There are so many pressures on a small business marketing budget that taking your own photographs is often essential rather than having any choice. With digital cameras now so affordable and more user friendly, this option is more accessible than ever for beginners and provides excellent flexibility.
It is important to understand some basic principles though, both from a creative and a technical perspective, when taking your own photos. This includes image file types and size requirements for printed marketing materials to ensure images are of sufficient quality to represent your organisation in a professional way.
Before you take any photos you need to consider your equipment requirements. Taking photos on your 3 year old smart phone with its 3 mega pixel camera is not going to cut it. You will be restricted on the quality and size of images this is capable of, so if your serious about taking more professional images then it maybe time to get serious about your equipment.
You may already have access to a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera but if not, it is well worth considering the investment. An entry level DSLR camera from one of the main brands is capable of producing excellent results and can cost as little as £300, an outlay that will bode well for you ensuring that your photography looks professional.
File type and image quality
“Size matters”, (Yep that old chestnut). You want to make the most of what the camera can do so be sure to set the camera to the highest image quality and use the ‘RAW’ file format. This will give you big files to work with when editing as RAW saves all the details where as JPEG compresses the file, losing quality every time it is saved.
RAW files from entry level cameras are now around 20MB and due to their brand specific format, they usually require the manufacturers software to convert to the universal TIFF file for editing. Do not be put off, it is easier than it sounds and the rewards in terms of image quality are well worth the additional processing time.
Once the RAW file is converted to a TIFF or Jpeg you need to make sure the image size is set to 300dpi as this is the resolution that images are printed at. Internet image resolution is 72dpi as monitors display in a different way to print, which is why printing from image downloaded from the internet is likely to produce blurry and pixelated images.
Setting the resolution during editing to 300dpi will give you a true representation of the print size options you have for that image, allowing you to place it successfully within your design and have the confidence it will print at the quality you intended.
If you are unsure about resolution and maybe this is all new to you then by viewing an image on your monitor at 100%, it needs to be roughly 4 x the size you think you will need it in a document. This is because you are viewing it on a 72dpi monitor and it will need to be re-proportioned to 300dpi before its ready for print.
Now before your ready to set up your camera to take your photos, take a moment. We know your keen but its best just to step back a little and take some time to plan out the images you need and how they will work in your printed design. Its no good trying to wing it, unless you are shooting at a live event where your subjects are likely to move, Eg. People, animals or vehicles which involves a certain amount of spontaneity to catch the action. You will save time by being more productive and writing a ‘shot’ list to ensure you snap of all the images you need and avoid a potential re-shoot in the future.
The beauty of a digital camera is that you have the freedom to take as many photos as you like until you get it right. If you have the luxury of a laptop then take it with you to the shoot and check the images as you take them, this will avoid you having to take 100’s of photos hoping for the best until you return back to your office or studio to sift through them all.
This is where we get a little technical. The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is the most common compositional tool used and will enable you to place subjects within the frame. The rule places four lines within the frame, two vertical and two horizontal, sectioning the frame into 9 equal parts. By placing the subject on a vertical line, negative space is created to the opposite side and horizons can be placed on either horizontal lines as preferred. Does this make sense? No?, then checkout this tutorial for a better explanation: Cambridge in Colour.
Change the composition for each shot, there’s nothing worse then repetitiveness, unless it is a product brochure, in which case, stick to a ‘template’ such as white background and the same camera angle like a birds-eye view. Try pairing images to tell a story and add detail to the points in the accompanying text. Placing products in a situation that they would be likely seen helps the composition fell more realistic. This could be the interior of a restaurant paired with cooking sauces or cooking utensils, or training shoes shot with a gym or sports-ground behind them.
When taking photos, pay particular attention to the little detail in the background. Spend time moving clutter, cars (if possible) and rubbish from your images as this is far easier to do before taking the photo than in afterwards using Photoshop. There is no secret trick that will take the traffic light out of the photo so you can see the shop sign behind it, you need to better position yourself before taking the photo to avoid hours of touching up photos afterwards in post production.
This is where most novices struggle. It’s the understanding of how to use light that makes professional photographers work, well feel more professional. There are a few simple tricks that can improve your images and won’t involve you purchasing pricy lighting equipment. The best piece of kit is a tripod. If you have a lightweight entry level DSLR then your tripod can cost around £20 and it will do the job just fine. This will allow you to shoot in low light without getting ‘shaky’ images from long exposures and will allow you time to set your image and clear the background with your shot lined up.
Make use of natural light where possible but avoid shooting towards a light source. You may be surprised what you see as a well lit area and what the camera will struggle to capture to a high quality. Having the light directly behind the subject and facing towards you will only give you a dark shadow where the subject once was and a very bright background, if possible always shoot with the sun behind you towards the subject.