Photography marketing

Will this app replace professional product photography?

December 6, 2021

The online payment platform, Square, has released its Photo studio application which allows the seller to capture product images “on the go and via their phone, without the time and expense of a professional photo studio.”

Square’s press release repeatedly claims that this app allows users to “start taking professional-looking photos instantly and at no cost.”

“It’s no secret that products with professional-looking photos work better than those without,” David Rusenko, e-commerce manager at Square, said in the press release. “Unfortunately, the cost, skills and manpower required to take these photos were often prohibitive. Now, with Square Photo Studio, sellers can make their items look like a professional photoshoot from the comfort of their home, office, or on the go. ‘

Why hire an expensive professional product photographer when this app can do it all?

The app works by isolating the product from the background using – yes, of course – artificial intelligence. There are then several stylized scenes for the user, with new backgrounds, shadows and colors. If the seller uses a Square catalog, the images are easily plugged into it, but the app is also available for anyone interested in leveraging these capabilities.

We’ve heard similar claims before from big tech companies and adjacent experts – that an app or new concept / tech will bring professional photography to everyone, making professional work redundant. Apples shot on iPhone has led experts into a continuing period of claim that the iPhone is not only closing the gap between the high-end phone and camera, but kill technology like “millions of amateur clichés [are] suddenly professionalized ”. And this is the second time Interior imagery reported that Square is entering the product photography market, after announcing a robotic photo studio in 2019.

The app received 39 ratings in Apple’s App Store, with an average of 4.6 out of five. Reviews range from:

“I’ve spent hours and hours over the years manually removing backgrounds from photos, trying to get the perfect lighting, and worrying about shadows and backgrounds. This app solves all of this magically in just one camera snapshot. ‘ (Five stars)

“I’ve used it a lot, but it doesn’t produce studio-quality photos. In particular, the edges of items are blurry or just plain rough when you zoom in on the photo. Once it generates some really crisp edges it will be great. ‘ (Three stars)

‘It’s really useless if you want a quality photo. Unless you have fantastic lighting and a great camera on your cell phone, the photos don’t look very good. It would be better if the app could remove backgrounds from photos taken with professional camera and lighting. Then you would have a beautiful product and a cool background. But with this app you get an inferior looking product and a cool background… it just doesn’t stick and customers will be able to tell that something is wrong. ‘ (A star)

It is so easy!

Square Photo Studio’s marketing materials that show how the app works are also slightly misleading. It shows a photo of a Converse sneaker on a coffee table with a sofa behind it, and the next photo of the isolated version shows the same shoe, but it’s clearly not exactly the same photo. If Square is going to sell this thing, maybe it should show some real examples of using the app. But it’s really finicky, and what’s exciting is that the shoe is perfectly insulated with crisp edges and cute pattern backgrounds. Good enough to upload to an online store.

Interior imagery was curious if product photographers should be concerned about this new threat. So we downloaded Square Photo Studio to try out the full professional-quality photo studio experience!

At first, the application was expected to be a complete dumpster fire. Square already uses fake photos to demonstrate the app, and the marketing hype is sure to fail.

That being said, it wasn’t as bad as initially expected. Not one Completed dumpster fire, anyway. So product photographers can rest easy, as this app is fast and nasty and won’t replace professional photographers – yet.

The app is essentially an automated ‘object picker’ tool which then provides model backgrounds with ordinary shadow effects. The more basic the object, the better. And users should follow directions closely and photograph products against a solid background.

After taking the photo, the app displays a copy of the isolated product. Notice how soft the edges are?
The next step is to choose a background.

The next test was a hat woven on a white wall, which looked good from a distance but, again, felt soft when zoomed in. Quite unacceptable for any online clothing retailer who wants to show fine detail and an accurate reproduction of the product. And that would probably be most of them.

With summer approaching, vacationers will want to protect their eyes from the harsh sun. But that doesn’t seem to be of much use. Would anyone look at this pic and buy these sunglasses? A sketchy pair of servo sunglasses is a better bet – at least you can try before you buy. (This was photographed against a piece of yellow paper.)

The last test was tricky. The app was doomed to fail, like it couldn’t salvage a square record sleeve, what hope would it have of capturing a houseplant against a white background. Although if users trust Square’s own demos, it shouldn’t be beyond the app’s capabilities. So here’s a real test of Square Photo Studio AI’s intuitive ability to separate the object from the background.

Closer to a dumpster fire!

The app can be useful for someone who sells commodities using low resolution images. By spending perhaps more than 15 minutes with it, users can learn techniques that work better than Interior imagery‘s short violin. Or maybe they’ll consider hiring a professional product photographer.