I hate stock photography. There, I said it. Most of you can probably spot it from a mile away.

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Why pay for pictures of strangers when you could easily feature people from your workplace? Remember that DSLR you bought for that vacation (but then you wound up using your iPhone more anyway)? Bust it out, and let’s get going.

 

Choosing and operating the camera

One thing you’re going to want to avoid is using a cellphone camera. They’re great for everyday use, but we’re trying to make a professional-style product here. Typically, cellphone cameras don’t allow for the type of control you’ll need to really nail the look of a stock photo.

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Here is the camera I used for our internal “stock” photos. It’s an older model Nikon D60. More important than the model, however, is the lens attached. Without going into too much detail, you’ll probably want to shoot with whichever lens you have that has the widest range of apertures.

Apertures are also called “f stops” and represent the size of the opening between the lens and the camera body. The lower apertures are wider openings and the higher apertures are smaller openings.

So why is this important? Depth of field. The lower apertures produce a smaller focal point. Usually this results in clear subject, blurry background. Higher apertures  have a larger focal point and generally produce images with the foreground in focus and backgrounds more in focus (if not completely in focus). By adjusting the apertures, you have more direct control over the final outcome of your shots.

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Here are some photos taken of my coffee cup that use a wide variety of apertures. Notice that in each sequential photo, the background becomes more and more clear.

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f/1.8

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f/2.8

f/5.6

f/5.6

f/8

f/8

f/11

f/11

f/16

f/16

f/22

f/22

You don’t have to learn to shoot a camera fully in manual mode to take advantage of the differences in apertures (but if you are interested, here’s an excellent book on understanding how to shoot manually).

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Many cameras have an aperture priority mode. This means that you can set the aperture manually (to get the desired focal arrangement) and the camera will set the ISO and shutter speed for you automatically. In the picture above, I have the camera set to manual mode. The A is for Aperture priority mode.

 

Set the right lighting

For lighting, we’ll take the “good, better, best” approach. Choosing a room or outdoor setting for your photographs that has a lot of light is a good choice. Better would be if you additionally used a reflector from a cheap lighting kit to direct some of the light onto your subject. Best would be setting up some physical lights designed for photography. Yes, the latter option is expensive, but you can definitely rent them from photography shops in lieu of buying them. Take, for instance, this photo we took in our shoot.

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The conference room we used for this shot had glass walls behind William and Connor (foreground). Here’s how we set up the lights:

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Blue represents the subjects, red myself and my field of view through the camera, yellow the position and direction of the lights. When using lights, or a reflector, you’ll want to position the lights so that they eliminate shadows from overhead or natural lights. Notice that there aren’t any discernable shadows on any of the subjects.

Again, there are different degrees of effectiveness depending on which route you choose. Using a reflector is both effective and economical, so do what fits your budget.

 

Additional Tips

So you’ve got the basics down now; how about a few additional tips?

-Make sure your camera is level. If you have trouble doing this while holding the camera, use a tripod and a level attachment.

-Make sure your subjects are somewhat dynamic. Stock photography is usually best when you compose the shot like you’ve “caught” someone in the middle of doing something.

-Lower apertures make angled shots look more dynamic. Try it out!

-For more composition tips, check out this article.

That’s all for now! Have any other killer photography tips for marketers? Let us know in the comments.

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Jonathan Svilar
joined 3Q Digital in August of 2013 with a background of sales and marketing in the dynamic live concert industry. Jonathan graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Literature and Philosophy and a passion for technology. In his spare time, Jonathan is an avid motorcyclist, San Francisco Giants fan, and the proud parent of a fuzzy bunny and a dog.