How to make your pictures say a thousand words.
Great photographs matter!
Effective marketers understand that, when photography works, it captures what otherwise would be said in lots of words. More importantly, every picture works: Bad ones and good ones say plenty. That’s why taking great photographs matters to visual marketers.
So what does it take to create a great photograph? Can anyone do it – even with a basic camera and little training – or does great photography require a muse? Well, maybe you won’t become an amazing photographer overnight, but there are still a few things you can do to improve your marketing images with deliberate practice. Here are seven ideas that anybody can apply to their efforts.
The most common reason photos fail is because they are simply taken “off the cuff.” There’s a place and time for quick-shot photos, but marketing isn’t one of them. Take your time. Look at your subject slowly – whether it’s a person, a room, a landscape – and give yourself time to discover the right shot. It takes more than one minute to find a good angle, an interesting perspective or wait for the right lighting conditions. You might even have to come back later to get the right light; or take the time to rearrange key elements of the shot. Great shots come to those who wait.
Tell stories with your shots
For every shot, ask yourself: What’s the message you want to convey? It doesn’t have to be dramatic: Not every shot is a man standing in front of a tank. But you can still convey a feeling or an idea with the most basic shots. One way of doing this is to attach one word to every photograph. So your shot might capture fun, or large, or relaxing, or excellence. You won’t capture that idea or emotion if you’re just snapping away at every angle, corner and space. When you have a word in mind, there’s usually only one or two shots that capture it, anyway.
Play with space
Great photographs accentuate the space in three dimensions. You can do this by adjusting your focal point – bringing the forefront into focus while letting the background blur, or vice versa. When you play with the space, you can use depth-perception as a visual metaphor: important things are in-focus while supporting content is “there in the background” just beyond reach. This draws the user in, calling their attention to the multiple layers of meaning expressed in the shot.
Remember the old pictures of painters who held up their thumb and closed one eye? What were they doing? They were considering the perspective of the viewer. They were thinking about what items would be bigger, smaller, and next to each other. You can do something similar with your camera by using the balancing elements which will appear in the shot. Place your main subject to one side (or one third) of the image, but try to find an item of lesser importance to include for balance . Alternately, change the viewing angle of the shot – making it significantly higher or lower than eye level, to add drama to the main point of the shot.
The Rule of Thirds
The most famous “rule” of photography is the rule of thirds, which helps isolate and enhance the main subjects of the shot. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid (two horizontal, two vertical lines) overlaid on your shot. Now, place your most important subject on one of the intersections of the lines. This “off center” compositional rule is thought to be more pleasing to the eye. It adds “weight” to the critical elements of the image, rather than even distribution of a centered shot. If you forget to use the rule of thirds when you take the shot, it can be achieved later by cropping in your editing software.
Almost every form of communication uses patterns: poetry, music and photography can leverage repeating lines, shapes and colors to capture attention and draw the attention to something valuable. Look for repeating and symmetrical patterns you can capture in a shot; or better still, look for a break in a pattern – some sort of interruption or unexpected element – that can cause the viewer to stop and take notice. Then accentuate the pattern by highlighting the colors or light. Black and white photography often involves the use of contrasting patterns to create a strong message.
Every photographer will tell you that pressing the shutter is only the beginning of the process. Great photographs often take hours of painstaking editing. But even if you’re pressed for time, some basic editing can dramatically improve your photographs, by adjusting the exposure or sharpening the image. Other important features include lightening up areas in shadow, or cropping the image to eliminate extraneous content. Even adding a little flair such as blurring the background or creating a vignette frame can make even ordinary subjects seem more exciting.
You’ll notice that most of the ways you can improve your photography aren’t really about the technology: While better cameras can improve your shots, even a point-and-shoot can capture great messages if the person taking the photo follows some of these rules.