This week we're welcoming Amy From Amy Takes Pictures to the blog! She's an amazing brand & product photographer and is going to be sharing some great advice on how you can craft the perfect stock photo. We met from the Savvy community and I couldn't be more excited to have her here!
From the first steps you should take when shooting your own stock photos, to the best tools & software you can use to edit your photos on a budget. This is a must read if you've been wanting to take your stock photography to the next level!
Without further ado - let's welcome Amy. 🙂
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself (How you got started with photography, your mission, etc)?
I’ve loved photography for as long as I can remember. I got my first camera in a happy meal when I was probably about 8 years old. It was a 110mm film camera and it was fluorescent orange. So cool. I took pictures of everything and getting my photos back from the processor was always the best day. I still get that feeling every now and then when I’ve sat down to edit photos that I’m REALLY excited about. I bought my first DLSR camera in 2008 and apprenticed as a pet photographer. I dabbled in a few different niches before finding home base as a brand and product photographer.
I love taking images for clients. They work so hard to develop a product or brand they’re proud of, and having beautiful images to show that off is integral to their success. Photography, especially when combined with branding and business, is a highly technical and creative craft. Playing a part in having my clients’ vision for their business become reality is hugely rewarding. Recently I’ve re-vamped my business model to include a large teaching component because for a lot of businesses it’s not realistic to hire a professional photographer regularly. For those who want to crank out custom social media images, or for handmakers who are creating one of a kind piece on a regular basis, know how to do their own photography is pretty crucial. I get that, and I want to help.
For those with little to no experience with photography, what are the first steps you’d recommend to taking amazing, branded stock photos?
The first and most important thing (even above what camera you use) when it comes to photography is light. Light is the science behind photography and it plays a major role in the quality of your images. Your photos must be properly lit, above all else. The good news is you don’t have to be a pro to have good lighting. Shoot your images near a bright, naturally lit window in your home. You can use white foam board or bristol board to create a bright background and a reflective wall. Steer clear of direct sunlight, or that flash on your smartphone or camera.
Second, it’s important to consider your brand’s values and vibe in your images. You want your images to fit your brand. If your brand is rugged and vintage, shooting images with a flirty and feminine vibe is going to throw off the message your brand is trying to give. I have a great free styling planner on my blog that helps sort through the branding message to create brand-cohesive images.
Third, keep it simple. For product listings, a simple white background with your product taken from different angles is often sufficient. For styled images, keep with a minimalistic look. You don’t need to have ten different props in a styled image. Some of the most swoon-worthy styled images I’ve seen incorporate just a couple of elements. Too many and your audience will become overwhelmed and click off.
What kind of info/details should an entrepreneur have before thinking of taking branded stock photos?
Know your brand; your brand colours, your brand message, and your brand vibe. All of that will form the foundation of your branded stock photos. If you know your brand is earthy and eco-friendly, you want to ensure that your photos include only eco-friendly items, and for styling, things like moss, dried lavender, natural stone, and bark would probably go a long way in communicating your brand vibe. You will also want your photos to look cohesive with one another as much as possible for the sake of brand consistency (and that beautiful Instagram account of course). Consider the aesthetic you want your photos to have and stick with it. For example, if you love the au naturel look, to may want a lot of your images to include wood backgrounds, trees, leaves, etc. Perhaps you’ll choose to edit them with a slightly desaturated and vintage look. Pick a style, and stick with it.
Do you have a recommended camera for taking photos?
I shoot with a Nikon D800 and I’m in love with it (it’s an extension on my arm), but it’s a high-end professional grade (read: expensive with no auto function) camera that isn’t necessary or recommended for someone who just wants to take great photos for themselves. I am loyal to the Nikon brand, and highly recommend their entry-level and consumer-grade DSLRs for taking photos. These cameras have the auto function, which you can use forever if you like, but you can also progress to shooting in manual if you have the desire to expand your skillset. Even more important than your camera, though, is the lens. Having a decent lens to take photos with makes a significant difference in the quality and feel of your images. For a great starter setup for brand and product photos, I recommend a Nikon D3400 (or any of the Nikon entry-level DSLRs) and a 35mm f/1.8 DX lens. And okay, despite being a Nikon girl, I have to admit that the Canon equivalent of the Nikon is also good. Not better. But good.
What tools/software do you suggest for a blogger or entrepreneur who wants to take their own stock photos?
You’ll definitely want an editing software. There are two editing programs that I use, Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom is incredible for editing large amounts of images and the workflow is basically unbeatable. For most creative entrepreneurs looking to DIY their photos, Photoshop is probably more ideal, since you’re likely not batch editing large amount of photos. Photoshop & Lightroom can be subscribed to from Adobe Creative Cloud for $10 a month, which makes it WAY more accessible than it used to be at $700+ for Photoshop alone. If you’re just starting to dabble in editing and want to try it out without the commitment, try using Gimp (gimp.org), which is a free download that has tools similar to Photoshop. It’s a great way to get your feet wet before taking the Photoshop plunge.
Do you have a favorite stock photo shoot, and could you share a sample from it? 🙂
Oh gosh, I have to choose a favourite? Yikes. I have quite a few favourites, but I will share a sample from my social media shoot for Simply Elaborate. Simply Elaborate is a web design and development agency based in Toronto. The company’s CEO, Emilia, wanted beautiful branded photos for her Instagram page that were custom and brand specific. Emilia doesn’t necessarily lack the skills to take images, but her time is limited and better spent working for her clients rather than taking images for her company’s social media. I went to their office, we raided her office to get a selection of props that were on-point for her brand, and I got to work. It was a great time and I loved the results. Here is an example:
What are 3 benefits of using styled stock photography to represent your brand?
- Styled stock photos communicate your brand’s message and vibe visually. It communicates, without words, a feeling. A single image speaks volumes about what your clients/customers/readers can expect from you.
- Styled stock photos, especially if they’re custom, develop a connection and relationship between you and your ideal audience. This is especially true for social media. In the flood of images on the internet these days, a great, on-brand styled photo will grab the attention of your ideal reader and pull them in. You can gear them specifically toward the people you want to reach. The rest can move on, and that’s okay.
- Without any images, your audience will quickly lose interest. If you have images, but they’re low quality or not on-brand, they communicate an entire differently message that will confuse and put-off your ideal audience.
If an entrepreneur wants to have a professional take their photos, what questions do you think they should ask the photographer?
First of all, it’s important that you hire someone who specializes in brand and product photos. There’s more to it than simply knowing how to take a photo. The photographer must understand how branding plays into the images and how to shoot for their client’s style. The genres of portrait, wedding, family, newborn, travel, etc, all come with the photographer’s distinct style, and usually it’s their style that the photographers themselves are hired for. The images are the photographer’s vision and they are hired based on that.
As a brand and product photographer, we need to convey our client’s vision and translate their branding into beautiful images. That often requires very different approaches and not one set photography style. For example, a photographer is going to shoot images for Nike much differently than they would shoot images for Free People. So basically, our clients may know their brand, but they don’t know photography - that’s why we’re there - and we need to know how to deliver images that fit their vision. It’s a distinct skill all on its own.
Ask your potential photographer if they’ve done this kind of work before and ask to see a variety of samples. If they all look the same, be wary. Ask the photographer what their process is like. If it doesn’t include a consult or questionnaire regarding your branding, that is also a red flag. Check to see if they have testimonials and if they have examples of websites for companies they’ve shot for.
The photography industry is unregulated, meaning anyone can claim they’re a photographer without actually having the goods to back it up. As clients, it’s important that you do your due diligence and ensure that a photographer is, in fact, qualified to do this kind of work. Keep an eye out for rookie mistakes like crappy lighting, overly edited/cheesily edited photos, photos that fail to show off the product or brand appropriately, and poorly composed images. Finally, before you sign on the dotted line, talk with the photographer about what vision they have in mind for the photos. Make sure that they’ve heard you, understand your branding, and have a clear idea of what you need.
To top it off, could you share what you offer and how you can help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level? 🙂
Yes! I work with product-based creative entrepreneurs who ship their product to me from all over the world, photographing their products that from my home studio (or on location if they require a particular setting). I also work with service-based entrepreneurs local to Toronto and surrounding areas, providing custom branded images. Recently, I’ve restructured my business to include an education component, where I can teach creative entrepreneurs how to do their own brand and product photos. I noticed a great need for this kind of resource in the creative community from friends, Facebook groups, networking groups, and the like, and have been more than happy to fulfill that need. I love empowering creative entrepreneurs to take their photography (and sales) to the next level by giving them the tools to create their own awesome images. It’s very rewarding! I have a blog that is geared toward this mission, I teach in-person workshops, and I am in the process of converting my flagship Product Photography 101 workshop to an online course. I’m also brainstorming several smaller courses to help with more specific issues. So stay tuned. 🙂
Amy is a brand and product photographer helping creative entrepreneurs all around the world up their photo game and take their business (and sales) to the next level. She creates beautiful, on-brand photo collections for her clients, as well as educates and empowers creative entrepreneurs to take their own awesome brand photos through her blog and e-courses. Originally from Nova Scotia, Amy now lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, two dogs, and (soon-to-be) first baby.