By Patrick Weilmerier | Imaging ServicesMaking the decision to outsource your product photography is not a small one. You should consider: The pros and cons of do-it-yourself vs. outsourcing. The costs of in-house product photography vs. the prices for outsourced services. How to choose[...]
Today, product images remain the dominant digital asset when it comes to selling competitively online.
Over the last five years or so, 360 product images have become a popular companion or even an alternative to standard product images.
Your business, like most out there, is probably either considering 360s, experimenting with a few top selling products, or are in full-fledged production.
But businesses like yours have a big problem. They do not understand 360 images or the 360-degree product photography process.
This article addresses the questions you may have about 360 product photography and about 3D and 360 product images:
- How do you take 360-degree product photos?
- How does 360-degree product photography work?
- How can 360-degree product photography benefit your business?
- What is the difference between 3D and 360 product photography?
- Is 3D product photography worth the investment?
- What are hemispherical and spherical 3D product images?
- What’s the difference between still and 360 product photography?
- Which one is for you – still or 360 product images?
- How many individual image frames should you have in your 360s?
- What product photography equipment do you need for 360s?
- What is 360 view software, and do you need it?
How do you take 360-degree product photos?
360 product images are a series of still images of a product (24, 36, 72 etc.) photographed in sequence on a specialized 360 photo turntable that rotates on a single plane.
Software provided by the 360 product photography equipment manufacturer controls the turntable and camera.
The 360 photo turntable rotates and stops at specified degree intervals. At each interval, the software triggers the camera shutter to capture an image.
For example, with a 24-frame 360, the software triggers the camera shutter to take image #1, the turntable rotates 15 degrees (360 degrees divided by 24 images) and captures the next image. This continues until 24 images have been captured.
When the images are displayed in 360 view software – an application that plays in a browser – they play in sequence, so your customer can rotate and pan around the product and zoom into specific areas.
How does 360-degree product photography work?
The 360 product image production process is referred to as 360-degree product photography or 360 spin photography.
You need the standard product photography setup, including lights, stands, cameras and lenses, computer equipment, and software.
Additionally, you require a 360 turntable.
The workflows involved in 360-degree product photography are different than still product photography.
With standard product photography, you take multiple images of your product from different angles and positions. This involves lighting changes and a fair amount of product handling between images.
With 360 spin photography, you handle your product and adjust your lights during the product positioning and setup stage. You may need to prop your product, so it is positioned correctly to the camera. This is tricky because your prop must not obscure any part of the product as it rotates.
Once the positioning and lighting are correct, begin the spin. After the spin, review it for quality. If it looks good, move to the next product.
Here’s an example of the 360-degree product photography process:
- The product is placed in the center of the 360 photo turntable at the desired angle to the camera. The product may need to be propped to achieve this angle.
- Adjust your lights so the product has adequate light all around but without too much in any specific area as this can cause blow outs and glares in the images.
- In the software that controls the turntable, enter the number of images you want in the 360.
- Initiate a test spin so you can see if the 360 looks good. Adjust your lights if necessary.
- Click start, image #1 is taken, the turntable rotates, image #2 is taken, and so on.
- The software names the individual image files according to the sequence in which they were taken. For example, the software could use the product number and the image frame sequence – 123456_01, 123456_02, 123456_03….
- The 360 view software plays the images according to their image sequence number (01, 02, 03…), and the product can be rotated, panned, and zoomed.
How can 360-degree product photography benefit your business?
Considering the costs, resources, and challenges, is 360-degree product photography worth it?
The answer is product dependent.
If your products are multi-dimensional with features that the consumer would want to see and engage with, 360 product photography is worth the investment (you will increase sales).
Take backpacks for example. These products have many interesting features on all sides, so 360 images are a perfect fit because consumers would benefit from the ability to rotate the product to see all sides and to zoom into specific areas.
Consumers will use their mouse to control the product rotation and to view the angles they are interested in.
By rotating the the backpack above (hover your mouse over the image to control the rotation)
If your products are single-dimensional, flat, and/or obvious to the consumer (they know exactly what they are buying), then still product images will be enough.
Products that don’t need 360-degree photography include envelopes, cutting boards, engine gaskets, socks – the list goes on. With these types of products, investing in 360-degree product photography would not be necessary – a spinning envelope would not help increase sales.
For many products, 360-degree product photos provide your business with two HUGE benefits:
- They help sell more products: You will sell more products with 360 product photos compared to not having them.
- They help reduce returns: Your consumer will be sure they are buying the product they want and need with 360 product photos, resulting in lower returns and reduced costs.
360 Product Photos Help Sell More Products
To be successful at eCommerce, your products need to stand out from the competition, and your consumers need to see your products as the best products available.
360-degree product photos help do both.
Stand Out from the Competition
Ecommerce is characterized by side-by-side product comparisons. As a result, you need to stand out in order to differentiate your products from other similar products.
Here’s how 360 photos play a role in the eCommerce buying process:
- Your product shows up on a page with your competitor’s products.
- Some products have good images, poor quality images, or no images.
- Your products have rotating 360-degree product photos.
- Your images and product presentation are better than your competitor’s.
- You get the click.
- The consumer interacts with your product in the 360 view software, rotating it and zooming into details.
- You win the sale.
Boost Buyer Confidence
360-degree product photography, which produces high-quality 360 images of your products, allows you to provide your consumer with an engaging and interactive experience.
They will get a true sense of your product’s quality.
This confidence in your product’s quality will help win the sale.
360 Product Photos Help Reduce Product Returns
The buying process in the physical world involves seeing, touching, and handling products. This allows consumers to know if they are buying the right product or not.
In the eCommerce buying process, there is no seeing, touching, or handling.
In some industries, a 25% return rate is common. A significant percentage of these returns are because the buyer thought they were purchasing the right product.
The costs of processing returns are huge.
Product descriptions, reviews, and high-quality images help the consumer determine if the product is right for their needs.
To ensure that the consumer is buying the right product, offer them the ability to engage with your product.
360 product images offer consumer engagement and interactivity. This reduces product returns, saving your business time and money.
What is the difference between 3D and 360 product photography?
There are six main differences between 3D and 360 product photography.
1) 3D product photography involves capturing more images
With 3D photography, you capture a series of images on more than one plane; this increases the overall image count significantly.
Here’s how it works.
- The turntable turns a single full rotation, and the camera captures X number of images (i.e. 24, 36, 72) at specified degree intervals during this rotation.
- The camera moves over the product X degrees (i.e. a bit higher or lower), and captures another set of images, and so on. Some systems have several fixed cameras positioned over the product, and each camera fires in unison as the product rotates.
- In the 360 image viewer, the consumer can view the image and zoom into it on all the planes it was photographed on.
2) 3D product photography shows more details of your product to the consumer
When the consumer interacts with the product in the viewer, they can rotate the product on multiple angles and planes. This allows them to see more product detail.
The more images of your product you capture, the more detail the consumer can see when they interact with it in the viewer.
3) 3D product photography takes longer
Depending on the equipment you use, it takes longer to complete 3D images. The camera is firing more times and the 3D equipment must re-position the camera over the product for each plane.
Also, it can take longer to set up your product before you begin photography. You need to plan how your product will look on each plane as the camera captures the images.
Lastly, propping products prior to photography is time-consuming. The props must be positioned so they do not obscure any part of the product as it rotates.
Depending on the number of 360 planes in the 3D image, how complex the product is to set up and prop, and the equipment you are using, it can take 15 minutes or more to complete a 3D image.
4) 3D product images take longer to load in browsers
3D images involve more images frames than 360s. This makes the overall file size larger.
Let’s say you have a 4-plane 3D product image, where each plane has 24 images, and each image is 2 MBs. Your total image count is 96 and the total file size is 192 MBs compared to 48 MBs for a 360 image.
It takes time to load a 192 MB file in your browser!
To address this issue, you can use 360 view software that uses two image sets – a low and high resolution.
The viewer loads the low-resolution image set first so it is visible in the browser quickly. In the background, it loads the high-resolution image set, so it is available when your consumer zooms into your product. This will cut down wait times considerably.
5) 3D product photography requires more equipment
To produce 3D product images, you will need a 360 photo turntable and equipment that captures the additional planes over the product.
There are two types of 3D equipment.
The first is a robotic arm that moves over the product in an arch, stopping at defined intervals to capture the next plane, and so on.
The second is a fixed-arm system with multiple cameras at defined intervals fixed on an arm that arches over the product. When the spin is initiated, all the cameras fire as the product rotates on the turntable.
For these systems, you will be required to purchase 5 to 10 cameras and lenses.
6) 3D product photography equipment is expensive
With 360 equipment, there are manufacturers at all ends of the price and quality spectrum from entry level to premium. You can find a system that works with your budget.
If you are looking to do 360 product photography, be prepared to spend more.
There are two main reasons why 3D equipment is expensive.
One, there are fewer manufacturers.
Second, the equipment is sophisticated, as with the case of the robotic arms, or it requires many camera and lens sets.
Both systems are costly.
Is 3D product photography worth the investment?
Is 3D photography worth the extra time, effort, and money?
The answer is yes if your products are a good fit for 360 images and if you will sell more.
If your products have product features on all sides that are important for the consumer to see during the buying process, then it may be worth considering not only 360 product photography but 3D photography as well. The 3D image below was created by taking multiple 360 image sets on several planes.
When you use your mouse you can rotate the product from several angles seeing the product in significant detail.
If you sell more products because of 3D product images, then it is worth the investment.
Make sure you think carefully before deciding on 3D images. They take longer to photograph, and if the individual images frames require editing, the cost can be MUCH higher than 360s.
What are hemispherical and spherical 3D product images?
There are two kinds of 3D product images: hemispherical and spherical.
Hemispherical 3D Product Images
Hemispherical images have image sets for several planes of only ONE side of the product (i.e. the top).
The camera captures one set of 360 images for each plane, and each set is captured at a different angle over the product. The other side of the product (i.e. the bottom) is not photographed.
Hemispherical 3D images have between three and six planes.
The 3D hemispherical image below was taken on 5 planes of the top side of the product.
Spherical 3D Product Images
Spherical images have image sets for several planes of the product on both sides (i.e. the top and the bottom).
The product must be flipped and positioned after the hemispherical planes are completed.
The consumer can see all of the product’s details from all angles and sides.
Spherical images provide the best view of the product from all sides.
Spherical 3D images have between 3 and 6 planes per side (so 6 to 12 planes in total).
The 3D spherical image below was taken on 5 planes on both the top and the bottom side of the product.
What’s the difference between still and 360 product photography?
Still product photography involves positioning your products on the photography table and capturing images of various views and angles.
For example, you may capture still images from every side of your product – you can capture an image of the top, bottom, left side, and right side of your product as well as close-up images of specific product features.
Some products will need only a single image whereas others may require five or more.
When product images are presented to your consumer during the buying process, there will be thumbnail images for each view. When these are clicked, they will appear in a larger pop-up window. Zoom functionality can be used to allow your consumers to zoom into the images.
The main differences between still and 360 product photography are the processes and workflows involved, the equipment and software required, and the final image output
Processes and Workflows
The workflows and processes involved in still and 360 product photography are quite different.
With still photography, you position your product to the camera at the angle that gives you the “view” you require. For example, if you are capturing a front view of the product, you will position your product so the front of it is facing to the camera.
You prop the product, so it balances at the desired angle. Propping is straightforward for still images because you can hide the prop behind the product, so it is out of the view of the camera.
You will adjust your lights to make sure the product is ideally lit.
You capture the image and catalog it in your image production software.
You adjust and prop the product for the next view (e.g. side view). Adjust your lights accordingly.
This process continues until all the required image views for the product are taken.
You then move on to the next product.
With 360 product photography, you position your product towards the camera for the optimal spin.
You will need to prop your product so it faces the camera at the best angle. You will also need to make sure you position the prop without obscuring any part of the product.
You will also need to adjust your lights so that they do not cause glares and flares on the product as it rotates. Once your spin starts, you cannot touch your lights, so try and get them right in the setup phase.
Take a test spin.
If the test spin looks good, reset the spin in the 360 software provided by the manufacturer, and start the 360 rotation
Do some background and level adjusting in your imaging software, typically Lightroom or Capture One. Edit the images as a group so they look consistent when playing in the 360 view software.
Submit the image set to your image production management software and move to the next product.
Equipment and Software
360 and still photography require standard product photography equipment – cameras, lenses, lights, stands, and computer equipment.
Still photography uses a transparent photography table that is lit underneath to eliminate shadows. These tables vary in size depending on the size and weight of the products you are photographing.
360 photography using a turntable that rotates. The turntable is controlled by software that is connected to the computer.
Lighting systems and approaches are different with 360 photography.
Most still-product photography uses strobe lights because of their power and ability to produce images with clean, white backgrounds.
360 product photography uses either strobe or continuous lights. Continuous lights allow you to provide more consistent light around the product, so you can avoid glares, flares, and blow-outs (areas of the product that are not visible in the image from the camera).
360 and still photography use different software.
Still photography typically uses live view software to position the product and for firing the camera shutter. Other software tools include Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One.
360 product photography equipment comes with software that controls the turntable and cameras. You can define the number of images in the 360, the number of planes (if the equipment is 3D), the speed that the turntable rotates, and how the image frames are named. The software also allows you to control your camera settings.
360 spin photography also uses image manipulation software like Lightroom or Capture One. After the spin is completed, you will review the image set in this software and make adjustments to the background, levels, and tone.
Final Image Output
Still photography produces individual images of specific views or angles of your product whereas 360 photography produces a series of still images that are displayed as a set using 360 view software.
Still images are more detailed and have higher resolutions when compared to 360 images.
Still images are specific to an area or view of the product. The camera focuses on that area and the image frame is filled 90% (or more) with the product.
With 360 images you need to set the camera far enough away from the product so when the product rotates, and each image frame is captured, there is enough white space around the edges of ALL the images in the 360 image set.
When you set up for the 360, you position the product for the best overall view of the entire product. You can’t focus on a specific area of the product, and instead, focus on getting the best overall image of the entire product from all sides.
Also, still images can be higher quality compared to 360 images.
The main reason for this is that with still images, you have full control of your lights when you set up for each image. This means you can set up your lights for the perfect image.
With 360 images, you set your lights so the entire product is reasonable lit on all sides and not too much in any one area. It is a much more general lighting set up as opposed to a specific lighting set up for still images.
360 images can look good coming straight from the camera, but often some degree of editing is required in order to bring up the quality.
Which one is for you – still or 360 product images?
Which is a better investment for your business – still product images, 360-degree product images, or both?
There is no right answer. Each business is different.
There are three factors to consider:
- Your products.
- Your consumers.
- The facts (about product images).
Some products are best suited for still images and some for 360 images.
Still images are for simple single-dimensional products; 360 images are for complex products that are multi-dimensional with features on all sides and angles.
There are many cases where products that are perfect for 360s should also have high-resolution still images.
The best option in this case would be a 360 image that shows the overall product with hotspots for still images. When the consumer clicks on a hotspot, they can see a detailed still image.
Put some time into analyzing your products to determine which image types are best. Mix and match for the best results.
Different consumers have unique buying habits. They see your products in different ways. Some image types will be more effective with certain types of buyers than others.
Here are three consumer types, and the images that would work best to engage them in the buying process are different.
These consumers know what they want and are well informed about the products. They are quick to make a buying decision.
Several high-quality still images showing the overall product would be perfect to convince them to buy.
These consumers are not sure what they want, and they do not know much about your products. They need education in order to determine what product is right for them.
For these buyers, you need multiple detailed images to sell them on product features and quality.
A 360 image showing the product from all angles and allowing the consumer to interact with the product would help convince them to buy.
The key with these consumers is to use images to provide them with information and education.
These consumers love to compare products. They go back and forth between products looking at features before deciding.
To sell to these consumers, you must consider the competitive landscape.
What are your competitors doing with product images? Are they displaying still images? How many views? What is the image quality like? Do they have 360-degree images? What about 3D images?
If you are going to win over comparison consumers, your products need to be presented better than the competition.
These facts should be considered in your decision on which image types to go with:
- You must have product images to be successful in eCommerce.
- High-resolution still images are excellent for showing specific views of your products.
- Multiple image views (i.e. top, bottom, left, right, front, back, and close-up) help consumers understand your products better.
- 360 product images make all angles of your products visible to your consumer and are great for consumer engagement.
- 360-degree product photos combined with high-resolution still images provide your consumers an overall (the 360) and a detailed (the still images) view of your product.
- 3D product images provide consumers with the best overall view of your products from every angle possible. Combine 3D images with still images and this is the best combination possible.
How many individual image frames should you have in your 360s?
Before you engage an outsourced service provider or set up your own in-house studio, you should decide how many image frames you want in your 360-degree product photos.
There are several things to consider before making this decision.
How smooth do you want your 360 product images to be?
The more image frames in your 360s, the smoother they appear when rotating in the viewer. A 72-image frame 360 is smoother than a 24-frame 360.
When you drop below 24 frames, the rotation begins to appear choppy. This is not good when it comes to attracting and engaging consumers.
If your products are expensive and a perfectly smooth rotation is important, then having more frames in your 360 is the way to go.
The 360 images below show the difference between a 24-frame and a 72-frame 360. The second 360 has 72 frames and shows a smoother rotation.
How fast do you want your 360 product images to load in a browser?
The more images in your 360, the longer it will take to load in your consumer’s browser.
Another thing to consider is mobile browsing. Many consumers are shopping on their phones. Load times are even more important when it comes to mobile.
Consumers don’t like to wait.
What requirements do your resellers have for the 360 images you send them?
In many industries, resellers are asking for 360-degree photos from their suppliers.
Find out from your resellers how many images they require in a 360, and how they want the image frames formatted, named, and sized.
360 product photography is expensive. You certainly do not want to produce 360 images with 24 image frames only to find out your resellers wanted 36.
Starting over is extremely costly and time-consuming.
What are your budgets for 360 product photography?
The higher the image count per 360, the longer it will take to spin the products.
Lower production rates equal higher production costs.
Also, if image editing is required, it will take longer to edit the images and the cost will be higher.
What product photography equipment do you need for 360s?
For your 360 studio, you will need most of the equipment a standard product photography studio requires including the following:
- Camera and lens (if you are producing 3D images, you may need multiple cameras and lenses).
- Camera stand and gearhead.
- Light stands.
- Strobe or continuous lights.
- Softboxes if you are using strobe lights.
- Computer and monitor(s).
You will also need a 360 photo turntable system. This will come with the turntable, the platform for the turntable (available in various widths to accommodate different sized products), and software to drive the turntable and fire the camera.
An alternative to the 360 photo turntable is a 360 photo lightbox. This is an enclosed box with lights on all sides and overhead. These units are great for smaller products and can produce 360 product images that need little or no image editing.
If you go with a lightbox, you will not require lights, stands, or softboxes.
What is 360 view software, and do you need it?
To display 360 images on your website, you need 360 view software.
A 360 image viewer is a software application that plays in your consumer’s browser allowing them to interact with your product.
On your product web pages, you will have HTML code that loads the 360 view software. The viewer then loads the individual image frames.
Both the viewer and the images reside on your web server.
The viewer has functionality and settings that control how the 360 image is displayed to your consumer and how they can interact with your product.
There are many 360 viewers on the market.
Some are lightweight, with few features and customizations and can only play on limited devices, whereas others are full featured and can be customized to match the look and feel of your site as well as provide the functionality you want your site visitors to have. These viewers typically play on all browsers and devices.
Here is more detail on 360 view software.
360 view software plays in a browser
Consumers will be accessing your 360-degree product photos on websites through their computers, tablets, and mobile devices using various web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Edge etc.).
These browsers load the image viewer when the 360 image is clicked on by the consumer or when the page loads (depending on how you have the page’s HTML is coded).
The goal is to maximize the ROI (return on investment) on your 360 image investment (get as many sales as possible!). To do this, you need your 360 images to play on all devices and browsers. This means you need a viewer that has cross-platform and browser capabilities.
Keep this in mind when you are sourcing image viewers
360 view software and 360 image frames reside on your web server
The 360 viewer application resides on your web server along with all your website files. When you create a 360/3D image, the individual image frames, correctly formatted and named according to the requirements of the 360 image viewer you are using, are uploaded to the server in a specified folder.
When a consumer clicks on your 360 product image, or the web page loads, the HTML code on the page initiates the viewer, and the viewer displays the appropriate 360 image files.
360 image viewer functionality and consumer interaction
Viewers control what the consumer can do with the product, and how the viewer and product are presented to the consumer.
Common features include panning and zooming into the product, rotating the product with toolbar or mouse controls, and drilling into hot spots for displaying still images and textual content.
In some viewers, you can adjust the look and feel as well as what the consumer can do in the viewer.
Do you really need 360 view software?
If you are going to display 360 images on your website, you need 360 view software.
For some businesses, like manufacturers, their resellers and marketplaces are requesting/demanding 360 images. These partners do not need the viewer sent with the images, they have their own viewer; they just need the individual image frames.
If you are a manufacturer and you are not displaying 360s on your own site (you just send the image frames to your resellers), then you do not need 360 view software.
How do you select a 360 image viewer?
When shopping for a viewer, consider its functionality, how customizable it is, and which devices and browsers it can play on.
Image viewers offer all kinds of functionality including the following:
- Toolbar controls for play, pause, rotate left, rotate right, zoom, full screen, pan, and 3D rotate (if your products were photographed on more than one plane).
- Mouse controls to rotate, zoom, and pan.
- Hot spots placed on specific locations on the product, so when you hover over or click the hotspots images, text appears. The text can be formatted and can include hyperlinks.
Most 360 image viewers allow you to customize the viewer to match your branding and website, so you can offer a unique experience to your consumers.
Here are some common customizations:
- Viewer size: You can customize the size of the viewer, in pixel height and width, as it appears on your website.
- Viewer controls: You can customize how the controls appear on the viewer. You can use your own custom-designed icons and align controls on the left, right, or center.
- Multiple image sets: You can include a low-resolution image set for fast initial loading on the web page and a high-resolution set for zooming into product details.
- Hot spots: You can add hot spots to specific areas on the product. When a consumer hovers over a hot spot, they can see still images and/or text pop-ups.
- Skins: You can select different skins for the viewer to match the look and feel of your website and brand (e.g. you can pick the toolbar color or border color).
- Maximum zoom: You can control the percentage that the consumer can zoom into the product (e.g. maximum 600% zoom).
- Rotation: You can customize how fast the product rotates as well as whether the product rotates when the webpage first loads, and if so, how many rotations and what direction it rotates.
The investment in 360 product images is considerable. The key goal is to allow your consumers an interactive buying experience regardless of the browser, platform, or device they are using.
When selecting a viewer, pay close attention to its limitations with respect to browsers and devices.
Some viewers will play on everything with full functionality, some will play on some devices with full functionality but limited functionality on others, and some will not play at all on specific devices or in specific browsers.
For example, a Flash-based viewer may play with full functionality on browsers that support Flash, but only limited functionality on non-Flash supporting devices and browsers. In this case, the viewer will play in HTML5 mode and likely with limited functionality.
360 product photography should be seriously considered for most businesses selling their products through B2C and B2B eCommerce channels.
Success in eCommerce is all about providing consumers with the best possible buying experience, showing off your product quality, and beating your competition.
360-degree product images are more than the latest and greatest craze; they can truly deliver on these three pillars of eCommerce success.
The most important thing when considering whether to add 360 product images to your digital asset mix is education – there is a lot to learn and understand, certainly far more than with standard product photography.
Knowledge is certainly power when it comes to 360 and 3D images and photography. Hopefully, this article has provided you with the basics and beyond.
Are you planning on integrating 360 product images into your digital asset mix?
If so, will you do the 360 product photography in-house or outsourced?