Through the Lens of a Photographer: You Don’t Need Great Gear for a Great Picture
Hiho, friends. Naomi here.
I am a self-employed entrepreneur. I own a business called Rockadot. To sum up everything that I do, I’d call my job description “visual and audio artist.” If you want the long list of what I do: graphic design, photography, voice lessons, audio recording, Youth Rock Band Director, and I always seem to have some sort of crafty side-hustle going most of the time.
Being a small business, I intimately know what it’s like to operate on a tiny (or even a zero) budget when it comes to marketing.
We probably all have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and Instagram, as well as the droves of other social media sites out there. How do we compete with all the other businesses out there online that seemingly look like they’ve got it all together? My advice? You don’t. You don’t compete. You stay in your lane, you focus on YOU, but you can look to those other brands as inspiration. Isn’t it nice to say someone inspires you instead of competing with them? IT feels good, too. Ok, now that we’ve had our little pep talk, let’s move on.
You’ve probably noticed the Instagram feeds of brands that have a distinct look that seems to be unattainable: those ones that, to the average Jane (whose photography skills peak at horribly angled iPhone pictures of the food you ordered at last night’s restaurant excursion), seem like a dream or a fantasy. But even if the picture roll on your phone’s photo album looks like a toddler ran around snapping photos, you can learn some basic skills to make your photos look on par with the rest of the people faking it on social media.
Here’s a piece of information you need to realize: you do not need fancy gear. If you suck at taking photos on your phone, you’re going to suck at taking photos with a fancy camera, too. Ok, now that you feel defeated, stay with me here: it’s time to get good at the gear you already have. Let’s focus our attention on taking amazing photos of your brand with the piece of gear that you most likely have on you 24/7: Your smartphone.
FIRST: Go to a bunch of different Instagram or Facebook brands that you admire. Look at their photography. What caught your eye? Why do you like their brand? Why do you like looking at their photos? Do they have bright, vibrant, punchy colors? Are they all on white backgrounds? Are they light and airy? Are they taken at weird angles? What about those brands would you like to emulate in your photos? Write this stuff down and take notes.
SECOND: What’s your goal with your social media? Are you wanting to sell products? Are you wanting to build a relationship with your clients? Are you wanting to sell information? Are you hoping to build a community? How will these photos you’re about to take help your goal?
THIRD: I personally believe that social media is all about building relationships with your audience. So how would you build a relationship with a new friend? Think of every photo as a meetup with your new friend who doesn’t know you very well. Expose your audience to a little bit of YOU each time you post. Finding your “voice” on social media is vital. I’m snarky and sort of anti-social. So when I take photos, I always think: “Does this photo capture my personality? Does the caption I’m writing on this photo sound like how I’d speak to you in person?”
So there you go: three tips to be better at photography that have absolutely nothing to do with taking an actual photo! Thanks for nothing, right? Again, stay with me.
EVEN IF YOU TAKE AWESOME PHOTOS – if you don’t know how to implement the first three tips I wrote about above, your awesome photos will still probably flop on social media. I think those first three tips are the most important part of a good post online. So give yourself some grace – if your photos suck, at least you can do those three steps listed above. Those things alone will support your photo (even if it sucks).
Now, let’s dig into easy and cheap things to boost the actual photo-taking process.
Everyone has probably been to a restaurant that has pictures of their food on the menu. A lot of times they’re horribly taken and are at an unflattering angle. Yes, even food has a ‘good side’ (not just faces). Every subject you’re photographing will be different. For instance, if you’re taking photos of cars, it’s usually most appealing if you get down low at hood or tire-level and take the photo from a crouched position. But that position certainly won’t look good if you’re trying to capture a portrait shot of someone’s face. Even the most model-esque babe will look like she has a double chin from that angle! Raise your camera up slightly higher than their face. It makes their chin raise slightly, and their eyes look up just a bit which makes them look more ‘awake.’ When taking photos of objects, remember your phone is basically a wide angle lens. Move close, really close, to your subject to make sure it’s the focal point of the photo. When you need to get closer to subjects, move your body closer before you use the zoom setting. A lot of times when you digitally zoom, you lose some quality in the photo.
There are about a zillion tips we could go over when it comes to angles, and no one wants to read that many tips… so what do you do?! Practice. Take a ton of different angles of the subject you’re trying to shoot. Then go back and look at each photo and note what looks flattering and note what doesn’t. Take. Notes.
You don’t need any sort of lighting equipment to make a good exposure. You probably have everything you need to make a ‘lighting setup’ in your house right now. Do you have some white poster board? If not, it’s about two dollars at Walmart. Go get a couple. Do you have some tin foil? Cool, cover one of those poster boards with tinfoil. Do you have a lamp? DONE. Now it’s time to play and experiment. Go put an object (or a person) in front of a window in the daylight. Now take the white poster board and put it opposite of the window. Notice how the white poster board reflects light back at the object/person? Now do the same thing with your poster board covered in tinfoil. It gives you a different look and reflects light in a really neat way. This video shows you exactly what I mean:
You can even make it more dramatic if you point a lamp directly at the poster board if you want an added light source. See? You can create a high-end looking photo session for like, ten whole dollars with your IPhone! What a day to be alive!
If you’re in an environment where you cannot control the lighting (outside, in a restaurant, your mother-in-laws, etc.) be mindful where you position your subject. If it’s way too bright in one spot, chances are there will be a shadier spot if you just turn around or move 5 feet to the left.
Type in something like, “cheap or free lighting tips for photographers” into YouTube and you’ll find a ton of other ideas to help with lighting situations.
It’s a wise idea to make a small investment in some photo editing software – even if it’s just on your phone. There are literally thousands of options out there, so my advice is start with the free one we all have access to: Instagram. Instagram has a bunch of filters. Some are better than others. But did you know that you can actually edit your photo’s exposure, shadows, highlights, and more? When you get to the screen where you can add filters, at the bottom right of the screen, there’s an “Edit” button that’s probably greyed out. Click that. Now you have access to in-depth editing features. Make sure your Instagram settings are backing up your edited Instagram photos to your camera roll. On iPhone, there’s also a pretty good editing app within Photos (where all your photos are stored). Click on a photo, then on the top right of the screen there’s the “Edit” button. Then click on the icon at the bottom that looks like a little round dial with dots around it. Boom. Basically a full editing suite. You’re welcome. Everyone has a different editing technique, but my go-to editing trick to make a photo look 10 times better in 10 seconds or less is to boost the shadows and decrease the highlights just a little bit – but every brand is different, so go ahead and play around and see what happens!
Here’s my last and most important parting tip:
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If your photos don’t look as good as that brand you’re
trying to compete with inspired by, give yourself some grace. The general public is not looking at your photos and comparing them to everyone else’s. They’re looking at your photos, reading your captions, and connecting with your brand. Ask for advice from people you admire and respect. Keep practicing.
You can do it.
** Naomi winks at you and it makes the sound of a camera shutter release **