So, let's say you have a small business. Maybe you're selling pottery or organic beauty products. Maybe you have an e-commerce shop, showcasing handmade jewelry, apparel or housewares. Whatever the product, you need great images and usually that job falls on business owners who are doing ALL THE THINGS- accounting, manufacturing, content creation, social media scheduling, shipping and more-- before they can outsource to professionals. Does this sound like you? If so, I FEEL YOU.
I want to help. I am a small business owner-- of TWO businesses-- and I, along with my husband, am living the reality of doing all the things and not being able to outsource as much as we'd like, so I know your pain. I may not be able to assist with your scheduling, your payroll or the mountain of laundry that is probably sitting in your living room but I CAN help with simplifying your photo workflow.
First off, have you decided the "look" for your brand? Your website, social media feeds and newsletters are so much more impactful when they have a cohesive look and feel. If you have already nailed this, then pat yourself on the back and move along. You're a rockstar! But, if you are photographing your product on the nearest flat and clean surface with whatever available light there is and then hastily posting that image on Instagram, read on.
When I refer to the "look" for your brand, I am talking about the colors, materials and overall aesthetic you include in your imagery. For example, are you selling a natural product and pride yourself on the sustainable practices you've put in place? Then maybe you want your images to have a light and clean feel to them to symbolize health and wellness. Or maybe you create custom charcuterie boards using local and organic products so a neutral color palette and natural materials would be appropriate to include in your photos. You know your business and customer best so you get to decide what look fits your brand.
Below are some examples of four common themes I see often in my work with clients.
LIGHT & CLEAN
•minimal, fresh look
•works well for wellness brands, healthy recipes, natural beauty lines
DARK & MOODY
•bold, rich tones
•selective lighting and dark props
•conveys a sense of drama, richness and decadence
RUSTIC & EARTHY
•natural, neutral tones and materials (stone, wood, metal)
•okay to show crumbs, scratches, wear and tear, etc. Perfectly imperfect!
•communicates a message of approachability and authenticity
FUN & COLORFUL
•playful and whimsical
•images are eye catching and make a statement
•props are minimal because the focus is100% on the product
Obviously, your brand may be a combination of things-- dark and rustic, for example, or bright and colorful-- and that is fine. Or you may be a health and wellness brand that wants to step away from the all-white aesthetic and do something completely different. That is awesome- YOU DO YOU. The points is, you should know what you want to convey and then be consistent with it across all platforms.
Here is what I suggest for lighting:
1. Pick a spot in your home that gets decent natural light-- even if it's minimal.
2. Set a table near the window in that room, ideally one that is large enough to spread out a bit.
3. Turn off all the lights in the room when you are planning on shooting so that your only source of light is coming from the window. You do not want competing light sources because the quality of natural and incandescent light is different and it will make your images look warmer or cooler than they should be.
4. Use a tripod. This way, you won't get camera shake if the light is low and your camera or phone needs to use a longer exposure. You will be amazed how easily you can fake a well lit room when you use one natural light source and a long exposure.
5. If you have ample light coming in through your window and it's creating harsh shadows, then hang a white curtain between the window and your subject to diffuse the light. If, however, you want hard light and bright sun with harsh shadows is your jam, then don't diffuse at all.
6. Stay consistent with your brand look in your lighting. For example, are you going for light and bright? Then you probably want to minimize the shadows that are falling on the side of your subject that faces away from the window. If that's the case, use a reflector or a white piece of foam core to "bounce" light back onto the shadow side of your subject and fill those shadows. If, however, you are going for a dark and dramatic look, keep those shadows where they are. If you are confused, check out this post.
Third, think about your props.
Maybe you just want to show your product on it's own with nothing else in the image. If that's the case, congratulations! You've thought through your surfaces, palette and lighting so you're all set! But in some cases, additional props make sense and enhance your image. For example, let's revisit the hypothetical business that sells charcuterie boards. You could just shoot those boards on a great surface and call it a day. But what if you included some wine, rustic linens and handmade pottery? Would that tell your story better and make people want your product even more? Or what if you are selling tea blends and know your ideal audience are folks that also practice yoga and enjoy gardening? Maybe you want to include the edge of a plant in your composition or a book on meditation.
Whatever you choose, make sure your props MAKE SENSE and add to the story you are telling, not detract from it. You still want your product to be the star of your image, so make sure your props are supporting characters only.
I hope this was helpful to all you small business owners out there. I have a special place in my heart for all of you following your passion and trying to make a living from your craft, whatever that is.
Please reach out with any questions you have in the comments!