Large businesses spend a fortune trying to get their visual tone just right.
That’s all well and good if you have millions to spend on branding and advertising, but what if you can’t afford to hire a professional? What can an SME owner do to improve their images on a budget?
1. Plan before you shoot
You’ve probably taken hundreds of photos before. So why bother to plan something that seems so simple?
I can tell you from experience that the clients who plan ahead save time and get the results they want.
You don’t need to plan anything elaborate, but at the minimum I suggest you write a shot list – a list of all the photographs you intend to take. You should include what or who is in each shot, the angle of the shot, where the shot will take place and how you’ll use the resulting image.
With just a bit of advance effort, the shot list will keep you organised and make sure you don’t miss anything.
2. Get inspiration from other images
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with every shot. As part of your planning, collect images similar to what you envision for your own photos.
This will help you develop a clear idea of how the finished images will look, and it will remove the pressure for you to come up with novel ideas for every image.
3. Don’t stress over the camera
The camera is important. However, you don’t need to have the latest professional model to get great results.
Most cameras, including your phone’s camera, are perfectly capable of capturing an acceptable image for the web, so you can stick with what you have.
If you do have a little extra money to spend, I recommend one of the mid-priced compact cameras, which will give you printable images.
4. Get a tripod
A tripod is absolutely essential. By keeping the camera steady, you’ll be able to shoot without using the flash.
You’ll also avoid a common problem called 'camera shake', which results in blurry photos.
5. Hold the camera straight
Crooked or poorly aligned photos are probably the most common mistake I see, yet the easiest to prevent.
Simply take the time to check if the image looks straight on your camera’s LCD screen before pressing the shutter release. It will make a dramatic difference.
6. Focus on the right spot
Most cameras have auto-focus, so you may think that you don’t need to worry about this. There is one small problem with auto-focus though: it’s not always accurate.
Your camera uses sensors to guess where the focus should be. Unfortunately, the camera sometimes guesses wrong.
The general rule is that you should focus directly on the front part of the subject closest to the camera. If it’s a person, focusing on the eyes is always good.
How do you know where the camera will focus? Most compact cameras have a dot or some sort of marking in the middle of the camera’s LCD screen that indicates where the focus will be.
Point this where you want to focus, then hold the shutter release button halfway down so the camera will refocus.
Once everything in the shot is lined up how you want it, press the shutter button down fully to take the shot.
7. Don’t use the built-in flash
That’s right, turn OFF the built-in flash. Professionals almost never use it, and if you’re steadying your camera with a tripod like you should be, you probably won’t need flash.
Built-in camera flashes create a harsh light that is unflattering on people and often creates glare on objects. Instead, use the light sources available to you, like the sun, a window or indoor lights.
8. Choose the right background
Your choice of background will depend on what you’re photographing, but here are some rules of thumb that will make this easier.
For products, a simple white background works well. White backgrounds are modern and don’t distract from the subject. You can use a white wall, white cardboard or a piece of paper. I don’t recommend fabric, as it shows the creases and looks a bit dated.
When photographing outside, avoid distractions by keeping the background fairly plain and neutral.
9. Use image editing software to enhance your images
Digital images need to be 'developed' before using them. Pictures that come straight out of the camera rarely look the best; they need enhancing and adjusting.
The first thing you’ll need is an image editing app.
For beginners, I recommend Picasa, which is a free software program by Google, as it’s quick to learn and will dramatically improve your images.
If you’re a step beyond beginner, Adobe Lightroom will give you more flexibility and features to enhance. It’s still fairly simple to learn, but isn’t free like Picasa.
For advanced users, the industry standard is Adobe Photoshop. Unless you’re a dedicated amateur photographer with a lot of time on your hands, stick with Picasa or Adobe Lightroom, as the learning curve for Adobe Photoshop is very steep.
Once you’re familiar with your software, you can get to work enhancing. Here are some of the enhancements we do in our studio, which you can do too: boosting contrast, tweaking exposure, increasing saturation, sharpening, straightening and cropping.
You might also want to remove the background of the image so the background appears completely white. This is called deep etching.
Deep etching is time-consuming and requires advanced software. I suggest using one of the many services online that specialise in image editing. It will cost you as little as $2 per image.
There you have it! with a little preparation and some basic tools, you can give your business’ images the professional touch that will attract customers and clearly convey your brand’s message.
Adrian Harrison is a commercial photographer specialising in product-related images and is the owner of AJH Photography.