One day back in 2016, my friend Witold Jermołowicz introduced me to product photography, explaining different passions about his job. At that moment, my knowledge about this topic was at the level of a toddler struggling to understand how to walk. Well, my friend didn’t stop there; he hit me with the concept of 360° product photography, which was still crawling during the ecommerce boom. This breakthrough concept allowed the customer to spin, rotate, and even interact with the presentation.

From that day on, his passion for photography has become mine and we started working together on globalizing the business. On daily basis, we meet new people who work in ecommerce-related business; some of them work in commercial sectors, some work in the operational sector, while others work in the technical sector (i.e photographers and IT developers), not to mention the size of companies, starting from self-employment, reaching to the multinational corporations. Majority of these people always ask the same “two- part” question:

 “Why do we need 360° product photography and how can we make the 360° product spin happen?

To answer this question, we need to look deeper at each of its parts. The first part concerns the importance of product photography in the modern E-business, especially in 2020, since the international shape of the business after Covid-19 will not resemble what it was before. According to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, only in the USA during May 2020, compared to their prediction for the same period in 2019, an extra $52B has been spent online, which is an actual increase of 77%. This massive change in consumer habits will force offline businesses to go online, and the already existing online businesses to improve their online presence. In both scenarios, there is a substantial urge between these businesses to provide a decent online quality in order to gain a bigger share from newcomers. This quality appears in different aspects, but most importantly, it concerns  the shape and the appearance of the product, the interactive nature of the presentation and elaborateness of display.

After this impressive fact about high quality needed in online stores, the question of “why do I need 360° presentations in my webshop” is still there! Here you have the academic answer to that, a research study conducted by (Sorachai Kamollimsakul, 2018), a researcher at the Suranaree University of Technology Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. This study tests different formats of product display and measures the following six major aspects:

  1. Opinion on the product presentation format, usability and user experience 
  2. Perceived amount of information
  3. Trust
  4. Attitude toward the product, brand, and website
  5. Overall satisfaction 
  6. Purchase intention.

Based on the combined analysis of all previous aspects, the researcher found that websites that support 360° spin rotation are significantly more advanced in all scores than either websites with multiple still images or with multiple images with zoom. 

Another research study was conducted by (Tibert Verhagen et al, 2016) a researcher at the University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam, Netherlands. It suggested that people who interact with 360° presentations of a product are 14% more prone to buy the product than those who interacted only with still images.

In order to support the academic findings on the importance of 360° product photography, I contacted professional photographers from all over the world, who are already advanced in 360° photography techniques. They provided various approaches to my question.

Our partner, Craig Bellingham, who manages a professional photography studio called Studio Kirmack, says:

“360° product photography most definitely is a great way to display products. 360° photo/video allows people to get a true indication of the product. According to statistics, businesses that use 360° photographs get 10% more online attention than those who don’t. They also spend more time browsing the 360° photographs, which reduces their time to look at competitors.”

Another of our partners, Gustav Clausen, who owns also a photography studio pixomize.dk, says:

“We believe that 360° is the future of ecommerce, and it gives both ecommerce platforms and their customers great benefits, such as:

  • Better customer experience
  • Show key features and details – everything is visible from every angle
  • Increase the credibility of products
  • Increase time spent on the website
  • Opportunity to stand out from competition”

Another partner — Rob Cohen, who has an interesting marketing approach towards 360° presentations, says:

“360° rotation will grow in importance, the ability to shoot 360° will be used more and more in “micro animations” where the product turns partially, creating a movement effect, embedded within a commercial or other digital assets”

In a nutshell, 360° product photography has many different features and efficient applications over any other method of displaying products online. This feature will open a wider door for every individual and company to improve their position in the new E-business worldwide, especially if they decide to advance their efficiency and professionalism in E-commerce business.

360 product photography in practice

In the first part of my article, I discussed an innovative E-commerce product demonstration on the example of some aspects of the importance of the 360 photography in e-commerce, and presented  certain academic and professional proofs on how the 360 spins increase the engagement of the customer, and subsequently, increase the probability of the purchase. Basically, I answered the question “Why do we need 360 product photography”, but there is still another question to be answered:

 “How can we make the photography 360 happen?

Practically speaking, there is more than one way to create a 360 product photography and upload it to an online shop. I will start from the best known one, going through those more sophisticated and ultimately reaching the practical ones. I will also talk about the pros and cons of each of the methods.

The manual/semi manual method

During my research on the production of 360 spin photo, I asked some professionals about their creativity in creating such a photo. They explained their ways as follows:

  • Photograph the product: at this stage a photographer should shoot a series of photos of a single product. The number of frames varies depending on different factors, such as the preferences of the product owner, the size of the images and the characteristics of the product. 
  • Post production: after shooting the frames, it will be necessary to retouch the photos. This includes 1) editing the background to be white or transparent 2) correcting the colors of the product, since the photographs were taken manually 3) stitching the photos in order to create the 360 spin of the product. Each step in the post-production may require more than one software to get all the tasks done.
  • Integration: after creating the 360 spin in the integrated format such as HTML5, the outcome needs to be somehow uploaded into the webshop or any other destination of the customer’s choice. This step requires a proper knowledge in programming, either from the 360 producer or from the team of the webshop owner, where they can upload such a presentation to the final destination.

However, there is a slightly different way of creating 360 product photography, in which one can create a video of 360 spin in format other than HTML5. This Youtube Channel explains a step by step DIY method resulting in a 360 product photography in an MP4 format.

Pros and cons

Since this method is manual, I would list the following advantages: preparation of the 360 presentation on your own, with some help of editing, spinning and integration software. It can also bring a lot of fun if you are a crafty person and you have a sufficient amount of time to spare.

The cons, however, are represented in many aspects, briefed as follows:

  1. Time: this method may take anywhere between hours and days in order to produce a single 360 spin. For the e-commerce industry, time is king, so if a webshop needs to create a decent number of spins, it may cost them a sufficient amount of delay before having the products online.
  2. Knowledge: the manual creation of 360 spins requires knowledge of professional photography, software and integration. As a consequence, the e-commerce companies should either hire a team to do that internally, or outsource the service to a production house. Both scenarios will raise the next aspect:
  3. Cost: as mentioned earlier, this method needs a long time to get things done, during which the companies will lose time while waiting for presentations to be ready, not to mention the cost of producing one presentation, which varies from USD 20$ to 100$.

Rendering

The concept of rendering is not new in the world of the 3D industry; however, the product rendering for e-commerce is relatively new. This method can be implemented in many different ways, but the most common ways are 3D scanning and photogrammetry. An interesting example of using rendering in e-commerce is the new PLACE application from IKEA, where they use 3D scanning and photogrammetry in order to create products fit in an AR environment.

Pros and cons

Unlike the manual method, rendering is highly digitalized, the output of rendering is created with sophisticated software packages, as well as by highly skilled individuals who need to be well trained in order to handle the production. Subsequently, all of these facts are considered the antecedents of both pros and cons of this method.

On one hand, the technology provides a high end spherical output, where it can be used in all E-commerce applications, including webshops, VR and AR. The output per se reaches the level of looking genuine, in which the customer experiences a higher level of engagement. On the other hand, in order to obtain the output from this technology, the user would expect the following:

  1. High cost: one of our customers needed to use the rendering technology for their AR application. As a total calculation, including the setup, rollout and production, each product rendering costs between USD 100$ and 200$.
  2. Long processing time: each presentation may take over one day to be ready, that is in case the company has the full setup indoors. However, if the company depends on outsourcing of the service, the time span will be extended dramatically. 
  3. High skilled personnel: whenever a company decides to pursue a rendering option, they need to acquire skilled individuals, especially in IT development. Otherwise, the company would outsource the service, which implies greater costs and more time spent.

Automated 360 Product Photography

One of the recent technologies of creating 360 product spins is using the automated photography solution. This method consists in integration of real product photography with a highly advanced and simplified software package. As a result, the output represents the spin in a simplified format, in which E-business owners can easily use the product in their webshops. 
The method has gradually become widely used in E-commerce, and thanks to its high efficiency, productivity and cut on the production costs, business owners prefer it over traditional photography.  Wareco, a Danish hand tool retailer, states:

“We used to take pictures ourselves and it took 20 minutes to produce one. With Orbitvu, it takes us about 3-5 minutes to get quality pictures without any background.”

Pros and cons

As a business consultant, on one hand I could see the cons of one aspect of this method —  this technology is relatively new, the maturity stage hasn’t reached its full market potential yet, and a decent commercial and strategic attention should be given to widen the awareness of such innovation. On the other hand, there are so many pros that one article is not enough to enumerate them. However, I will try to summarize these pros below:

  1. In terms of cost: producing 360 photography using the automated solution will allow the business owners to create the spin with less than USD 1$. That implies a significant cut on the financial cost compared to traditional photography, as well as the rendering technology. The other aspect of the cost efficiency is the ability to create the spin in a matter of less than 5 minutes instead of hours or days. 
  2. Investment-wise: thanks to the continuous use of the solution, business owners who invest in such a solution will be able to see the return on investment in a short period of time, with a minimum cost of production. And last, but not least:
  3. Operational aspect: the operational investments are low, since the integrated software package is built and designed to be used by operators,, regardless of whether they are specialized in product photography and software use or not.

In a nutshell: 360 product photography has different methods of production, where each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Based on my experience in this field, I would recommend the Automated Photography solution over the traditional photography and the rendering solutions. That’s thanks to the quality of the output which is a real photography of the products in a 360 format. Additionally, this method provides the outputs with the minimum cost, time and less skills required for operation. The Automated Photography solution will improve webstores’ position in the new E-business worldwide.

Waleed Shleha
Regional Manager in Orbitvu