Everyone’s heard, you must have professional photos for everything. And they need to be brand consistent. Even if you don’t have products, you still need images that draw your followers and customers in. But I’m willing to bet you aren’t jumping out of your desk chair to set up the shoot and get that happening. Unless of course, photography is your thing. Like it is to me.
Even if it is your thing, you know you need professional images, and you need to know if your images pass as such. For some of us, there are times when something feels off about a photo but we aren’t sure what. If we don’t have someone to turn to, we post it anyway and hope no one notices. Or we may not notice there is something off at all. Many times I’ve put up work and then afterwards noticed an element was off so I go back and redo it.
One photo is fine, no one really notices, but if your photos consistently look off, then your brand doesn’t come off as professional. There is a difference in professional photos and you can find it in the small increments of big elements. Like white balance, exposure, and focus. If any of these are off by a tiny amount, it makes your photo seem off.
What’s the resolution? What do you do in a situation like that? I know it’s easier to just post, but you need feedback. At least in the short-term. It’d be super nice to hire a professional photographer and be done with it so you don’t have to worry about those details. But right now, you either can’t afford them, or you want to learn how to create professional photos yourself. You need to up your photographic game and you can do that through training your photographic eye. I’ll explain how to train your eye, but first I want you to see why.
There are many elements you need to develop your eye for in photography, but I want to show you why such elements are important even if they end up a little off. Below are three examples, but they aren’t limited to only these. There are also other considerations like composition, posing, convergence, and exposure. The ones I’d start with first are exposure, white balance, and focus.
First I want to go through white balance. I recently wrote a post on white balance that you can read more in-depth, but it is one of the basic keys to better photos. Below is an example of what I often see with white balance: the white is often close to white but not quite there. It may be a little too creamy.
Do a search on Etsy and look at the differences in all the photos you get from a search. Notice some may be a little off on white balance. They aren’t horrible but if they pop up next to a shop with photos that displays good white balance you can definitely see the difference.
Take a good look at your exposure, especially the highlights if you’re going for a bright photo. Many times when people shoot for a bright white photo, they end up blowing out the highlights. While this gives you a definite bright white look, you lose detail there. This is easy to miss or do when you have a white object or reflective surface. Be careful with the highlights and adjust your lighting.
After: Notice the difference in detail in the stitching of the white bib on the bottom.
The third area I want to address is focus. Everyone loves a shallow depth of field – it looks beautiful and dreamy. Though a common misstep is to use a wide open aperture to get the look. The result can make part of your subject out of focus or make it entirely out of focus.
Missed focus is another misstep. Maybe you do close down your aperture but you may miss focus on your subject. If you’re shooting objects for product photography, shooting your subject out of focus is detrimental. You want your entire product in focus in at least one of your photos. For other photos where some of the product is out of focus (and that’s ok), your product is still the subject so some important aspect of it needs to be sharp.
For product photography it depends on the style I need to capture, but I never go below an f-stop of 3.5, and I always spot meter and toggle my focus points. Many times I leave my aperture at f/5.6 to f/8 because I shoot close to the subject and the background is further away than I am close to the subject. The result is I still get pretty bokeh in the background while keeping my subject sharp.
These are only three examples of subtle changes that can make a big difference in your photos. But how do you train your eye to see those subtle differences?
How To Train Your Photographic Eye
Shoot With One Element
Do a session where you work on only one element. Create practice sessions. If you are doing a real session, take 10 – 15 minutes to practice. Using one theme, shoot for only that. If it’s focus, then practice different apertures and using your focus points. Or if it’s exposure, work on your lighting and settings in camera to get it as close as possible to what you need. If it’s perspective, try out at least 10 different ways to shoot the same thing. But only work on that one thing and don’t fuss over the other stuff, yet. The point is to get your eye to notice that element more, making a habit of it.
Notice the Light
Look at light all the time. Notice it and tell yourself the quality, the color, the source, and direction. Even if you aren’t shooting, stop for 5 seconds and go through that series. Especially consider light that you love. Create a journal of light noting the best time of day and style of light to shoot in.
Look at other people’s photos. Look through ones you love and determine what it is that you love about them. Analyze their white balance, their light source, the quality and type of the light, composition, perspective, and focus. Then go do a search again on Etsy, Pinterest, or some other image rich site. Compare photos by looking at all these qualities. Here you’ll train to see the elements by looking for them in other photos.
Play with Your Processing
Play while you’re processing your photos. Notice how things change when you move shadows or colors around. What differences does it make to your photos. Notice your histogram and if it’s warning you of blown highlights, clipped blacks, or out of gamut colors.
Do a self critique for each photo or group of photos. Look at each one individually and determine what it’s failings are and where it shines. The more you critically think about your photos, the more natural it will come to you.
Below is a free downloadable checklist for training your eye. Use it when looking at your own photos and when you study other’s photos. For my email subscribers I’ll also include in the next several weeks a different element that we’ll explore. So get signed up already!
Training your eye is simply putting habits in place for you to notice details in the images. You create those habits by practicing often and with intention.