If you’re marketing online or in print, you want your message to look as good as it sounds. To do that, you need to go beyond the same generic stock shots your competitors are using and get your hands on some fresh, relevant images of your own. How? Shoot them yourself!
Obviously it’s not that simple. You can certainly shoot your own marketing images; mobile web-enabled devices are almost universally equipped with extremely proficient cameras. But the quality inherent in these photographic marvels is rarely matched by the skill of the novice photographer. Even with the benefits of automatic focus and exposure controls, most amateur photographs still look…amateurish. So what’s a visual marketer to do?
Writing in PictureCorrect, Stephanie Gagnon provided a superlative primer to the basics of photography to serve as a guide to what to do before you press that camera button. Whether you’re a budding product photographer for your brand or you’re just trying to produce better looking family snapshots, these tips can help you create strikingly memorable photographs.
Gagnon concludes that composition is the primary element and most professional photographers will agree with her. The suggestion that any conventional, unexciting image can be recomposed to make a great photograph is absolutely accurate as there is no subject so boring that it can’t be sparked up by an unusual angle. You don’t have to rely on unsettling crazy tilts as the simple act of shooting from well above or below the subject can bring an element of interest that a conventional horizontal angle will lack. Gagnon also discusses changing the focus point (rack focus) to alter where you are directing the viewer’s eye but unfortunately in their rush to auto-everything many smartphone cameras do not provide the range of manual controls that DSLR owners can utilize to achieve these sorts of effects.
The devil may be in the photographic details but the angels are there as well. The conventional posed photograph of a couple can be completely reimagined if you concentrate on a specific detail. Perhaps the man is fidgeting with his wedding ring, or the lady might have a slight tear in the corner of her eye. To force the viewer’s eye to the desired detail, the most common techniques are exclusion (get really close to the detail and exclude all else) and forms of rack focus that as above are usually only attainable by standalone cameras, not smartphone and tablet types.
Most amateur photographers adhere to the rule of having the sun or other light source at your back while amazing effects can be obtained by disregarding this tenet completely. Applying a measure of personal creativity to where the light source is located can change the entire context of the photograph. Placing the subject in front of the light source will create a silhouette effect that is always striking, and having the rear source at a high or low angle can create aura-like highlights that can be dramatic.
Most photographers concentrate on images of faces, and that is due to the expressive nature of humans who can display a multitude of emotions through facial expressions. As Gagnon wisely states, a good photographer does not have to exclusively portray happy faces, as the plethora of other emotions can make for even more impressive photographs. The viewer will tend to remember an image of a face in rage, sorrow, despair or anxiety much longer than the stereotyped headshot showing off the pearly whites.
Of all the elements that Gagnon lists, this one is the most abstract and difficult to define. Great artistic photographs tell clear, unequivocal stories, but mastering this aspect is akin to catching lightning in a bottle. The photographer has to search for meaning in their images and the article lists a new dad holding his son for the first time, and an elderly couple holding hands. The potential for telling a story through your photographs is absolutely infinite and doesn’t have to be limited to people. A fish gasping for oxygen on the shore of a polluted lake; a battered old sports car rusting away in a junkyard; or a brightly colored bird flying across a gray cityscape can all vividly portray a story to the viewer.
Gagnon’s distillation of the basic elements of conceptual photography is brilliant in its coherent condensation of topics that have been the basis of endless volumes. Striving to be a better photographer will be a source of joy to both the viewer and the photographer!