Because of how quickly photography expenses add up, it’s natural for product photography to fall under the microscope of managers and accountants. Big budgets are big targets, and creative teams have to justify their spend or see it slashed by someone who doesn’t intuitively grasp that good product images are more than just aesthetically pleasing—they drive sales.
With that in mind, here’s the case for retouching’s value. In the right workflow, retouching product photos doesn’t add cost—it drives costs down, while increasing the quality and productivity of a photo studio.
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Point someone here the next time they ask you “Why should we pay for retouching?”
And if you’re not already retouching, consider this a primer on why you should and where to start.
Because retouching isn’t about “fixing” things, most of the time. It’s about showcasing a product, and a brand.
Retouching is how you:
- Reduce returns
- Style faster and better
- Enable props
- Optimize your website
- Brand yourself
1. Reduce returns by improving accuracy
As e-commerce sales grow, so too do return rates. And that’s murder on margins.
Amazon and most other major online retailers offer free shipping and free returns, so you probably do too in order to compete. Depending on product type, estimates are that anywhere from 15%-30% of online purchases are returned, compared to 8-10% for traditional retail. Shipping, restocking, and potentially being unable to resell a return are all extremely damaging expenses for retailers.
There are a lot of potential reasons for a product to be returned—including the rise of the intentional returner, who orders multiple variations of a product with the intention of returning all but one of them—but one of the surest ways to cause a return is to misrepresent your product.
Post-production is an opportunity to double check your work, in a sense. You can do awesome things like:
- Color match to ensure that lighting, camera settings, or environmental factors don’t throw off the color of your product in its photo. (Pixelz has a color matching and recoloring feature called Colorways, btw.)
- Recolor to show your product in all colorways, without taking additional photos. Don’t make a buyer guess at what a product will look like from a swatch
- Update details for 100% accuracy. Did a button’s location change or a logo get removed in between when you photographed your sample and when it went into final production? Apply updates in post-production instead of reshooting.
- Show fit and shape with effects like the Invisible Mannequin. Demonstrate how your product will fit without the expense of models. (Here’s a quick Ghost Mannequin how-to, from photography to post-production.)
The better feel you can give a shopper for your product, the more likely you are to meet their expectations—and have a satisfied customer.
2. Save time in studio with faster and better styling
Whether you’re shooting flats, pin-ups, or on body, styling is an essential but time consuming part of the photography workflow. Retouching can speed things up, while also enabling a stylist to get more creative.
For example, pin-ups are one of the best ways to shoot apparel off-body. Pinning a shirt to a foam board wall will create a more natural shape and shadow than laying it flat on a table or the ground, but then there’s an obvious problem: there are pins in your photo!
Pins and other props can be removed in post-production, and your stylist can work faster if they know there’s no need to hide every single pinhead.
Is a pant leg a little too long for your model? You can fold and pin it up and then remove the crease in post-production.
Are there unexpected creases from packaging or sitting on the shelf? Shoulder nipples from hangers? Remove them in retouching rather than stopping the shoot to steam everything.
If your product is being worn by a model, are there visible imprints from undergarments, nipples, or pockets? Retouch them away instead of restyling.
Pack shots? Stack your product in a composite in retouching instead of shooting every variant. (Here’s how to stack images for a composite with Pixelz.)
There are also styles of photography that are only possible via retouching, like the Ghost Mannequin.
3. Enable props
Retouching enables propping, which speeds up the product photography workflow, improves consistency, and improves output quality.
Product photography is not new. For almost every product type, there are inexpensive tools and simple methods you can use to create better photos.
I’m not talking about something that appears in the final photo, like creatively arranged pinecones on a table or a bouquet of flowers. I’m talking about product specific mannequins, shoe stands, bag hangers, floss to hold up the straps of a sandal, etc.
If you’re photographing footwear and you want 6 specific angles for every shoe, a stand can ensure consistency and make positioning an extremely fast process. Then you can remove it in post-production.
Speaking of consistency...
4. Faster site loading and easier navigation through optimized imagery
There are some basic image editing processes that we don’t usually think of as “retouching” but that are definitely a major part of post-production.
Edits like background removal, cropping, margins, alignment, and compression are absolutely essential to your website’s usability.
Background removal is the easiest way to create a clean white background, a requirement for selling on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Rakuten. It also reduces an image’s file size, which helps with page loading times. A good retouching service will retain the natural shadow, or create a shadow for you in order to avoid an uncanny floating impression.
Compressing images and using progressive jpegs will improve your website’s loading speed, and every second saved keeps customers on your site.
Cropping images to a consistent shape and with the product positioned at the same spot in the image makes it easy for customers to browse your site. They can quickly compare products, and their focus stays on the product instead of being attracted to pattern disruptions like a margin that’s off or a product that’s middle aligned instead of bottom aligned like the rest of a row.
The above are fundamental parts of any post-production process—but retouching is much more than that. Retouching is how you get to the next level: branding.
5. Brand yourself with clean, unique photography
Your photography’s quality is a direct reflection of your brand. If there’s untidy lacing, loose threads, heavy creasing, flyaway hairs, smudges, and dirty backgrounds, it reflects poorly on you. Retouching cleans up temporary imperfections to show your product at its best.
Your product photos are often a customer’s first impression of your brand, and the last thing they see before making a purchase decision.
Retouching is also an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself. You don’t have to do something radical—subtle changes can have a profound effect.
Pixelz has definitely allowed us to increase what we can do in the studio, which is really important.
For example, maybe you want your original background to appear in your photos, instead of the omnipresent plain white created by background removal. But there’s a problem: your studio has seen a lot of traffic, and there are visible footprints on your backdrop. Retouching can remove those prints while keeping your unique aesthetic intact.
Or perhaps you want to build a form for your apparel that creates the perfect silhouette, but wiring can show in some instances. You can prop however you like when your styling is complemented by retouching.
Maybe you want to use a variety of background colors for pop. You can create as many outputs as you like in post-production, or quickly do it yourself in the future if there’s already a clipping path in place.
The point is that retouching is an enabler. It’s not just a corrective, and image editing can be much more than background removal, cropping, and alignment. When creative teams don’t have to think of what’s in-camera as the final image, the shackles are off. They’re free to create, to experiment, and to continually perfect.
And that’s how an e-commerce brand comes to life through photography.
A retouching service is the easiest way to retouch your product photos
Not retouching your images right now?
You don’t have to build a massive in-house team in order to experience the benefits of retouching. Pixelz Professional exists because we wanted to make the kind of retouching we do for Fortune 500 brands accessible to every online seller. Check out what some of our customers like Fossil Group, Asics, and Express have to say.
Pixelz Professional is an online retouching platform that guides you through creating custom specifications for your retouching, complete with illustrated examples and best practice packages. You don’t need technical knowledge to use it, just internet access and a desire to improve your imagery. Then you upload your photos and they’re retouched and returned to you by 9:00 a.m. (your time) the next morning. There's even a 3 hours or less expedite option for up to 20 images each day!
Try it free today and see what a big difference a professional retouching service can make for your business.