The most important, and often most challenging, aspect about running or owning a small business is marketing. Yeah, you need to be able to perform well at your core purpose, handle some basic accounting, and maybe manage a few employees. But none of that matters if potential customers can’t find your business, or, worse yet, are totally turned off by a terrible user experience.
Abraham Lincoln–well known for his insightful digital marketing theory, of course–wisely said “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Think about that quote any time you are creating something meant to publicly promote your business. Nothing signals perceived incompetence more loudly than painfully half-assed marketing efforts, e.g., web design circa 1995, any photo taken with a phone, or general unawareness about how the internet works.
The two main excuses I hear for bad marketing from small-business owners are, “I don’t have the money” and “I don’t know how.” However, the affordability, accessibility, and simplicity of today’s technology puts beautiful marketing within the grasp of anyone willing to put forth the effort necessary to grow their business. To get you started, this blog series will explain several things that any business owner can do with a limited budget and zero experience.
First up, it’s time to improve your images.
Photos related to your business live everywhere and heavily shape customers’ first impressions. If you want to have any chance at getting people to engage with your brand, you need to visually present your product in a refined light. Hiring a pro photographer every time you need new images is impractical, though. So it’s no surprise that people tend to turn to the most ubiquitous camera ever, the iPhone.
I’m going to be critical here. If you’re using your phone’s camera, the images probably suck. But don’t take offense, almost every photo ever taken with a phone sucks. So there’s that.
There’s only one way to truly fix this problem: buy a new camera and learn how to use it. When it comes to cameras, you can drop a lot of money very quickly, but for the type of results you’ll want to see, there’s not much of a difference between $250 on Craigslist and a $5,000 Canon 5ds. The primary differences between a real camera and an iPhone are the framing, color quality, and shallow depth of field (focus) you can achieve.
When you look at an iPhone photo, the subject, the foreground, and the background all appear in sharp focus. Moving to almost any camera with interchangeable lenses will allow you separate your subject from the foreground and background with a few simple tricks. This is often the best way to really capture a viewer’s attention and make your images appear professionally produced.
HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
This Canon XTi is a fairly outdated camera these days, which means it can be had for around $140 on Amazon, and will provide the core functionality that you need as a beginner to get great images without over-complicating the process.
The ‘speed’ of a lens refers to the size of its aperture, or the movable blades inside the lens that adjust the size of the hole through which light passes to reach the film or digital sensor. In a very basic sense, the larger the aperture opening, the more light that reaches the sensor in a given amount of time. Thus, it takes less time to take a photo in a dark setting with a ‘fast’ lens. Aperture size is notated with an ‘f’ followed by a number indicating the size. Just remember, small number = larger aperture opening, and vice versa. f/1.8 lets in much more light than f/22, for instance.
The lens shown below is a Canon 50 millimeter. The great thing about this lens is that it features a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and is incredibly cheap, only $50 from some online retailers. A byproduct of using a fast lens is shallow depth of field, which allows you to blur elements of the frame where you don’t want people to focus their attention. Look only at the fox.
Choosing the camera’s settings
Now, operating your new camera can be somewhat complicated. You’ll definitely get better with time and practice, but to get nice images from the outset, try these methods.
- On the camera’s rotating dial or main menu, you should have an option labeled something like “Av.” That stands for aperture variable.
- If you select that setting and turn your aperture number down quite low, ideally between f/1.2 and f/2.8, you’re most likely going to come away with good results.
- Go into your camera’s menu and set white balance to auto white balance (AWB) and file size to RAW, as opposed to JPEG. Doing this guarantees that your images will almost always have the correct color balance, and even if skin tones are unnaturally orange or blue, you’ll be able to fix it easily with any free photo-editing software.
Regardless of the camera you’re using, careful consideration of your lighting situation should always be one of your primary concerns. Even the most expensive cameras on the market cannot reproduce images that render lighting, or dynamic range (the lighting distance from an image’s darkest to brightest points) the same way our eyes are able to see it. Therefore, you want to avoid photographing scenes with extreme variation in lighting levels. You’ll also achieve the best results if you position your subject in soft, consistent lighting. Open shade under trees and other structures is a great starting point for good lighting.