As commercial photographers, we are increasingly being asked to optimize our images for digital implementation. First it was for websites, then for tablets; now, customers are demanding images that feature hi-res clarity (ideal for sales) at ridiculously low file sizes (for faster load times.
From the retailers’ perspective, this makes perfect sense: on average, mobile now accounts for more than half of all online traffic around the globe. More and more, people are browsing and shopping online stores through mobile devices, even on the weekend. To leverage this trend, e-commerce sites need to be able to convert on mobile … and that means optimizing their sites for speed, aesthetics, and ease-of-use.
It is essential that mobile sites offer customers the necessary resources to make quick, informed purchases. Users are accustomed to the process that already exists with desktop machines; intelligent, responsive design ideally provides that same experience for shoppers, regardless which device they’re on.
While it makes sense for merchants, this need for responsive design can pose challenges for photographers. The stickiest part is reducing file size while maintaining image clarity. There are multiple ways to do this, but photogs are better off handling the size reduction personally, as opposed to letting programmers solve the issue.
Too often, the programmer simply places the largest image on the webpage, then “shrinks” the dimensions through the source code. Images become blurred and colors fade, making the product unviewable; worse, load-times are still dangerously long.
It has been shown that most consumers will give a website about 2 seconds to load on a desktop or laptop. They are slightly more generous on mobile devices — allowing 5 seconds – but that still leaves an incredibly small window for capturing their interest.
To alleviate this problem, photographers should provide programmers with at least two sizes of every picture. The site can have a smaller image for lists, with an option to view a larger image in a pop-up or on a separate webpage.
This also allows the photog to make sure that the images all have the best color balance and sharpness. This can sometimes be as simple as selecting the most appropriate file format. Normally, JPEGs will be the most logical choice for ecommerce use, as they offer the highest quality at the smallest file size.
For thumbnails or extremely simple images, GIFs are another option. GIFs should never be used for large images, however: the file will be huge with no way to make it smaller without obscuring the picture.
PNGs are sometimes an acceptable alternative to either JPEGs or GIFS. For simple decorative images, PNGs’ smaller file size can be an advantage; PNGs also allow for transparent backgrounds.
Most image editing programs can save images to any of these file types. Adobe Photoshop is obviously the industry standard, but there are other good programs that exist.
All trends are pointing to mobile commerce as the future for online shopping. Commercial photographers should embrace this rapidly changing medium and develop techniques to profitably fulfill the image needs of digital merchants.