Product Photography: Products in Action

In our last post on product photography, we discussed why having quality product photos matters for your business. First impressions mean a lot to the consumer, and finding the best way to showcase your product that is both authentic and appealing can be a difficult balance to obtain. The next important step that many businesses make is including images of the product in real life, through what is known as lifestyle photography.

The purpose of lifestyle photography is to tell a story. If product photography is to give customers the idea of how the product will feel in their hand, lifestyle photography in the context of eCommerce is to give customers an idea of what their life would be like with the product. Step one is telling the customer a story. Step two is them imagining themselves within it.

setting the stage

Many business opt for stock images instead of custom lifestyle photography with their unique product. This is common in the service industry, where the thing your selling cannot easily be photographed. For example, a cleaning service is less likely to invest in in-house imagery of their staff at work because it can easily be conveyed through the use of stock images of clean rooms or sanitation equipment. However, if you are selling a physical product, it is important to include that product in your lifestyle images. Stock photos offer a quick fix for building new visual content for newly-established brands, but revamping your look later on with custom images that feature your product will help to communicate authenticity and professionalism. Possessing these qualities is crucial to convincing customers to invest in your brand.

A practical benefit of having lifestyle images to accompany your product is the ability to show the item in scale. There are plenty of ways to do this that don’t involve real-life images, like using ruler measurements or adding a graphic to elaborate scale, as shown to the left. However, this is not quite as convincing as a photo of the product in a real-life setting. Take the photo on the right, for example, which would be considered lifestyle photography.


The table, plate in the background, and coffee beans in the foreground work together to add scale to the image. People relate more to real-life examples of scale than they do to numerical values on a ruler, and seeing the second photo can help them more accurately guess the size of the item. Additionally, the scene surrounding the product helps to establish relatability, which is our next point.

Telling a story

When we use the term “telling a story,” we don’t necessarily mean crafting a whole narrative, or comic, with your images. What we do mean, is that a photo can convey more than just what a product looks like. Consider the photo of the coffee mug above, what can be said about its themes? There is the obvious connection between a glass mug and coffee, but is that easily discerned by the image of the product against a blank background? On a more thematic level, the focus on whole coffee beans and the rustic chic tabletop offer a sense of down to earth, homey, but style-conscious living. You see this in many products that adhere to a theme, or lifestyle. Consider if the product above was replaced with a sports drink, or a colorful robot toy. It would look out of place, and would do a poor job of conveying the “lifestyle” that people associate with those sorts of items.

Telling a story means offering what the product can be in real life, and appealing to your demographic. If you were selling a sports drink, that might be elaborated through images of athletes or stadiums. If you were selling a yoga mat, you would want to show the mat being used during a yoga activity. This not only establishes scale and utility, but associates the product directly with those who are most likely to purchase it. However, there is a psychological component to what you include within your lifestyle images, beyond just creating correlations between product and use.

Selling an experience

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 11.36.39 AM.png

On a larger scale, companies strive to sell experiences with how they design their store and frame advertisements. Lifestyle images work the same way, but on a more subtle scale. Consider IKEA, a popular furniture company that emphasizes modernization and ergonomics in their design. Besides standalone product photos, which can emphasize the appeal of an individual item, they offer plenty of lifestyle images that include their products but do not exactly feature them. Consider the image here of one of their dining room sets.

While the furniture is clearly pictured, it’s not exactly the “point” of the image. Customers eyes are drawn around the whole room, to bright pops of color and unique items that IKEA may not even sell. The average customer doesn’t identify with this image because their dining room looks just like the one in the photo, and they are able to estimate what it would look like in their home. Instead, they identify with the experience the image is selling: having a fashionable, unique room that appeals to their individual tastes. When a business constructs a buyer persona, these are the things they consider when selecting what to include in their lifestyle photography. What does the person most likely to buy my products enjoy? For IKEA, they anticipate their customers being design-minded individuals that will feel inspired by unique rooms like the one seen here.

Beyond advertising utility, scale, or stories, you must advertise a full experience that customers will find enviable and inspirational. Many brands find creative ways to do this with unique storytelling or photo manipulations, to distance themselves from the stock photo variety of lifestyle images. Using only isolated product photos or simulated scale mockups doesn’t have the same impact on a customer that will draw their attention and invoke feelings of desire or connection. These feelings are crucial to elevating your brand above competitors and establish a solid presence in the customer’s mind.

Paige Penfold