Evolution of my Content Photography
The preview screen went blank and the camera released a gentle sighing sound and a sharp click before presenting another blurry image to my despair. One after the other, each image taunted my lack of technical understanding. Even after I understood the operation of my camera, the images began taunting my compositional understanding - a war I am still waging each day.
I learned how to take photographs after being asked to generate content for a project at work in my first graduate job. My then future-husband loaned me his SLR camera (very much now stolen!) and now I know why this is actually an entry level camera and not as exciting as you'd think. At the time, it seemed like a rocket ship to me. I'd been around cameras as a film student in another life but photography was a new ball game. Adjusting the camera for the light and the focus of the composition was all I knew after he gave me a brief tutorial but it got me through that first project and many others afterwards. I learned a lot and gained confidence progressively.
However, when it came to photographing product samples of my own print designs, I felt like I had gone back to the beginning of my education. Essentially, this was because of that whole Ira Glass, 'gap between your taste and experience' type issue. I basically had very high expectations of what my photographs should look like. Ultimately, I do think that this pushed me to improve but it actually helped me evolve an entire strategy around how I take my photos for content, products, blogs and everything else. I felt it might be useful to analyse that a little and share what I've found.
Perspective and Storytelling
Initially, content photography started to feel quite exhausting - with my extreme standards of how polished everything should look - I ended up simply sharing a lot of mock-ups of my designs when I hit really busy working periods, such as the lead up to Surtex. This really was not a good strategy because mock-ups are never going to be as compelling as a photograph as they lack a narrative perspective.
A lot of people I speak to don't actually know what a Surface or Print Designer does and I think this leads to a valuable form of content in showing the behind the scenes of your day. I've found that this really comes across better as a photograph, rather than a work in progress snippet. If you share a photograph that imitates your perspective during your day, literally your perspective angle, then that's even better.
As Instagram Stories and Snapchat have proved, sharing a story or viewpoint of your day is actually very engaging. Thinking of capturing content as a story-led task is not unusual and not pretentious. I now start my content preparations in a way that best shapes an insider story. First, I start by selecting a story aspect of my day that I want to share. Then, I decide on a 'literal' perspective to take the photo from that allows the viewer to feel like they're in my studio. Finally, I think about whether to use a phone camera or an SLR camera depending on a combination of both of the above. Am I sharing a natural, informal shot, or am I wanting to capture high quality details of a particular moment?
I bought my husband a photography book as a Christmas stocking filler last year and it has the most hilarious and instructive title of any photography guide I've seen before, 'Why it does not have to be in focus'.
There's something that is, at times, aspirational but also very authentic about a photograph being a little overexposed or a little cluttered. Or, even with a lot of the image being out of focus. I find I need to be intentional and quite disciplined, though, about choosing to include imperfect photographs and not just let bad quality slip through. The more I build up a collection of photographs, the easier it becomes to spot visual imperfections that I want to keep as part of my story.
For example, I hate dark photos but I do want the exposure to look life-like. If the room is bright that day, I want the photograph to show that. I also like when I take photographs of my screens and you can see the pixels and reflections getting in the way because it actually reminds you that you're looking at a real screen and not a mock-up.
Documenting = 80%
As I mentioned previously, I spent a while sharing a lot of mock-ups which was essentially a 'showcasing' type of content. It was 80% of my feed, with a splash of more authentic 'documenting' content. I've realised that I need to reverse this number and make a effort to remember to document my work day naturally. It's easy to disappear into a design and realise you've got no content ready at 4pm when the light is going. Since I generally leave myself tasks and unfinished work in preparation for the next day, I always wake up with half-finished work ready to start. Thanks to this, I've simply started building a lot of the 'documenting' into the first half of my day as much as possible.
Showcasing = 20%
Based on this, it might seem like I can continue to share mock-ups for my 20% of 'showcasing' content. Unfortunately, I've also realised that while this type of content should be reduced and less frequent, it should also be 10x in quality. I now try to be more creative with taking photos of physical products samples (such as the swans/paperclip image above) or I try to use a mock-up that is more life like or relates to the swatches and samples I print for myself while I'm working.
I edit virtually ever single one of my photographs. I think you wouldn't write a blog without checking it for major typos (at the very least) or ideally proofing it more thoroughly. In the same capacity, I don't understand why there should be an issue with editing a photograph. I did, admittedly, over-edit most of my photographs at one time and it became tiring to reproduce a very staged amount of contrast and filtered colour. A lot of the editing I do now is more about achieving a natural light and a saturation point that reflects an authentic snapshot of my day. I think that's the best way to approach editing, even for the 'showcasing' images. For the time being and for my content, good editing is when it's invisible.