ARTICLE

The five greatest challenges in fashion product photography – and how to overcome them

The images need to work harder, and workflows need to get smarter. Hear from the experts how fashion product photography is changing.
A model in sunglasses and a blue coat being photographed in a StyleShoots photography machine.

Video content can enhance engagement and conversion rates but traditionally requires more resources. Some of the latest photography machines for ecommerce can simplify the process, allowing studios to create large volumes of multimedia content in one session. The StyleShoots Live machine, seen here, is designed for model photography and video production, with three axes of motorised camera movement and Canon cameras built in. © StyleShoots

The fast-moving online fashion industry has always had a voracious appetite for imagery. But its needs have intensified during the seismic shift to online shopping caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. There's pressure to deliver a larger range of dynamic digital assets that integrate seamlessly into the platforms of fashion brands and retailers, and this must be done in a way that's both efficient and scalable.

Meeting this kind of challenge is the bread and butter of digital asset workflow specialist companies such as SpinMe. "In most cases, we work with clients by going in and understanding their current systems, equipment and software," explains CEO David Brint. "Then we look for pain points which are causing them trouble and advise on ways that they can improve their processes."

An important part of the process is ensuring clients have the right camera equipment. Canon's software development kit (SDK) allows cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 to be integrated into large setups used for ecommerce photography, such as StyleShoots' photography machines, feeding into the system's software for a smooth workflow.

SpinMe's extensive client base includes Harrods, Macy's and Selfridges & Co. It has partnered with Canon to provide its clients with consistently exceptional imagery, which is vital for differentiating their brands and increasing conversions.

Here, SpinMe's David and Canon UK Industry Pro/B2B Sector Manager, Richard Harvey, offer their insight into the current challenges and trends in fashion product photography.
A close-up of a person using a tablet to control a StyleShoots photography machine.

Showing off a product from all angles is an effective way to help a customer make a decision. Robots such as the StyleShoots Eclipse allow you to place a product on a turntable and capture stills from all angles, along with cinematic videos of 360° spins. The light controller feature on the accompanying tablet can be used to easily change light intensity and balance. © StyleShoots

A man looking at a computer screen with an image of, and information about, a pink sock. The sock can be seen in the background, worn by a mannequin leg in a StyleShoots photography machine.

Software that can collate all the necessary product data, such as the product ID, weight, size and washing instructions, is becoming increasingly important and can help the creative team focus solely on the imagery. SpinMe creates SDK workflows for major ecommerce clients, tailored to their individual needs. © SpinMe

1. Coping with increased volumes of imagery

The greatest problem in fashion product photography today is the sheer quantity of digital assets that are needed for ecommerce sites, PR, marketing, social media channels and more. "Satisfying that demand is absolutely the number one challenge right now," says David.
"We have many brands and retailers among our clients, and they're all looking to get more products online because that's the way they're selling these days. But they've also got their merchandising teams saying that they need more assets for each product, as the conversion rate is better when they use more images. And then they've got their marketing teams saying that they need more creative imagery, maybe a 360° spin, and more content for social media. Suddenly, you can find yourself creating more than 10 times as many images as you were before.

"It's not just the numerous photos and videos that needs to be considered," David continues. "The ability to collate all the associated information about the product, such as the weight, packaging and washing instructions, and then attach this to files is also becoming more important."

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Streamlining the studio setup is essential for meeting these requirements, which, Richard explains, is why there's been a big shift among the ecommerce studios from traditional flash lighting to constant LED lighting. "This means they no longer have to move the model from a stills set to a video set to create content such as 360° views. A lot of those adjustments can be made using Canon's SDK, which enables remote control of the camera. You can easily switch between video and stills, change the file type, set the ISO and so on. Many of our pro cameras allow for these kinds of functions, and we are able to create a particular SDK workflow for a large e-com house which will be bespoke to them."
Two women looking at monitors, one with images of dozens of articles of clothing, the other with more detailed information on the clothing, while a photoshoot takes place in the background.

The correct labelling and indexing of thousands of product images can be a monumental task for online retailers. Customised software can help streamline the housekeeping into a fast, seamless workflow, so photographers at ecommerce studios can focus on image quality. "Our aim is to take as many of the non-creative aspects as possible off the photographer's plate, so that they can focus on the images rather than doing spreadsheets," says David. © SpinMe

2. Developing an efficient imaging workflow

To avoid bottlenecks, the increase in stills and video creation requires a robust and efficient workflow for indexing, editing and exporting photographs.

"The ability to capture volume quickly and just keep going is all about buffer space on the cameras," says Richard. "It's no use having an image stuck on the camera, as you won't be able to move on to the next piece if your old one's not been signed off. You've got to get the image off the sensor, through the buffer, and into some kind of editing software.

"One aspect of camera technology that is very important to clients is the Wi-Fi capability. The Canon EOS R5 has 5G, so you get very fast transfer speeds straight out of the body. But even the base tethering system uses USB-C, which is extremely quick."

David says that SpinMe's close working relationship with Canon is crucial. "The more we can make the line between our workflow and the Canon cameras faster and more efficient, whether it be the download speed of the imagery from the camera or the information you can attach to images when you're shooting, the easier it is for a studio.

"We do lots of advanced testing of new cameras, to see how we can integrate them into the SpinMe software. The Canon EOS R5 is a real step forward, and being able to work with that camera at the very earliest stage and build the links with SpinMe was really important."
A man looking at a tablet, next to a pair of purple trousers in a StyleShoots Vertical photography machine in front of a green backdrop.

All of StyleShoots' product photography machines, including Vertical pictured here, have cameras and lighting built in. The user can adjust the lighting via an iPad while seeing the changes in Live View mode. The system then uses AutoAlpha technology to cut out the background, saving valuable post-production time. © StyleShoots

3. Ensuring the best possible image quality

Just because you need to turn around digital assets quickly, doesn't mean you can afford to sacrifice image quality. "Having better, clearer imagery reduces the number of returns, which increases a client's profits," says David.

The percentage of accurate capture is something that ecommerce clients measure, explains Richard. "E-com studios are like nightclubs. They pump up the music and get the models dancing around, so they need everything to be in focus at all times. The face recognition and Eye AF technology available in the latest EOS cameras offer the jump in performance that clients need.

"It's the same with the advances made in ISO performance. One side effect of studios moving to constant LED lighting is a much lower luminance compared with the flashguns they used before. However, the performance improvements in cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 mean that you can increase the ISO while still producing clean, usable images."
A man wheels a set of mannequin legs into a StyleShoots Vertical photography rig.

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4. Getting accurate colours

Providing a photo or a video that represents a garment or product with precise accuracy is key to customer satisfaction. "The returns rate is a retailer's biggest cost of sale, so anything you can do at the point of purchase to reduce it is a real incentive to them," says David. "I think it's really important to capture accurate colours, and it's something we treat very seriously."

Fortunately, Canon's colour science is well regarded in the industry: "Photographers like the colour, and it's consistent," says Richard. "You can shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or a Canon EOS R5, and the post-production team aren't going to be nervous that you've used two different sensors."
A curly-haired female model in a StyleShoots photography machine, surrounded by bubbles.

Adding more creative images and multimedia assets to a product page makes customers more likely to click purchase. But the extra volume of imagery requires a smooth workflow. Canon's SDK allows studio photographers to control their cameras remotely, changing presets or switching between video and stills with ease. © StyleShoots

5. Building in the capacity to produce additional assets

The demand for video, 360° spins and 3D content adds an additional layer of complexity to the production process. As do Covid-secure production practices, the long-term effects of which are still unclear.

"During the pandemic, ecommerce clients are having to halve the number of studios they use in order to ensure social distancing," explains Richard. "But because of acquisitions and the growth in online fashion sales, their volume capture has had to increase. So they're trying to look at ways of taking still content from video files in order to halve the time on set. The Canon EOS R5 offers 8K video capture, and that allows a studio to extract 35MP still images in post.

"In fashion, we're seeing the trend, and there's data to back it up, that people want 360° views. They want to be able to spin a product, be it a trainer or a dress. And how do you do that? Do you do that through video capture; do you do that through multi-stills capture? New cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 give you more ways of meeting that requirement.

"Efficiency is still one of the key considerations, though. In the past, the way studios operated may have been left to the photographers, but now finance departments have more input. They understand end users' buying habits and the impact of returns, so they can make a call on how much something like a 360° or a pinch-and-zoom piece will affect the buy-through rate. Thankfully, those are the features that our new cameras are able to deliver, and those features are what's driving the upgrade path for Canon technology."

Kirjoittaja Marcus Hawkins


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