The challenge is real, you live it every day. Because your wares are not in a storefront shop, accessible to visitors whose visual and tactile senses are eager to give them the once-over, your primary goal is to create a visual image for their consideration. You want to show them exactly what they’ll be getting if they decide to buy.
But what is the best way to accomplish that? Graphic designers for retailers and wholesalers from the highest-end shops to co-ops struggle with illustrating their items in the most attractive and compelling manner possible.
Silhouette v. Composite Shots
There are two schools of thought—and two presentation methods—that dominate online commerce. One holds that products ought to be displayed as they will be used, especially with respect to soft goods and interior design. Assembling a room full of furnishings, or a complete wardrobe, for example, offers a visually pleasing suggestion for use, as well as a reliable depiction of how the product will appear in a typical ensemble.
Increasingly, however, retailers are moving away from these composite shots, hoping to offer more descriptive power to a single image through “silhouetting”: carving out the item and presenting it solo, with no background.
Which works best for your needs? To some degree, that depends on your sales platform and venue. Do you offer products on third-party vendor sites, such as Google Store? Then you’re aware that many will not accept anything other than a silhouetted image. Presumably this protects them against claims of false advertising.
Yet others prefer the cleaner approach of silhouetted images because they eliminate distraction. Placing a product image front-and-center keeps customers focused on that product, and doesn’t lure them away with a selection of coordinating or competing merchandise.
Not everyone needs a visual guide of how to implement something they plan to buy; however, for sites in which multiple images are permitted, you will always want to include one with your product placed in an actual setting anyway.
And for the sake of order, focusing on a silhouetted image for each item allows consistency along your product presentation. That can help create a visual brand in the mind of your customers.
Get the Picture?
Let’s go back a few steps. You may be an old pro with a proven method of acquiring and displaying photo of your stock. Or, you might be sheepishly hoping we’ll mention the art of obtaining art—in other words, “what’s the best, most professional way to get my hands on merchandise photos?”
Here’s a quick preliminary answer: Do your suppliers offer high-quality photos? If so, use them. They are Ground Zero in promoting their wares, and their motivation to offer representative, attractive shots is obvious.
Can you afford to hire a photographer? Depending on your profit margin, it may be worthwhile. They are trained to present stunning and accurate images, and they have on hand the top-notch photographic equipment to get the job done.
If your goods come from third-party vendors, or if you’re the crafty type whose stock is produced by yours truly, you may want to invest in a quality camera and shoot your own photography. You’ll have control over the final product, and you’ll save a bundle.
Photo Editing 101
OK. You’re sold on including a silhouetted shot for each of your products. And you’re willing to shoot your own stock. Now what? How do you manage to produce one?
If you’re editing your own photos, or asking a friend with some knowledge of graphic design to help out, there are somewhat uncomplicated methods for extracting the background from subject images, leaving behind a clean profile of your particular product. It requires employing semi-advanced editing features in imaging programs. Don’t despair: here’s a user-friendly tutorial from an affiliate of Adobe, producer of Photoshop. It also has fabulously helpful tips on improving every aspect of your image quality.
As always, your choice on how to present your products to consumers comes down to a matter of preference. But keep in mind the psychology behind remote buying, and the factors we’ve discussed that explain why savvy shoppers may want a more simplified view of what you’re offering. Mixing up alternate photos works nicely, but if your site limits you to a single image for every product, remember that you are selling a product, and not a room.