Behind the lens of an online store

Behind the lens of an online store

The role of a photographer is of utmost importance in any e-commerce store. Our photographer, Sourav Deb, shares his insights on the world of e-commerce photography along with some tips for the rookie.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what got you interested in photography for e-commerce stores.

Jorhat, the cultural capital of Assam, India is my birthplace and since my childhood, photography fascinated me and I set it as my favourite hobby. I had no direction of my aim till my first camera Premier PC-500 came into my life. I carried this camera everywhere I went and was the "Class Photographer" in my school from 5th Standard onwards. Kept taking snaps here and there which were sought after by my classmates in school as they wanted to keep them as chronicles of their school life. Afterwards, I studied Computer Science and worked at various IT Firms and all the while Photography stayed a passionate hobby of mine. I started working professionally in 2013 after I quit my job in an IT Firm.

I have been purchasing products online by checking out the photographs of the products listed on various websites since 2005 and have been on multiple occasions been disappointed by the product that was delivered since it didn't match the one shown on the website's product photograph. I knew the the problems were aplenty. Sometimes it was the editor's fault, lighting, or even the photographer's. I was mainly into wildlife and street photography but later on I learned product photography from the masters by studying various books on product photography as well as online video tutorials by masters such as Alex Koloskov. I just wanted to bring perfection in colour, lighting and editing to a genre of photography which is mostly neglected as last moment rush jobs. E-Commerce photography needs perfection too as customers buy products by looking at photographs and hence they need to be a perfect display of the product via the photographs.
How is e-commerce photography different from the other types of assignments you undertake?
People remember 80 percent of what they see, and just 20 percent of what they read. E-Commerce photography is important. In-fact, it's so important that it can be the only difference between making a sale and losing customers. Website visitors will always be drawn to an image before they read the text on the webpage, website owners need to make sure that the images look great.
I undertake a lot of different assignments such as Lookbook or Catalogue Shoots, Commercial, Editorial, Advertising, Fashion Portfolio, Boudoir, etc but E-Commerce Photography has a consistent look to it. E-Commerce photography needs even lighting, white backgrounds and no grain on the edited photographs.
Shadows are usually avoided in typical E-Commerce photographs.
How do you prepare for an upcoming online shoot?
Firstly I ask the client whether models have been shortlisted for the shoot. If not then I ask my stylist Isha to send model suggestions to the client for selection. 
After the models have been shortlisted, the date of the shoot is finalized after discussion with the client and the models are informed about the date and an advance is sent for shoot confirmation.
Then, we call the Make-Up artist and Hair Stylist and book him/her for the day of the shoot by paying an advance.
Before the day of the shoot, I make sure, the studio is clean, the batteries are charged, lenses are clean and camera is working properly, multiple memory cards are formatted and available,  and also make sure that all the people involved are called and given the exact call time for the next day's shoot. I also keep a backup camera and lenses ready in case anything goes wrong. I leave nothing to chance.
A common complaint by customers who purchase clothes online is that the actual colour of the garment is quite different from what they saw on the website. Your thoughts on this?
This is a very common problem and the lighting used is mainly the culprit when the colour temperature is not matched to the light source in camera. It is known as White Balance on DSLR cameras. Depending on the model of the camera, there are ways to modify white balance so that the colour in the photograph matches the garment's colour. 
At the start of the photoshoot, the white balance should be set via a Grey Card or a Color Munki Passport. I use a 18% grey card for setting the white balance on Camera. 
There are a few specific dual tone colour garments white turn out to be tricky to get right even after setting the white balance before the shoot. That needs to be corrected by seeing the shot on the display and modifying the white balance / temperature grid on the cameras where it's available. 
I always shoot RAW so that I can even change the colour temperature in post via Photoshop.
Any advice you want to give to aspiring photographers who want to enter the e-commerce industry?
Never think E-Commerce Photography is easy. If you don't enjoy E-Commerce photography then don't do it. Theory is important but unless you practice what you have learnt, you wouldn't achieve perfect results. 
Never shy away from editing your photographs. Editing is a very important part of getting the final outcome. Carefully study the work of other photographers in this field and see what you might be doing wrong.
Give it all you have got for at least 5 years and then decide if you have got what it takes to become a perfectionist in this genre. Too many great talents give up at the very beginning.
Above all, have fun photographing products. If you are not having fun then this genre is not for you.

Sourav Deb is a fashion photographer based in Kolkata and can be reached at +91 9830872088 and through his website

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