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©Michele Alise

How to Take Great Photos for Your Small Business

With so much visual eye candy on social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, it’s becoming even more challenging to stand out. Taking a little time to learn how to take compelling photos of your products will give you a boost in newsfeeds, which never hurts. As an added bonus, you’ll get better ranking cred from Google by posting original imagery. You’ll still want to hire a professional photographer for print materials and web pages, but with a little practice, you can accumulate a great library of photos to add flair to blog posts, social media pages and newsletters.

You may be thinking

“why do I need to take my own photos, aren’t there plenty of good images on the internet?”

Yes, but they don’t belong to you. Lots of people are unaware that images carry copyright, and that you don’t actually have the right to use them. Since it’s pretty important to have great visuals, and buying licenses to stock photos can be costly, here are some pointers to get you on your way to snapping better photos.

Spend Some Time With Your Camera’s Manual

Familiarize yourself with the various settings and buttons on your camera. Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses, and learning these will help you figure out how to manipulate it for the best images.

Resolution

This will determine the quality of your photo and what you’re able to do with it. If you’re taking photos that you may want to print, scale into larger sizes, or enhance with photo editing software, use higher resolutions so that there are enough pixels to manipulate your images.

  • For Web: 72 dpi
  • For Print 150-300 dpi

Higher resolutions use up more memory on your media card, so you’ll have to download more often.

Read Up On Your Camera’s Scene Modes

Scene modes are a great shortcut because they automatically adapt the camera’s speed and aperture settings according to lighting, movement and other conditions. You’ll probably have scene modes for night, sunny, cloudy, portrait, landscape, etc. Being able to navigate to these quickly will help you make the right choices for your subjects in a hurry.

Camera Phone?

If you’re planning to use your phone to capture your images, make sure it has a good quality camera.

Some of the best reviewed camera phones of 2016 are:

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Apple Iphone 6S Plus
  • Google Nexus XP
  • LG G5

 

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©Michele Alise

Exposure & Lighting

Lighting is one of the more challenging aspects of picture taking next to composition. Get familiar with your camera’s exposure control settings. Be aware that different lighting conditions put off varied color casts —sunlight has a blue cast, tungsten (or incandescent) lighting is yellow, and fluorescent is a bit green. Learn more about white balance and color casts.

Your camera will try to set the exposure or “white balance” automatically based on available lighting. But if you’re shooting under mixed lighting, or if the camera is having a hard time figuring it out, you can set it manually. On most point and shoots you’ll have to dive into the menu to adjust this, but many D-SLRs have a dedicated White Balance button, often labeled “WB” or a +/- symbol. You can correct colors in Photoshop or iPhoto, but you’ll get better-looking photos if you get the white balance right in the first place.

If you’re shooting outdoors, be careful not to take photos of a person when the sun is at their back. If you’re grabbing a photo in front of a monument or landmark and don’t have the flexibility to adjust your position you can use the camera’s flash to fill in shadows.

A word about using flash in mid to low lighting.

The flash mode is one of the most overused features on a point and shoot camera. It’s the number one reason for overexposed photos and the dreaded pink eye. Always attempt to take your photo without the flash first, you’ll often find there’s enough ambient lighting and your photos will look more natural. If not, you can always use your camera’s speed settings to compensate for darker scenes by increasing your film speed.

If your scene is too light or dark you can easily dial in a bit of white balance compensation like we talked about above. If your photo is too dark, move the scale up above zero; if too light, move it down a bit. If your camera has a “bracketing” feature, turn it on and it will automatically take three photos each time you press the shutter – one with the native settings, one with lighter exposure and one darker.

Composition

The heart of a photograph lies in its composition – how the various elements are positioned in the frame. If you aren’t adept at visualizing “pictures,” you can use something called the “Rule of Thirds” to help you frame your imagery.

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©Michele Alise

Imagine your frame broken into nine squares of roughly equal size. Try to align the subject of your photo along these lines and intersections. The result is a more dramatic, visually interesting shot than one where your subject is located dead center. Many newer cameras have a rule of thirds grid overlay which you can activate while shooting. Nikon explains the rule of thirds very well.

Decide On A Focal Point

When there’s too much going on in your picture, the eye continuously searches for somewhere to land and eventually gets bored because no information has been registered. This doesn’t mean you can’t have secondary points of focus, it just means you should make every effort to make sure that there’s one main story in your photo.

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©Michele Alise

Fill The Frame

Don’t be afraid of the zoom, this can be your best friend. Zooming allows you to cut out information that clutters your composition, saving you from having to do this in image editing software.

If your shot is in danger of losing impact due to busy surroundings, zoom or crop in tight around your main point of focus, eliminating the background so that the attention lands on your subject. This works particularly well with portraits when you’re trying to capture an expression or are shooting in a busy location where the environs cause distraction. Filling the frame might mean capturing your subject from the waist up or for more impact, or you can simply fill the frame with their face.

Don’t Cut Off Limbs

Keep an eye on the edges of your frame to make sure that what or whomever you’re photographing hasn’t had any important parts chopped off. Cutting off your cat’s tail, your dog’s ears or part of your subject’s head will spoil your shot and potentially pull attention from your focal point.

Pay Attention To The Background

Unsightly objects, overexposed/bright or large dark areas will pull the eye away from the focal point. Look over your background before you take your shot and, if possible, find a background that’s doesn’t overtake your subject.

If you’re working on portraits make sure there’s no unwanted items sticking out of your subject’s head(!) and unless it adds to the shot, put the background out of focus by selecting a wider aperture (if working with a DSLR) or select the Portrait Mode on a compact camera to tell it you want to work with a wider aperture.

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©Michele Alise

Create Depth

Having foreground, middle-ground and background detail will add depth to your image, as well as draw the eye through the picture. Instead of lining products up in a single row and shooting them head on or from above, try placing them at varying depths and shoot them level and/or from a slight angle instead of birdseye – the depths help lead the viewers through the objects.

Take your time setting up your scene and don’t snap until you have a good “picture” in your frame.

Digital Camera World wrote this excellent resource for understanding composition.

Advanced Settings

After you’ve spent some time experimenting with your camera’s basic settings, you may see an advantage to adapting your own settings to fit your needs.

Your camera is likely to have scores of shooting modes, ranging from fully automatic to very specific scene modes. If you’re shooting fast action, you can put the camera into Shutter Priority (“S”) mode and increase the speed at which a photo is taken—setting it to 1/125 second or faster will help to freeze the action.

In lower light you can use Aperture Priority (“A”) mode to make sure as much light is entering the lens as possible, or if you’re shooting landscapes on a tripod, you can close the lens’s iris to increase the depth of field, keeping everything in sharp focus from the foreground to the horizon.

If you’re a D-SLR shooter, you’re more likely to use the A or S modes, while point-and-shoot cameras will often feature more specific modes that cater to activities like sports, low-light use, or landscape shooting.
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Roll Up Your Sleeves & Start Snapping

It’s not difficult to take good photographs, but like anything else, it’s a learned skill. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t accustomed to visualizing the end result of a photograph, and poring through all those settings can be daunting.

Even if you only take a few photos a week, if you focus on one new feature or technique each time, it will become second nature in no time.

If you’d like more posts on topics like this, feel free put your suggestions in the comments!

 

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