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Our guide to taking more professional photographs

January 4 2019

A picture showing a woman's photograph being taken on a mobile phone.

Pictures have always been important for businesses and charities to tell a story – whether it’s of products or services, the people involved in the process, or showing the impact of your work.

With so much of your work now taking place online, having decent images up your sleeve is more important than ever. And that’s not forgetting the importance of being able to send pictures to journalists to be used in print.

Here are three top tips to making your pictures look professional, even if you don’t have the resources to bring in a professional.

Choose the right orientation

Orientation is fairly straightforward; someone stood by themselves = portrait (upright); a group of 10 people stood in a line = landscape (horizontal). Filling the frame with the subject(s) removes distractions and avoids wasted space.

So far so good. Except it’s not always that simple as you have to bear in mind the different ways you might be using a picture.

Wherever your picture is going, you’re likely to be trying to fit it into a set shape – Facebook posts are squarer than Twitter posts, and Facebook cover photos are flatter. Instagram posts are square, and Snapchat works best with upright pictures. If you’re submitting photographs to the media, it’s good to give them different options from which to choose.

You could crop your image to fit the different frames (you shouldn’t have to actually crop it in an editor, you should be able to adjust the picture on each of the platforms as you put the post together), or you can plan to take a few different shots for different purposes. The benefit of the latter is you have slightly different images across your platforms.

If your picture is a one-time opportunity, then it’s best to take a few to make sure you have everything you need for later, including taking landscape and portrait versions.

Get the lighting right

You’ll have no doubt seen some bad pictures where lighting is to blame – people hidden in shadow or squinting in sunlight.

When you point and shoot with your camera or phone camera, getting the lighting right can be a bit pot luck. The most important consideration is the light source – whether it is the sun or artificial, and how it impacts the picture.

Trying to take close-ups of products can be tricky and you might see shadows from your own hand and camera.

For people, it is generally a good idea to have the light going onto them rather than directly into the lens. For example, you’ll know if you take a picture of someone stood in front of a window, you will see the brightness of the window but your subject might look very dark.

If it is just you, the subject and your camera or phone camera, and the lighting is wrong, your best bet is to play around a little to achieve the perfect picture – try with and without the flash, move outside or into shade, and move the subject if you can.

Make sure your subject is in focus

This can be particularly tricky if you’re taking pictures on your phone, because you can’t always see on a small screen whether or not you have taken a sharp image. The last thing you want is to check a picture on a bigger screen later and realise it’s unusable.

If you are using automatic settings, your camera or phone camera will pick out where it wants to focus, usually on faces, and you will need to change it if it’s not right, usually by pressing once on the screen where you want the focus to be. If it is an option on your camera, you can zoom in where you want to focus, semi-press the shutter button and then zoom out to take the picture. The focus should remain on the spot you picked.

If you’re able to use a tripod, or at least rest your arm on something stable, this will help to keep the camera steady.

When to call in the professionals

As much as we advocate free and low-cost options, there are some situations when we do recommend hiring a professional. If you sell high-end products then the quality should be reflected in the images you share. If you don’t feel like you can do this yourself, then it is worth the investment.

There are also times when investing in a photographer can produce so many assets (things you can use for PR and marketing) that it really covers its own cost. For example, having a professional photographer cover an event can give you high-quality pictures to use on your website, on social media, in mailouts, in an online gallery, to go with a press release, to make a YouTube video, to use in blogs, staff profiles, awards submissions… the list really goes on and on.

Your best bet is to think about what is appropriate for your brand – super polished and professional or a more homemade, authentic look. Though don’t substitute authentic for rubbish quality here!

Whether you do use a professional or take your own, just make sure you’re squeezing the life out of every image and using them in as many ways as you can, as this will always save you time and money in the long run.

By Hannah Upton

Next steps

This is an excerpt from Pay as you PR’s guide to taking photographs – available exclusively as part of our Starter Package.

Contact us if you would like more help in using images in your PR and marketing.