How the Evolution of E-commerce Photography Sells More Stuff

How the Evolution of E-commerce Photography Sells More Stuff

In the world of online fashion, there are typically two main buckets of image assets: 1) e-commerce, and 2) marketing. The marketing assets are the editorial/lifestyle images that might accompany a main feature or online magazine. Here’s an example from Ralph Lauren.


Heavily styled, and often environmental in nature, the marketing photo often conveys aspects of the brand identity. Contrast that to the typical e-commerce photo which typically features a standard set of poses and angles. Here’s one from J. Crew.


A frontal, profile and back-facing shot are the typical set of images in the e-commerce image bundle with additional close-ups and color variations as necessary. Showing different angles against white seamless has been the standard approach to e-commerce since the advent of online sales. Many companies have also used mouse “roll-overs” to show different views of the clothing without going into the detail page. In this example from Mr. Porter, the thumbnail flips to a full length image of a model wearing the full three-piece suit.


As in any type of online conversion scenario, the goal is to remove any doubt from the viewers mind. If a consumer thinks the waistcoat (aka vest) might not look good in real life, the rollover image is there to prove otherwise. In recent years, some retailers have added video to the arsenal of images to get increasingly closer to “real life.”


But for all these different angles of the clothing there is still something very uninspiring about the e-commerce photography – especially in comparison to the marketing assets, which have a certain je nais se quoi – a more aspirational quality that seems absent from the typical e-commerce image.

As e-commerce continues to evolve, marketers are starting to evolve the staid e-commerce image into something more editorial in nature – even at the risk of not providing a standard set of angles. The result combined with fresh design is causing a minor ruckus amongst online brands. Here’s the Zara homepage featuring a typical marketing asset.


And here is an e-commerce image:


The single keylight is now supplemented with a pretty hard backlight (look at the shadow), and the model’s pose is much more spontaneous, and I dare say fun. The standard images are replaced with images that best show the individual piece.

Here’s another example from Reformation.


The image is now photographed with significant negative space because the design is full-screen with dropped type. How much negative space? Here’s the full crop from the same set.


Like the Zara website, the poses are much more whimsical, and more effective in showing the volume of the dress than a typical e-commerce photo.

In truth, these types of decisions are made at the creative director or art director level within these companies. The decision to completely change up the look of the photos doesn’t fall within the purview of the photographer. But it is interesting to see how a great concept executed with strong photography and design can elevate brand perception, and sell more clothing (or at the very least, improve user engagement). And for smaller brands, the photographer can absolutely influence the look and feel of the photography. Being aware of these types of trends only makes your services more valuable and elevates you from button pusher to an integral part of the creative process. As Black Friday approaches, take note of how photography influences your propensity to buy, and make yourself a better photographer in the process.

Learn more by downloading “Breaking into Fashion Photography.”




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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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