The Science of Product Imagery

Well considered product imagery is vital for adding immediate appeal to your online shop and to encourage sales by empowering shoppers. It doesn’t always have to be super flash, slick and professional, but presenting products clearly and consistently, and in a way that complements your brand, will help your site go a long way.

Here are some of the important things to consider.

Planes, trains and online shops

When you think about motor vehicle advertising or beverage marketing, in fact just about all consumer goods, there is a formula that has always worked and probably always will. Though some unorthodox campaigns have pushed brands outside the square and created strong differentiation, they usually still rely on beautiful product imagery for ultimate sex appeal.

A lot of effort goes in to shooting a car at just the right angle in just the right light to maximise its desirability. Location shots are mostly done in the magic hour, between sunset and nighttime, when the sky momentarily becomes a clear smooth canvas and there are no harsh reflections. The result is a smooth soft effect that accentuates the profile and detailing of the vehicle. Soft drinks and many alcoholic beverages are typically shot to look like they have just been pulled from the fridge with the crisp condensation meticulously captured to maximize the thirst quenching appeal of the product.

With an online shop the principles are the same, you want to make the product look good. For large product inventories, however, it may not always be pragmatic to think too artistically in which case you just need to get the fundamentals right like good lighting, background and focus. Another approach is to focus your efforts on some powerful ‘hero’ shots to use in a homepage slideshow and/or for header images relating to specific product ranges to create the ‘wow’ factor and then keep your product images very clean and simple. For hero shots it can be a great opportunity to show the product in use or in situ to introduce a feeling of the lifestyle and emotional triggers associated with your goods.

hammock shop hero imagery

Hammock Shop do a great job of this using professionally art directed product imagery throughout their site to capture the feelings of relaxation and tranquility that come with every hammock they sell. It’s a good example of consideration for the end-use benefit rather than focusing purely on the physical good. If you asked them, Hammock Shop would probably say that they don’t sell hammocks, they sell ‘escapism in your own home’, this is certainly the feeling you get from looking through their site.

Even if branding and design isn’t a big feature of your business it all helps with the ‘value equation’ that customers make up in their own minds. To put it another way, if the price is set, then the more desirable looking the product, the better value that price will become, and the better the perceived value, the more inclined someone will be to make a purchase. Any object can be made to look beautiful and more desirable. With the right lighting and focus even a paper clip can be made to look like an object of beauty.

Clarity = confidence = action

The other primary function of product imagery is to empower shoppers with a strong understanding of exactly what they are buying. For more complex products the descriptions, details and specs are equally as important, but even in these situations, a clear image of what you are getting will make the product more tangible and accessible and ultimately help shoppers feel more confident about their purchase. Apple have always understood this well showing their products from multiple angles, much like a motor vehicle, so you have a really comprehensive understanding of the product design and hardware, alongside the technical specs.  Clear images really help shoppers browse and filter through products quickly so at the very least, sex-appeal aside, it is important to have a clear image associated with each and every product.


Aftershake is a shop that specialises in selling emergency kits. Their emphasis is designing and assembling kits to cater for a range of households and workplaces. They rightfully don’t place a huge emphasis on the ‘style’ of the kits as they are the sort of thing that sit quietly in a dark cupboard for most of the time. They clearly list all the contents of each kit and arguably this is all the information you need but in addition they include an image of all the things you are getting. They are not beautifully composed images but they are clear and functional and provide an immediate tangible understanding of what you get in each pack.

The Village Goldsmith do a superb job of covering all bases, presenting their product range professionally and cleanly but also mixing it up with some stunning talent shots that bring the various pieces to life. They strike the right balance of clean functional imagery with sex appeal so you have a good technical understanding about each piece as well as a strong emotional connection to the business and its sub-brands through clever talent shots akin to the evocative world of high-end fashion.

Store catalogs are consistent for good reason

The final consideration is ensuring your products are consistently presented. You can be intentionally inconsistent if you wish to create different styles or mood shifts for different product ranges. Shops that do this well are super consistent when it comes to presenting the products in each range so it’s clear they belong together and have a unified purpose or character. Consistent imagery not only helps build a stronger brand but, by eliminating variables, it makes it much easier to compare products. If shoppers experience a greater sense of ease and control browsing through a shop then they are more likely to make a purchase.

Besides consistent lighting, camera setup and orientation/cropping, you can consider the background as a blank canvas to get really creative and define a really unique and consistent feel for your product range. As a rule of thumb, the more intricate and involved your product the cleaner you probably want the background to be, but for simple product ranges and more boutique style stores it can add a whole lot of interest and personality that can enhance the shopping experience.  For my own shop I use location imagery to bring the concepts of each t-shirt to life. Blossom and Bulldog uses an eye catching yet consistent composition for their product images to support the unique scent of each candle. For some product ranges this approach would be inappropriate and distracting but for this store it really feels right.


Though well-considered product imagery can offer an effective way to seduce customers it won’t turn you into an overnight business success without attending to all the other aspects of your shop design and marketing activities, so it would be a mistake to think this will be a magic bullet. But if you are serious about converting site visitors to active shoppers, then it really is worth investing some time and professional help, if required, to make the most of this opportunity, and get creative and have some fun at the same time.


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