360 photography – Put your Products in the Spotlight

If you want to get the advantage over your competitors online then its time to consider the user experience and offer your customers 360 photography

What we will cover

One of the advantages that bricks and mortar stores have over online marketplaces is that customers have the ability to handle a product physically, seeing it from every angle and feeling the quality.

While it’s clearly not possible to provide the same level of product experience, 360 photography and viewing software can at least enable potential buyers to virtually manipulate the object on screen. This can increase conversion levels to almost that of a physical shop.

These ‘click and drag’ rotational views are not as hard or expensive to create as you might think. Here is one method you can use in your own home office or studio space.

Get your kit together!

OK, first step is to collect together your equipment. We have tried to include both low and high end options to suit any budget.

The main kit you will need are a camera, tripod and turntable. Most cameras and tripods will be fit for purpose but, as with many things in life, spending a bit extra can be worth it. A manual turntable is perfectly sufficient and will mean you don’t need to invest in strobe lighting to counter motion blur. A turntable with 24 equally spaced notches cut into the edge is recommended (for reasons that will become clear later).

A remote control shutter release is also highly recommended as you don’t want to physically touch the equipment at all during a shoot if you can help it.

You will also need to invest in some lighting. For this method, continuous lighting is fine and you will need to have three lights (one for behind the product and one for either side).

Finally, you will need some sort of background paper and something sturdy to connect it to. You can do this on a shoestring budget by using art paper, a couple of crocodile clips and a cardboard box! Alternatively, professional background paper is available. The top of the paper is then clipped to a vertical surface and the paper allowed to bend naturally onto the horizontal surface (don’t make a crease). The turntable can then be placed on the paper before adding the product.

It’s all About the Settings

If you’re a pro or experienced amateur photographer you can probably skip this bit. If not, get ready! You’re about to get a crash course on product photography.

The number one rule with product photography is to use manual settings (often indicated by an ‘M’ on your camera). That means no image stabilisation, no auto white balance (AWB), no auto ISO – nothing. You need absolute consistency to avoid your product changing colour, brightness and position as your customer rotates it online.

First, less look at aperture – the hole through which light passes in your camera. The smaller the aperture, the less light will enter and the sharper your image will be. Setting an F8 aperture is often best.

Next, let’s adjust ISO. This governs how quickly your camera reacts to the light. Again, keep this low (around 100) to reduce the chance of a grainy image.

White balance affects how warm (orangey) or cool (bluey) the white background looks (yep, white’s not always white in photography land!). You will want to achieve the purest white possible without being too fussy (you can edit white balance later). A setting of around 3200k often works well.

Now you’re ready to experiment. With your aperture and ISO fixed, you can fine tune the image by altering the shutter speed and the distance between the product and lighting.

Remember the 24 notches on the turntable? These are used to ensure you have 24 equally spaced shots for your 360 photography image. This gives you a good balance between smoothness and page load speed (more frames means larger files and slower page load times). By the way, don’t make the common mistake of repeating the first frame at the end – that will cause your item to pause as your viewers rotate it.

For smaller files and faster editing, it is usually best to shoot in JPEG rather than RAW.

Editing and Viewing

Before your product is ready for viewing, it would benefit from some editing. We recommend using the batch editing facility on either Adobe Bridge (easier) or Adobe PhotoShop ActionScripts (better).

By adjusting the temperature, contrast and highlights options, you can achieve a pure, white, even background. You might also want to remove excessive space by cropping tighter to the product image.

Your images should now be ready to load into a 360° viewer app or software. There are many different options available but some may only be compatible with certain platforms or e-commerce stores. Contact Vu for more information on how to integrate product photography with your website.

Streamlining your System

If you are going to be doing a lot of 360 photography, it is worthwhile putting in the effort to create a replicable system. That way, anyone from your team would be able to set up a photo shoot with consistent results.

Consider creating a photo shoot manual in which you record all camera settings and dimensions (product height, distance of each light from the camera, distance of the camera from the product, etc.)

Ready to go? Lights, camera, action!

Vu Online offer various photography services including product photography, drone recordings and video footage if you want to be really smart with your time. Please let us know what you are looking for and we will find a solution that fits your needs and budget.

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