Creating a Story

You see a pretty picture on Instagram or Pinterest and you might give it a quick glance and perhaps a double tap if you feel like it - but have you considered that a ton of work has probably gone into capturing that image?  I thought I'd give a bit of a run down on how I go about planning, shooting and editing a shot: it's a lot more work that you might initially realise!

First I need to know what Im shooting.  Sounds pretty obvious right?  Nope.  I need to reaaaally know what Im working with: what does the product do?  how does it work?  what does it smell like?  how is it made?  what's the story behind the brand?  who makes this product?  where is it sold?  who are it's customers?  All of this information helps me to form a STORY about this product.  Once I know what Im working with, I can move on to the next phase of planning.  

Next, I move on to planning the shot: what is the FINAL image that I want to see at the end of this session?  Once I have that in my head, I work backwards: are there shadows in the frame?   what colour palette do I need to bring to life?  what props will help tell the story?  what is the best background to use to get to my intended goal?  what textures am I going to use?  how will I induce movement in this image?  This is probably the best part, because I write pages upon pages for one concept.  I just spit ball every idea that comes to mind and throw it down on paper.  I clean up the notes and categorise them once Im satisfied all of my ideas have been captured.

Now I need to source all of the items I've identified in my PLANNING stage.  In most cases, I already have props I can use - in other cases, I'll need to go out and source them.  I am a huge fan of our local thrift stores and have picked up some amazing pieces there.  I try to keep the props I use quite simple, for 2 reasons: (1) the product is the hero so none of the props should be fighting it in the frame (2) I can then use these props again in other shoots without them looking "been there, done that"-ish.  Once I have all my items together, I move on to the next step.

Time to build the story: I start with the backgrounds (horizontal and vertical if Im not doing a flatlay) and layer onto it my key props.  I use at least 3 props in a shoot to create these layers.  Texture and movement are vital, which is why you'll see a lot of linens, marble, wooden boards and bats, flowers / plants and ceramics in my visuals.  I build the "set" with the lighting at the forefront of my mind: where is my light source, where are the shadows, is the hero being washed out by the light, are there crazy reflections or streaks of sunlight on the surface of the product, etc.  Given that I'm a natural light photographer, I have to time my shoots in advance so that precious time isn't taken up planning when the light is at it's best.

Now the fun begins:  I take photographs of the story at a few angles: straight on, 25deg, 45deg, 75deg and then aerial / 90deg.  Some shots work best straight on (especially where there are layers in food like burgers or pancake stacks), while others are best shot from above, called "flatlays" and work best with foods like pizza or product like makeup and tea candles.  I shoot at every angle to make sure that once Im done photographing my story, I have every image possible to make the best decision on which images to keep in editing and which to discard.

Once Ive taken all the shots I can think of, I come back and edit my images.  I edit them in Lightroom or VSCO (where I've taken images on my phone - although VSCO has some Lightroom presets available which are pretty useful too).  I fiddle around til I've found the images that work with the goal I had in mind at the beginning of the process.  I look at the images in the daylight as well as at night, on my phone and on my laptop to make sure that the pictures look great at all of these times and on all the devices people would be most likely to view them on.  There's nothing worse than taking a picture that looks great on the camera, ok in editing and blah on a computer or mobile phone screen.  

Once I've gotten to this point, Ill send those images on to the client and hope like hell they love them!  

So taking these pretty photographs that you see on your newsfeed don't just... happen.  There's a human behind them who has spent a considerable amount of time planning, thinking, sourcing, shoot and editing to create that beautiful image you see on your screen.  It's a labour-intensive process but the rewards are pretty special.