How Ugly Photos Affect Your Business — and How to Start Taking Better Ones

Colleen Egan, Writer

If “we eat with our eyes first”, business photography is the waiter at the table. And if you’ve recently started a business, the photographs you use to represent your brand and products will affect whether people want to buy from you. As proof, when Canon’s social media influencers took 327,000 high-quality photos of small Scandinavian businesses and posted them on Google’s Local Guides, sales increased for nearly half of those involved.

And on the topic of Google, with its Neural Image Assessment (NIMA) technology, the company can now rank images based on their quality, aesthetic and how much people will like them — the stakes for business photography just got raised.

Building an amazing photo collection for Instagram isn’t without its challenges though. Of course you wouldn’t pay a professional photographer to take ugly photos, but when you and your customers get behind the lens, things sometimes go wrong. A combination of bad lighting, poor composition and unflattering angles result in photos that look amateurish and unappealing. And when these images end up online, they have the power to affect your bottom line.

So what can be done?

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How to start taking great photos

The first step to having better photographs on your menu, website and social media is learning how to take them yourself. Skilled photography comes with practice, but here are a few tips to kick-off your learning.

See what competitors are doing

You can get to know the quality and approach people expect from business photography by checking what bigger players in your space are doing. See which ideas suit your company and practice pulling those same shots off with different angles, heights, distances and so on. Over time, you’ll develop your own style based on what you’ve learnt.

Try to shoot in natural light

Artificial light from fluorescent bulbs or a flash tends to wash out colour and flatten your image. By using natural light instead, you create a more authentic, three dimensional feel. Most new smartphones have cameras versatile enough to shoot even in low-light conditions.

Create an environment worth photographing

People don’t like and share any old photograph. The composition (the arrangement of the scene) and the subject (the thing you’re photographing) together or separately are what catches their eye. Take a look around your business and notice the things that are unique, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Are there any store features that people always comment on, or staff who never fail to put a smile on customers’ faces? These could make great shots. Avoid areas that are in disrepair or low on stock, or products that aren’t all that special. Looking at your business through a lens (or smartphone screen) will highlight areas of improvement, helping you make Instagrammable improvements.

Make it crisp and clear

Blurry, washed out photos aren’t just unattractive, they obscure the quality of your products. Don’t settle for anything that’s out of focus, and adjust your lighting to get the truest colour.

Use filters wisely

Who doesn’t love a photo filter? They can make a gloomy day look truly mediterranean and transform a simple latté into something from the movies. Filters should always be used in moderation and with purpose. The wrong filter applied to products, food and settings weakens their appeal. They should also be used consistently too. In the same way that your branding combines certain colours, so too should you stick to a select choice of colour and contrast filters and effects for your photos.

Dealing with customer photographs

Even if you’re comfortable taking great photos yourself, you can’t control what customers upload and tag you in online. In some cases, that user generated content isn’t going to reflect particularly well on your business. But there are a couple of things you can do to combat an influx of ugly photos.

Take more yourself

If the number of attractive photos outweighs the bad ones, that’s good news for you. People will get used to seeing high quality and associate that with your business. You may not feel like you have time to take and post fresh shots all the time, but as your skills get better you’ll find that it only demands minutes of your day. And if you really don’t have the time, collaborate with influencers or photography students who can do the creative work for you.

Run competitions

By asking people to compete, you attract the attention of passionate, budding photographers who want the exposure. Offer something in return that’s relevant and valuable to them, such as a voucher for a photography store or tickets to a photography exhibition. Then use these amazing shots wherever you can.

We’ve come a long way from the times of sun-bleached menus and cheesy stock photos. Photography is now a make-or-break factor of your business, with people becoming ever more exposed to quality images online. Whether or not you’re an aspiring photographer, gradually learning the tricks of the trade will keep you safe from ugly photos and help you curate an Instagram page that gets people buying.

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Colleen writes for Square, where she covers everything from how aspiring entrepreneurs can turn their passion into a career to the best marketing strategies for small businesses who are ready to take their enterprise to the next level.