When I started Lemon and the Sea, I looked into so many different options for getting the best photos and graphics available for my website without paying an arm and a leg. They say to never judge a book by it's cover, but if you've spent any time online promoting yourself, your work, or your business, you know that it doesn't work that way in real life.
You can have to best products or most informative articles in the world, but if you can't make them look good, no one will pay any attention. (Sorry guys, that's just the way it is.) Maybe some day looks won't matter, but right now, they definitely do. And you know it.
I hate to tell you this, but even if you're the best in your industry, you still have to have the photos and graphics to draw people in. We're all attracted to pretty things (don't lie, you know you are). Even if you aren't a designer or photographer, the way you present yourself matters.
Start with Stock Images
Yes, you can find free stock images that could work, but you'll spend hours digging through site to find what you're looking for and they still won't be perfect.
The best thing to do, especially if you have a blog or website that you want to stand out from the crowd (and you WANT to have your website stand out, trust me), is to use your own photos. Having photos that are unique to your brand means that you can use the colors and consistent look that match your brand. That way, people who visit your site or see your images on social media will know exactly who they belong to. Your images and graphics will become an extension of your brand, which will only help your business to grow.
So, You're Ready to Use Your Own Images?
First thing's first: You're going to need something to photograph.
For my stock images, I use office and art supplies because that's the business that I'm in. You want to use items that will be recognizable to your readers and that can provide a variety of textures and colors. I love picking supplies that are my brand colors (teal and yellow) so that when I use them on my site, they fit in with the rest of the design. I also pick items with neutral colors: black, white, or gray and a few that can add a fun pop of color (usually green or pink).
My favorite places to find supplies for my photos?
- Target: If you've spend any time in Target you know that they have beautiful office supplies. Unfortunately, they can be a little pricey when you're just starting out (and don't really need a gold stapler on your desk after the photos are done), so I cruise the Dollar Spot every time I go in. You can usually find some cute office supplies, especially around back to school time, and nothing is more than $3 (plus tax, which in my mind makes "Only $3" false advertising because I can't walk in with $3 and walk out with something).
- Dollar Tree: My love of the Dollar Tree started when I was shopping for vases to turn into Christmas presents. Not only is everything $1 or less (plus tax, of course!), but if you take the time to look around, you can find some really cute stuff that is versatile enough for photographing.
- Your House: You may think that you don't already have items that you can use, but I guarantee you have something. My favorite items to grab from around the house: coffee mugs, small plates, art supplies, and office supplies. If you already have scissors and colors pens, why bother to buy new ones just to take pictures?
Now you need a background.
There are so many inexpensive ways to make a background for your stock photos. The key is that they're neutral, easy to move, and large enough that you have room to move things around. Some of my favorites?
- Foam Board: This is inexpensive and you can buy it almost anywhere. The while makes a great background, and since it's thicker than a piece of paper, it's easy to prop up.
- Scrapbook Paper: This comes in hundreds of different designs and textures. I love looking through the scrapbook paper at the craft store and picking up a few that would work for my photos. Just make sure that the patterns aren't too distracting.
- Painted Board: After cutting some plywood for shelves, I had a piece leftover that was a great size to use as a photo background. I simply painted it with white chalk paint (it took a few coats) and now I use it all the time. Painted wood is great because the texture shows through, but it's still neutral enough not to take away from the items you're photographing. Most of the images on my site were taken with this background (check out the header!)
Next, arrange the photos.
This always seems to be the part that people get stuck on. There are a few tricks you can use, though, so that your item placement looks great.
- Groups of 3: It's been proven over and over. People are more attracted to odd numbered groups of objects. I usually go with 3 of something because more than that can feel cluttered.
- Go Over the Edge: Since your photos are mostly going to be used a backgrounds or stock images, don't be afraid to crop your image so that some things continue out of frame. This gives you more room to work with and makes things feel a bit more "random," which is more attractive.
- Leave the Middle Open: This is especially important if you're going to be adding text on top of your images. Yes, you can make your images opaque (so you can see through them), but leaving some open space gives you more flexibility.
- Don't be Afraid to Get Close: You don't have to photograph everything from far away or the way you see it in real life. Getting up close to something can give you great texture and an interesting viewpoint that most people won't normally thing to include.
- Layer: Not only do layers look good when planning an outfit, they also work well in photography. Stack items on top of one another or lean one thing against another. This adds depth and interest without having to add more items that can overcrowd an image.
- Try, Try Again: Take some photos and try something new. You may have to readjust multiple times and take hundreds of photos before you get the ones that fit your vision. Don't be afraid to take a break and come back later, either. Working on something else for a while can inspire you and will allow you to be more creative when you get back to photographing.