We've been shooting shoes for an Amazon store this week. This post lays out the workflow and discusses the principles that make an image successful for fashion on-line. There are two things that are more important than anything else in photographing footwear for e-commerce.
- Clarity (Uncluttered background, sharp focus)
- Detail (Depth of field)
When shoppers browse your product on Amazon, they see a large picture of the product itself and can zoom in to this and other shots represented as thumbnails alongside the main image. This replaces the ability to touch and feel a product in a high street shop, but done well can provide just as compelling an experience.
Amazon issue the following guidelines.
"Images submitted to Amazon must have at least 1000 pixels on the longest side, 1600 pixels preferred. If the minimum pixel dimension requirement is met then document size (inches, mm, points, etc), file data size (kb or MB size), bit count (8-bit, 16-bit, etc), and resolution (pixels/dots per inch), are not important. Each image must not exceed 10mb.The product should make up 85% of the image frame and only depict the actual product to be purchased.
Angled Shoe Image for Shoes - The shoe image must be provided, shot from the side and angled so that the buyer can see the full details of the shoe. Best practice is to have the shoe pointed to the left. Other views of the shoes, such as top-down and behind, may be provided as alternative images."
What this boils down to is the images need to load quickly into the browser and should be the sole focus of attention in the picture. For this reason we used a pure white background with only a little shadow to add depth to the picture and anchor the shoe in the frame.
The reason this is important to the selling potential is that it offers no distraction and allows the viewer to focus exclusively on one thing. Your product.
When photographing footwear for e-commerce, detail is king. Potential buyers want to examine the shoe closely. They want to touch it, but next best thing is a really detailed photograph.
In order to achieve the level of detail required, the image needs to be in focus from front to back. Think about that for a second, you need close up detail, enough to see the sticking and sufficient depth of field to view the entire shoe. There are a number of ways this can be achieved. The method chosen will be a compromise between budget and quality. In ascending order of expense, the methods include
- High f-stop - deep depth of field
- Tilt Shift Lens - change the plane of focus to accommodate the depth required.
- Focus Stacking
For shoes, you might get away with using a high f-stop, especially if your camera uses a crop sensor. You will lose some quality and detail in pushing the f-stop. How much is acceptable is your call.
Tilt Shift Lens
I use a Canon TS-E 90mm lens for larger objects and have achieved decent results with shoes. I can keep the lens at its sharpest in the range f8 - f11, thereby keeping the sharpness in the final image, but by tilting the lens towards the plane of the angels shot of the shoe, the depth of field can cover the whole item. Why does this push the cost up? Because its a specialist lens and doesn't get used for very much else apart from product photography!
This is the Rolls Royce solution. It will add hours and therefore cost to the shoot, but the results will be spectacular. This method produces pictures that scale up to reveal amazing detail all the way through the frame. It really is as good as holding the shoe in your own hands. I use a Canon 100mm Macro lens with a Novoflex Castel-L focusing rail. This is by some way the most robust solution on the market - and robust is what you need, the camera needs to be rock solid.
The way this works is I calculate the depth of field at a given f-stop and distance from object and then move the camera along the rail taking a series of overlapping photographs. The output for a shoe could be anywhere between five and twenty images depending on angle of shoe (actual depth required) and depth of field at my chosen f-stop.
Using software, I align and blend the images. I've used both Photoshop and HeliconFocus for this task and I think Photoshop does a better job of alignment when the angle of travel is anything other than horizontal.
Achieving the pure white background can be done two ways. Assuming a photographer is using a product table or an improvised infinity curve, the background can be evenly lit to the point of white-out. To do this without destroying the clarity of the product, position the shoe on a transparent surface, above the white surface being lit.
The second and more time consuming way is to do the background in post processing. In photoshop, copy the background layer and cut out the product. Invert the selection and delete the background. Go back to the original layer and Select by Colour Value to create a selection including the shadow thrown by the lights. Paste that selection into another layer. Finally create a fill layer of pure white and position that above your original layer and below your product cut out and shadow layers. Hey Presto!
In product photography workflow is critical. Because catalogue shoots are often paid per image, all the fat needs to be cut out of the process.
So remembering that consistency is key in product photography, first define the image. Then for each "pose"
- Photograph the collection
- Crop and Process the image and move as a photoshop file to a "Select" directory
- Export the image to the required dimension to a separate directory.
The benefit of this approach is that at Stage 1. It allows total consistency with the lighting and the position of the product in the frame. At Stage 2, Save as a photoshop file so that it is possible go back and alter detail in any of the layers once there is feedback from the client, without having to repeat the entire process. At Stage 3, the photographer can batch the conversion and have a well deserved cup of tea!
Editors Note: Retouching - e.g.. Removal of the thread in the footbed and cleaning up the heel is charged separately from the product shot. It's a lot more time intensive is why. I'll post the touched version of this in another article on...retouching!