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Take Great Photos on a Budget with 3 Simple Steps

Professional photography isn’t always affordable for every business, which means lots of them aren’t using high-quality photos. But did you know that 67% of consumers say the quality of a product image is a big factor in their decision to buy?

With the uptake of social platforms like Instagram, users are expecting to see high-quality photos and often, which means you’ll have to step up your photo game. Luckily, you most likely have a very capable camera in your pocket. Most smartphone cameras are now rivals to introductory DSLR cameras. They even make lens attachments now.

With such an easy tool in the palm of your hand, there’s no good reason to have poor photos. If you can figure out how to use that camera in your pocket properly, you’ll see a big upswing in your marketing efforts. That’s why I’ve come up with these three simple steps to help you get quality but budget-friendly photos for your business.

Enlarged statistic of "67% of consumers say the quality of a product images is a big factor in their decision to buy." text next to an icon of a flashing camera

1. Find the right lighting.

Take advantage of natural light. Find a nice big window, or try going outside on a cloudy day. This will give you soft, even lighting without any harsh light or shadows. There are specific cases for having harsh light, but as a general rule, the more even the lighting is, the more flattering your subject will look.

Three versions of the same cactus. The first depicts an evenly lit cactus, with the text "Balance your photo's highlights and lowlights." The second cactus is overly bright with the text "Overexposure means you can't edit highlights...". The third cactus is too dark with the text "...and underexposure means you can't edit lowlights."

Lighting Tips

  • Don’t blow out your photo. That’s when your photograph is too light (“overexposed”) or too dark (“underexposed”) and the image doesn’t have any visual information in parts of the photo. Try your best to balance highlights and shadows in your photo. This will give you more flexibility in editing your photo afterwards.
  • Use paper or foam core to increase the amount of light (this is called “bouncing light”) and fill in shadows.
  • If you’re doing product shots, you could build a light box for more even lighting. This is especially good if you’re shooting a reflective item. There are lots of online tutorials to help you build your own light box.

2. Compose your shot.

Composition includes a number of considerations about how you’re choosing to take a photo. What’s in your foreground and background? Where does your subject appear in the photo? At what angle are you taking your photo? Decide which objects should be in the shot and what purpose they serve as part of the story you want to tell.

Take the background into consideration, too. Backgrounds can be simple; you can use white walls, a tablecloth, or something like foam core. I’ve even used cookie sheets in the past. You can also use your background environment to frame your subject. This will help you isolate your subject in your photo. Just watch out for things that might be too busy or distracting.

Three versions of the same cactus composed in different ways. The first cactus is photographed from above, with the text "Shoot down on your subject to make it seem smaller." The second cactus is photographed from below, with the text "Shoot up at your subject to make it seem larger." The third cactus is photographed straight on and is framed with the lines of its surroundings, with the text "Use the environment and leading lines to frame your subject."

Composition Tips

  • Separate the subject from the background. If your subject is the same colour as your background, or if your background is too busy, it might be hard for the viewer to determine what the subject is in your photo.
  • Use more interesting high or low angles to make your subject look larger or smaller.
  • Shoot your photo through something to create blurry, foreground elements for a more interesting image.
  • Use leading lines to help draw your audience’s focus to your subject.

3. Edit your photo.

There are lots of ways to enhance a photo using one of several common mobile editing apps. They’re all free, or at least they have free versions. These apps have a whole range of handy features to bring out the best parts of your photo. Edit your photos to help the audience focus on your subject, remove distracting elements, or adjust colour to fit a visual theme.

Lightroom is a desktop editing program for professional photographers, but they now have a mobile version, too. My current favourite app is Snapseed, which is a more user-friendly version of Lightroom. It has a lot of pre-sets and commonly used features in there, so it’s easy to edit your photo without too much technical knowledge. Google has a great tutorial to get you started.

A list of four mobile editing apps side by side. "Snapseed" is a leaf icon creating a shadow of a rectangle. "Lightroom" is a cyan "LR" with a black background and solid square cyan border. "Lens Distortion" is two parallel lines centred in a circle with a black square background. "VSCO" is a two-layered circular icon, the outer circle contains twenty-six segments, the inner circle contains seven segments.

Editing Tips

  • If you’re interested in experimenting with small effects, you could try Lens Distortion, which is available for a low monthly subscription. There’s also a free basic version of this app.
  • Don’t over-edit. It’s easy to do if you’re looking at a photo a lot, but it’s also very obvious. Try not to use too many effects, and make sure it feels natural.
  • If possible, remove any distracting elements in the image with a healing tool.
  • Don’t export an already-edited image back and forth between apps. The quality of the image will drop each time because it keeps compressing every time you export.

And that’s it! You now have really excellent photos that you can use on your website, on social media, and in any other small-format application—and you didn’t need to hire a photographer to get them. Anyone is capable of making photos, and I hope these basic rules will help you feel more empowered to do that.

(But if you do want to talk about getting some professional photography for your business, we’d love to help!)

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Laura Erickson

Laura is a senior designer who specializes in general graphic design, photography, branding, and animation.

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