Lifestyle vs Product Photography

By Lisa McGrimmon | Published Feb. 26, 2021
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Compare lifestyle vs product photography for your craft business, and decide which type of photos you need to sell your handmade products online and at juried art shows.

Product photography can be divided into two large categories: product-only photos and lifestyle photos. Each type serves a different function in providing information, telling a story and building a customer's desire to buy your items.

Before we dive into the reasons why you might use each type of photo to promote your business and sell your products, I'll clarify what I mean by lifestyle vs product photography. 

What is product-only photography?

When I use the term "product-only photography" I'm referring to photos of a product alone against a plain background. My product photography teacher calls these types of photos catalog photography. You may also see this type of photo called e-commerce photography, studio photography, or white background photography.

The backdrop used in product-only photography is most often white. Some brands make excellent use of black or colored backdrops, and some craft artists use the dramatic graduated dark to light backdrop that's popular in photos for juried art shows.

If you want to learn how to get started taking your own product photos, Jessica Marquez's Craftsy course, Product Photography at Home is an excellent resource created specifically for makers.

EXAMPLE PRODUCT-Only PHOTO

The La Quinta Arts Foundation shared this product-only photo of a striking handmade teapot by ceramics artist Matt Conlon. The graduated dark to light backdrop is a popular and dramatic way to photograph handmade items for juried shows.

What is lifestyle product photography?

Lifestyle photos show your product in use. They are generally styled with props that are related to the product. Instead of a plain white backdrop, the photographer may choose a background or location that evokes a scene or mood related to the product.

If you want to learn how to create great lifestyle product photos, Heidi Adnum's book, The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos is an excellent resource.

example lifestyle Product Photo

Renegade Craft shared this lifestyle photo of an adorable pup wearing a handmade onesie by Little Beast.

The company uses several canine and feline models to display clothing on their site. They helpfully list the weight and breed of each pet, so shoppers can imagine how products will look on their own pets and choose correct sizes.

Strengths of Product-Only Photography

When taking product-only photos, your goal is to accurately show all of the details of a product.

Craft show vendors are often told to find ways to get their products into potential customers' hands. Encouraging people to pick up items can boost sales. Your customers can't pick up and touch your products when you're selling online, so your photos need to give them the kind of information they would look for when shopping in person.

Your product-only photos must represent the product's colors correctly, and your lighting should be set up to avoid distracting reflections and shadows. You'll need to photograph your product from a variety of angles, so shoppers can see all of its key elements. 

Don't forget to take a few close-up photos. Close-ups can draw attention to features that make your item special. They can show details that demonstrate your skill with your craft and the workmanship that goes into making your product.

STRENGTHS OF Lifestyle Product Photography

Lifestyle product photos also communicate essential information. Specifically, lifestyle photos provide a fantastic opportunity to show the size and scale of your product. Additionally, they are an excellent tool for telling a story, connecting with your target customer, and building desire to buy.

Have you ever seen a negative product review from a customer who was disappointed by the size of the item they bought even though the description clearly stated the dimensions? Some customers won't read those details carefully. Other customers read the dimensions, but they can't easily imagine how those numbers translate into a real-life product.

A lifestyle photo that shows your product alongside a common item that's a fairly fixed size will allow shoppers to visualize the size and scale of your item and avoid disappointment.

Lifestyle Photos Convey Important Information

Here's a lifestyle product photo from Glosters Pottery, a husband and wife team who make beautiful handmade mugs. Hands holding the mugs quickly and clearly show the size of the products.

If the props you use to show size and scale also suit your product and brand and connect with your target customers on an emotional level, your lifestyle product photos will be doubly effective.

The above photo of Glosters Pottery's handmade mugs does more than simply communicate the size of a product. The image shows the makers' hands. The husband's wedding band is subtle, but visible.

This photo builds a connection between the makers and their customers. We see the hands that will make our mug, and we know that they are a husband and wife team. The mugs and the company are made more personal, which is important for many people who shop handmade.

Lifestyle vs Product Photography
Which is Right for Your Business?

The type of photos you need will depend on the way you plan to use those photos.

For your Etsy shop or your own website:

If you're taking pictures of your handmade items to sell online on your own website or a craft marketplace like Etsy, ideally, you'll have a mixture of product-only photos and lifestyle photos.

In product listings, use several product-only photos taken at different angles to show all of the details of your product. Lifestyle photos will help your product come to life for your customers. Think about the size and shape of the images you'll post on your site or on Etsy, and compose your photos accordingly.

Product photos can be used beyond product listings — think Etsy shop banners or website header images. Typically, these photos will be wider than photos you'd use for product listings. While you have your camera out and your products are set up to photograph, compose a few photos with these uses in mind as well.

For social media marketing:

You'll probably use primarily lifestyle photos for social media, but product-only photos can work here as well.

When it comes to image dimensions, each social media platform has its own best practices. If you promote your craft business on Instagram, you'll want beautiful square photos. If Pinterest is your jam, you'll need rectangular images.

Keep these types of requirements in mind as you take your photos. Of course, you can always crop a rectangular photo and make it square for Instagram. But if you take the time to make sure that photo is composed in a way that still looks great when it's cropped into a square, you'll end up with a much better result.

For juried art show applications:

Typically, craft show organizers expect to see product-only photos included with your application. However, requirements vary from one show to the next. Do read the application instructions carefully in case show organizers want specific types of photos to feature in promotional materials.

Lifestyle and Product Photography

DSLR camera lens. Text - White background vs lifestyle product photos.

It's often wise to take both types of product photos. A combination of clean, distraction-free product-only images that accurately show the details of your product, as well as some lifestyle images that can show size and appeal to emotion will help you tell the whole story with photos.

Your decision will ultimately depend on the type of product you're photographing and they way you'll use those photos. However, in many cases, it will be smart to create a mixture of both lifestyle and product-only photos.

If you have already set up to take the photos and prepared your product, taking both types of photos will be an efficient use of your time, particularly if you don't need to make huge changes in you setup to switch from one style to the other. You'll have the flexibility to use your product images in variety of ways.

More Product PHotography Tips

  • Product Photography Lighting Setup

    Product photography lighting setup guide for beginner photographers. Three simple ways to set up lighting in your home product photography studio that don't require a lot of specialized equipment.

  • Light Box Product Photography

    Light box product photography tips. Beginner photographers' guide to using a light tent for tabletop craft photography.

  • Using Natural Light in Photography

    Using natural light in product photography. How to photograph your crafts outdoors or in front of a bright window and get excellent results.

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