How to take product photos with your smartphone

how-to-take-product-photos-with-your-smartphoneA great product image is essential if you want to sell your goodies online. But we can’t all afford to have professional photos taken, and manufacturers’ photos can be a bit, well… dull, can’t they.

Take heart – you can DIY and create your own quality, hi resolution images! This is especially handy if you add to your collections continually.


This post is about taking decent photos with a decent smartphone. A real digital camera is better, but a good one costs a bit. You can use your smartphone camera with good effect if it’s over 8 megapixels.


Smartphone SLR-style apps can give you greater flexibility so you can take better photos. However, don’t use a really creative photography app for product images. They’re great fun for blogs or editorial, but they won’t do you any favours when your web visitors are trying to decide whether or not to buy your goods.

Invest in a simple camera mount to avoid shaky images, and consider buying two good removable lenses (yes you can get them for smartphones!). A separate zoom lens will give you better-detailed product shots than a ‘digital’ (in camera) zoom, and a wide-angle lens is best when including backgrounds.

Photo background

Talking of backgrounds, you’ll need at least two types for your product photos – a sharp, high quality close up and a more creative and editorial version.

For a standard ‘studio’ product shot, use a solid, plain background, like large sheet of white paper. There’s good illustration of how to set this up in brokenarts’s blog.

For a more creative shot, place your product in context, like the kitchen or illustrating its uses, and shoot the whole thing.


For natural lighting, choose a well-lit spot without direct sunlight. Turn off any room lights and use a mirror or white boards to reflect some daylight onto your product.

For a studio effect, make a backdrop of a plain piece of white paper as described above. Turn off the overhead lights and use regular lamps either side of the object to provide ‘spotlighting’. You will need to move them around to get the best lighting effect and avoid dark areas on the product or shadows on the paper.

Whatever lighting you use, make you capture the right colour of the product in your photos.

Image editing

We live in the heady days of cloud software, and free photo-editing tools are available to help you tweak your photos manually. The design industry standard is Photoshop, but it’s rather expensive. I use pixlr, but I’ll cover a few other free image optimisation tools in a future post.

Whatever software you choose, keep your editing simple and don’t alter the colour of your product. You also don’t need to re-size your images as Spiffy Stores automatically re-sizes them to fit in different areas of your store.

Have fun experimenting with photography on your smartphone!

Gmail is playing Hide and Seek with your store’s emails


Have you noticed more of your email offers and store updates are going unread lately? Are you not feeling the love? Take heart. It may not be your fault.

What happened?

Google loves to challenge the status quo, the cheeky rascal. Recently, it turned its attention to the humble email and the result has been a big change to the way emails are received in a Gmail inbox.

In an attempt to reduce inbox stress, Gmail now automatically categorises your incoming emails and moves them into new folders. The traditional inbox has been split into three tabbed sections to accommodate this – ‘Primary’, ‘Social’ and ‘Promotions’.

The Primary tab is always on display and is intended to collect email from close connections, like your friends and family. The Social tab will capture emails from social networking sites, such as updates and friend requests, and Promotions is where you will find commercial emails such as yours. And ours. Hmmm.

Why it’s an important change

Emails from your ecommerce site, like your newsletter or special offer, won’t land in the main inbox, but will be diverted to the Promotions tab where they can be easily missed. Or they could languish there for days if the user deems Promotions a less important tab.

The result? Your customers and subscribers may be blissfully unaware of your latest news or offer. Not great for generating interest in your 24 hr sale or a subscription confirmation.

What you can do now

1. Don’t panic. The latest intel from the big email companies shows that although it seems to be impacting open rates, the drop is fairly minimal.

2. If you use Gmail yourself, you need to ensure important emails like messages about your Spiffy Stores account are delivered straight to your Primary tab. To do this, check the other tabs regularly and drag any emails you’d prefer not to miss into the Primary tab. You will be asked if you always want emails from that sender in that tab. Just say yes.

3. Check your mailing and customer lists. How many of them are using a Gmail account? Send them an email asking them to do #2 above. It’ll go into their Promotions tab but hey, they’ll find it eventually.

4. Add a note to the thank you or confirmation pages on your website reminding the user to check their Promotions tab for any resulting emails if they use Gmail.

5. Make your emails even more unmissable. Pack them to the rafters with quality information or offers, spin a humdinger of a subject line and have your subscribers chomping at the bit to read them.

For more information about Gmail’s tabbed inbox, check out the low down from the big G here.

15 Minute Marketing: Promote your online store in 15 minutes a day

15-minute-marketing-promote-your-online-store-in-15-minutes-a-dayJamie Oliver was on to something when he created nutritious meals that busy families could make in 30 minutes (although it always takes me a bit longer). It was a breakthrough in weeknight cooking and stores sold millions of his cookbooks to hungry, time-poor cooks worldwide.

When the public cried out for more, he went one step further. He created a collection of dishes that can be prepared in just 15 minutes, proving once and for all that lack of time was not an excuse for making a decent meal.

In homage to Mr O, I’d like to show you that you too can ‘feed’ your online store in a similarly short amount of time using social media.

My guide to promoting your store in just 15 minutes per day focuses on the main social networks I think online retailers should be using. Ideally, you’ll jump in and check your streams more than once a day, but this is a good framework to make sure you share a morsel every day.

First, set up tools for speed and efficiency

Just as the time-saving blender and food processor are key to Jamie’s meals, so you will need tools to help streamline your activities.

Bring all your social media accounts together in one management tool to make them easier to control. I use the ever-popular Hootsuite.

Next, gather your ingredients

Don’t be stuck for something to say – have content coming to you daily in a steady stream. Set up Google Alerts and Social Mention alerts to get regular emails of newly published content containing your keywords.

I also use Feedly to collate new daily content from my favourite blogs and websites, and Evernote to tag and save anything cool I find on the web for later use.

It’s worth mentioning Instagram photo app at this point too. This is a quick way to create attractive photos you can use on your website or post on the social media channels below.

Now, set the timer for 15 minutes and let’s go!

  • Twitter – respond to any direct queries, flick through your stream and retweet something of interest, tweet something of your own and follow a couple of new people. Check if you can use any trending hashtags in your tweets.
  • Facebook business page – respond to any new comments, like any good content that’s been posted, and share a new post.
  • Pinterest – respond to any comments on your pins, repin a cool image, and add a couple of new pics yourself.
  • Google+ – check your feed for good content to +1 and post one piece of new content. Follow one new account.

OK, I admit you may not get through all that in 15 minutes, especially at first, but following this short daily routine will help you keep your social conversations under control and build your store’s online following.

Use creative photography to bring your online store to life

As well as the realistic, hi quality photos you need to sell your products, you can bring bags of personality to your business by adding more creative imagery. Snaps of staff at work, artistic ‘still life’ arrangements and other editorial shots can all help lift your store from a simple online catalogue to a business with soul.

Now you’re probably wondering how the hell you can do that with no budget and no specialist skills, but take heart. Help is at hand!

Let me introduce you to the hugely popular Smartphone app, Instagram, a photography tool with its own social network. Its 100 million users share over 40 million photos each day, so it’s constantly buzzing with visual activity.

I’m a huge fan. I use it to capture everything from birthday parties and favourite meals to the beautiful things I see in an otherwise dull day. The filters instantly turn my standard photos into the colourful and inspiring images that you might see in a high-end magazine.

Road to CachiHere’s a before and after from my own holiday snaps.

The photo on the left is taken directly with my iPhone. It looks a bit flat, doesn’t it? Now look at the one below with an Instagram filter applied. Instant va va voom!

Road to Cachi InstagramNot just a pretty picture, reach a new global audience

Instagram effortlessly brings your photos to an image-hungry audience of millions. The photos you take are shared straight away with your Instagram community and can be posted to other networks like facebook and twitter. And just like facebook, you can tag your photos, follow other people, like their photos and make comments.

Your photos can also be downloaded from your phone, so you can use them in lots of other ways like on your blog or website. I’ve also read that Instagram pics are very popular on Pinterest.

To make it even more irresistible, Instagram has just made it possible to record video. You can take up to 15 seconds of video on your phone, apply one of their famous filters and share it with your social networks. I can see endless opportunities here for a short clip of your products in use, or behind-the-scenes footage of your business. At the moment, there’s no easy way to embed an Instagram video into your webpage, but that will no doubt be covered by some clever little tool soon.

Here’s an example of online retailer “the Iconic” using Instagram on their blog.

If you’re looking to inject some creative style into your online store and showcase your products to a worldwide audience at the same time, check out Instagram. You can read how to set up an account for a business here.