photographing for designers

I understand that your budget may not stretch to include a professional photographer and you may need to channel the inner-photographer in you. With a little bit of guidance and natural ability, many of my clients have done amazing jobs taking their own photos.


Here’s a few tips and suggestions on taking photos that will spark some inner creativity and help get great photos that work for me too…

1. Good focusing

If I need something blurred to make it sit in the background, let me do the blurring…that’s what Photoshop is for. I can easily reduce the resolution of an image, but there is no true “sharpening” of an image.

2. Don’t crop

Photographers drive me nuts providing “creative” images…shoulders or tops of heads chopped off when I’m needing a full width portrait, or items too close to the edges of the image so there’s no room to move or for me to crop. Remember I have varying sizes I need to fit these graphics to. Let me do the creative cropping. A bit of extra space never hurt anyone.

3. Provide alternatives

Take multiple photos of the same item, both portrait and landscape from different angles and let me pick the one that best suits the job specifications. Often a client requires pull up banners or DL sized portrait images and a landscape image simply doesn’t work in these instances.

4. Bad lighting

Glare is a killer. Don’t take your photos in the middle of the day. Instead take them early morning or late afternoon when the natural light is softer. Not only does it cut out bad contrast lighting, it provides atmosphere and ambiance to your image which evokes a wide range of emotions from your audience.

5. Strong Shadows

If you see heavy shadows over a person’s face or object you’re photographing…move them, wait for better lighting or fix the lighting artificially. There is only so much Photoshop can do to save images like that and fixing images takes time and costs you money.

6. Use the weather

There is nothing worse than a lovely landscape with a washed out white sky. If you’re unable to capture blue sky, the onset of cloudy weather is a great time to photograph. They provide the most dramatic images and fluffy white clouds give contrast to the blue sky behind them which avoids white out. Sunset or sunrise with streaky clouds provides a warm friendly glow to buildings. Think about it…the best traditional landscape painters revel in the inclusion of spectacular cloud formations and so should you!

7. Set up your shot

Match your product with the environment. A friend of mine who designs trendy costume jewellery was attempting to photograph her products at home and was failing dismally. She asked for some tips one evening over coffee in Leederville. I took of pieces of the jewellery we were wearing and wrapped necklaces on mottled steel railings, piled bracelets on peeling park benches, angled rings on tables with cafe life visible behind them and took photos with my phone, zooming in from different angles and captured a blurred glimpse of the urban backgrounds surrounding them. Her jewellery came to life in these environments, standing out the stark industrial backgrounds or melding romantically into candlelit cafe scenarios. She’s been taking fantastic shots ever since for her blog and instagram!

Have a skim through both men’s and women’s magazines and see how the photographs have been set out. Remember many of these companies have paid thousands of dollars to professional photographers for these shoots and there’s nothing to stop your styling looking just as good.

If you’re selling clothing, make sure you provide photographs of your products being worn. People need to be able to visualise themselves wearing your garments. The model doesn’t need to be beautiful…it’s the clothing you’re selling and angling faces, interesting lighting and locations can make all the difference.

8. Get creative with portraits

So you need to photograph your staff for your website. Bouncing from one office to another, snapping them, doesn’t cut it. It just looks cheap and the photos will never look like a set. Try to bring some of the person’s personality out in the image. If it needs to be a conservative shot, a bold coloured tie, a bright scarf or an unusual pose or angle can work great without compromising their professionalism. Keep the background simple. Clutter is an absolute no no. If you work in the city, find a grungy wall, graffiti or a mottled surface. If you work in an industry, use imagery from your workplace.

If your image is being cut out of it’s background, take the image on a background similar to the background colouring you are using for the card. For example: a white background should be photographed on a white painted wall, and a dark background will cut out best against a concrete or dark brick wall.

There is logic behind this request…the tiny pixels that surround the edge of the person take on the background colour and a cropped image looks a thousand times better if a similar background colour is used. It saves me time and you end up with less blurring or cropping around the edges.

Warm lighting on a person in the afternoon against a grey concrete wall can look fantastic too…the person comes to life in glorious colour and the neutral background stays in the background where it should be.

9. Landscape photos

Looking straight on at a scene can be downright boring. Slightly angling away from the subject can make a huge difference. Make use of objects such as grass or rocks in the foreground, overhanging leaves, pathways, roads or anything that helps draw your eye into the image towards the item you are wanting to showcase.

10. Foreground versus background

If you are taking a photo of a person in a work setting, bring the person forward and focus on them so that the background blurs out. If you’re taking groups of people, be sure not to separate them too much or the person in the foreground will be sharp and the features of the people behind will blur. The same goes for product photos. Zoom in but allow some of the background to show through, putting the focus on the item rather than the image as a whole.

Most importantly, ALWAYS check what is in the background, especially when working with shiny or mirrored surfaces!

11. Related images

If a business is selling wine, we don’t just see a photograph of the bottle in their websites and promotional pieces: the product is environmentally positioned with beautiful imagery of the winery, barrels, wine glasses, corkscrews, fence posts, grape vines and machinery.

Make sure you photograph a range of photos that I can use for backgrounds or to break up a group of photos and add interest. Zoom in on labels or features of your product. If you’re producing soaps or jams, arrange some of the raw ingredients nearby or take a photo of the ingredient on it’s own so it can be used as a subtle graphical element or background.

12. Size does matter

So many times I have been provided with images swiped off the internet from client’s suppliers. “Oh, I’m allowed to use them”. Great. Then get me the original because the one you’ve provided me with is grainy and about 1cm x 1.5cm when printed. The same goes for any digital photograph you provide me with.

To give you an idea of the size I require, think about what size the photo needs to be in it’s final form. On a computer screen we view images at 72dpi, but when it is printed I require it at 300dpi so that it prints out clearly. That’s more than four times the image size required for your computer. The higher the resolution you can provide me with, the better. Around 1 MB is reasonable. Any more than 4 MB is probably overkill unless you are planning on using them for billboards or large banners and signage.

A bigger image also means I can crop into a photo where needed without worrying about the resolution…it is still resizable. Don’t panic about the file size either…that’s what usb sticks and cds were created for…just pop them in the mail or contact me and I’ll set you up with a Dropbox to upload them to.