperture Priority. You should also tell your camera what kind of light you’re shooting with (natural light? tungsten light?). Lastly, select the file type for images. I use RAW files because they save information that gives you more control when editing photos, but not every program can open them. (I won’t go into depth about camera settings here, for the sake of keeping this post a reasonable length. Read more about DSLR camera settings here.) Once you’re happy with the basic settings, attach your camera to the tripod!
- Test: Snap a few pictures and adjust. Try uploading and viewing them on a large screen to be sure everything looks good before you continue shooting. Pay attention to shadows, blurriness, or unwanted background details.
Consider the types of shots you’re going to take! Different angles, focuses, and distances will communicate different information about your product.
- Studio shot: a clear, well-lit photo that shows off your product.
- Lifestyle shot: a photo of your product in use that helps your customer envision what it would be like if they owned your product. For example, show jewellery worn on a model or a blanket laid across a couch.
- Scale shot: a photo that gives your customer an idea of the size of your product. You can accomplish this by including recognizable objects in the photo, like a ruler or hands.
- Detail shot: a close-up shot that gives more information about your product, such as the material, texture, craftsmanship, etc.
- Group shot: a photo of several products grouped together.
- Packaging shot: a photo of your product as it is packaged. This can also help communicate your branding and professionalism.
- Process shot: your product as a work-in-progress.
- Compose a shot list before you start; it will help keep you focused and organized!
- Take a LOT of shots. It’s time consuming to set up a photo shoot, so take advantage of the work you’ve put in. Take several shots of each arrangement, at each distance, at each angle, etc to be sure you capture one that works.
- Relax and take your time.
- Pay attention to what’s in focus in your shot. Most cameras will auto-focus, but only you know what is most important in each image. If something is blurry, make an adjustment.
- Start with the goal of taking excellent photos. A better photo will yield a better result no matter how much of a Photoshop expert you are. It’s easier to start with good lighting and a clear background than to try to fix it later.
- Use the rule of thirds for framing photos! Imagine your image is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally, then try to position important elements along these lines.
- Be careful with flash, it can create harsh shadows. If you have good lighting, you shouldn’t need it.
- More background is better. You can crop later, but you can’t extend an image you wish was larger.
Now that you have a slew of well-composed images, it’s time to take them to the next level. If you’ve captured great photos, this step can be as minimal as some cropping and color adjustments.
For editing, I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom handles RAW files, allows you to sort and rate your photos, and can apply corrections to many photos at once. After editing the photos as a group, I use Adobe Photoshop to make refined edits on individual photos. (You can subscribe to Adobe’s “photography plan” for about $10 a month; there are also many options out there for free editing software.)
I edit my photos in phases. By the time I’m finished shooting, I usually have hundreds of photos. Do I edit all 418 photos? No. I like to scan through all of the photos on a large laptop screen and make a list of the best ones, then edit those. I will make broad edits (such as adjusting lighting) on as many as 100 photos, but in the end I only fine tune 20-40 images.
- Look through all of the photos, making a list of the ones you like. Avoid selecting photos that are blurry or out of focus.
- Take the first photo you’ve selected and make overall corrections to lense distortion, white balance, exposure, brightness, and contrast (there are about a million resources for photo editing to be found on the internet; look for specific tutorials when you need them!). Once you’ve refined light and color, you may want to narrow your selection further.
- At this point, I edit my photos individually in Photoshop, further tweaking white balance, contrast, and color levels, as well as cropping the image and editing out any blemishes.
- Once you are happy with your images, you can tailor them to Etsy specs. Images should be at least 1000px wide, and they can be larger as long as the image file is under 10MB. All of the photos for a single listing should be the same size to achieve a consistent feel for the user when they scroll through the images—and to avoid some not-so-pretty default Etsy formatting.
If you’re really interested in digging into the ins and outs of photographing your product (from equipment to staging to photo editing), check out The Ultimate Guide to Product Photography that Etsy has compiled.
Selecting “THE” Photo
Now you have a handful of quality photos that you’ve edited to perfection—great! But which one is THE photo that will drive shoppers to your store? Is it the lifestyle photo that shows a model using your product? Is it a process shot that shows all of the craftsmanship that went into creating it? Or is it the studio shot that is clear and well-lit?
We all like to use rules and systems to guide our decisions. However, even with excellent product photography, the data shows over and over that there is no hard-and-fast guide for selecting photos. At Whatify, we’ve learned by testing hundreds of photos that it is really, really hard to predict which photos will perform the best. The only way to pick the most successful one is to test a few and see what works.
Stop Guessing and Start Testing
The value of testing options and making decisions backed by statistical results is highly valued in the business world. The A/B test that Whatify uses is the same one used by businesses like Google, Amazon, and Netflix to scientifically figure out what works. But instead of charging tens of thousands of dollars for these experiments, Whatify makes them both affordable and easy to use for small businesses, so you can increase sales and build a more successful business. (Most of our users see a traffic increase of 5-25%; if you’re interested in learning more about how A/B testing is used in the business world, check out this article from the Harvard Business Review.)
How A/B Testing Works
Let’s talk about what A/B testing actually is and why it’s becoming a crucial part of most business toolkits. Simply put, A/B testing is a systematic way of “trying different stuff” that is devised to produce results. There are a few specific issues common with other kinds of experiments that A/B testing is formulated to avoid ways the testing is formulated to avoid specific issues with other kinds of experiments.
We’ll look at confounding variables first. If you try photo A on Wednesdays and photo B on Saturdays, you might find that photo A is better. But is this really because of the photo, or do you just get more traffic on Wednesdays than Saturdays? Ideally, everything would be exactly the same when you test photo A and photo B. You could try testing both photos on Wednesdays, but you also want the time to be constant. You could try testing both photos on Wednesdays at 8:30 pm, but now you have test the photos on separate weeks, and calendar date might matter too. Trying to hold everything constant seems impossible.
The way that A/B testing solves this problem is by essentially “flipping a coin” to decide which photo will be primary at any given time. This might seem counterintuitive — how does randomly choosing the primary photo keep the other variables constant? The idea is that if you flip a coin every few hours to decide which image is primary, then the other variables will begin to average each other out. You won’t end up testing the two photos on exactly the same days or exactly the same times, but you can be certain there are no systematic biases.
If you test two photos and photo A gets 13 views while photo B gets 16 views, does that really mean that photo B is better or was this due to chance? If you thought that photo A was better before the test, is 16 vs. 13 enough evidence to overturn your original judgement? Can we be sure that photo B is not performing better due to luck? Once we know there are no systematic biases, we use statistical methods to figure out if one photo might perform better due to random chance and incorporate that into our analysis — AKA we make sure that one photo isn’t just getting lucky. We also minimize the chances of luck contributing to false results by running the test for an extended length of time. If a photo performs well over a long period of time, it is less likely that its results are a product of luck. We combine all of these factors to determine whether photo A or photo B will more successfully convert sales.
The results will increase your sales — we double checked.
In order to determine how much our recommendations increase sales for a shop, we generate our recommendations using only half of the available data. We use the other half as a “control” to learn how many more views our recommendations acquire in comparison (for my statistical gurus out there, this is called “cross-validation”). This way, we can be confident the estimated improvements we generate are as accurate as possible.
Start taking killer photos and testing them! You can head over to Whatify.com to learn more about what we do. You can sign up, run tests on your images, receive partial results, and even implement the results on your shop for for free. Be sure to download the Etsy Photo Checklist we’ve created to guide you through building successful Etsy listings.