An introduction to 360 Spins is the essential FREE guide to 360 product photography. Written by the development team at Swiftspin® it has been accessed by literally thousands of photographers and retailers around the world.
Imagine having had a miserable day. You only came out to buy a coat and ironically it’s started to drizzle. It’s the last shop. Your last chance. What are the odds of finding the perfect… and there it is, teasing you through the window. The one you’ve been looking for.
Your nose hits the glass. The assistant inside points to the closed sign. But you need to check the fit, the length, the stitching, and most of all, whether it has that nice detail on the back?
Sadly, this is what happens every day on millions of websites around the world. You end up basing your shopping choices on a single, flat and very boring image.
Now imagine you skipped the latte and reached the shop five minutes earlier. You have the coat in your hands. You turn it around and bingo! There’s the detail you were so keen on.
And that is what 360° product photography gives you – the ability to inspect a product all the way around – from every angle, at your leisure. Perfect.
Repeat the above in any virtual high street shop. The jeweller, the shoe shop, even the shop selling bicycles… whatever the product, you can take control from the comfort of your own browser. And you won’t even need your coat.
What exactly is 360 product photography?
You can see lots of samples all over the internet, but here, we’re going to try and describe it with words. Please bear with us.
360 product photography is a process whereby multiple still photos are taken of a product as it rotates (usually on a turntable). These photos are animated using various software, and uploaded to a website. The end user (shopper) can simply use their mouse to control the animation speed and recreate a view of the original product spinning 360 degrees.
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive name for the file that’s produced. We call them 360 spins and that has pretty much become the generic term for them. So, if it’s so great and so popular, why is it so difficult to find professional suppliers? As far as we’re concerned the reason is clear… it’s not easy.
There are plenty of companies doing 360º, from good to awful. The trouble is their systems and services are inconsistent. One company might offer zoom with 24 images, another roll-over with 12 images. One might offer up-and-over technology, another might use Quicktime another Actionscript. And there’s the problem. The end client is receiving mixed messages.
Imagine you’re designing and selling shoes, you just want your product to be displayed in a way that is as clear and engaging as possible. And you also want to know if it’s worth the expenditure. You don’t want to know ‘how’ it’s done, you just want it done. Affordably and to a high standard. Yes, what you, and every end user wants is… Transparent Technology. It just works. After all, you didn’t learn about fuel injection, ABS or radial tyres when you learnt to drive. They just worked. That’s how we think 360 product photography production should work too.
So, let’s go through some of the processes which will help ease the pain of too few sales or poor conversion rates. If you simply need someone to do it for you and don’t want to know how it’s done, simply contact us at the Swiftspin Studio. If however you’re intrigued to know more, or even want to have a go yourself, then read on…
How is a 360 spin created?
Once you’ve bought the camera, built a turntable, set the lighting, got to grips with colour-balancing images for the web, mastered Photoshop, written your software and earned your BSc in html and jQuery, creating 360 spins is actually quite straightforward.
But seriously though, it involves three distinct and simple stages: Photography, Processing and Animation.
360 spin photography requires a lot of time and patience. The photography takes longer than traditional flat photography, simply because it involves more images. And remember each image needs to be lit properly – imagine the reflections in a steel watch strap.
Many retailers we’ve spoken to initially think they can save money by buying the equipment and doing it themselves (we call this BIG MISTAKE No.1). Many think differently once they actually try producing their own spins. Buying an automated system and believing that you’ll be able to produce professional spins with the click of a button sadly isn’t going to happen. A good spin still requires a high level of photographic technique and a good eye for styling, even with the best equipment. Having said that, automated systems do have their place, for example, if you’re a very large retailer producing hundreds of similar spins. But even then, we recommend starting with the basics and getting a feel for 360 product photography before investing a large amount of money.
Sofa or necklace? It’s imperative that you have a turntable that is flexible enough for all your product’s needs. If you sell jewellery, you’ll need a small turntable with a polished surface which won’t show the dust. If you sell lorry parts then you’ll need one that can take the strain.
You won’t find a turntable that can be used for everything. Trust us, we’ve looked. Some people assume they’ll only need one turntable (we call this BIG MISTAKE No.2) but in the Swiftspin studio we have at least twelve different ones. We’ve built two manual turntables for general products; one for jewellery; one for watches; one for golf clubs; one to shoot shoes at an angle; two hanging frames; one for supported items; a heavy duty automated one; one for gloves; and one to eliminate shadows.
Obviously you won’t need this many, but you’ll definitely find that one turntable isn’t enough. And you won’t necessarily always need a turntable. What if you sell chandeliers for example? You can’t sit them on a turntable and rotate them. You’ll need some way of supporting them.
You will need a range of turntables and bearings to spin different products
You can buy automated turntables with their own software, although we personally find we have more control by operating our turntables manually. We sometimes get asked if we shoot spins which go up and over the product as well as around (we call those ‘global’ spins), but we see very little benefit when you consider the extra cost involved. You can sometimes animate the product within the spin, or use a hotspot to show what you can’t see in the basic spin. Remember, simplicity is the key when it comes to producing 360º spins. Start with the basics and you won’t go far wrong.
Centering the product
Remember the scene from the film Ghost? Have you ever tried to throw a pot and missed the centre of the potter’s wheel with the clay? Very messy. Centering a product is similar. It can be an art in itself.
There’s nothing worse than spinning an image and seeing it wander from one side of the screen to the other. It’s best not to mark the turntable centre as the product might not cover the mark. Your camera needs to be centred as well and make sure you lock it securely once it is in place. If either the camera or product is slightly out you may hopefully notice it on the initial spin. But more than likely you’ll only see it once it’s animated which is really, really frustrating.
Styling the product
Even walking boots need to be styled. 360° product photography is very unforgiving. If you were to rush ahead and shoot them without checking the laces are neat, you’ll just have to do them all over again.
Is the watch face free of finger marks? Are the bra straps evenly placed on both shoulders of the model? Is the zip completely closed on the handbag? When you start shooting 360º product spins you’ll find it’s best to have two people shooting each product: a stylist and a photographer. You probably won’t have time to preview all 36 images so attention to detail is imperative.
Some people think that spins can be produced in a matter of minutes (this is BIG MISTAKE No.3). Shooting a product may be quick, but it doesn’t take into consideration the set up time, the styling and any possible reshoots or post-production. After all, this is about displaying a product as clearly and cleanly as possible – it’s not a race to see how quickly they can be produced. Professional product photographers know that styling always comes above speed. Reshooting a single image can be frustrating. Just imagine reshooting 36!
Lighting the product
This item does ‘not’ contain flash photography! Studio techniques for lighting still images are not always the same as those used for 360° product photography. You need to adjust your lights to suit each product. Some suggest using any old lighting, but professionals know that’s not a good idea.
We initially tried using flash systems. After the first twenty flashes, the stars in our eyes persuaded us to invest in continuous lighting. A good kit with soft boxes and reflectors will give the flexibility you need. 360º requires light that is easy to control in terms of power, diffusion and colour. Having said that we do shoot with flash for products where colour balance is critical – we just make sure our eyes are safely covered.
If you’ve ever shot still products you probably spent much of your time adjusting your studio lights so that they didn’t reflect in the product. Reflections can look ugly and unprofessional in glassware, metalwork or glossy fashion items. In 360 product photography it’s nigh on impossible to eliminate every single reflection so it’s a good idea to give each item a dummy spin to see how the light plays.
Professional looking spins require professional equipment
Contrary to what you may have heard, each type of product you shoot in 360 will require a completely different lighting set up. Trust us, there is no single set-up which can be used to shoot everything. You will need flexible lighting if you plan to shoot different products. The good news is your lights don’t have to be expensive, there are plenty of manufacturers producing very affordable and high quality kits.
One difficulty with lighting 360 spins is making the turntable and background white without the product being over-exposed. Another is the fact that some spins cannot physically be captured in camera in one rotation, for example where background reflectors creep into shot. These can only be removed in a post-processing program, so we recommend a copy of Photoshop is high on your shopping list.
Keeping it in focus. Obviously the choice of camera is important too. Although digital compacts are ideal for web photography, they aren’t suitable for high resolution spins.
In truth, any camera can be used to produce 360 spins. It just depends on the level of image quality and colour consistency you wish to achieve. In our studio we shoot at very high resolution so that we can show fine detail whilst zooming in, and so that our clients can use the images for print purposes too.
Any camera can be used for 360 product photography (well almost any!)
Most of you reading this will already have cameras on your phones, but seriously, put them away. For top quality product shots you’ll need a camera with quite a few features. For those who are looking to buy a new one here are a few tips. Firstly, get a manual DSLR if you can afford one. If an automatic turntable is used, the shutter speed has to be incredibly quick otherwise the product will appear blurred. Most digital SLR cameras will have settings allowing you to adjust shutter speed and aperture.
Secondly, try not to overspend on unnecessary features. There’s no point spending a few thousand on a camera with hundreds of features that you are unlikely to ever use. Having said that, we don’t like to scrimp on lenses. The better the lens the sharper the image. Having a cheap lens is like putting nylon strings on a steel strung guitar. It does the job but the quality will be missing.
Finally, try and get a camera with an Interval Timer. It is an incredibly useful feature and is ideal for 360 spins.
How many images make the perfect rotation?
The million dollar question. Like the proverbial piece of string, this varies from supplier to supplier. Some suggest that the fewer images you use the better. This is fine if you want ’own brand’ rather than ’premium’.
If a spin appears jumpy then it will probably contain 24 images or less. 18 images are slightly quicker to shoot, a bit quicker to download but no quicker to view on screen. However, the difference will show when compared to higher quality spins.
Early on in our development we tested every combination from 12 images to well over 100. We found that 144 images gave the smoothest quality for video spins but 36 was perfect for online viewing.
We refuse to go below 36 images as the spin becomes jerky and we’ll never compromise on quality. Simply mark every 10 degrees on your turntable. Halve this number for 72 images and halve it again for 144. Read more in our post describing how many images make up a perfect 360 spin.
Our findings of 36 images for the optimum spin is now recognised as the industry standard
Calling all Photoshop wizards. You’ve bought a perfectly good camera and set of lights, but the captured images don’t look exactly the way you wanted them to. Don’t worry, this is a common problem.
Maybe the gorgeous sparkle on the jewellery you shot has a nasty tint of yellow; maybe you had to tie up a handbag strap and now need to get rid of the support; and why does that background shadow have a ghostly flicker? Actually, keep an eye out for this, it’s a common problem in 360°.
From our experience, and judging by most of the photography forums we’ve been on, there’s not a single camera in the world that captures exactly what your eye can see. But don’t despair, all is not lost…
Hold on. There are 36 images! Surely you haven’t got to retouch each image? What about the systems which claim their images don’t need retouching and can be uploaded straight to the web? We call that BIG MISTAKE No.4.
Unfortunately, some things like scratches or dust will need to be retouched on each individual image to get it looking exactly as you want your product to appear. This is where a little extra time and patience in the photography stage pays off.
Remember – dust, scratches and finger prints will have to be removed on all 36 images
You’ll need to inspect and retouch your 360º images in processing software such as Photoshop. If you don’t know the ins and outs of Photoshop, it’s time to go back to school. Layers, levels, healing, saturation, nearly every Photoshop tool will be required at some stage. But never fear, you can write some brilliant time-saving actions which can save hours of laborious work.
Photoshop is also brilliant for cropping images to size. Cameras usually shoot at 6×4 proportion, which doesn’t help if you want your final rotation to be square.
How’s your temperature? If you look at a product in the morning it will appear bluer because the colour temperature is cool. As the temperature rises throughout the day the product appears more orange. Strange but true.
To achieve the best results your equipment needs to be colour-balanced to a specific colour temperature. If you shoot with a flash under tungsten lights, use a fluorescent monitor setting and check it by daylight, your image will come out completely the wrong colour.
Light bulbs are produced at different temperatures, dependent on their use. To ensure complete consistency, the same lights should be used for both shooting the product and checking it at the colouring stage. The camera also needs to be adjusted to accurately balance colours. To complete the set, your monitor needs to be in tune with all the rest.
It’s also important to remember that your customers’ monitor may not be set the same as yours. You don’t want a product being returned for looking the wrong colour just because their monitor is set to the wrong colour temperature.
TIP: It’s always worth adding a small disclaimer somewhere on your site along the lines of “Colours are subject to the stringent standards of the production process and may not appear accurately on your monitor”. It’s surprising how many online shoppers think it’s your camera that must be wrong and not their monitor!
We always encourage clients to check with their legal department to help with the appropriate terminology.
Are you and your spins compatible? So your retouched images are now ready to be animated into a 360 degree product spin. The most important element when it comes to animation software is whether the file is compatible with your website.
There are lots of different options here. Do you want to be able to zoom in to see detail? Do you want to use your files on an iPhone or in Powerpoint? Decisions, decisions. There are a number ways in which your 360 spins can be produced. In HTML/jQuery for the majority of web browsers; In Adobe Flash for stunning interaction; and as video for YouTube or presentations. Let’s look at these one at a time:
HTML / jQuery
Forever on the go. Busy lifestyles mean more and more people are accessing the internet via their mobile phones, this means your spins need to work on all devices. No problem. You just need some code.
Flash offers the best interactivity and is easier to implement on websites, but sadly, as it does not work on certain mobile devices, especially iPhones and iPads. This means having to program spins in specific code.
No Flash in the pan. Flash used to be the most favoured software for 360 spins. Web browsers used to be able to display Flash files which could be programmed to include a host of features including zooms.
Sadly Flash files will not display on iDevices such as iPads and iPhones. We believe this to be a great shame because, in our opinion, Flash was a great way to produce interactive and secure 360 product photography animations.
Just a few short years ago we used to produce all our 360 spins in Flash. But due to the fact that they won’t display on all browsers we now use jQuery. That doesn’t mean we never open Flash though. It’s still a brilliant program for animating special techniques and adding logos. We just use the images we output from Flash in a jQuery spin instead.
Hollywood here I come. It may take a little longer than using a video camera but the basic principles of 360 product photography allow you to produce both 360 spins and HD video footage.
One of the most beneficial things about shooting still shots for 360 spins is that you can use them in a variety of ways. You can choose the best individual angles to print in advertisements and catalogues or you can use the full set to produce a video.
For high resolution videos we recommend 144 images per rotation, otherwise it will spin really fast and appear very jumpy. One thing you need to remember with video is that you won’t have as much interactive control as with the other types of spin, but again, the benefit is that you can produce both from the same original images.
HD 360 spins can be used for YouTube videos, in presentations or even for broadcast
Another type of animation is stop-frame. These bring a whole new dimension to your 360 spins and can be used in either of the animation outputs listed above. As you know, spins are a series of images, displayed one after the other. This means that you could, in theory, display any series of images using the same software, as long as they have a seamless join.
A popular use for stop-frame is for displaying gloves. It allows you to show how they move with the action of the fingers opening and closing.
You can also have fun with your animations by telling a story, for example the guard capturing an intruder in the castle above.
You could also use a stop-frame animation sequence to show how something works. Simply shoot one sequence then reverse the frames.
Other examples of an animation feature within a spin could be someone opening a jacket to show the fancy lining or someone opening and closing a book. As long as they start and finish the movement in the same place they don’t have to spin. It’s pretty tricky to do but can look very effective. Check out the samples on our Samples Page.
There are a lot of techniques currently being created by our 360° software team to help display products in their best light. 360° product photography is all about innovation. Make sure you are given the choice, you don’t want to be left behind simply because your technique or software isn’t up to it. If you want to keep up-to-date with the latest techniques, sign up for our Newsletter.
360 product photography should be a part of your marketing mix. A quality spin is a brilliant advert for your business, especially to bring logos and straplines to life.
Many 360° software packages look the same. You may have seen some large retail sites who have obviously bought the same package as the buttons and loading bars all look similar. Try to avoid off-the-shelf software that doesn’t make your images stand out from the crowd.
But what if you want your buttons to be bright pink and all the wording in zapf chancery bold? Of course it can be done, but to prevent a call from the taste police, we’d probably advise you to stick with your own corporate identity!
Logos and Watermarks
Adding a logo. It’s a good idea to add logos as watermarks so that competitors can’t steal your images. An alternative is to have it discreetly placed in one corner. All suppliers should be able to offer this facility but may charge a set-up fee or a small charge per rotation. This shouldn’t be much as it’s quite simple to programme. However, we’ve heard of some suppliers who put their own logos on your spins and charge you to take them off! So beware.
Adding a background
If your website is designed on a black background, it seems a good idea to display your products on a black background too. Make sure your 360° equipment and shooting technique is capable of doing this otherwise you’re going to spend days painstakingly cutting out your images in Photoshop. This gives you the option of changing backgrounds whenever you choose. Perhaps a jolly red at Christmas or for the more adventurous, why not drop in a photograph? If you produce surfwear, you could have that elusive breaker behind their spinning shorts. The creative choice is endless. See our article about backgrounds within 360 spins.
Adding backgrounds help bring your 360 product spins to life
The benefits of 360 spins
Will it improve sales?
We would absolutely love to say yes! Whatever anyone says, 360 product photography is still in its infancy and there’s been little official research to validate all the great subjective feedback from raving fans.
We often receive emails from retailers eager for answers. What percentage of web visitors remain on a site which has spins? Can we guarantee that they are more cost-effective than still photography?
A few of our clients who have been using 360 spins long enough to properly evaluate their figures have been delighted with their results. We can also say that there are a number of factors which help to prove that 360° product photography increases sales. We’ll list them here and let you make up your own mind.
- The majority of our clients come back for more. Successful businesses don’t tend to continually invest in things that don’t work. Repeat business tells us that they must be working.
- Some of the World’s largest on-line retailers already use 360 spins. You just need to Google the large shoe retailers for proof. For the sceptics who think 360º is a gimmick. Well, they’re making BIG MISTAKE No.6.
- A large number of huge online retailers have contacted us saying they will implement 360° on their sites. Maybe not immediately, but plans are in place and have been agreed at senior level.
- A few retailers who don’t have 360° use feedback software on their websites to gauge customer opinion. They tell us that 360° is very high on the list of suggested improvements.
There are thousands of websites in the world using 360° product photography and many consumers are familiar with the concept. The flip side is there are also millions who aren’t using it or don’t understand it. Perhaps they are waiting for a survey confirming it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Or perhaps they are waiting for their competitors to take the plunge first. Are you willing to take the risk and capitalise on the boom ahead?
Well there you go. That’s our guide to 360 spins. We hope you found it an interesting read. If you want to learn more about 360 product photography please take a look around our website.