eCommerce Photography: Image is Everything

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When it comes to selling products online, having an image of the item is essential. But how much importance should be placed on imagery in the entire eCommerce picture and what’s the right approach for your business?

In-house v freelance photographers

Unless you sell a large volume of branded items that have product imagery available for you to use on your site, you’ll need to think about how to get imagery of your products online. Employing an in-house photographer or hiring a freelance photographer come with pros and cons, so it’s best to decide which option fits the needs of your business most

In-house Photographer

  • If you have a large volume of products and a regular intake, then this option is likely to make commercial sense
  • Having an in-house photographer that is an employee of your business can produce long term cost savings if you have a requirement to shoot volumes frequently
  • The upfront costs of having an in-house photographer need to be factored in, like setting up a photography studio on your business premises or hiring a space elsewhere
  • An in-house photographer will need time to retouch the images or have resource available to assist them with this
  • With photography resource available in-house, the photographer will be on-hand to shoot products depending on the needs of the business, so you won’t need to factor in availability, like you would do with a freelancer
  • Consistency in product imagery is easier with an in-house photographer who is familiar with the brand style and shoots in the same location

Freelance Photographer

  • If your product intake is seasonal or light in volume, then this option can make more commercial sense
  • A specialist freelancer also suits businesses who operate in niche product areas, like fine jewellery or luxury leather goods, but finding a specialist within budget and with availability can be problematic
  • A freelancer will outsource retouching or factor this in to the overall costs of your photography package, so you won’t need to think about this
  • They will also be happy to shoot at your premises if you have an in-house studio or offer an alternative studio at a cost as part of their rate
  • Travel and expenses need to be factored in for a freelance photographer, which can become pricey if you’re planning on shooting on location
  • Using a variety of freelancers to cover your photography requirements can lead to inconsistencies in image style and quality, especially if they are shooting in multiple studios or locations

Location, location, location

In an attempt to create a point of difference and reinforce brand identity, location imagery is the preference of marketing teams everywhere.

For a swimwear brand selling bikinis, for example, it makes perfect sense to take the key pieces off to a beach location and get some aspirational shots.

The collateral from a location shoot is ideal to sell your brand via homepage content, social media and lookbooks, but is it suitable when it comes to directly selling your items on the product list and product detail pages?

The main purpose of a product image is to give the customer the best view of the product to aid conversion.

There’s an argument that, as glamorous and aspirational as location imagery may be, it does more to distract the customer from the purchase than it does to convert them.

Consistency can also be an issue here – unless you shoot the entire range on location, you’ll risk having a mix of products in a category with only some leading with location shots.

Apart from looking disjointed on your site, location imagery can also present problems in social, shopping and marketplace feeds.

Amazon in particular is quite stringent about its product image requirements, so if you plan on selling any of your products on this channel, you’ll always need to factor in a plain white background.

If you have access to an A/B testing tool, it would be a good idea to test the effect of location v studio imagery on key metrics like click through and conversion, before investing heavily in this area.

Types of imagery

It’s become standard to see images of products shot in a variety of ways, including still life packshots and model shots, but the rise of social media has also led to a surge in user generated image content being used by brands to sell their products.


  • As standard, most retailers offer a front-facing image of the item for sale
  • This is usually styled on a mannequin, hanger or table, cut out and placed on a plain background
  • High-ticket items may need more than one image to convert a customer, so think about investing in more images per product or 360° videos to show alternative views and close-ups of details

Model imagery

  • Great for clothing brands whose customers want to see how a garment looks on a person
  • Choice of model needs to be factored in so it resonates with the target customer
  • Using celebrities or influencers to model a range has become popular for brands with a millennial customer base, but this comes with an increase in costs and image usage rights

User generated content

  • Brands have tapped in to an opportunity to use ‘real’ customer imagery on product list and product detail pages
  • Images are often sourced through social permissioning platforms, where users consent to their tagged image being used by the brand on their website and social channels
  • For brands whose audiences prefer Instagram-style shots, this can be a cost-effective way of sourcing product imagery without having to pay for professional shots or high-profile influencer images

The future of eCommerce photography

With developments in technology, the debate over choosing in-house v freelance photographers could be a thing of the past.

Companies like StyleShoots have developed technology that lets eCommerce teams control and manage their product photography process in-house, without the need for a photographer or retoucher.

The location debate could also be over with the rise of augmented-reality imaging capabilities, where customers can drop product imagery in to their bedroom or living room via their mobile phone. Early-adopters like Asos are making use of this technology with a virtual catwalk feature, where its product imagery is transported to a location of the customer’s choosing at a touch of a button on their app.

The influence of AI and AR will continue to impact all areas of eCommerce, so it will certainly be interesting to see how it shapes the product imagery of the future.

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