I recall, long ago, stumbling upon a blog post in some obscure corner of the interwebs by a former Etsy seller, complaining ferociously about how folks with the best pictures sell the most, regardless of “quality” (according to this person’s complaints). I was so irritated by the strange complaint, I didn’t bother finishing the post. The acerbic writer would have had me believe that reliance on images is superficial, but this is just not true. What else do buyers have to rely on to make purchase decisions than the images you offer them? When care and artistry are put into your photography, it communicates the probability of care and artistry in your product. When you are an online seller, your images are the life-blood of your brand. Period.
If there is one, single factor to which I would attribute any little amount of success I have had (other than pure grace), it is quality images for both marketing and social media.
Add photography to the list of skills in which I have zero training, formal or otherwise. That is, unless you count that one time when I read through the entire Canon Rebel t2i owner’s manual on Christmas day. after my then-boyfriend, now-husband received it as a gift. Side note: I still use that same camera, when I’m not using my iPhone 7+.
But, like so many other technical arts, in this day in age it is very easy to fake it well enough to get you by with some clean, well lit, simple photos, well styled and cleverly edited. I love what the icon of nature photography himself said about his own art:
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
― Ansel Adams
― Ansel Adams
Keeping Mr. Adam’s wisdom in mind, know that styling and capturing images for your brand does not have to be a laborious, rule-drive, highly technical process, but your images have to ring with that authenticity we’ve already thought so much about, and stay true to your style focus.
When considering whose input I wanted to request for this most important piece of the branding puzzle, there was one maker who came to mind immediately. Nicole of Miskunn (find her on Instagram here ) is incredibly well planned and intentional about the images she offers for both her selling and social media platforms. Her style is squeaky clean, minimal, and absolutely classic. Her products are highly elevated basics, and her images reflect that perfectly. I asked Nicole, “How do you utilize photography to reflect your brand? What resources for improving your photography have you found helpful?” Here is what Nicole graciously shared:
Photography plays such a huge role in creating your brand and portraying the correct mood across your platforms. For example, when I first began on Instagram I loved taking minimalistic photos with a lot of white space and a single object of focus. Over time I began experimenting with my photos and drifted towards detailed shots that had very little white space. These two types of photography created a completely different mood and showcased my brand in a totally different way. What this showed me is that if I wanted to portray my brand in a simplistic way, certain ways of taking photos helped to do that, which means the way we take our photos really does matter.
I have also found that there are certain times of the day that work better for photos than others and that it’s important to experiment until you find a time that best suits the mood you are trying to create. For me that looks like taking photos around 11:00 AM. There is just something about the way the light comes through the windows that work best at the that time. Really play with the lighting you have and take the time needed to experiment until you’re happy with the way your photos look. It will make a world of difference.
I love what Nicole has to say about both consistency and experimentation, as both have been vital to my own development in this area. Browse back in my Instagram feed, and you will be able to spot a bit of an evolution in my image styling as I have experimented with various backgrounds, vignettes, props, and lighting. Even so, there is an overall feel present, which is true to the style focus I established early on in my branding journey-simple, classic, earthy, slightly rustic, and delicate, with an overall sun-washed feel and a bit of Scandinavian influence. If an image wouldn’t look like it fits on my mood board, I will likely go back to the drawing board.
Getting to this point took lots of practice and lots of fails. I have had to struggle through plenty of trial and error to feel confident in my images. One practice I have embraced to help in this development is research. As I have mentioned before, Photoshop has been an indispensable tool for creating graphics-it has also been vital in developing my image style. I scoured the vast resource of internet tutorials, trying out different methods of utilizing simple Photoshop edits to enhance my amateur photography. I now have a tried and true set of editing steps that I use more often than not for product photographs (here is one article I found particularly helpful).
Product photographs I use for listings serve a very different purpose than those I share on social media, although they sometimes overlap. When I am styling a product image, I keep simplicity as a top priority-plain white back drop, bright lighting, crisp details. The crocheted piece is the focus, and styling the piece comes from design and color choices, rather than props or backdrop. These are largely un-styled, letting the piece speak for itself, so the photography has to be top notch. For these, I use my DSLR and a set of editing steps, which includes brightening, lowering contrast and saturation if needed, and adding a low opacity layer, utilizing unsharp mask, gaussian blur, and soft light filter. There are ways to achieve this without the use of Photoshop, but this is what I am personally familiar with and I find easy to use.
When it comes to social media, however, my goals are much more loose. While my product photographs should feel at home in my media feeds, not all my social media shots will work as product photos. In addition, I almost always take and edit social media photos directly from my phone-I actually find the editing tools offered right on Instagram pretty comprehensive, believe it or not! For my social media feeds, I want to offer a peek behind the curtain. I am an independent designer, and folks want to feel a personal connection with where those designs come from (which, incidentally, sometimes makes me feel like Collin the chicken from Portlandia :)), so I drop the curtain a hair and share images that reflect my brand, but in a less controlled way, although still well curated. I have three different backdrops I use consistently; a white canvas, a reclaimed wood tray, and an oatmeal seed stitch blanket. I also have a limited “type” of post I share, with some exceptions-“work in progress” flat lays, what I have come to refer to as “drone selfies”, product photos, and “behind the scenes” shots. Like Nicole, I normally take my photos at a very specific time of day to take advantage of the best lighting my little casa has to offer, which for me is somewhere between 8 and 10 AM if your in my living room, and between 12 and 2 PM in my bedroom. I have a couple of props I use consistently, like my gorgeous hook from Ainslee at My Suburban Farm, my butterfly scissors from Sojourner Handmade, and my little artificial stem of cotton blossoms. I keep those factors tight so that I can stretch my creativity in other areas, like actual designs (wink)!
These things will evolve over time, as well, and that is a good thing! As you research, experiment, and settle into your own style, give yourself time and grace! Your images will get there, even if it takes a year, and the work will be worth it.
If you haven’t already explored the first steps in this little branding series, please visit my posts on authenticity, purpose, focus, logo, and design elements. Come back soon for the final post in the series, focusing on Packaging, and featuring the final remarkable maker contribution!