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Professional Photo Editing for eCommerce

Global eCommerce is a $3.9 Trillion industry, expected to grow to $6.2 Trillion and account for 22% of all retail sales by 2023. The emergence of digital marketplaces has influenced all connected industries, from packaging and logistics to financial transactions and advertising. While professional photo editing remains an important part of visual advertising, today’s professional picture editor has much less to do than his counterpart from the 1990s and 2000s. For one, today’s social attitudes favor realism with minimal image retouching. For another, ecommerce-centric brands want clear, simple product images. These trends left some experts doubtful if there was enough work left for professional photo editing services to justify the industry.

However, changing customer preferences has also created new opportunities. In particular three emerging trends in digital photography and eCommerce convince us that the need for photo editing services for photographers will actually increase in 2020:

The rise of mobile

Mobile devices now account for 75% of all web traffic slated to be consumed. Therefore, all web images—whether they are photographs, web banners or digital advertisements need to be optimized for smaller, vertical orientation screens. However, most images are still photographed in landscape format. Therefore it is likely this task of creating mobile device-friendly images, whether it means changing the aspect ratio, creating slight pre-distortions or changing resolution of images to the necessary 72 or 90 dpi to ensure images load quickly, is likely to become a task for the photo-editors in production, whether employed in-house or by third party professional photo editing companies.

In the light of this sea-change, should a professional picture editor spend time and attention to ensure “perfect” cutouts? There is no obvious answer. In general however, if the cut-out is destined for a large screen, even a digital one, it should be worked on in higher resolution so its flaws aren’t visible. On the other hand, every photo editing company, whether doing in-house or third party outsourcing photo editing work will need to develop new workflows to work at lower resolution levels when the image is destined for mobile devices.

The rise of B2B ecommerce

Millennials make up over 40% of the workforce and are influential in the workplace. At least partially due to this reason, B2B eCommerce has accelerated in recent years. In 2020 B2B eCommerce is expected to cross $5T globally. Apart from the changes in workforce demographics, important reasons for the emergence of online marketplaces for B2B transactions includes speed, streamlining of the usually long sales cycles and customizable ways to access previous buying behaviour and analytics related to those purchases.

Companies specializing in professional photo editing services will find it particularly interesting that the average B2B purchaser, especially a consideration-stage potential client generally accesses far more audio-visual content like videos, 360 degree photographs, infographics and explainer animations than her B2C counterpart before making purchasing decisions. Thus, good professional photo-editing experts can expand their expertise to the B2B space, offering specialized B2B ecommerce photo editing services. Furthermore they are likely to differentiate themselves if they demonstrate knowledge of angles, colors and lighting that are known to create favourable impressions. This knowledge development is essential to succeed as a professional image editor in today’s evolving market. In addition if you make your living offering photo editing services for photographers, you would do well to expand your skillset to also offer at least basic videography to create micro-videos (<10 seconds) that potential buyers will access before making buy decisions.

AI and ML in eCommerce image management

Artificial Intelligence and its subset, machine learning, are currently used to evaluate, classify, enhance and edit photos. Modern AI based editing software can perform both low level and high level tasks, like sorting, and high level tasks like automatically enhancing a photo’s brightness, adjusting balance, modifying a photo’s look to match particular styles like Sepia, etc.It is almost certain that some of the simpler tasks of photo-editing, like creating and extracting cut-outs of objects from images, creating layers, and certain kinds of masking tasks will be automated in the near future. However we think the most exciting workflows will be hybrid in nature, with human operators both training and directing AI based editors to achieve a high level of volume and quality. As early as 2020, we expect to see closely-coupled human-machine interfaces where the machine does a first pass, gets corrected, and stores information to repeat mistakes a certain number of times before learning not to make them and moving on to making new ones.

We therefore expect senior professional photo-editors will gain even more work than current, namely to assemble machine-created parts into entirely new compositions. This will become possible with reduced costs, allowing advertisers, creatives and experienced photo-editors to unleash their creativity to a much broader extent.