Lifestyle vs. Product Photography: When to Use Each


lifestyle v product


It’s hard to overstate the importance of product images for today’s ecommerce brands: 83 percent of shoppers consider images the most influential factor in their buying decisions. And today’s shoppers expect lots of images to help them make buying decisions – at least eight per product.

But what exactly should these images contain? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. For one thing, effective ecommerce listings need to have both traditional product photography with a whitesweep background and lifestyle photography that shows the product in its “natural habitat.”

Here’s an overview of how these two types of product photography can improve your ecommerce site, as well as guidelines for when to use each.

Use Standard Product Photography to Give Shoppers the “What”

Standard product photography shows your merchandise in a neutral setting – white backdrop, diffused lighting, no other objects in the frame. The goal of these images is to communicate as clearly as possible what, exactly, you’re selling.

Product photography is especially useful to show…

  • Physical details of your product: Shoppers can zoom in on these images to get a closer look at textures, seams, plugs, closures, and other features. Research has proven that, when shoppers can physically manipulate images, their trust in the seller increases. When you include zoomable images from multiple angles, shoppers can get a 360-degree view of what you’re selling much more easily than they could through a text-based product description.
  • Customized versions of your product: If you’re selling something shoppers can customize, you’ll want to use product photography to illustrate the exact version they’re configuring (color, style, features, etc.) against a neutral background.

On an ecommerce website, photographs with whitesweep backgrounds should generally be the default image associated with every product, so that when shoppers view a results page, they see a clean, consistent layout.

While Crate and Barrel doesn’t use whitesweeps, the neutral background coupled with products in identical positions give the “sofa” results page a clean look:



Product photo from Crate and Barrel


Generally, then, whitesweep product photography helps communicate the “what” to shoppers: what is this product, what is it made of, what does it look like from every angle.

Lifestyle photography helps tell the rest of the story.


Use Lifestyle Photography to Give Shoppers the “Who,” “Why,” “When,” “Where,” and “How”

Lifestyle product photography shows your products in a context where people would actually use them. If you’re selling hiking boots, lifestyle photos might show them on someone’s feet, with a gorgeous scene suggesting a good day’s hike in the background (as in the screenshot below, from REI).




Lifestyle photo from REI


Note that lifestyle product photography can include humans but doesn’t have to – as long as it shows your products in a context that mimics what they’d look like in real life (only with better lighting, of course).

Besides providing context, lifestyle photography can enhance your ecommerce website in a few ways:

  • Showing scale. Sure, your text description might include measurement details, but nothing communicates the size of a product like seeing it near the things it will be near in real life. This is especially helpful for products that come in many sizes – lifestyle shots can help shoppers verify that they’re ordering the right one, which can reduce the likelihood that they’ll end up making a return.
  • Creating a narrative around your product: Product photography can establish that you’re selling a yoga mat. Lifestyle photography can show customers that you sell yoga mats that enable an invigorating practice in a beautiful studio lit by that just-right morning light. Or maybe they’ll show customers that yours is the perfect mat for a few quick poses squeezed in while kids do math homework at the kitchen table. Whatever your brand’s story is, lifestyle photos can help you tell it.
  • Eliciting an emotional reaction from your audience: Fully realized scenes are much more emotionally evocative than products shown against a white backdrop. Because humans actually make most decisions based on emotional responses, it’s crucial to activate the part of the brain that controls emotions when you’re trying to sell. Capturing a scene that evokes those emotions via lifestyle photography can help usher your potential customers along the path to purchase.


Combine Product & Lifestyle Photography for an Excellent Ecommerce Experience

We live in an increasingly visual world, which means product and lifestyle photography are only going to become more important for ecommerce retailers.

This is especially true given that roughly half of all online shopping happens on mobile phones, where retailers have to convey a lot of information in just a few square inches. In this context, images (worth a thousand words each, remember) shine.

If you’re looking for ways to scale up your production of both lifestyle and product images, be sure to consider how virtual photography can help you meet your needs.

Article Categories: lifestyle product photography

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