Ditch Stock Photos! Here are 10 Pro Tips for Taking High-Quality Photos Yourself
So, you need photos for your website, marketing collateral, or something else for your business. You’re likely thinking the same thing that thousands of other marketers have for years -- stock photos.
Now, stock photos are easy and convenient, but most of what’s available out there for you to use are rather goofy, and add almost zero value to your brand.
Why? Because they’re not really you. You are what makes your business unique. Your marketing is about selling the value only you provide, so the imagery you use should reflect that.
Not only are they inauthentic, but stock photos are expensive! Plans for Shutterstock and other services start at around $169 a month and go up from there. It adds up to even more if you were to buy photos a la carte because you never need just one. Before you know it, you’ve racked up hundreds of dollars in invoices for stock photos and will only continue to as you realize you need more.
So, listen -- You’re better than that.
That same high-quality (color, resolution, etc) can be had with your own team in front of and behind the lens of a camera.
How do I know this? I’m a photographer myself. I picked up a camera for the first time maybe 10 years ago and learned by just shooting and honing my skills. Fast forward and I’ve been shooting professionally in the automotive field now for about 5-6 years. I even shot all of IMPACT’s team photos a few years back!
For a few of those professional years, my only equipment was my camera and until I had the coin for the expensive pro gear, I discovered tips and tricks to achieve the same results.
I recently found myself advising an IMPACT client on how they could achieve professional results on a point-and-shoot budget, and realized tons of companies can benefit from these tips -- so here we are!
By taking your own original photos, you’ll lose the emptiness of stock people and settings and gain infinite photo opportunities for a one-time cost of buying a bundled camera kit.
Need more photos? Take more! It’s that simple. No need to shell out more money for stock photos.
Have a designer or creative on staff? They’ll more than likely be jumping at the opportunity to do this for you. Heck, in this social media age, almost everyone understands good composition. Gotta get that Instagram selfie somehow, right?
I know taking your own photos sounds daunting, but with a few simple tips, it can be rather easy and even kind of fun. Here’s a quick 101 on how to ditch the stock photo and start taking your own with some basic equipment:
1. Try to shoot all of the photos in RAW format.
This format allows for maximum processing without compression so, in case there are differences in light-temperature, exposure, or anything else, all the photos look like a cohesive shoot.
Once edited, you can export to a web/social friendly .jpg or .png format, which will capture all of the editing that you did to the RAW file.
2. Use the rule of thirds
Whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, a blog article, or your homepage, there’s a little shooting tip that can completely change the way a photo’s composition is received by its viewer.
It’s all about the position of the subject and can make the same subject go from bland to awesome with one small tweak.
When you look through the viewfinder on some cameras, you may see a 3x3 grid. Even the iPhone camera has the ability to turn this grid on and this isn’t an accident!
What you want to do is position your subject, whether human or inanimate, so that it falls within those thirds, or at the intersection of any of the 9 blocks in that grid.
This can help create balance, white space, and general interest in the photo that may otherwise be lost if you just always position your camera so that everything’s in the middle. Didn’t get the shot right? Don’t worry. You can always crop it later!
And if your camera doesn’t show the grid, just imagine it.
3. Use the polarizer filter if possible.
Think of the polarizer as sunglasses for your camera. It helps mitigate the reflections coming off equipment, screens, windows, or anything shiny, and get them to photograph better.
It does reduce some of the light the camera’s sensor sees, but if you have your camera set to Auto it will adjust accordingly so that it still exposes correctly.
4. Don’t be afraid of the flash.
A lot of people avoid flash nowadays because of that gross harshness it can bring to a photo, however, using flash indoors can really help make a photo pop, and avoid the noise that often happens in low light. (more on that later)
The trick is to soften the flash, so the light isn't as harsh and sharp.
In the field, I usually tape a tissue in front of my flash, which helps to break up the flash’s light beam. It's a simple Macgyver trick, but it yields results just as good as the super expensive softboxes pros use in the studios. Win.
5. Aim the on-camera flash upwards at a 45° angle, instead of straight ahead.
This only applies if you have a hot-shoe mountable flash, but if you do, it will help soften the light even further since the main part of the light beam isn't straight on the subject.
This will also get you some soft light reflections off of other objects/walls so that you can even get a backlight effect on the subject without having multiple flashes.
6. Keep the camera on the tripod at all times, if possible.
This might sound obvious, but it really does make a huge difference in the quality of the image.
Even a .5mm movement of your hand while the shutter is closing can make a noticeable difference in image quality.
Sometimes, I even set a 1-second timer on the shutter when I use a tripod, so the movement of my finger hitting the shutter release doesn't affect the shot. A little overkill, but a cool little trick that can make or break a photo.
7. Use a wide-angle adapter to make the image look larger.
A wide-angle adapter can help make a space look larger, or get more in-frame if you need to shoot real close to a subject. This is what real-estate agents do in order to make rooms inside of small houses look like they're the size of cathedrals. Imagine what they could do for your office space!
8. Try and limit your ISO setting.
Remember that noise I mentioned earlier? A higher ISO number will allow the sensor to capture more light to avoid this but at the expense of noise and grain. Noise and grain create speckles on the image that make a photo look like it was taken in the 1970s. So, unless that’s the look you’re going for, mind that ISO! It’s part of the key to a super sharp HD resolution.
1600 is a good rule of thumb for a maximum (some cameras can be set to auto with an upper limit). Any higher than that and the noise/grain will just be too much.
9. Try shooting in Aperture Priority mode (Av).
This may seem like a slightly advanced tactic, but hear me out.
If you’re brave enough to venture into Aperture Priority mode (labeled as Av on most cameras) your patience will be rewarded. This makes the camera automatically control shutter movement time (so you don't have to worry about it), and you just set the aperture (the size of the hole the light comes through).
This allows you to control the depth of field (focus length) and light.
10. Use a lower aperture
The lower the aperture number (ex: f3.5) the more light the lens lets in, but also the more shallow the focus depth will be. With a shallow depth of field, you can get cool effects where the subject is in focus, but the fore and background are out of focus, like this:
11. --- Or use a higher aperture
A higher aperture lets in less light, but will keep more of the image depth in focus. It's a juggling act, but that's where the tripod can help you.
Since shutter speed is usually automatically being adjusted, it will compensate for the lower amount of light this setting will be letting in. This is good for overview images of the building from above, or a distance, as it will keep everything looking sharp, like this landscape:
Ready for Your Close Up?
I know this was a bit technical, but hopefully, it wasn't too overwhelming! With these few tricks, you can bet that your photos can go from bland to grand, and you can ditch those goofy stock photos once and for all.
Have any tips or tricks that you use to capture photos for your company? Post them below!
About Danny Lopez
Danny is an Industrial/Product Designer by schooling turned UI/UX designer by further exploration of his craft and training. As a Creative Lead, the practical design sense he developed from his tangible product design schooling has translated into a valuable, user-focused mindset. This has enabled him to always design with a purpose, without losing sight of innovation, while working in the digital realm. When he's not designing, Danny can be found wielding a camera or driving his VR.