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The Dos and Dont’s of Footwear Product Photography


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Putting your best Foot Forward

These simple principles will set you well on your way to creating a professional online product portfolio.

You probably know by now that quality product photography can go a long way toward ensuring that your customers have positive shopping experiences. Blurry and poorly-lit product images will likely scare customers away, but if you add sharpness, appropriate lighting, and a few other necessary elements, then your products may just begin to sell themselves.

Each product photography niche has certain rules. For apparel images, rule #1 is never to lay a product flat if you can find a live model. In jewelry photographs, the focus had better be spot on. Footwear photography comes with its own standard set of DOs and DON’Ts, all of which we will discuss in this post to aim you toward product photography success.

DON’T: Lay footwear flat.

This image just isn’t flattering

This image just isn’t flattering.

Nothing is more unflattering than a limp, lifeless pair of shoes. The image of the heels on the left, provides very little accurate information to the customer to help inform their purchase decision and it certainly doesn’t make the shoes seem appealing. Instead of a creamy white, the shoes appear to have a yellow tint, and although the shoes have been arranged to show different angles of view, customers will have difficulty imagining how the shoes actually look when worn.

DO make sure that every piece of footwear looks its best by creating the illusion that the shoe is being worn by someone. Some good ways to communicate shape and help the shoe to stand alone are: stuffing the shoe with tissue paper or crumpled paper, or tying dental floss to the shoe’s straps to hold them up in the frame.

Stuffing shoes with household items can help the shoe stand tall and give it fullness

Stuffing shoes with household items can help the shoe stand tall and give it fullness.

Dental floss is nearly invisible, so it is easy to remove in post production

Dental floss is nearly invisible, so it is easy to remove in post production.

When someone goes to a store to try on shoes, they see the shoes displayed upright across tables and platforms. Retailers display the shoes in this manner because it’s most flattering to the products, so that principle remains the same for web retail. Your customers want to see every aspect of a shoe. They want to be able to imagine that they’ve walked into your store to look through your inventory—that they’ve touched and tried on all that you have to offer. Don’t disappoint them!

DON’T: Clutter the frame.

A simple white background would better serve these images

A simple white background would better serve these images.

In most types of product photography, cluttered backgrounds are a big no-no. A busy background will distract your customer from what you actually want them to look at: your product. DO keep everything in your frame simple and clean to draw maximum attention to your footwear. Props can be useful sometimes with regards to your business’ personal branding, but usually it’s best and most convenient to photograph each product alone.

DON’T: Use harsh lighting.

Even if everything else goes wrong in a product photo, lighting is an area that you cannot afford to goof up. You absolutely need the appropriate type of lighting or your product will not look appealing to your customers; the wrong type of lighting can highlight imperfections and warp colors. Harsh, direct lighting that casts deep shadows is the worst type of lighting for product photography. Instead, DO harness soft, natural lighting. Take your photos inside next to a large window with natural light streaming in or rent a studio softbox setup if you’d like to go the artificial lighting route. If you must take photos outside, find an thickly-shaded area to get the most even light, and don’t even think about taking photos at midday.

DON’T: Use blurry or soft focus.

The soft focus here prevents customers from seeing exactly what they’re buying

The soft focus here prevents customers from seeing exactly what they’re buying.

Soft focus can be artistic in many photography genres, but in product photography, customers regard soft focus as a nuisance because it prevents them from seeing exactly what they’re buying. The more your image is out of focus, the less your customer will see of your product. Instead, DO be sure to use a higher aperture like f/11 on your DSLR camera to get every aspect of your footwear in focus. Also, make sure to use a tripod; this will minimize camera shake and give your images maximum crispness.

DON’T: Crop ineffectively.

Inconsistent cropping is one of the easiest mistakes to make in product photography. Your customers will notice if some of your footwear images are more zoomed in than others, and they will notice if products the same distance away from the camera are higher or lower than each other. They will notice differences in lighting, differences in focus, and so on.

This crop is too loose

This crop is too loose.

This crop is too tight

This crop is too tight.

These images are sized well enough, but cropped inconsistently because the footbed and top strap of these shoes are not aligned in all four frames

These images are sized well enough, but cropped inconsistently because the footbed and top strap of these shoes are not aligned in all four frames.

To avoid these types of distracting elements in your product photos, DO develop a shooting and cropping template that maintains strict guidelines and keeps your images consistent from frame to frame. Abiding by a template will speed your shooting and post production workflow and enhance the professional appearance of your website by supplying you with a consistent portfolio of product images that all seem to belong together.

Use your editing software’s features to draw lines designating the bottoms and tops of the shoes so that you can move the images correctly in relation to each other

Use your editing software’s features to draw lines designating the bottoms and tops of the shoes so that you can move the images correctly in relation to each other.

Many online channels require certain web standards for cropping and sizing, so take note of their Image Guidelines and incorporate them into your template to make your shoes look their best.

DON’T: Provide too few angles.

One of the biggest mistakes in product photography is displaying very few angles of the product on the listing. Customers want to see every side and face of a product as they decide whether or not to invest in it, so DO capture as many angles as possible. Photograph the side view, the view from the back, the top view, a view of the product turned slightly to the left, and all variations of those suggestions. As long as the angles are flattering, you win!

Here are some suggestions for footwear angles:

  • At least one angled shot of the full set of shoes
  • Two straight-on side shots: left and right
  • Two angled side shots: left and right
  • A shot of the front of the product
  • A shot of the back of the product
  • A shot of the top view of the product
  • A “detail” shot up close to depict texture, material, etc.

Now that you know all about the DOs and DON’Ts of footwear product photography, avoiding the DON’Ts and using the DOs to your advantage should be simple.

Observing these basic principles in your product photos will dramatically improve the quality appeal of your online product portfolio and provide your customers with optimal shopping experiences.