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Developing an Efficient Photo Production Workflow as a Small Retailer


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You might not be a fast fashion retailer but you can learn to be as productive as one!

Do you consider an eCommerce company to be a production company? Whether you are a large fast fashion retailer or a small retailer, you are in the business of production in one way or another, which means that your success boils down to the efficiency of your workflow— how fast can you produce products, product imagery, website content, and sales?

Organization is important for any type of workflow. Likewise, detailed preparation, a customized workspace, simple processes, archiving and transferring systems, and communication are all very necessary components for streamlining your photo production workflow and achieving maximum productivity. Decisions and changes need to be made quickly in order to keep things moving and evolving.

As a small online retailer, you may be overwhelmed by this. You may feel as if you don’t have the tools or resources to come anywhere close to the productivity of a larger retailer, but this is not true! It is all a matter of learning, doing, and fine-tuning. Thinking and acting like a large fast fashion retailer and mimicking their photo production workflow as much as possible will benefit you greatly.

In this article, you will learn how to increase your company’s daily productivity by streamlining your methods for creating and post-processing product photos.

To Outsource or not to Outsource?

Before you begin preparing for a photography project, first consider whether any of the work can be outsourced, and if so, how much of it? For example, can you hire a photographer to shoot product photos for you? Could you send your unedited product photos off to a online image retouching platform for editing?

You may not have the budget to outsource anything at first, which means that you will have to use the resources available to you and use them well. However, if you do have the budget capabilities to outsource, we recommend that you take advantage of that and use it. Outsourcing can help to greatly maximize your company’s productivity because it will free you up to spend your valuable time producing and growing your business in other ways.

1. Organization

Cataloging your products

As we mentioned earlier, organization is the first key to maximizing your company’s productivity. In an ideal situation, you will have all of your products paired, if applicable, and cataloged by color, description, size, associated tags, product name, and any other identifying info.

The tag included on this shoe provides clear, identifying information about the product.

The tag included on this shoe provides clear, identifying information about the product.

It is also recommended that you attach a small tag to each product, as shown above. This tag should include basic identifying information such as the product’s item number, name, color, and size. Many times, this info can be found on the packaging from the brand, but you can also create your own unique system. Just make sure that the item number that you assign to each product matches a folder on your computer or external hard drive that will provide all identifying information and assure that your products are readily available and identifiable.

Cataloging your images

Just as it is important to organize your products themselves, it is equally as important to organize the digital photographs and files associated with them. You can choose to glean through your images, sort them into file folders, and rename them by hand, or you can turn leave that to an image cataloging program like Adobe Lightroom.

You can purchase Adobe Lightroom here.

You can purchase Adobe Lightroom here.

Cataloging software is useful because it allows you to see all the images that you have taken, filter through them by deleting or selecting images, rename files, and make “batch” edits to multiple images at one time. Some programs are better than others at cataloging imagery, but Adobe Lightroom is generally considered to be one of the best. With it, you’ll also be able to rename and locate files, as well as fully post-process, export, and archive your images.

This is the export screen in Adobe Lightroom, where you’re presented with a number of different settings to customize the export

This is the export screen in Adobe Lightroom, where you’re presented with a number of different settings to customize the export.

Ideally, by the end of your cataloging process, you’ll have the product name, description, and date included in the name of the file folder where you store your images and perhaps even in the individual filenames themselves—and then you’ll create backups!

Backing up your images

You also want to make sure that you store your images in more than one place. Basically, you want to make sure you have two copies of every image and that those copies are stored in two different places. External hard drives are great for this. Look into finding an external hard drive that is compatible with your current computer and software, of course, but it would also benefit you to look for one that is compatible with both PCs and Macs so that when you start sharing files with others, you don’t run into conversion issues.

You can purchase great external hard drives for between $99-200+ (depending on storage space) here.

You can purchase great external hard drives for between $99-200+ (depending on storage space) here.

Another great option is virtual cloud storage. Saving your work into a virtual cloud, instead of saving it onto a physical drive, is like buying insurance for your files. Physical drives fail and break and they certainly won’t survive a fire or a flood, but files stored in a cloud are safe regardless of the circumstances. In most cases, if the files are valuable to you, you should store them on both an external hard drive and in cloud storage.

Apple´brand new image management app Photos

Apple´brand new image management app Photos.

Bitcasa is one of many cloud storage companies. They offer their services here for $10 monthly.

Bitcasa is one of many cloud storage companies. They offer their services here for $10 monthly.

However you choose to classify, organize, and back up your images, make sure to develop a specific step-by-step process and document that process somewhere for reference so that it gets done and gets done efficiently!

Creating a workflow manual

Perhaps more important than any of the organizational strategies we have discussed thus far is creating a customized workflow guide or manual for your company. This manual should include every detail of your photo production workflow methods. As your company either grows in size or you begin to outsource work to companies, you will need structured guidelines for how the work should be done in order to maintain consistency.

You will need to update your manual as often as you update your processes, but this will be time well spent because communication is key in the production business. Never leave anyone out of the loop because, without one functioning part, you will lose momentum in the larger scheme of your production workflow.

2. Preparation

Preparing your products

After you decide whether or not to outsource and have organized your products and work area, you should prepare your product, or products, to be photographed.

Be prepared to spend adequate time prepping each item because even the smallest speck of dust will be visible in a product image. While you will be able to fix mistakes in post-processing, that type of advanced editing is time consuming and requires a high level of proficiency with cloning and healing tools, so it is better to fix as much as you can manually before the shoot.

For example, clothes should be clean, free of large tags, steamed, and examined for defects, and you should follow a similar inspection and preparation process for other types of products as well. Shoes should be wiped and shined, jeans should be pressed, and even the tiniest missing jewel on a necklace should be replaced, if possible.

The are several types of tools available to use to clean and prep your products: brushes, wipes, blowers, etc

The are several types of tools available to use to clean and prep your products: brushes, wipes, blowers, etc.

Organizing your products

After you have ensured that your products look their best, line all of your products up in the order that you plan to photograph them, along with their identifying information. Picture a grocery store shelf, but with products out of their packages, clean and ready to shoot.

Our products will be photographed in this exact order and they are all arranged accordingly in our studio.

Our products will be photographed in this exact order and they are all arranged accordingly in our studio.

If you have cataloged your products correctly, then you should be able to compile an ordered list like the one above and simply mark them off as you progress through the photoshoot.

Selecting a model

If you will be photographing your product on a live model, make sure that the model matches the “look” and style of your product. Research similar brands for inspiration and see what kinds of models that they use.

Athletic brands will likely depict models with athletic builds, while ritzy watch companies will use models with beautiful hands. Choose models that will showcase your products in the best possible light and appeal to your company’s target consumer base.

Example: Adidas uses a professional gymnast for their products

Example: Adidas uses a professional gymnast for their products.

Choosing a camera

There are plenty of higher quality DSLR cameras out there, so you will need to shop around and conduct some research to find one that best suits your needs and preferences. For basic product photography, we recommend the Canon PowerShot SX510 for $200 or the Nikon D53000, which starts at $750 here.

Selecting image capturing software

Spend a little time researching programs to capture your imagery. You may find it easy to simply shoot in-camera with your CF or SD card and then transfer the images over to your computer via card reader at a later time. However, image capturing software can help you to shorten this process. These programs will allow you to shoot with your camera “tethered” to your computer and will automatically upload any images that you capture into a designated folder. This will eliminate unnecessary transferring steps and help you to budget your time more efficiently.

Image capturing software like DSLR Remote Pro can help to streamline your productivity.

Image capturing software like DSLR Remote Pro can help to streamline your productivity.

One image capturing program that we recommend is DSLR Remote Pro, which can be purchased here for $175. By simply pressing your computer’s spacebar, the program will allow for immediate image review. You can monitor and adjust exposure and other camera settings right from your computer because the program communicates directly with your camera. The downside to using DSLR Remote Pro is that it does not include functions for file naming, exporting, or post-processing, so you will likely need to purchase post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom as well.

For a more advanced image capture program that includes all necessary functions when dealing with images, look into purchasing Capture One for $299 here. With this program, you will not only be able to control image quality, camera settings, and capture and import, but also cataloging and selecting, post enhancements, batch naming, exporting, and archiving.

All of these steps are essential in your processes and production, so minimizing steps to complete them will be your best bet for achieving faster production.

Selecting post processing software

If your image capturing software does not include advanced post-processing capabilities, you will need to purchase a program like Adobe Photoshop or Apple Aperture that will allow you to make these types of edits.

Image capturing software like DSLR Remote Pro can help to streamline your productivity.

Example of using Aperture to do basic contrast and color temperature adjustments.

Photoshop is the most well known and accessible program and can work in perfect tandem with Adobe Lightroom. An individual license for Adobe Photoshop starts at $749, but you can also purchase Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom via Adobe Creative Cloud for $9.99 monthly here. Apple Aperture begins at $79.99 and can be purchased here.

Customizing your studio workspace

If you are shooting for eCommerce, then chances are, you would like your photos to look clean, simple, and most importantly, so similar that they seem to they belong together, as in the image above. The best way to do this is to build a tried-and-true studio setup that has worked for many people and then customize that setup to fit your own needs.

DIY photo studio shopping list

You can learn how to set up a simple do-it-yourself studio space like the one in the image above by following our detailed step-by-step walkthrough post.

Accident-proofing your studio workspace

After you have chosen and built your studio workspace, it is a good idea to take steps to prevent accidents. For example, carefully position your computer, product, chair, and lights in areas where you won’t make the work more difficult or trip yourself up.

Instead of allowing cords to run wild throughout your workspace, coil them up neatly and place the coil away from walkways. Also, wrapping the cord once under the leg of the light stand, will drag the light, rather than trip you and topple over the whole light.

If you are working with artificial lights, remember that they use a decent amount of power and are expensive to replace. There is no need to give yourself the opportunity to trip over cords or knock things over and risk having to pay for it two-fold because you broke equipment and injured yourself. Gaffers tape, velcro, zip ties, sand bags, and clamps are affordable friends! Coil cords near light sources and tape them down to reduce the risk of tripping. Use a heavy duty multi-outlet and extension cords when you can.

Here are some other great ways to minimize tripping hazards in your studio.
If you can think of anything to make your workspace safer, do it!

3. Test Shooting

Documenting studio measurements

After you have selected your equipment and have built a customized studio workspace, it’s time to set up your first product. Once you have it in place, take a test shot to perfect your camera settings and composition. When you have captured an acceptable image of the product, measure, mark, and document everything!

Measure and mark the distance from the floor to the top of the shooting surface, the distance from your tripod and camera to the product, and even the distance between the lowest part of your camera lens and the floor. This may seem like a waste of time, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to create consistent images for your website. Even if you leave your studio set up indefinitely, accidents happen, and if you don’t have exact measurements, you may be forced to reshoot if you can’t figure them out again!

Documenting camera settings

The same principles apply for camera settings, especially in manual mode. After you perfect them, write them down! And that doesn’t just mean shutter speed and aperture settings—it means shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focal length, and anything else that might vary from shot to shot unless set specifically. You’ll find most of your settings on your camera’s display screen.

For instance, if you are photographing a product on a model, you may shoot the image with a shutter speed of 1/250, an aperture of f16, an ISO of 200, and a focal length of 50mm. If you’re using artificial light, you’ll need to make a note of those specifications as well. Perhaps you’re using a 5200k fluorescent studio light on high power supplemented by natural window light on the product’s left side.

Make sure that all of this information is well-documented so that you can re-create the exact same lighting situation from shot to shot, and even from photoshoot to photoshoot in the future.

Choosing image quality

Also, be aware of the different types of image quality settings that are available with your camera so that you can pick one that suits your needs and use it consistently. If there is a chance that the images will be used for different types of media and not just on the web, then you may wish to set the image quality to “RAW” so that you get the largest, highest-quality files that your camera can create.

The image quality settings screen can be found in your camera’s internal menu area

The image quality settings screen can be found in your camera’s internal menu area.

RAW files provide the maximum ability for editing, but RAW files are often large and can only be opened in certain types of editing software. For the most part, “JPEG Fine” (medium or large) is perfect for images that will only be used on the web. JPEG files are easy to edit, take up less space on memory cards and hard drives, and can be quickly transferred between devices or uploaded to the web because of their smaller file sizes.

Read here for more information on adjusting your camera settings in manual mode.

4. Shooting

When you have thoroughly measured and documented your studio setup and camera settings, it’s time to begin shooting! One of the most important and helpful things that you can do when photographing your products is to shoot like photoshop DOES NOT exist. Don’t tell yourself that you or someone else can “fix” mistakes in Photoshop. Learn everything that you can to be able to create images that are as close to your desired final images as possible.

5. Post-Processing

After you have captured your product images, transferred them to your computer, deleted unwanted images from the catalog, and named and saved the files, you are ready to begin post-processing to make your images look as professional as possible.

The most well known and accessible image editing software program is Adobe Photoshop, which you can purchase here.

This is the easiest and most beneficial step to outsource, so if you do choose to send your images to a professional, make sure to use the same company each time that you need edits so that all of your images are consistent. However, if you are on a budget that does not allow for outsourcing, make sure to implement the following processes to maximize your productivity. Additionally you can learn here how to edit your product images and make them look professional and also consult other internet tutorials.

Utilizing “Actions”

In post-processing software, there is a section called “Actions.” When you figure out all of the steps to make your images look the way that you want them to look, you can actually “record” the process by which you created the final image into an “Action” and apply that action to future images to automatically make the same edits with the press of a button.

Here is the Actions window, where you can press “Record” and save your edits

Here is the Actions window, where you can press “Record” and save your edits.

Utilizing the “Actions” feature not only drastically speeds up the editing process, but it also creates a standard for how to edit your images consistently, leaving little room for mistakes and inconsistencies. In addition to a basic edits Action, we also recommend creating one to optimize images for the web quickly.

Read here for a detailed walkthrough on creating and utilizing “Actions.”

Optimizing your images for the web

There is a certain way to optimize your images for internet use. Along with cropping, this should be the last thing that you do with your images because you want to have all of the information available while you are editing the image, before you start cropping information out.

Saving multiple versions of each image

Before you begin editing an image, you should save the original image according to your file naming system if you haven’t already. Next, you should make your edits and then save the edited, large version of the image as a separate file. Finally, you will also need to create a smaller web version of the file and save that as a separate file too.

Image Alt

There is a certain way to optimize your images for print or internet use. Along with cropping, this should be the last thing that you do with your images because you want to have all of the information available while you are editing the image, before you start cropping information out. Print files should be saved at full size and 300dpi (resolution), while smaller web files should be downsized and saved at around 100dpi.

We have included identifying information in our images’ filenames to help us quickly determine each image’s version

We have included identifying information in our images’ filenames to help us quickly determine each image’s version.

You should also label accordingly by including version information in the actual file name. For example, the original files in the image above are CR2 or “RAW” files. The images in the folder titled “Selects” are the images that were chosen for editing from the original CR2 files. Each image in the folder titled “Finals” has a large, printable version and a smaller web-ready version saved there; the larger versions are named ProductName_CompanyName_Color-print.jpg and the smaller versions are named ProductName_CompanyName_Color-web.jpg.

ProductName_CompanyName_Color-web.jpg.

However you choose to save and name your files, remember to NEVER save over them or all of your hard work may be lost forever.

Improving the efficiency of your company’s productivity may seem like a lot of work, which is why large, fast fashion retailers outsource so the majority of their labor. However, even when you are left doing everything yourself until there is a bit more breathing room in your budget, improving your workflow methods is key to becoming more efficient.

The average fashion retailer spends two weeks preparing their products to be sold online and there is no reason why you cannot achieve this level of productivity as well. Implementing the aforementioned tips and techniques will help you to get there and will aid you greatly in cutting back the time and money that your company sows into producing in your daily operations.

Read here to learn more about fast fashion retailers and their productivity methods.

Remember, it is all a matter of learning, doing, and fine-tuning.

Happy producing!