Using photo styling for Instagram to tell a story about your work

How I discovered the ENJOYMENT of styling photos, the stories they can tell and how they help place your work into context

Despite the fact that in previous in-house design jobs I have done product photography it had become one of those things that I hadn’t really done in five years and that I avoided when it came to my illustrations. For Instagram I have been scrambling around for what to post and snapping poorly lit photos on my phone to post. Now it wasn’t that I didn’t try at all but when you are trying to take a photo last minute when it’s late in the evening and don’t have the funds for sufficient studio lighting then they inevitably won’t be that good.

There is a solution and it’s batch taking photos in daylight. I knew this of course and you probably do too. However something was making me procrastinate on it and avoid it, I’d now been telling myself I’m not good at photography!

Whilst I still have a lot learn I have some tips after I decided that yesterday I was going to set aside the afternoon to take some photos and it turned out I really enjoyed it. If you are a creative then think of this as another aspect of your creativity of how you can style your work and capture photos that are on brand. I’ve previously posted about how I planned the branding of my Instagram grid but I had fallen off track. I liked the look of white backgrounds with small pops of detail and colour - a bit like my illustrations themselves!

A few quick tips I have to decide on a brand photography style is to:

  • Look at other Instagram accounts that have the look and feel that would be right for your brand

  • Save to collections on Instagram ideas for photos that you could take, for me this was things like hands holding prints and cards and how others had styled their art

  • Create a moodboard on Pinterest or the old fashioned way

  • Browse through magazines or look at websites that your target audience might read and see how they photograph

Tips for styling

  • Look for props around your house that fit the colours and mood that you are trying to create

  • When setting up a scene play around with positions of items and use your creative eye to find a pleasing composition

  • Review again your moodboard/research and note if the images you like tend to be busy or minimal and if there are any styling ideas you can gather from them

  • Look for items that help tell a story - for my photos I though about what I had been drawn to in the reference photo I drew from and what I had been trying to capture such as was their something about their attitude eg. first example below, what had I been trying to convey fits in well with the books show, the almanac is in keeping with the illustration depicting a love of nature in the second example below and in the third example I thought how could I best display the product so it’s showing a greeting card surrounded by potential gifts

  • Whilst I had a number of fitting items already at home because of course with creative work it tends to be reflective of your personal tastes I did decide to purchase a few more items which really doesn’t have to be expensive. I went out to Tesco and Home Bargains and spent very little purchasing some extra items such as gold bullclips, coloured pens, confetti, cheap glass bottles annd decorations.

Tips for photography

  • Use a DSLR camera if you have one and shoot in RAW - this will help you to correct a whole manner of amateur photographer sins I know from experience 😳

  • Read your manual to find out how to set white balance - not that I did this 😉 and you can correct this after in Photoshop but it’s better to get right during shooting

  • If your camera allows it then plug it into a computer to view on screen how the photos are looking - this is what the pros often do! Again I forgot this time round - just being honest!

  • For flat lays ensure you are directly above to avoid distortion

  • Use diffused daylight so you don’t want to be directly under the sun but if you can be next to a window this will really help light your photos

  • Use a pure white light either studio, craft light or other lamp that you have a white bulb in to angle extra light in where needed

  • Reflections in shiny surfaces can be reduced by holding a piece of white or grey card and photographing around it - this is particularly important for things like mirrors where you don’t need your face showing!

Tips for editing

  • I recommend opening in Photoshop Camera Raw if you have it and if you select all or groups photos you can quickly correct things like exposure across all photos

  • I remembered from previous product photography days that the things I tended to tweak was Exposure, Colour balance, Whites and up the Vibrance, Contrast and Clarity a little too

  • With editing particularly for products it’s important to ensure the colour is accurately represented as much as possible

In summary I really feel like this is an important skill for creatives to learn to showcase their work in the best light and not needing to rely on mockups or a professional photographer. Now I’m not saying those things don’t have a part to play at all because they certainly do but mockups can look a bit inauthentic if that is all that is used and professional photography whilst beautiful and ideal for use on an e-commerce site may be impractical for every piece of work that you create and want to share on Instagram. I’m going to keep working on these skills.

I hope these tips help and take away some of the intimidating aspects of styling, taking and editing your own photography so that you don’t procrastinate as long as I did! Going forward I’m going to remember that I really did enjoy the creation process and how I now have a collection of photos to use on social media and my website!