When Williams Sonoma acquired 3D imaging and augmented reality platform Outward in 2017, the idea of using these tools in the home industry was still in its infancy. But at this week’s High Point Market, Outward showed attendees how these technologies can help them create professional product photography without a photographer or creative team.
During the bi-annual furnishings trade show, Outward officially opened its permanent High Point, N.C., office, which houses its new Aperture platform setup. The cloud-based web application and cloud-connected photo booth are designed to automate the product photography process, enabling furniture manufacturers and retailers to take images of product lines for e-commerce, catalogs, and marketing materials, on their own.
“You don’t need a photographer or a creative person,” said Outward co-founder Gaurav Sethi.
“This is designed to make it a simple process to procure product imagery, and that content can be seamlessly shared. You wouldn’t need to use Photoshop, Illustrator or any of those programs,” Sethi added.
Aperture is more than just software. The platform operates with a 20-foot-by-20-foot photo booth structure that stands 10 feet tall and is completely enclosed with light-blocking curtains. Inside, LED light panels are installed on all the walls and ceiling, and two cameras are centered on one wall.
Users can position products inside the booth using grid guides that show up on the accompanying computer application. Once the product is placed, the curtains are closed, and the operator can control the photography process from a computer outside the booth. On average, users can get multiple shots of one product with different environments in around 10 minutes.
Outward ships and sets up the booths inside its clients’ facilities, providing training for users onsite.
“We would want to place them in warehouses, distribution centers, showrooms—wherever product is available,” Sethi said.
Once the images are captured, they are processed and loaded to the platform’s cloud application, where users can access and manipulate them. Aperture includes a variety of backgrounds that can be customized to create environmental shots in addition to simple product silhouette shots.
“We can create templates for your style and what you like, and we can pull up the capture down the road and change the style if needed,” said Michael Berkebill, a business development representative for Outward. “No longer do you have to pull something from the showroom floor because you shot it for the catalog and now you need it for the website.”
The backgrounds allow furniture manufacturers and retailers to create realistic images of product in a variety of settings without the issues that can hinder traditional photography sessions.
Berkebill said the tool can help manufacturers and retailers avoid customers price-comparing via Google images, as well.
“We make unique backgrounds for all of our partners,” he said. “And because this is so quick and easy, you can give all your retail partners different assets, so they can’t Google image search your products.”
The initial setup of the Aperture photo booth and application costs $10,000, with a $2,500 per month subscription fee to use the platform. Williams Sonoma’s brands, which include Pottery Barn, West Elm, and others, have all utilized Outward’s Aperture technology, but Sethi said Outward aims to partner with other furniture manufacturers and retailers outside its parent company.
And the new High Point office—which will be open year-round—is the first of several Outward locations planned across the country. Those regional hubs will allow the company to better service its customers as they grow the business.
“We want to be close to our clients and provide 24-7 support,” Berkebill said.