Media Made Simple

SEMA News—December 2015


By Mike Imlay

Media Made Simple

Don’t Let Limited Resources Limit Your Product Images and Videos
SEMA Garage Photo Studio
High-quality product images and videos are marketing essentials in today’s rich data environment. Fortunately, companies with limited resources for a professional photographer or studio can still achieve their rich data goals with a little know-how and a few cost-effective alternatives.

“The return on investment in quality images and videos is well worth the time,” said Craig Schmutzler, director of member support for the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC), which encourages all SEMA manufacturers to enhance their product data for improved sales. “But our members are busy, and it is challenging to find the time to get everything done that is necessary to grow and maintain a business.”

The traditional solution for many companies has been to hire a professional photographer who not only has the time but the skills to produce quality images. But that can be daunting for a small, midsize or start-up manufacturer with limited resources. And, left with the prospect of creating their own images in-house, many businesses simply freeze up.

“The term ‘rich data’ can feel scary—even ‘product photography’ can feel scary,” acknowledged Colin Frost, strategy consultant for Fenix Consulting, which assists aftermarket companies in developing successful web and print strategies. “A scene of vast rolling paper, white rooms and expensive photography equipment are often what come to mind. But those are fears of yesterday. Today, you can capture beautiful images with most smartphones.”

In fact, if your company has been among those hesitating, there are plenty of reasons to overcome the intimidation factor and get on the rich data bandwagon.

“When properly executed, these types of materials do more than fill basic needs: They make people lust after your products and increase the perceived value of your brand,” Frost said. “Products sold in person get a competitive advantage during the buying process. Consumers can have a tactile experience that forms their perceptions of the product. Rich data helps close the gap between the experience of holding a product in hand and viewing it online.

“Think about all the details you might notice by seeing an exhaust system in person: the quality of the welds, the shape of the muffler tips from various angles, or even the type of gaskets included. Online, that experience can vary from a small image to a detailed showcase of the craftsmanship that has gone into making the part. Rich product data helps bring your customers closer to the experience of holding the product in hand to figure out if it fits their standards for quality and needs.”

Schmutzler agreed, pointing out that consumer buying decisions are made based on product presentation, so images and video have become increasingly important.

“The quality and number of images used can have a significant impact on an online retailer’s conversion rate,” he said. “Doing nothing more than changing the size of an existing image so that it can be seen more clearly when magnified resulted in a 9% sales increase, according to one study. Another study showed that adding quality images improved the sales conversion rate by almost 40%. While we can’t identify any hard and fast rules, there’s no denying that it’s in the best interest of companies to meet the ever-increasing visual demands of their consumers.”

Covering the Basics

  SEMA Garage Photo Studio
The SEMA Garage has a product cove setup for member use, and members can ship products from anywhere in the country to be photographed if they so desire. However, on a budget, all that is really needed is a white surface or background, a good diffuse lighting source, a smartphone and some easy-to-use digital photo and movie editing software.

So how does a company with limited resources get started with producing its own rich data assets? Frost advised diving right in with the simplest of tools, a can-do attitude and an eye constantly focused on your ultimate goal.

“Be smart about what’s most important: making pertinent information easy to find and look good while doing it,” he said. “Picturing yourself hunched over a table with a phone [camera] in your hand might make you wince, but the quality of photos produced from most modern smartphones easily trumps the expensive point-and-shoot digital cameras of years past.”

Your starting tools will include a good smartphone, digital SLR or video camera, a large white surface or background, a dedicated space with a good diffuse lighting source, and some easy-to-use digital photographic and movie editing software. A trusted camera retailer is a good source of information, equipment and even some beginner photography training—but don’t feel that you need to break the bank on an equipment shopping spree.

“Setting up favorable lighting and a clean background makes all the difference in how a photo turns out,” Frost explained. “Your investment in a home-brew photography setup doesn’t need to pass the $100 mark. Get a clean roll of white butcher paper and aim to have even lighting on your product. Spend some time on YouTube with search terms such as ‘DIY cheap product photography’ and you’ll have a ton of methods to choose from, friendly for any budget.”

When it comes to actual image creation, there are definitely some best practices, Schmutzler said, noting that the SEMA SDC online library includes a “Digital Assets Best Practices” document prepared by the Auto Care Association and accessible to all at The guide highlights preferred formats for both still images and videos, along with sizing, resolution and other content recommendations.

For his part, Frost recommended that photographic beginners strive for images measuring 1,200–1,600 pixels wide, in JPG or PNG format. Although the web usually requires only 72-dpi resolution for still images, the Auto Care Association further recommends 300 dpi in file sizes measured in megabytes, not kilobytes.

“Thumbnails are too small to be truly useful to consumers, and huge images gum up the works and slow down important things such as page-load speeds,” observed Schmutzler. “There are a number of studies related to page-load speed and the impact on the buying process. One of those studies equates a 3% conversion for each 1-second improvement in page-load times. Suppliers must give careful consideration to the sizing of their images in order to provide the best possible experience for consumers of their data.

“With respect to video length, my feeling is that it should be no longer than absolutely required to serve its purpose. Videos need to be engaging, informative and concise.”

Frost underscored the importance of multiple, properly formatted images of product from several different angles, along with videos that are direct and helpful to viewers.

“Think about the importance of the [shopping] experience for each of your customers and what details they’re most likely to be looking for,” he said. “In placing yourself in the customer’s shoes, continually ask, ‘What would I want to see about this part that would make me a confident and excited buyer?’ For instance, exhaust companies need to have video sound clips on their websites.

“Take a look around YouTube and see what types of videos get the most views and positive feedback and model your videos on them. More complex products can benefit from a product walk-through. Keep it short—two minutes or less in most cases. Many product videos that bring in the most views aren’t over-produced, but rather candid and simple.”

Real-Life Success

SEMA Garage Photo Studio
Businesses that want to go an extra step and rent a low-cost photography studio should consider the new SEMA Garage’s 1,600-sq.-ft. facility, which boasts two professional coves and all the lighting equipment necessary for high-quality images. You simply supply the product, the camera and the shutterbug.

Matt Behrens and Glen Messinger are strong believers in the power of rich data. Three years ago, they founded Solo-Werks, a company in Fresno, California, specializing in fine-tunable, daily-driver suspension systems. As owners of a new business, they were understandably busy yet decided to take the time to create their own rich digital assets.

“The biggest hurdle we face is getting our products in the face of the right audience,” said Behrens. “Targeted marketing is only as good as the imagery and message you’re sending out, from your print and electronic ads to your product, vehicle and lifestyle photography.

“One of the largest factors in our success so far has been our outstanding product photography that’s used on all of our dealers’ websites and advertising coupled with our product data. Without the high-quality images, our dealers would be forced to do their own product photography for their websites and advertising, which can be extremely hit and miss as well as time-consuming.”

Behrens and Messinger recently attended a SEMA-sponsored product photography workshop at the newly opened SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California. The learning experience gave them the confidence they needed to dive into their own image creation.

“The first challenge we faced was what equipment to purchase,” said Messinger. “We spoke to a few of our photography friends and came up with a good mid-level set of basic equipment. After that, it was the basics of how to use the camera and set it up to shoot the subject.”

After a period of trial and error, their efforts have more than paid off.

“The flexibility and control of being able to shoot products, events and situations at a moment’s notice is one of the biggest rewards,” Messinger said.

Accessing the SEMA Garage Photo Studio

Located at SEMA’s Diamond Bar, California, headquarters, the SEMA Garage—Industry Innovations Center offers a professionally designed photography studio to assist the industry in the creation of high-quality images and videos for marketing and promotion to both resellers and consumers.

  • Full-day studio rental is $400 for members and $700 for non-members.
  • Half-day rates are $250 for members and $400 for non-members.
  • Users may shoot product themselves or hire their own photographers. (The Garage can assist with referrals.)

For more SEMA Garage information, e-mail or call 909-978-6728.

According to Rachael Salazar, the SEMA Garage’s senior coordinator of OEM and product-development programs, a series of photography seminars similar to that attended by the Solo-Werks team is planned again this coming year.

“The hands-on workshops will be geared toward all skill levels, from beginning to advanced,” she said. “In the meantime, though, the Garage’s photo studio is available at highly competitive rates to industry businesses that may desire access to a more professional studio than the basic shooting space they might otherwise create on their own. At 1,600 sq. ft., it contains a large, vehicle-size cove, along with a smaller cove for product shoots, and all the lighting and related professional equipment a product photographer or videographer might want. All a company need do is bring their product, camera and essential personnel.”

Although they originally shot their product images in-house, Behrens and Messinger have made use of the SEMA Garage’s studio since taking the recent SEMA photography workshop, finding it perfect for their needs.

“In the past, we’ve used photo coves like the one at the SEMA Garage, but the expense had put this type of facility out of our budget range,” Behrens said. “But with our SEMA-member pricing making rental about a tenth of a standard commercial setup elsewhere, the Garage photo studio allows us to produce incredible imagery at a fraction of the cost.”

Whether at the SEMA Garage or in your own basic shooting space, however, creating rich data images and videos is within your reach, even on a budget. As Messinger advised, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. Always ask questions and use the tools at your disposal.”

The results will be worth the effort.

As a manufacturer supplying online data to resellers and consumers, how robust are your product descriptions? Do they include such “rich media assets” as multiple, high-quality images and videos? If not, your company is likely missing out on significant sales opportunities. The good news is that businesses of all sizes can remedy this situation more easily and cost-effectively than you might think.

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