You know those times you want to take a quick, fun picture to show off your product/e-course/insert-something-here? Except it's NEVER that quick and they're usually not what you envisioned in your head. (A "cute messy desk" is not a real thing, it's a perfectly-curated-and-staged thing, haha.) I feel you!!! I've spent countless hours trying to learn little shortcuts to making my styled images pop more, and I'm learning more everyday. But here are a few of my top tips to that will hopefully help you hone your own eye.
1) FIND SOME GOOD LIGHT
I know, I know... this is hardly revolutionary. But it's such a fundamental. No matter how beautifully arranged your shot is, if it's poorly lit, it's not a good photo. And no amount of editing can make it so.
This can get tricky in the colder/darker months of the year, but try to find some amount of natural light (a window, the porch, etc) and aim to "batch" your photos (shoot multiple at once) to take advantage of it. If you need any sort of artificial light to easily see, it's too dark. (That's not to say that you can't USE professional, artificial light- just that if you would need a lamp to easily see/hang out in the room, then it's too dark for a photo.)
One of my favorite photo tools is a "bounce" or a reflector, that will essentially recycle and bounce back the available light in the room, creating a brighter, better-lit photo. You can get a decent one pretty cheaply, but if you REALLY want to go rogue, a white foam board does the trick very well. ;)
2) FIGURE OUT WHAT THE FOCUS OF THE IMAGE IS
Sometimes, you get so excited with props and backgrounds, you just want it all in the shot! But then it's easy to overwhelm the viewer! Figure out what you want the image to convey (Are you showcasing your hand-knit scarves? Are you trying to show a "busy desk scene" for your blog? Do you want the simplicity + beauty of your painting to be the star?) and ask yourself if that is obvious.
If you want a particular item in the picture to "pop" (i.e. a pair of earrings), make sure that your eye is drawn to them in the picture. How do you do that? By giving it the right amount of context in the photo. Context helps to guide a viewer to what you want them to see, and also helps create a scene that someone can see themselves/their life in... which helps grab their attention! For example, let's say you sell earrings and you want to create a little faux "vanity table scene". If you pull the camera too far out, and capture the hairbrush, the lotion, the stack of bracelets, etc... the earrings are no longer a focal point! They just seem like another prop. On the other hand, if you pull in too much and only show the earrings, you lose the fun context of a "vanity scene" and then your whole photo is the earrings. You might think "well, what's the problem with that? I'm selling earrings!"- and there's nothing "wrong" with it. But if your goal is to create styled lifestyle shots and pictures that allow a viewer to imagine themselves in your photo, showing the earrings with one or two other items in the photo will actually enhance the overall photo and make your earrings pop more!
One more thing to consider, when thinking about the focus of your image- any background with color or texture will compete with your eye for the "main focus" of the image! Which means if you're using anything besides pure white or black for a backdrop, you may want to consider losing another prop. Using textured/colored backgrounds in the right way can totally enhance your image! But you just want to be careful that it doesn't overshadow your picture.
3) USE YOUR PROPS TO "TELL THE STORY"
If a great styled image is a way to speak to a viewer without words, the props are the ones doing most of the talking! Think about it- if I take a photo of just a cupcake, nothing else... what is that really telling me? Not much. It may make me hungry, it may be a beautiful cupcake. But there's no story there.
Now, if I show that same cupcake next to a bowl of brightly colored frosting, and a wooden spoon, and another cupcake with a bite out of it, and some sprinkles on the counter... all of a sudden I'm telling you a baking story! You can imagine yourself making (and eating!!) these pretty little things, maybe it even reminds you of the last time you baked. That's what good props should do- tell the story to the viewer, just by looking.
Good props aren't hard to find either! The best ones are usually ones you already have- tools of your trade or household items that help to tell a story (as above). Try to get creative... using the cupcake example, rather than just showing a picture of the finished baked good by itself (or even next to it's batch-mates), think of all the other fun ways you could style it. Can you stage a little faux party scene with your cupcake? (Some confetti and a cute plate) Maybe an afternoon-pick-me-up scene? (A cup of hot coffee and the cupcake, next to a fun magazine)
Your goal is just to help the viewer see the versatility and awesomeness your work/product with just a few easy props!
4) THE DETAILS MATTER!
So you've mapped out an awesome styled shot, laid your props and you're ready to shoot it... but, wait! Have you double-checked the details?
I can't tell you how many images (of my own included!) I've seen that have an amazing concept but then in a rush to shoot them and get on with the day, have "tiny" details overlooked that end up hurting the picture.
Before you shoot, go through a mental checklist:
- Are there crumbs or particles of anything that will show in the finished photo? Unless you intentionally want a "messy" look, clean up those crumbs! It's a tiny nuisance that draws the eye away from the beautiful part of your photo.
- Are the props overshadowing each other? Sometimes the layout you see in real life, doesn't look identical behind a lens. Double check that things are spaced correctly, that there are no shadows blocking other items and that you're happy with the layout.
- If you plan to crop a picture, are you leaving yourself enough space? Consider the final crop and make sure you give yourself room for options (i.e. square, rectangular, etc.)
- Does the picture complement your brand/feed's color scheme? It should! Maybe not every picture will be perfectly in sync with those colors, but for the most part, consider the colors you're using and whether they complement your brand.
5) GIVE YOURSELF OPTIONS
Last, but not least... make sure you give yourself options! You'd be surprised how many times what you think will be a "great" photo is just so-so... sometimes it's one of the "extra" shots that becomes THE one! Between staging, shooting, stepping back to look, reshooting... sometimes the finished photo is blurrier or not as well-lit as you intended. Taking more shots than you think you'll need ensures that you'll find one you love!
Another bonus- take an extra few minutes to maximize the number of photos you can get out of one session (also known as "batching"). You already have the lighting right, your camera out, and the time set aside, make the best use of it!! Can you alter some props and get multiple shots of a similar item? Can you shoot some of the props in other arrangements to create new photos? What else can you shoot? Being "in the zone" is where some of my best ideas happen, so take advantage of the time you've already set aside to use, and see where your creativity takes you!
I hope you found these tips helpful!! This is part one of a fun new series on photo styling... and there's lots more to look forward to!
I'd love to hear what you found most useful! (And what you'd love to learn!) Leave a comment below or email me!