Transactional vs. Emotional: The question of Zarafication

As we know: the better the product photography, the better the sales.

Good product photography is about accurately depicting your goods in a way that people can quickly and easily understand - highlighting your best features, and providing visual context to help prospective customers decide if they want to buy, or not. (You can learn more about what kind of product imagery actually sells in a previous post - The Four C’s of Product Photography.)

BUT, while product shots are functional by design, there is no need for them to be boring in execution.

Brands can - and should - ensure their product photography shares the same personality and uniqueness that they exhibit elsewhere: from their in-store signage to the tone of their social media posts. The customer must feel like they are still enjoying the same brand experience when they’re on your product detail page; or else, they might as well be shopping on Amazon.

“Zarafication” in product photography

A few years ago, Spanish retail giant Zara decided they would do things differently, adding movement and interesting crops to their product pages.

And we are still feeling its ripples of influence in e-commerce today. Brands ranging from Reformation and Merlette, to Free People and Loft all incorporate some form of movement or attitude in their product imagery.

Here are a few things that a brand can play with to add a unique feel to their product photography:

  • Movement

  • Props

  • Unique crops

  • Background color or texture

  • Environment

Zara's main product photography shots show interesting movement, and use a variety of crops. You see the rest of the product vides once you click through to the product detail page.

Zara's main product photography shots show interesting movement, and use a variety of crops. You see the rest of the product vides once you click through to the product detail page.

Is Zarafication easy?

Well, it looks simple enough: just have the model move around a bit and snap away, right? Not quite.

In reality there is a lot of planning goes into these images before, during and after the shoot. You need an expert model, a highly skilled photographer, and a detail-oriented art director to add eye-catching variety, but without distracting from the product itself. A customer might be enticed and interested by the unique swing of a dress, but if they can’t decipher the back details, or fabric, the dress will never get into the shopping cart. Zara has invested heavily into their photography to achieve this balance between transactional and emotional imagery - and it shows.

That said, it’s no bad thing having a clear and simple focus on the product imagery.

Straight-forward, to-the-point shots can look beautiful and have personality in their own right. Many high-end designers and sites opt for this approach. Brands like Moda Operandi, Victoria Beckham and Alexander McQueen. The idea being that the product can speak for itself, with the more editorialized heavy-lifting taking place elsewhere on the site - usually on the homepage - where a brand’s personality comes to life.

Product shots from Moda Operandi's site have minimal movement - the product and styling are the main focus.

Product shots from Moda Operandi's site have minimal movement - the product and styling are the main focus.

Transactional vs. Emotional

So what type of product photography is right for you? Here are a couple of considerations.

  1. Budget - a basic rule of thumb is: the more personality you are trying to inject into a product image, the more expensive it will be. This is because the shot will require more time to prepare, execute and retouch. And time is money. So if money is tight, then opting for a more straight-forward shot will probably be a good idea.

  2. Brand Experience - where and how you reflect your brand personality could impact your decision on whether or not to add personality to your product imagery. Are there any other locations on the site where your brand’s voice is being brought to life visually? Could editorialized product imagery compliment the other brand photography? For example, if your brand is irreverent throughout your site, perhaps it would be good brand sense to make your product shots whimsical and playful too.

  3. Longevity - Remember, product imagery can be up on the site for a long time. Brands often have to live with creative decisions for 3 months, 6 months, even a year depending on seasonality. And changing just a small batch of photos can be expensive, since you don’t get the efficiencies of a shoot that captures multiple products or views at one time. You also run the risk of the image not feeling cohesive with the rest of the product imagery.

  4. Consistency - If you're a retailer with tons of new product and brands launching on-site every week (like Gilt, Macy's, Target, etc), then be sure to consider consistency. It might look disjointed to have varied crops and a lot of movement through your sale pages. On the flip side, if you're a smaller brand and need to shoot in small batches, it might clean things up to maintain an easy-to-execute, consistent way of shooting.

At the end of the day, what Zara is doing is working for them. As a multinational, $10+ billion brand you know they’re pouring over their analytics to be sure of it. And many brands are following their lead. Could it be right for you too? A-B testing two versions of the product imagery before going all-in is always a good way minimize the risk.

If you have any questions on whether your brand is right for "Zarafication", or how you might execute either the shoot or the test, please feel free to reach out to us at hello@thelinestudios.nyc.

How many product photos do you need for your website?

Or rather, how many shots of each product will drive conversion? Because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about: sales.

- Too few views and the customer doesn’t get all the information they need to make the purchase.

- Too many views and the customer may feel overwhelmed and move onto another option.  

 

But with the right balance, brands can improve:

  • Conversion percentage

  • Customer satisfaction

  • Product return rate

 

The key here is - of course - finding the right balance of product imagery.

VYAYAMA shows its crop top alongside a model wearing the product, which gives the customer a clear understanding of what it looks like when worn

VYAYAMA shows its crop top alongside a model wearing the product, which gives the customer a clear understanding of what it looks like when worn

There is something to be said for comparing the online shopping experience to the offline one. If a customer is thinking about buying a new shirt in a brick-and-mortar store, they will (in no particular order): feel the fabric, see what other colors are offered, check out the stitching or how it’s made, look at the washing instructions, take the shirt off the rack and try it on, etc. Together and independently, these can all be decisive in whether they end up buying the product, or not.

In e-commerce, it is the role of the product detail page to do as much of this heavy-lifting as possible. To give the customer all the information they need to move them down the purchase funnel, and get your product into their cart. A lot of that information can - and should - be delivered through product photography.

 

So how many product shots do you need?

Actually, there is no hard-and-fast number.  Instead brands should be asking themselves: what kinds of product shots should I have?

 

While there some obvious shots every product should have - front, back, inside, top-down, etc. , each product is also unique in some way, with different elements you want to highlight.  In such a way, any product photographer worth his salt should be thinking about the below 3 considerations to help you sell your product:

 

Arias New York uses one product shot to show both the stitching and lining of a jacket

Arias New York uses one product shot to show both the stitching and lining of a jacket

1) Focus on the Details. You must have detailed product visuals for your website. This is particularly essential for bigger ticket items. It’s a great way of reinforcing your value proposition, as well as the quality and/ or product authenticity you offer. Some examples:

  • Silver hallmark on a piece of jewelry

  • Unique lining of a tailored jacket

  • Leather quality in the insides of the shoes

  • Non-greasy texture of a moisturiser


 

2) Think Tactile. Oftentimes these are critical differentiating features for brands - something that gives them a competitive edge - and yet it can be incredibly hard to convey these to customers online.

 

Writing “the beautifully treated canvas”, or “made with a unique blend of fabrics” in the product description does not do enough to convey the product’s quality and craftsmanship. 

The secret is to make sure the lighting and product positioning has been set-up to really capture the texture and feel of the product. As you know, the more you can help your customers understand the product, the more likely they are to buy. Be sure to scrutinise the photographer or studio's previous work to make sure they have are able to accurately communicate the tactile qualities of your product. 

One well-shot visual can showcase a range of textures and pigments. CoverFX demonstrates the consistency of their foundations, really pushing the tactile qualities of the cream, powder, and liquid

One well-shot visual can showcase a range of textures and pigments. CoverFX demonstrates the consistency of their foundations, really pushing the tactile qualities of the cream, powder, and liquid

 

As one of our client’s told us: “the moment our customer’s feel our custom-made material, they fall in love with it. Being able to portray the textural quality and supple material through the photography has improved our e-commerce sales dramatically!”

 

3) Include Scaling Shots. By giving customers a visual reference to product size, many brands have seen return rates decrease by as much as 5%. In fact, it is the number one cause for product returns for many brands.

Using models or props can be instrumental in giving context or scale to a product image, as well as adding some personality, as seen in this e-commerce imagery from The M Bag

Using models or props can be instrumental in giving context or scale to a product image, as well as adding some personality, as seen in this e-commerce imagery from The M Bag

Scaling shots are particularly important to use when shooting jewelry or handbags because the sizes can vary considerably, whereas shoes, for example, have universal sizings.

There are standard ways of capturing product scaling shots - by simply styling a handbag or necklace on a mannequin, or by showing a model wearing the items, the customer should get an immediate understanding of product sizing.

Another approach is to use props to help scale the product. This can be anything from showing how thin an iPad is by including a pencil in the shot, to placing a magazine inside a pocket of a handbag. Props also give the brand an opportunity to show a little personality too, which is never a bad thing.

 

iPad used a pencil in a scaling product shot to reinforce their point of difference

iPad used a pencil in a scaling product shot to reinforce their point of difference

Scaling shots can also be used to show product functionality: The M Bag highlighted a specially designed pocket in one of its clutches by shooting it with a New York subway card in it…

The M Bag injects some fun and charm into this product shot, while also giving a sense of size and functionality

The M Bag injects some fun and charm into this product shot, while also giving a sense of size and functionality

Or you can demonstrate the versatility of a bag by shooting it being worn over the shoulder, across the body or detached from the strap to be used as a clutch.

 

These 3 considerations may seem obvious; but it’s amazing how often brands neglect to implement them -usually seeing the incremental product photos as an unnecessary expense. But as we have learned, the potential lift in sales from the addition of one or two more looks can be worth the investment many times over.

It’s also worth remembering what exactly makes a good product photograph - or, how to identify a BAD photo. You can learn more about it here in our post on THE 4 C’S OF PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY

Any questions or thoughts? Please reach out to us at hello@thelinestudios.nyc, we'd love to hear from you.

 

Product Photography: The Magic of Retouching

The better the product photography, the better the product image and  - most importantly - the higher the sales conversion.
 
But the best images are only half finished when the shoot wraps.

Retouching plays an equally important role in making sure the products have that little bit of extra magic that makes customers take notice on an e-commerce site.

Many brands marvel at the glorious perfection of their competitors' products sitting pristinely on the page. But here’s a little secret – they almost certainly didn't come out of the bag or box looking that good. Even the best samples or products have been refined by the expert hand of a professional retoucher. Some may think it’s cheating; in reality it’s just an important factor in making something look its best, no different from a model using make-up or editorializing an image with props.

And the best, most magical retouching often goes unnoticed. Which is just as it should be.

At its most basic level, product photography retouching involves background clean-up, removal of dust, marks or small imperfections, and styling prop removal (the fishing wire, pins, clamps, etc used to hold-up or shape a product).

Retouching can also be used to actually create the ‘final’ product, especially when shooting samples. It can help fix a piece of hardware that is the wrong color, a pocket that will be removed in final production, or a logo that wasn’t sewn on correctly. Over time, we have done some pretty miraculous ‘facelifts’ on products for a few of our clients (though like any good plastic surgeon, we won't name names), like taking interiors from one bag and put them inside another, or changing the proportions of a clutch to create a shoulder bag. We’ve added logos, seams and zippers....the list goes on. This isn’t disingenuous, in fact it’s the opposite: it’s about making the product look accurate AND attractive.

But the best added value comes from the most nuanced retouching. It takes an experienced hand to make these final adjustments – ensuring the product shape is symmetrical, that the edges are all straight, the handles look neatly styled and formed, and the shadows are crisp and consistent. But never, ever crossing the fine line into territory that is too perfect or unrealistic.

And these slight, but final tweaks can take the product from looking okay to truly desirable.

If you have any questions or thoughts on the subject, we’ve love to hear! Please reach out directly to lindsay@thelinestudios.nyc

 

The 4 C’s of Product Photography (or, how to ID a bad photo)

A customer making a decision to buy your product online is depending almost entirely on the product photography. So how do you make sure your images are helping – not hurting – your chances of success?

Many brands have trouble judging whether or not they have strong images. We created a seminar with our partner platform, The Runthrough, to help brands develop a discerning eye, and now we're sharing it with you. 

Look for these 4 key elements to determine if you have an effective image, or are in need of some improvements:

Clarity, Color, Contrast, and Consistency.

These are critical components to a strong photo. And strong photos are critical because they can increase conversion, decrease returns and affect brand perception. 

 

CLARITY

Does the product look true to form?

If the customer makes a purchase, will they be surprised by what they see when the package arrives? In these examples, there is something off in each image that doesn’t allow the customer to fully understand how the product will look in real life. Understanding materials, textures and special features is important to help the customer make a decision. Making those details clear can also lead to more sales - that colorful silk lining, or special stitching on a seam, or functional extra strap, might tip the scale and increase their desire to hit the buy button.

Blog_4Cs_Clarity.jpg


COLOR

Is the color accurate?

Seems easy, but as you can see, sometimes colors shift when photographed. Bright, saturated tones and fluorescents usually alter when photographed, and need to be adjusted in post-production. Also, if you are using a background color, make sure it’s not reflecting onto the product, skewing the true color.
 

CONTRAST

Are there sufficient lights and darks to add depth?

In e-commerce photography, much of the valuable detail gets lost once the image gets uploaded to your site and ultimately viewed on someone’s monitor. Because of this, we always recommend "turning up the volume." Pushing the contrast on an image will help give it the definition it needs to pop off the page.

Lights, darks, metals and suede are just a few examples of some particularly tricky things to photograph. Suede, for instance, absorbs lots of light, while white can often reflect, losing important shape once uploaded.

 

CONSISTENCY

Are similar products treated consistently? Are sale pages looking cohesive and clean?

If you are styling two or more of the same products, be sure to keep the styling consistent, especially when talking about accessories like handbags and shoes. You want to give the customer a clear idea of how this product will look, so switching it up from piece to piece can cause confusion.

On-figure shots can sometimes benefit from the opposite approach. You may choose to show variety in the way a cardigan is styled, for instance, to help the customer visualize it closed or open, belted or loose, without having the take the extra click to the product detail page.

Sale pages are another area where we often see brands appear a little messy. Make sure crops and aspect ratios remain consistent, so that a customer can browse your product selection without distraction.

Alternatively, if you like a less consistent approach, this can also work very well - just be sure to plan it in advance of the shoot so that each image and crop is carefully considered.

Having product imagery that hits these 4 things perfectly will help your brand, and your business, succeed. 

If you have any questions or thoughts, please reach out to us. We would be more than happy to discuss the article as relates to you and your product photography.

Email us at hello@thelinestudios.nyc

 

Why We Exist

 

In the world of online shopping, imagery is king.

No surprises here. When selling a product, we ask our customers to make a decision based on images alone. No touching, no feeling, no trying on. The only thing we have is a 2-dimensional photo. So the product has to look incredible.  

But looking incredible is only half of it: the imagery has to be informative as well. It has to quickly and clearly deliver  all of the important product information and details so that the customer can make an informed decision on whether or not to buy.

How the images are produced is also critical. Capturing beautiful product shots can be very expensive for a company to sustain on a regular basis. All the back and forth trying to coordinate the shoot, deal with the product, the deliveries, talent, retouchers, asset tagging, etc. make it very costly from a time perspective too. Time and money spent like this are investments most companies cannot afford to make.

So for an image to be truly successful, it needs to be both effective - beautiful, impactful, and informative - and it needs to be produced in an efficient manner.

During our 7 years leading the Gilt production studios we pretty much earned a PhD in e-commerce photography. We learned where to push the creative process to find cost-savings without sacrificing quality. We learned how to express a brand’s unique DNA online, which often came up as one of the main reasons brands chose to work with us. And we learned how to use technology, analytics, sell-through and KPIs to strengthen the imagery and ultimately drive sales.

Then we realized how much our unique skills, talents and approach could benefit other brands looking to build their own strong and sustainable creative processes.

Brands have many challenges in today’s commerce landscape. Timelines from product conception through to sales are getting shorter and shorter. The typical 4 ‘seasons’ are being scattered throughout the year. The amount of content needed to connect with the customer is ever-increasing, but resources are not.

We formed The Line Studios to help brands address these challenges. We exist to partner with brands, and help them create the most impactful, effective imagery, using efficient production methods that can help grow their business. We believe that the strongest imagery should be built on knowledge and data, so we are always learning. And we use these learnings to develop the tools and processes that will help our brand partners succeed.