The ability to wear and master a plethora of hats is understood by many to be the hallmark of a great community manager. In a given day’s time a person in this role may be asked to prepare an analytics report with advanced data regressions to back out which percentage of their customers would be likely to follow them AND request deals through social networks, then pivot to answering consumer questions via Twitter before writing copy for a new contest app on Facebook. It’s a demanding job, to be sure.
Like many community managers I’ve worn many hats in my own career, including that of (part-time) professional photographer. Although my primary role is not a creative one, per se – I’m the strategy and analytics lead here at Convince & Convert – the ability to shoot great images has proven useful to me more than once in my career.
I thought it would be helpful to retrieve five tips from under my photography “hat” that should help anyone curating or shooting still images for their social and digital channels. With that, our five ninja photography tips for social media.
Photography for Social Media: Framing & Composition
If you have taken any photography class or even picked up a Photography for Dummies book in the last 20 years you’ll be familiar with the rule of thirds. You see, most 35MM images – whether film or digital – are rectangles. A photo where the subject is in the center of the image just isn’t very interesting to look at and often invokes the “amateur” tag. The rule of thirds encourages you to divide the photograph in your mind into thirds, and position the subject either in the left or right third of the image. It’s generally accepted as good composition.
Social media channels generally benefit from this rule too, to some degree. Consider the format of the cover image in Facebook Timeline. It’s a long, rectangular space and lends itself to compositions that feel “widescreen” in nature. If you’re shooting a series of images that you hope you use as cover photos on Facebook you will definitely want to keep this in mind. But don’t stop there. The cover image on Facebook is only one format and is a special bit of landscape.
The profile picture you maintain on social channels – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare and many others – are square and that same rule of thirds simply won’t work. Many companies use some version of their logo as a profile image and that’s entirely acceptable. However, if you are shooting a series of photos that you hope to use for profile image purposes – whether to support a campaign or highlight a product – frame it straight in the center of the photo and give it a lot of exposure on the photo. Remember you’re going to be cropping this image down to a square, so a photo that’s longer than it is tall will ultimately mean your fans will see less of the subject in the tiny thumbnail.
Photography for Social Media: Lighting
Next to composition, lighting is the single most important factor in a great shot that will help your brand resonate on your social channels. Now, there are brands in the world for which a dark, foreboding style is perfectly acceptable. Think Dungeons & Dragons and Ozzy Osbourne. If those brands don’t quite feel like your peer, read on.
The trick to great lighting isn’t so much where you shoot; you’re not always going to have a bright sunny day or the warm glow of a fire. The trick is in how much light you capture in the image and that, in part, can be achieved through white balance and ISO settings. Even the most basic of point-and-shoot cameras now have these features. You can go to town on these settings and many new photographers get easily confused. Let me simplify: higher ISO settings allow you to shoot more quickly and capture more wonderful light. So if you’re indoors and it’s dark but you still want a brightly lit shot, try the highest setting (it may be up to ISO 3200). Settings often start at 50 and go up to 1600 or 3200.
The other key is to match the white balance setting to your shooting environment. If it’s indoors in fluorescent lights, choose that setting. Most cameras have an “auto” setting for white balance which may not always get it right, so if the shot just doesn’t look right to you keep experimenting. You may even find that the right high ISO setting and white balance means you can avoid using the flash.
Photography for Social Media: Background & Style
Your choice of where photos are taken are as important as the composition and the lighting. If you work for a large brand organization there’s a good chance that you have some sort of brand toolkit or style guide available. Pull that out and study it to get a sense of what your organization’s sense of style is and put that insight to use when you’re shooting candids and shots for your social channels. You may find that you can use your booth at a trade show as a nice background for portraits of your customers, or the front of a retail store with some sort of branding in the background as a good outdoor setting. Don’t just position someone and take their photo. That sense of purpose and consistency will help your social content feel consistent and integrated with your brand.
Photography for Social Media: Camera Angles
This is a great, underutilized trick. Camera lenses of all kinds – even on smartphones – are usually made of some sort of domed or curved glass. Changing the orientation of the camera to the subject can alter the style of the shot and bring some creative elements to your photos. Try shooting from below or above your subject. Or, try moving to the side and shooting them at an angle versus straight on. Not only will the subject appear more interesting, the background will too. Try to think of a photograph as a 3D object. This will help freshen up the content you post on your social channels and give it some life.
Photography for Social Media: Resolution
This is an important tip that is often overlooked. Facebook has made a lot of improvements to its photo-hosting platform. Most recently they’ve enabled full-screen photo viewing at very high resolutions meaning those scrappy little smartphone shots – the ones you took with a dirty lens – are going to look blurry and grainy on your fan’s screen. That may change of course with their purchase of Instagram. For now, if you’re taking photos for a brand, invest in a higher resolution point-and-shoot camera so that your great shots stay looking great on Facebook and elsewhere on the social web.
These are just a few ways you can smarten up the visual and creative appeal of the content you’re creating for your social channels. What are your tips? Comment away!