As an e-commerce professional, both at Lasula and as a freelancer, I take my inspiration from many large online brands. The obvious being Missguided and Boohoo, but also from US sites too such as Nasty Gal. In recent times though one brand has pushed the style and quality of e-commerce photography higher than anyone.
At first glance Zara may look fairly similar to other sites, but when you really look at how they present their images you start to realise that they’ve taken a lot of time to separate themselves from the competition. Here’s a few key ways in which they’ve managed it.
Beyond the 3×2
Back in the late 90s and early 00s we lived in a 16:9 world where our media went all widescreen. Now we live in the Instagram inspired world of the square, and while other brands still shoot in the traditional 3×2, Zara have been quick to catch on to the square trend. Although not all their shots are not completely square, opting for a ratio closer to 5×4 for their model shots, and square for some of the still life. Product shots are set up to be shared on Instagram, even if that isn’t what they intended, but they’re following modern culture in a way many others aren’t. The obvious downside to the more square-like shots though is that the human body is long and most shots have extra unused blank space. However Zara have used this to their advantage too by incorporating the space into a minimalist style which sets their brand apart.
Many photographers overlook correct lighting when shooting e-commerce but it seems Zara have explored every option. In early 2015 they started using scrims positioned over the heads of the models with lights either hung from the ceiling or on boom arms (I know this from analysing the reflections in their models sunglasses shots). However recently they have opted for two scrims in front of the model and either side of the photographer. Scrims give an extremely even lighting but tend to reduce detail when teamed up with a sub-par camera lens. However with a professional kit and a little extra contrast and clarity in Lightroom / Capture One you can bring out beautiful crisp detail without overdoing the shadows, and it also helps when shooting white on white.
Edit: After talking to a friend who knows a photographer at Zara I have discovered that they do in fact have scrims overhead, however they do not use studio lights above, instead they use only natural light from their loft space windows, which is rather unusual for an e-commerce studio.
Poses are a tricky one to get right. On one hand you want to be as creative and stylish as possible with your images, but on the other hand you need a shot that will perfectly describe the outfit, how it fits, how it hangs, and what the customer will look like wearing it. Most brands play it safe with this aspect of photography, shooting front, side, and back shots like they would do on a ghost mannequin. Some may even throw in an extra shot to show movement, detail, or mood. Zara go even further, breaking up the standard with editorial like shots, and even using them as the main image on listings. They have no issue with occasionally cropping off hands and heads, as long as the shot looks good.
Attention to Detail
With their specific lighting style Zara can seemingly bring out more detail from their closeup shots. Detail looks sharper and more defined, and this really pays off on their still life images. Each one looks like an expensive designer ad, and higher quality then even Dior, Givenchy and Tom Ford online stores. When products look this good it’s difficult to resist the impulse to buy… which is why I actually bought the quilted bag below.
In this competitive and overcrowded world of online fashion it’s difficult for any brand to stand out with their own unique look, however Zara seem to have done it without even looking like they’re trying too hard. It’s effortless and casual, yet sharp and smart. Combine this with the style and quality of products that Zara is now synonymous with and you can see why their owners at Inditex are a rapidly growing company.