Good product photos can boost a small business. Weebly is trying to help. – Vox.com | Ad On Picture

When you walk around all day with a camera (i.e. a smartphone) in your pocket, taking photos whenever you feel like it, and using photo-sharing apps like Instagram a lot, it’s very easy to assume you’re decent – Possibly Excellent—Image Maker. But while many of us are experts at capturing the layers of our own faces, we’d have a lot more trouble getting a really good, clear shot of an object against a plain background.

For people with small online businesses who take care of their own manufacturing, marketing, accounting, and shipping, creating professional-looking product photos is often a major hurdle. The stakes are high: when you’re shopping online you want to see that candle, scarf or necklace as clearly as possible and, subconsciously or not, poor lighting and blurry images can prevent you from hitting the buy button to click.

But getting the perfect shot can be difficult. Space restrictions, camera quality, access to natural or artificial light, and even the weather can be obstacles.

“The photography was definitely a challenge in the beginning because I felt my images were too dark [and] didn’t present my product in the best possible way,” says Emilie Bourge, who sells calligraphy posters on Etsy. “I researched online to gather best practices and one of the biggest takeaways was to have a white background and a very well lit area to really make the product stand out. That was a bit of a problem because I live in Chicago and the sun sets at 4pm in the winter, so I could only do product photography on the weekends.”

Anna Been, a knitter with an Etsy shop, says it was initially difficult to get usable product photos. Your first product pictures were taken by a friend with a good cell phone camera during her lunch break.

“One of the things that struck me about Etsy shops was that they often had a pretty consistent background in their photos, or at least a similar style across them all,” says Been. “I started taking selfies in front of my childhood home, which had a beautiful, simple wood pattern. The only thing that sucks is that I don’t live there anymore, I have to pack my car with new stuff and make a pilgrimage to their house to take pictures.”

Macaroni Vintage’s Gwyneth Jonnes first photographed clothes in natural light in front of a white door in her parents’ attic.
Gwyneth Jones

A yellow dress and matching cropped jacket on a tailor's dummy in front of a slate-colored wall.

In her new setup, Jonne’s clothing shoots against a neutral wall with artificial lighting.
Gwyneth Jones

The learning curve is steep, but some sellers, like Been, take it upon themselves because they can’t afford to hire a professional photographer. Gwyneth Jonnes, who runs an online vintage shop with her mother in her free time, says they wouldn’t make a profit investing in professionally made images. They started by photographing clothes in natural light in front of a white door and have since invested in a lighting setup and painted a wall a neutral tone for the product photography.

And getting it right can pay off. Website platform Weebly, which Square acquired for $365 million earlier this year, has just launched a photo studio service for small online businesses. Sellers can send in their products, and for $75 per item, Weebly will return retouched, professional photos with the background color of your choice. (Sellers pay to send items in, and Weebly pays for return shipping.) Based on the limited results of its beta test, Weebly says some sellers saw sales increases of more than 80 percent after uploading the new photos.

Weebly began working on this service — which isn’t just for Weebly users — after surveying sellers and realizing that photography was a major pain point for them.

“What’s interesting is that most people think photography will be okay. We all see ourselves as mini-photographers,” says CEO David Rusenko on the phone. “People think shipping will be difficult. It’s the other way around.”

A pair of sunburst earrings and a ceramic bowl with a ruffled white exterior and a blue glaze interior.

Weebly’s product photography for Phineas Rose Studios and Element Clay Studio.
Weebly

After photographing products in a conference room at its offices and later in a closet at Square’s headquarters, Weebly moved its photography operations to a small storefront in New York’s Soho. On a recent afternoon, a photographer snapped a necklace that the maker had filled with her mother’s ashes. Behind him were robes, essential oils, and bows that other vendors had sent in for photographs. Each time he clicked on his camera, the images appeared on a monitor behind him, sharp and vivid against a white background.

For some sellers, paying $75 to drastically enhance their product photos can make perfect sense, especially when it increases sales by such a large factor. (As it produces photos for more vendors, Weebly is trying to refine its data around corresponding sales growth.) For those who want a greater level of creative control — Vendors can’t artistically direct their Weebly photo shoots, although they can Notes on the shots they want – or who are on a lower budget, maybe DIY is still the step.

“Photos on Etsy range from very basic, horribly lit hangers to people who own their own shops and have a full studio,” says Jonnes, who says she wouldn’t use a service like Weebly’s. “We’re somewhere in the middle. I always try to take accurate color and close-up shots, making sure I get all angles and all flaws. You don’t have to be a photo expert to know that every online shopper wants to see as much detail as possible with an honest description.”

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