Back to Marketing & Social

Marketing & Social

10 tips for taking a good photo

by team Holly & Co

As wonderful as it is, that Instagram’s got a lot to answer for. All those perfectly captured lives, drenched in colour and creativity. The sunlit products. The fun and artful backgrounds…While small businesses across the land are taking their forty-fifth, dimly lit ‘money shot’ in their lounge, making their beautifully crafted hammered gold necklace look less than its best, tearing their hair out and crying, “How? HOW DO THEY DO IT?!” before giving up and eating too many biscuits in despair. 

With more than a billion people active on Instagram every month, 90% now following businesses¹ and lots of us using it to shop, photography matters more than ever. We think visually. Your pictures represent your brand, bring your products to life and form a shortcut to emotion. You have just a split second to capture someone’s attention in a sea of sameness. What makes you stand out?

Businesses rely deeply on their imagery to succeed. So it’s no wonder ‘How do I take good photos?’ is a question we get asked all the time at Holly & Co. The good news is that after years of practise, working on hundreds of shoots and learning the tricks we’ve since applied ourselves, we’ve got this down pat.

So if you don’t have the budget to hire a professional photographer who knows their depth of field from their complex shutter speed, read this…

1. Choose your brand’s photography style

Firstly, think about which style best suits your brand or product type: lifestyle (showing the items as they’d appear in real life), or cut out (with nothing in the background)? Consider what makes your pictures stand out from competitors and represent your look and feel. Then be consistent so people start to recognise your business. Bright or muted imagery, for example? Happy or serious shots? If you’re using lifestyle photography, does it look authentic but also attractive? A bracelet being worn by someone is much more appealing than a bracelet alone on a table, for example. 

Think about the emotion you want to convey, and the story around it. Make the life you show look like one potential shoppers would happily imagine themselves in or appreciate. 

Think about the emotion you want to convey, and the story around it. Make the life you show look like one potential shoppers would happily imagine themselves in or appreciate.

2. Get creative

Having people in your shots can really bring them to life. If you can’t afford models, who can you ask to help? We often use family members or locals (with permission of course!). Or if you don’t know anyone willing to step in, could you pool funds with another small business and share a professional? Think about backgrounds, clothing and props, too. Different textures often work well or a pop of colour. What will make your shot look different to others? The trick is to plan ahead so you have options to try on the day, then just work quickly and explore. If something’s not working, don’t panic. Just try something else. 

3. Make your product the star

Without a shadow of a doubt, your product needs to be the very first thing people notice in the shot. If a prop or background is distracting, change it. It’s a good idea to make sure other brands aren’t obvious (unless it’s a fellow small business and you’re happy to promote them). If you’re shooting on an iPhone, we’ve found the grid function can be really helpful for composition (in the settings, tap ‘Camera’, then ‘Grid’ and toggle the switch on the right to ‘On’). It helps you focus on the product. Also, have you heard of the rule of thirds? Artists use it to balance their pieces. So if you imagine the picture is in nine equal parts with horizontal and vertical lines, the idea is to have your product positioned in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open.

4. Consider where the photo will be used

If you’ll be sharing it on Instagram, check it’ll work well square so you can post straight to your grid. If it’s for desktop it might need to work well in landscape, for example.

Bonus tip: iPhones have a 16:9 ratio setting which is perfect for shooting imagery ready to post on Instagram stories. This saves time messing about cropping. 

Wherever you’re using your image, make sure you’ve thought about whether or not you’ll need to allow room for dropping text on top — which means ensuring you’ve left a plain bit of background in a colour that will allow copy to be legible. 

We tend to make sure we shoot a little wider than we’ll actually need, to allow for cropping, which gives us flexibility to use the shot in different spaces or forms of advertising if needed. Take a mixture of both detailed shots and more ‘bigger picture’ ones, too. Think about what customers would most like to see, and inspire them with interesting details like emotive personalisations for example, or your incredible packaging.

5. Pay attention to your lighting

Good lighting can immediately transform a regular photograph into an incredible one. We’re lucky as we have lots of natural light in our Work/Shop. Try taking pictures near a large window or door, or step outside. You can create a beautifully artistic look from the dappled shapes of shadows. Just make sure you don’t shoot with bright sun behind or you’ll find your subject suddenly doused in darkness! 

Bonus tip: iPhones have a 16:9 ratio setting which is perfect for shooting imagery ready to post on Instagram stories. This saves time messing about cropping.

6. Clean your camera and make sure the product looks good

A dirty lense will decrease the quality and sharpness of your images, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you take a brilliant photo you can’t use because of it. The same goes for your product: iron that garment, wipe off fingerprints or fluff the pillow. You absolutely want to make it look as appealing as you possibly can, which sounds obvious but it’s amazing what people overlook sometimes when you’re just trying to get a shoot done. Remove any excess labels if possible and if hands will be in shot, make sure nails are clean and tidy, too.

7. Check your tech features

  • Turn your flash off, you’ll mess with the colour of your photos and the quality, too
  • If you’re using an iPhone, also turn off the ‘live photos’ feature. It takes footage for a full second which you can scroll through to choose the perfect shot, but it can make life a little difficult when trying to find one in focus
  • Don’t use the ‘zoom’ feature, you’ll lose the quality and clarity of photos. When you zoom in, the resolution will decrease

8. Choose your kit

The good news is that you don’t need a fancy camera or lots of expensive kit. For most of what you’ll see on our Instagram for example, we use our phones. We do use a photographer to capture some of our imagery at Holly & Co (and make a list first to get as much as we can done in one go). If you are able to use a photographer, remember to brief them well. Often, the better the brief, the happier you’ll be with the shots. It’s worth finding someone who really understands what your brand’s about and what you’re trying to achieve. 

Kitwise, the bit we absolutely can’t live without is our tripod. It really helps eliminate camera shakes, and provides consistency from product to product. The good news is, they cost about £20. 

If you have small, detailed products (like jewellery for example), you might want to invest in a high-grade smartphone camera lens (a macro one). Ultimately they help you get closer to the products so it’s easier to capture the finer elements. Do your research though and check reviews or speak to other members of our community to gain advice. 

Kitwise, the bit we absolutely can’t live without is our tripod. It really helps eliminate camera shakes, and provides consistency from product to product. The good news is, they cost about £20.

9. Always overshoot

Even if you think you’ve taken the best photo ever on the first go, take multiple shots. Trust us, your future self will thank you. Get versions with and without props, or with and without people in, for example. Having options gives you more flexibility when you come to edit them or when putting them in a collection. If you’re likely to be using them next to other photos, have those handy if possible so you can see how they look together. 

10. Allow time for editing

Taking the actual photo is only half the job. Often the brilliance of a first class image is created in the edit. Apps like Lightroom, VSCO and Snapseed are all free and can help you perfect your brand’s editing style. Are your photos going to be soft or super vibrant? Are they all going to have coloured backgrounds or cropped with a white background? Once you’ve chosen this, you can create ‘recipes’ to then add to multiple photos if you’re editing large amounts. 

At Holly & Co, it definitely took us a while to find our signature style and figure out what works for us (and what doesn’t!). We’ve spent many a morning, wobbling up ladders, pleading with people to help out and making props to get that perfect shot. The main thing is to just keep going. You’ll soon be putting the biscuits down and picking the camera up. Good luck!

How to get noticed

Showstopping imagery, bold ideas and clever phrasing. Read how artist (and former ad agency owner) Dave Buonaguidi does it…

Share this article

Back to Marketing & Social