Better Images: It’s All In The Background
Pic: Auckland Zoo
Brain dead, time to look at pictures
There must be a PhD thesis in the anti-productivity effect of long holidays. Two weeks back and I’m still struggling to become a useful part of the business world.
I’ve got all the tools laid out before me: laptop, phone, notepad, the specific brand of pen that I trust to generate ideas. But it’s like a chimpanzee tea party, and I’m still sticking teacups into the middle of my forehead and thinking in nonsensical grunts.
Which is pretty much the right frame of mind for photo editing – sorting through hundreds of fairly identical shots, trying to work out which CEO portrait has that magical king-of-beasts eye glint and shoulder tilt.
Photos are the best way to set your presentation apart and help people remember what you said: shots of your product, your people, your stores, or anything else to break up the wall of words.
Get a better background
The best way to make anything look better in a picture is to put it against a better background. When most people take shots, they’re concentrating so hard on the subject that the setting doesn’t get noticed.
Here’s an executive, photographed with a flash against a standard wall of photo paper.
This can look pretty flat, particularly when you have lots of execs in the same setting.
Now let’s take some similar-looking executives and take them outside, where there are interesting shapes and colours that can lift the background mood, and sympathetic natural light.
Shots taken in and around offices tend to be quite depressing. You don’t notice the clutter of old fax machines, memos pinned to boards, and Garfield coffee mugs when you’re taking the snap, but it makes for a pretty ordinary image. Particularly with the added harshness of fluoro lighting.
Here’s a perfectly pleasant-looking IT guy, in his natural habitat.
Now let’s take 3 other IT guys, and put them on a better background, and in this case, a reflective foreground. And lower the camera for a bit of drama. Now they look like cool crime fighters defusing a bomb.
Background is just as important for product images. Here’s the attractively-designed Breville Citrus Press in its naked form.
Here’s the same item, after we made a better background for it. Now it’s something to aspire to.
Yes, we used a stylist and rented a nice kitchen for the juicer shot. But there’s a lot you can do even when you’re shooting by yourself with a cheap camera.
Borrow a friend’s nice house to shoot your product in. Think how people actually use it, and put it in that context, rather than up against the nearest wall.
Shoot staff photos in the lobby of someone else’s good-looking new office block, which are always full of Barcelona chairs and nice diffused white light. Or use a stylish cafe as a setting.
For more tips on creating images that jump out, read this excellent article by Andrew Gibson. It’s about travel photography, but the same rules apply to taking interesting shots for presentations, particularly the bits about later afternoon light and finding blocks of colour.
Next post, we’ll look at a different kind of background – what’s actually behind you, the presenter, and how it can transform the effectiveness of your message.