5 Tips for Product Photography from Viral Launch Lead Photographer Dustin Kessler (Follow the Data Ep. 21)

5 Tips for Product Photography from Viral Launch Lead Photographer Dustin Kessler (Follow the Data Ep. 21)

Having high-quality images of your product is integral to your success on Amazon. Photos can make or break your sales, especially in the age of Amazon where the primary indication of what your product is like comes from your photos. Join host Cameron Yoder for a conversation with Lead Viral Launch Photographer Dustin Kessler where he reveals 5 tips for creating better Amazon photos. 

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Follow the Data Show Notes

Podcast Transcript

CAMERON YODER:
To click or not to click, that is the question. Really, though, that’s the question that shoppers are asking themselves as they scroll through Amazon search results. And one of their main considerations as their eyes quickly pass over the page is product photography. Having high-quality images of your product is integral to your success on Amazon, encouraging shoppers to click and convincing them to purchase. Photos can make or break your sales, especially in the age of Amazon where the primary indication of what your product is like comes from your photos.

I’m Cameron Yoder, your host for Follow the Data: Your Journey to Amazon FBA Success. In this show we leverage the data we’ve accumulated at Viral Launch from over 30,000 product launches and our experience working with 6500 brands to help you understand the big picture when it comes to Amazon and, more importantly, the best practices for success as an Amazon seller.
In today’s episode I sit down with our lead photographer, Dustin Kessler, to talk about the best practices for product photography, what to do, what not to do and why a professional photographer is worth the investment. Let’s jump in.
Dustin, how are you doing today?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I’m doing pretty good. It’s a Friday, and we’re killing at the office, getting a lot of stuff done. Excited to be here.

CAMERON YODER:
Dustin is excited to be here. We are killing at the office. We’re in a time of transition right now. We’re actually doing some construction on the office, opening up the space a little bit as our team continues to grow.

So Dustin, I want to introduce Dustin a little bit, and then I’m going to have him talk about himself just a little bit, too, but Dustin is our lead photographer at Viral Launch, and he has over a decade of experience in commercial photography specifically. And he’s worked with clients ranging from local coffee shops to Fortune 500 companies like Samsung and Walmart. It’s pretty crazy. He’s also done a ton of product photography with Amazon and Viral Launch specifically. So Dustin, maybe intro yourself a little bit. Also maybe answer first how many products do you think you’ve shot for Amazon specifically?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
For Amazon specifically I would probably say – I mean it’s definitely in the hundreds if not more than that, but I kind of – you know, I got into photography over 10 years ago now, just kind of picked it up as a hobby, really, really enjoyed it, started doing a lot of research. I’m the type of person when I get into something I really just like throw my entire self into it and learn as much as I can. So I picked it up in high school, ended up going to college for it, and about halfway through college I fell in love with just the idea of commercial photography, of telling a story through a scene, a product, lifestyle from the automotive field, to product, to fashion, whatever it was, just that entire commercial realm is kind of what I fell in love with. So it’s been a really interesting journey since then. I’ve done a lot of different things from, you know, just local coffee shops, helping them grow and helping them, you know, have this visual presence in this digital age, whether it’s through social media, or ad campaigns, email campaigns, anything like that, to working with, you know, huge Fortune 500 companies like Samsung and Walmart and others just to name a few. But it’s been a great journey, and I’m excited to be at Viral Launch, and we’ve done a lot of great things for a lot of great people. So looking forward to continuing that.

CAMERON YODER:
Yeah, I think one thing that a lot of people forget, especially in this space – well, a lot of people kind of forget to, number one, get a hold of fantastic photos.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Sure.

CAMERON YODER:
But also the importance of telling a story with photos is something that not a lot of people know of, and that’s something that – I mean you, you are really passionate about, but it’s something that is hard for people in, I think that are selling on Amazon, to really see. And so today I’m really excited to kind of just pick Dustin’s brain for all of our listeners when it comes to photography specifically on Amazon because this is a space that’s really important. It’s something that’s going to capture your audience’s attention first on Amazon, one of the first things that they see. So Dustin, if you could, maybe break down a handful of tips that you have for us. What would be maybe one of your first tips that you would tell people, that you would tell our audience when it comes to photography on Amazon?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
So with Amazon, you know, you don’t have a physical product in front of you, right? You only see – you only see what the seller is showing you through their listing, whether it’s your photos or it’s your text, whatever it is. So you don’t have that product in front of you. You can’t have it in your hands. You can’t have that like tactile like oh, this is what the product is, right? So the biggest thing when it comes to e-commerce photography, and in this case Amazon photography specifically, is you have to be able to tell a story with your product, right? You have to be able to show your product in a way that makes people relate to it, makes people think oh yeah, I can definitely see that product in my house. I can see that product in my life being used for whatever purposes I decide to use it for. And you know, if you have – if you just have that main image, that main studio white background image, yeah, it could be the nicest main image in the world, but if you have nothing to follow it up with, you know, what story is that telling people? What is that relating to people? It’s just saying hey, here’s a product, right?

CAMERON YODER:
So that story then, that story is what evokes an emotional response, right? So the whole – this kind of falls into the idea that your photography should evoke an emotional response from a customer looking at your photos. And so is that accomplished then by the story, essentially?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I would definitely say so. You know, there’s that phrase that a picture says a thousand words. When it comes to product photography and telling a story through your product it’s not as much you as the seller saying these thousand words. You want your photos to say that. You want your photos to develop the story of their own and evoke that emotional response within the potential buyers because each buyer is going to be different. They’re going to look at the same products and the same story that you present, but if it doesn’t tell the story of your product well enough it’s not going to relate with them.

CAMERON YODER:
I do – I want to focus on this a lot because I think this is maybe – this is a very important aspect of product photography on Amazon. Could you give us – I see maybe listeners asking, okay, or telling themselves hey, okay, now I know that I should tell a story with my product, but can you give us like a comparable example of what that would be just for any random, like any random product on Amazon, what would telling a story for something like, I don’t know, oven mitts or like a grill brush look like?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
So we’ll take – we’ll take like the grill brush, for an example. You – per Amazon’s terms of service obviously you have to have a white background image as your main image, and at the end of the day there’s only so many ways that you can, you know, that you can slice that cake for the main image. You can pose it different ways, try to fill up as much of the frame, have like a badge on there, even though that’s a whole other, that’s a whole other story in itself. But there’s only so many ways that you can do that main hero image. But if you light it correctly, make sure it’s good, the product is in focus, like those are the main pillars for that main image. But then once you get into that story itself with those images with this grill brush, like there are so many different ways that you can use this product, right? Whether it’s, you know, getting flavor onto chicken as its grilling, or a burger, or a steak, whatever you’re using on the grill. Like there’s so many different ways that you can use it, and being able to tell that story of those uses is really important. But you also have to remember other aspects of the product. Is it dishwasher safe? Is it, you know, is there a certain temperature of liquid, stuff like that, where most people when they’re just taking a picture of their product they’re like okay, I’m going to take a picture of the product out of the box, in the box and then maybe next to a grill, right? There are so many different ways that you can show that product in use and tell that visual story.

CAMERON YODER:
Do you think there’s a – is there a benefit to telling that story through like a linear progression of how it’s used, so like oh, you open up the grill, like you put the grill brush in the grill, you wash the grill brush after, whatever? What do you think; is there a method to having a linear progression, or not necessarily?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I think there’s definitely a lot to say for having that linear method of photos. That’s one thing that we do for our clients specifically is when we send them out a photo set, a completed photo set, we generally try to lay out the photos in what the best story that we feel would look like. And you know, say hey, upload these photos in this order and see what your conversions are like in this way. At the end of the day it’s each person’s prerogative whether or not they put it in that order. I think there is something to be said for that story, though, in that order because it, you know, it shows somebody something from start to finish.

CAMERON YODER:
Right.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
It’s like reading a visual book where you open page one, and you’re like okay this is the product. Open page two, this is where you start using the product. And by the end you see the entire progression of that story.

CAMERON YODER:
That’s good. So okay, tip number one, tell a story. What about, what’s another tip?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I would say something that a lot of people don’t necessarily think about, and this may just be because people aren’t trained to think this way, is correctly lighting your product. There’s a lot – there’s a lot that goes into photographing products so features stick out, but also making sure that just the product overall looks very appealing. You can have a beautiful looking product, but if you shoot it and light it incorrectly it could look really boring. It could look – the image can look really flat. There could be, you know, no emotion evoked from that image, and that’s not something you want to do. Another thing that like in this digital age that we see people doing is the convenience of having cell phones with pretty good cameras, honestly, is both a blessing and a curse. But in the Amazon space I would go with the latter because you can take a photo of your product on your phone. It will look great, you know, it will look nice and crisp and bright, but that’s on your phone. Once you get it on to Amazon and you put it next to professional photographs, you know, maybe your background isn’t completely white. Maybe it doesn’t stick out as much. Maybe it isn’t quite as in focus as you thought. So there’s these things that are convenient for everyday life that aren’t necessarily convenient for product photography on Amazon. Because if you have a cell phone photo next to a professional photograph you’re going to tell a difference.

CAMERON YODER:
Oh yeah, absolutely.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Especially with the white background photos.

CAMERON YODER:
Let’s say someone – let’s say someone listening bought, like just bought a starter kit, like a photography lighting starter kit. So they have maybe a handful of semi-good, semi-good equipment to use for product photography, but they’re not the best, maybe the most professional photographer, but they have good, like decent lighting equipment. What’s a really simple recommendation that you would give them on how to really just enhance or make the most of simple lighting equipment?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
So generally most like photography studio starter kits are a white like backdrop box, which most of the time we call a lightbox in the industry, two to three lights that they can set up, and obviously whatever camera they’re using, right? So that’s generally the starter package for when people buy like basic studio equipment. I would say YouTube is your best friend, especially if you’re the type of person that you’re eager to learn, you’re willing to do and put the work in that is required to learn these things to better your Amazon business. YouTube is definitely your friend. Look up lighting tutorials and stuff like that for product photography specifically because there’s going to be a difference between, you know, lighting a portrait and then lighting a bottle, right? It’s just going to look completely different. So I would definitely suggest people, you know, jump on YouTube. Go spend 30 minutes a day and learn because at the end of the day learning more stuff is not a bad thing.

CAMERON YODER:
Right, right. That’s right. Well, okay, what about, what’s another general tip that you would give everybody?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
So this is a tip that I think a lot of people kind of overlook, and it is don’t overload all of your images with text and graphics. This is something that we see sellers doing all the time on Amazon, whether it’s on your main image, which if you put text and graphics on your main image you run the possibility of getting it flagged and taken down. Obviously nobody wants that. But just in general, in the rest of your photo stack on Amazon having so many words and all this text and all these graphics and callouts, like for some products it’s beneficial, but that’s the minority of products. At the end of the day your photos should speak for themselves.

CAMERON YODER:
Where is the line? What is too much?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I think too much is when you’re trying to basically copy every single one of your bullet points and put it on all of your photos, and I think that a lot of people try to do that. They try to condense their bullet points into – or don’t, or just literally copy their bullet points and put it on the photos. Or for like a mop with, you know, a telescoping handle, you don’t necessarily need to show a photo that has six additional detail photos of how to turn the handle. It’s pretty intuitive, right?

CAMERON YODER:
Yeah, it is.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
And there’s always – there’s always room for putting that text and putting those extra graphics on like a card that you put in the box. That’s how a lot of instruction manuals in most products in retail stores or companies that have been doing products for, you know, 40, 50 years, they have instruction manuals for a reason. You don’t necessarily have to have an instruction manual in your photo stack, and a lot of people get hung up on trying to explain so much about their product when 99% of people are going to be able to figure it out on their own. And it distracts from the image, and it gives you less room to tell that story and evoke that emotional response like we talked about at the beginning. And if you are not evoking that emotional response right away you’ve already lost that person. You only have a couple seconds to effectively communicate what your product is and what it’s about and really relate to that person. And if it’s – you know, if somebody’s looking at a photo and they’re not sure where to look because there’s text everywhere, you’ve already lost their interest.

CAMERON YODER:
This is one specific area that I think a large majority of sellers on Amazon that have graphics fall into, text or graphics overlaying in images, fall into the category of it being a bit much, right, of it being too much.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Absolutely.

CAMERON YODER:
So if you’re going to include text or graphics in your images I would really encourage you to be really intentional about it. Ask yourself if you need that text or if you need that graphic. Again, it can work really well, but since most sellers seem to fall in the latter category of it being a bit much I would really be careful with how you use it.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
And I would recommend like – some of the text and graphics that I see as beneficial are actually things that don’t necessarily relate to the product specifically, but more the seller in the sense of okay, if you have a product in a market that you see competitors with reviews about getting, about products being returned because of, you know, an issue or a defect or something like that and it seems to be a consistent trend, if you’re going to make it your company policy to have, you know, a moneyback guarantee maybe throw that up there as a graphic on one of your photos in your stack. Things like that I can see being beneficial, but trying to take your entire listing and throw it on your product in the graphics just, it looks tacky, and it looks like an ad, and it doesn’t evoke an emotional response at all.

CAMERON YODER:
All right. What’s tip number four?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
You get what you pay for. Quality is definitely worth the money. You can look up plenty of examples of, you know, big Fortune 500 companies skimping out on photographs. They’ll just hire, you know, somebody with a camera. They won’t do their homework on them. They won’t set a standard for what is worth the money and what isn’t. And it starts to go down a very slippery slope of who can I pay the cheapest amount of money just to get photos done.

CAMERON YODER:
What would your vetting process be? What would your vetting process – let’s say you’re not spending – let’s say you want to save money and you don’t want to spend an absurd amount of money on a professional photographer, but you still want really good quality. What would your vetting process be for good photographers?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Definitely the way that people present themselves. Do your homework. That’s the biggest thing. Do your homework and shop around. If you go to a photographer’s website and you see some photos that you really like, do you think it can translate into your product? That’s a big thing of okay, I found this incredible wedding photographer. She’s awesome, or maybe it’s a person that shot your wedding. Photos turned out amazing, but there’s no way that they could, you know, translate that into photography for your specific product. So definitely look for people that are well versed with product photography. It’s worth the time to do your homework and shop around because if you just hire any photographer they could be great in one area but not great for your product.

CAMERON YODER:
Really like if you have – if your goal is to increase your sales and you have just bad photos it’s not going to happen, right?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Right, exactly.

CAMERON YODER:
Right.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
And then you’re going to be, you know, you’re going to have paid for the service. You’re going to have paid for these photos, and you’re not going to improve your business at all. So it’s worth the time to wait a little bit to find the right photos or the right photographer, I should say, than just paying somebody to do your photos because you’re essentially losing money at that point. Photography is an investment.

CAMERON YODER:
Yes.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
And if you’re going to put money into an investment you want to make sure that you have the most probability to win at the end of the day.

CAMERON YODER:
I like to think of it like this. Think about how you’re paying for photos one time. It’s not a subscription. It’s not anything like that. It’s a single payment, and sure, it might be an initial upfront investment for you. However, think about how much more money you’re going to make after the fact you have these photos in hand, and customers seeing these professional photos done, think of how many more customers are going to buy your product because of those photos. It’s an upfront investment, but it’s going to make you so much more money and save you so much more time than the alternative, which is not having professional photos done. So tip number four, quality photos. Do you have anything else you wanted to add to that?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
To that, just kind of to make an example I guess for a lot of people listening, kind of going to bring back that wedding photography. A lot of people have experience with wedding photography in the sense that either they know somebody that’s had wedding photography done, they’ve had it done themselves, whichever it is. If you hire a really good wedding photographer the images that you get back you’re going to remember forever. If you hire a not so great wedding photographer and the images you get back are subpar, you’re going to remember your day. You’re not going to remember the photos. And it’s the same with product photography. If you hire somebody just to take photos of your product, potential buyers, they’ll click on it, and then they’re going to forget the image. If you hire somebody who knows what they’re doing and can tell an emotional story with your product and elicit that response, those people are going to remember that photo, which means they’re going to remember your product. So kind of to draw all back to that, like quality is worth the money, especially to make sure people remember who you are.

CAMERON YODER:
That’s good. What about, what’s your next tip? What’s the last tip you have?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Brand perception can go a really, really long way with photos. Just a visual, just a visual overall, whether it’s photos or package design when somebody opens up a box, they’re very similar in the sense that you can really kind of put yourself on a pedestal as opposed to just on a shelf with everybody else. You can spend that initial investment, get those great photos, make people perceive that your product is really, really good. But if you don’t invest that money and that time into finding somebody that’s worthwhile to hire to do your photos, your brand perception is going to definitely hurt from that. And you can make yourself look really, really good, or you can make yourself look really, really bad. Like I said before, you could have the most beautiful, high-quality product on Amazon, but if you have terrible photos of it people are going to think it’s a terrible product.

CAMERON YODER:
That’s good. Perception of brand bleeds into perception of product, right? It’s all connected. What is the takeaway from all of this? From these five tips, what is a big takeaway for people?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Hire a professional. If your engine needs to be replaced and you know nothing about cars you’re going to take it to a mechanic. If you need photos and you’re not a professional photographer or you’re not super excited about learning how to become a professional or at least put yourself at a professional level, hire a professional. It will save you so much time and money. It will save you credibility with your product, and it will give you a much better brand perception.

CAMERON YODER:
That’s really good. Five tips – five tips that really encompass, I think, again what Dustin said, the importance of photography and the importance to really hire a professional, but not only a professional, but a good professional when it comes to product photography specifically. So Dustin, can you actually – a couple more things. Can you touch on how your work with larger companies, like we said in the intro, with something like companies like Samsung and Walmart, can you touch on how work with them has really helped your product photography with Amazon in the Amazon space?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
A lot of times that I’ve done larger gigs for, you know, Fortune 500 companies, these bigger clients that have this significantly larger budget, you start to look at all of these things that go on behind the scenes in the shoot, and you’re like okay, how can I kind of like roll this into my own process and make this a lot easier? So whether it’s a location scout, a talent scout, stylists, anything like that, those are all – you know, those are all separate positions on these big shoots whereas with us we condense that all into the people that we hire. So you know, we hire these photographers that can be their own stylists, can be their own location scouts, can be their own model scouts and talent scouts and find the best location, the best people to present products very well. And I think that’s something that’s been very big about – or very important, I should say, that I’ve learned from these larger shoots. And like don’t get me wrong; having a huge team of people sometimes is really fun. It takes a lot more stress off your shoulders, and you don’t have to worry about so many different pieces of the puzzle. But learning how to be able to do all of that on your own and trust yourself and trust your judgment I think is really, really important as a professional photographer. It gives you more credibility, and it gives your work more emotion, I think, at the end of the day.

CAMERON YODER:
Yeah, that’s really good. I think that’s really good. That’s an important perspective to take, or to bring into the Amazon space specifically. It’s something that you can take other places, too, not just Amazon, but to others. So that’s really valuable. Can you – actually there is one more thing that I want to touch on. Can you touch on I think a lot of people either run into this or are in it without actually knowing it. But there are people that are married to their photos. Sometimes it’s really hard to actually see what’s wrong with something that you’ve created, right, because it’s yours. So how, how would you advise maybe breaking the perception of, or breaking someone away from being married to their photos if their photos aren’t the best? How can we work around this, people being married to their photos basically?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
Sure. You know, and I think everybody kind of goes through this when it comes to photography, whether you are a professional or a hobbyist or you, you know, you bought a photography starter kit and you’re taking photos of your product and, you know, you think they look really great. But then somebody comes in and says hey, actually these don’t show your product very well. These aren’t that good. They’re not well lit, whatever it is. People tend to – and not just hobbyists or anything like that. Professionals do it, too. People tend to put a lot of their emotion into photography, which is a good thing, but also if you don’t understand how to remove that emotion and remove yourself from your work any critique that could make you better is only going to make you more stuck in your ways.

You know, I had the blessing of being able to go through certain college courses that were really, really helpful in teaching critique and criticism and feedback. Not everybody has that, obviously, but the one thing I’ve learned from all of that is if you can step back and objectively look at all the criticism and feedback and suggestions and changes, even if you don’t implement any of it, if you can look at it as being helpful or look at it as a way that you can improve or just look at something differently, I think that’s the first step in creating better content. You know, there’s editors in fields for reasons because if you write, you know, you write something and then it just went straight to print, what if there’s typos? You know, that’s why editors exist. And with photography if you don’t have – if you’re just putting stuff out and you never have anybody look at it, check over it, and you don’t take feedback or criticism, you’re doing yourself and your potential customers a huge disservice.

One of the things we do here is, you know, every time a photo set is done and ready to go to a client we have at least two people do a quality control check on it. And if a coach sees it going out and is like hey, like this doesn’t look right, they’ll say something, too. And at the end of the day the goal is to effectively tell a story. I had an example for myself when I did my first magazine publication shoot. I was super excited. I was like yeah, my work’s going to get published in a magazine. That’s great. It was an automotive magazine. And I spent eight hours on this shoot, went home, uploaded all the photos, had a peer of mine that has always been kind of a mentor to me. I sent him these photos on Facebook. I was like hey, what do you think of these? I just finished it. This is for my first magazine. And I was like hey, how do these look? And he told me that they looked like trash, just straight up. He’s like look, I’m going to be blunt with you. These are not good. You should – I wouldn’t publish this. And yeah, it stung, but at the end of the day I knew that the goal was to publish really good content. So I rescheduled with the owner. We shot the car again. And it turned out to be probably one of my favorite shoots I’ve ever done. So being able to remove yourself from feedback and criticism, remove your emotions from your work is just, it goes so far.

CAMERON YODER:
I would really encourage people in this space to seek out criticism, to seek out someone to prove your photos wrong because really your goal should be to provide the best photos possible for the price range that you’re comfortable with. And I don’t know, seek out criticism. Well, Dustin, what is one thing that you want to leave our audience with?

DUSTIN KESSLER:
I think at the end of the day the thing that I would like to leave most people with is you get what you pay for. Just because somebody has a nice, fancy camera doesn’t mean that their photos are going to be amazing. So do your homework before you buy. Make sure that who you’re buying from for your photos is worth the money that you’re comfortable spending, and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit more to get that quality.

CAMERON YODER:
Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Dustin. There’s a lot of valuable information here for a lot of people on photography in general, but also photography when it comes to Amazon specifically. So thank you, Dustin, for being here.

DUSTIN KESSLER:
No problem. I enjoyed it.

CAMERON YODER:
Well that is all for this week. Thank you so much for listening to Follow the Data. For more insights and reliable information that will help take your Amazon business to the next level subscribe to the podcast and check us out on YouTube. I’ve been working on a series of product discovery walk-throughs that show you how to really leverage the tool. Just search for Viral Launch on YouTube. Go to our page and look for my face in one of those videos. And if you’re listening on iTunes, please leave us a review and let us know what you think of the show. And if you know another seller who’s feeling lost in the Amazon information war out there, send them our way. We want to be a resource for sellers and the information source in this space. So please tell your friends. Spread the word and share the show with other Amazon sellers. Thank you again so much for listening. And as always, if you want to be featured on the show, have an Amazon related question or an idea for an episode, feel absolutely free to leave us a voicemail. Our number is 317-721-6590. Until next time, remember, the data is out there.

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