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Hero shot: The E-commerce Photography Trend that Drives CTR Up

Hero shot: The E-commerce Photography Trend that Drives CTR Up

Hero shot as the best of the 2 worlds: nearly as cheap as product image and nearly as impactful as the commercial one.

Pylyp Sukhenko

May 7, 2021

Hero shot may define different concepts depending on the industry – but it’s a relative newcomer in product photography. Cinematography and web design have used the term for years meaning either the first appearance of the main character or the pivotal shot on the web landing page respectively.

When it comes to E-commerce, “hero shot” is used more often to define a central shot in a series or category, that carries some emotional weight as well as factual rendition to it.

Squareshot, a professional product photography company with studios in New York and Los Angeles, has been using the term internally for a while and we even offer it as a service on our ecommerce photography pricing page.

In this piece, we are offering a recap of an insider viewpoint by Mitya Kovalenko, co-founder, and COO at Squareshot with 10+ years of product photography experience on the topic. 

Read on to find out:

  • The definition of hero shot as applicable in the realm of commercial photos
  • Its application
  • Advantages of using hero images
  • Difference between commercial image vs hero shot vs product photo

First things first, let’s word a definition for this neologism in ecommerce photography.

What’s a hero shot in ecommerce photography?

The hero shot is a product image that’s enriched with props, background, and lighting to infuse mood, impart brand spirit, and provide context to the photographed item. It is mostly used for social media and category pages in an online store. It revolves around just one feature or idea characteristic of the brand, offer, or product, so it uses fewer resources than a proper commercial shoot.

Or, as Mitya puts it:

It's like a demo version for the bona fide commercial shoot. You tie the idea behind the hero image to one facet of the brand only, you tell a mono-sided story about the product, not necessarily spending tons of money and time to produce it. Whereby a proper fully-fledged commercial shoot usually takes lots of team effort, time, and capital for preparation in terms of its alignment with storytelling, marketing strategy, and brand identity. So it’s a hybrid of the product image and a commercial photo.

What are the characteristic features of the hero images?

  • Product as the centerpiece of the composition

You will usually have one central product that you are trying to sell or familiarize the audience with. It can also be a group photo, but so much less common. There are no rules about how much of a product goes into the final picture, but more often than not it's a full-sized product facing the camera at a slight angle or directly.

Photographed at Squareshot studios


  • Ambiance and context

Unlike a run-of-the-mill product image, a product hero shot will have some mood and brand identity infused into it. It provides some context, however limited, to the item in focus.

Photographed at Squareshot studios


  • The use of props, backgrounds, creative lighting

How do you inject the intangible spirit into a piece of visual content? It's usually a combination of the props, textures, color of the background, positioning, the concept of the shoot. 

Photographed at Squareshot studios


  • Social media usage

While hero images are also used to illustrate the category of products in an online store, they are most often shot for converting social media into website traffic. As they stand out in the feed due to appealing aesthetics, they will capture the attention of the social media user and drive them to an online store.

  • Price-positioning: above product images yet below commercial ones

The price point further reveals the mid-point of the hero shot product photography – it’s basically more emotion-driven than product images and still less thorough than commercial photos. This is reflected in the pricing too.

You only throw one creative idea into such images, enough to make it pop in the newsfeed of a social media channel but not deep and all-embracing enough to represent the entire brand or collection.

So the hero image pricing is usually just a formula:

Hero shot price = product image price + price for props + extra editing surcharge

Where do you use them most?

Hero shots for ecommerce can be used in ecommerce across different channels:

     1. In an online store as one of the product photos

In this case, there are 3 scenarios:

It’s used as the first image – the result on the category page may be overwhelming then; the user can be lost in all the creativity and fail to capture the mere basics of the product’s functionality.

It’s used as the final image – in this case, you get the emotional impact at the end of scrolling through the product image collection but still enjoy the neat category page with uniform product images.

Product pages or category feed are sporadically injected with hero shots when the majority are still uniform product images. In this case, commerce entrepreneurs may use hero shots to capture the eye of the visitor as to drive clicks to a specific item, they aim to stand out. It may yield great results to move slow-moving items of seasonal products at the end of the season.

     2. In an online store as a category image

The category may have a page or a submenu devoted to it depending on the architecture and navigation of your online store. Hero images belong nicely as the category image, as they are functional enough and still convey an emotion of sorts.


     3. On social media

The most frequent and purposeful use for this type of product image is social media. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all highly entertaining, so a mere white-background matter-of-factly product image will fail to attract attention.

Courtesy of CORKCICLE


One needs a bright catchy composition and a creative angle in visual content to fight for the user’s attention in this visually competitive environment.

     4. For blog pieces in outreach campaigns and influencer marketing

If you do influencer marketing or provide your pieces for articles, like “20 gifts for Mother’s day under $50”, hero images will be a perfect way to illustrate your story.

Commercial image vs Hero shot vs Product photo

The difference between the product image, hero shot, and a proper commercial photo is mostly in the level of creativity invested in it. The more creative the image, the more likely it is to be more expensive to produce. Marketplaces and online stores will mostly use uniform product photos that are highly functional and feel orderly when lined up on a category page.

While the creative visuals are more popular for social media and advertising campaigns usage.

Below is a quick comparative table of the difference between the three types of visuals.


Stages of production of the hero shots for ecommerce and social media

There are some particulars when it comes to planning and conceiving the creative images, with most of the routine being the same as for regular product photoshoots.

     1. The search of the central idea, inspiration, and references

It all starts with an idea. You may be looking to create a hero short for a specific occasion, like Christmas or Halloween. Sometimes you need to create a hero shot to represent the entire collection, for example, a skiing collection. You may also want a more creative shot to represent your collection based on the products it's produced from, like rose petals for beauty cream.

In either scenario, it all starts with a little brainstorming and a search of references that resonate with the spirit of your product.

     2. The search of props and the background

Once the idea is approved, the team is set to find the right props and backgrounds for the shoot. You may want to combine several techniques to translate your idea: specific items to accompany your main product, colored or textured background, use of specific lighting and shadows, unusual positioning of the objects, etc.

     3. Shooting process 

The next stage is fairly technical and involved all of the regular stages of the shoot preparation.

We have set them out in the tiniest detail for you in this piece: 

Ecommerce Product photography Insider guide: from zero to hero.

     4. Post-production and editing [Social media format prep]

Every ecommerce photographer knows to take as much care during the shoot itself so as to minimize the post-production stage.

Still, there is a bit of tweaking with size, exposure, format, shapes, background, or ghost mannequin removal to be done in the simplest of the product images. Hero shots may require extra effort due to the overall higher level of complexity.

Naturally, as the primary application of this type of visual content is social media, one needs to provide different formats as per the recent guidelines for each specific channel.

If you just decide to position your product at an unusual angle or go to the lengths of buying hard-to-get props to make a hero shot of your products, you can be sure this piece of visual content is the best value for money. 

We recommend our clients make hero shots for all of their key category products. They serve well to attract clients from the social media channels, reinforce brand awareness and drive that CTR up.

Afterword

Product images are like a 3D image in a vacuum – users only get to see the product, there is no context to it. Commercial visuals may have the minimal product on them but are sure to be penetrated with the spirit of the brand and emotional connotation. 

Hero shots take the best of the 2 worlds: the emotional charge of the commercial image and the cheap execution of the product image. They are like 3D visuals of an item but in context now.

Looking for the hero shot photography services? Squareshot is the place to start your journey to those increased CTRs. We love finding the right idea aligned with your product and occasion and capturing it through the lens of our camera. Guess what? Your users will love it too. Talk to our team or give us a buzz to discuss your ecommerce photography needs.


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