We live in amazing times. We have amazing cameras in our pockets, which enable us to capture so many moments that we can treasure forever. We can take more images than ever before and we can share these images with more people all over the world than we could have ever imagined. I have been taking photographs for over thirty years and all that we can do today simply blows me away.
But with all this photography and sharing comes certain pressures. If we want our images to stand out, for people to stop and look at our image in amongst the hundreds of others that they could look at in that moment, we need them to look as good as we can make them.
We need to be stylists as well as photographers, especially if we are trying to promote something we are selling. I have just finished teaching my “Photography for Makers” online course and this week I also taught a Photography for Makers workshop at my London studio. I shared lots of styling tips and tricks with them as well as helping them with composition but to help them a little more I decided they needed some more ideas for photographing big things and small things. These were the things that were causing them the most trouble, so I thought it would be lovely to write a bonus lesson for them and share it with you too!
I have talked about backgrounds before but I want to emphasise again just how important the background is for creating your images. You can really show off a product with the right background. Think of it as your canvas for your image. Try out different backgrounds and begin a collection of backgrounds that you know work for you. Be creative with your backgrounds and give them as much attention as everything else in your image.
This example of jewellery styled on this beautiful background paper really illustrates how important a background is.
Keep is simple
The thing I love about all the images in the Pinterest board above is that they are really simple. When you are styling something it is so easy to get carried away and think you need lots of props. It’s easier to make it so much more complicated than it needs to be. Simple is beautiful and it can really help you style successfully, especially when you are first learning these skills.
A great background, good natural light and composition means that you really can style simply and produce images that make people stop, admire them and engage with you.
Give yourself enough room
When you are photographing something it is really important to give yourself enough room. If you haven’t got a background that is big enough your image will look squashed and you will probably get really frustrated. You will probably also start trying to photograph your subject from strange angles in an attempt to squeeze it all in. Or you will have funny things on the edges that ruin the image.
Start finding backgrounds that are big enough for your products. Photographing large pieces is not hard if you have the space to do it. Think about the things you photograph when you are outside. I am sure you have photographed a pretty house, a large tree and a person. All these things are very likely to be bigger than the product you are struggling to photograph. I know that houses, trees and people are not usually the subject of a flat lay but the point is that when you photograph these things outside you do things like cross the road to give yourself enough room to photograph the house, or you take a few steps back to create a great portrait.
You need to do the same indoors. You need to think about using wall space or floors for flat lays. Large pieces of fabric can help you to create a flat lay for bigger pieces on the floor or a large piece of card or foam board.
If you create flat lays on the floor when you are working with large items then you will have a much better chance of capturing them.
Props that work for the scale of your main subject.
It it always easy to get carried away when using props. I know that when people come to the Makelight Studio they often get overwhelmed by the choice of pretty things and want to try and squeeze everything into one image.
Remember that there is plenty of time to photograph lots of things and you really don’t have to try and put them all in the same image!
It is important that people know what the subject of the image is, so you don’t want your product to be lost in amongst lots of things or dwarfed by props that aren’t to scale. Look for props that work with your product and match the scale.
It might take time to find props that work for you, so remember that you can keep things simple with a lovely background and still create great images. But once you start looking I am sure you will find things that you already have or are easy and cheap to buy.
Look in magazines, on Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. When you really start looking at images it can give you lots of inspiration for your own prop collections.
Build a prop box of things that work for you, so that when you have time to photograph your products you know where all the perfect props are.
Don’t try and convey everything in one image.
It is really easy to think that you have to capture all the angles of a product in one image and in so doing to create an image that really doesn’t work at all. An image that won’t sell your product because it just doesn’t look good. It is much better to create a series of images for your products. Your audience will appreciate and engage with this a lot more than one image that doesn’t work.
You can think about creating images of the whole thing from different angles but also about close up details that really show off your amazing work. I am sure there are also lots of different stories you can tell about your products that would work well with capturing these different angles.
Etsy is full of great inspiration for this. I love these images of ceramic planters by Katie Robbins for example.
Experiment and Practise
Styling skills take time to learn. Look at as many images as you, especially ones printed in magazines or on Pinterest boards of people that you know have a good eye. Really look at how they have been styled and composed. Look at the backgrounds, textures, layers, the props and colours.
Practise as often as you can and don't expect for it to work in the first five minutes. Give it time and be patient. The mistakes are just as valuable to you as the things that work. Mistakes show you what doesn't work and help you to move forward.
When you find things that work, repeat them as many times as you can. Do not worry about styling things in the same way. It will help you grown in confidence and it will also help you when you try something new.
And remember to start with simple images. Simple doesn't mean easy or boring. Simple really can be beautiful and enchanting.
Above all enjoy the styling process and the photography. Images that have been created from the heart really will shine.
If this has inspired you to learn more about photography and styling take a look at our Summer Sale.