How To Take Photos That Don’t Suck | For Outdoor Brand Photography

Apr 7, 2020by C.T. Bell

How to Take Photos That Don't Suck

While new gear is fun, and photo tips are great, how do you go about shooting photos that a brand will want, use, and come back to you asking for more? When you get a product from a brand, how should you feature them in your Instagram feed?


Do put the product in the middle of the shot

The reason that off-center shots don't work well, is that the viewer's eye has to hunt around the image to see what the photo is about. Also, in a world of mobile devices, most images get cropped differently for different screens. The result? Anything that's not in the middle gets cut off on different screens, limiting the usability. 

ARB Twin Air Compressor

Do show the whole subject in the shot

It happens more often than you'd think. I'll use the example of shooting vehicles. If an edge is cut off, it just doesn't look as nice and can appear sloppy. Rule of thumb: If you want to cut off the edge of the subject, cut it off a lot and make it look intentional. 

Bad (tree cut off):

Better (whole subject in the shot):

Do show the product in Use and in Context

I used to be afraid of shooting lifestyle photos because I assumed it would be too hard. I thought I had to hire models and stage a whole scene and have them do the action a bunch of times. But I eventually learned that most of that stuff is beyond what most situations call for. One of the main things is to just put some items that go with the thing next to it. Often times this describes what the product is, even better than showing people interacting with it.

Do show the product in an outside location

Watch out for power poles, mowed grass, and pavement. These are dead giveaways of civilization.

Do get the product in-focus

Check your photos! You should be the king of reviewing photos as you go. Fire off a few, then hit that review button on the back of the camera and magnify to see how you did.

This is also one thing that is important gear-wise: a camera/lens combo with an autofocus system you like and trust. Also, this is a good technical skill to get good at. If you find your camera's focus is hard to control, or you just want to learn more, go and google some articles on Half-Press focus or Back Button focus.

Do make the product stand out from the background 

Your eye tends to go to the busiest part of the image. The part with the most detail packed-together, the area of the image that's brightest, and where the most colorful thing is. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite ways to make the subject stand out.

1. Make the background plain and uncomplicated

Make the subject slightly brighter than the background 
I very often achieve this by darkening the edges of the photo afterward but don't overdo it.
3. If it’s a light-colored product, put it against a dark background and vice versa.
4. Use the blurry background effect - either with a wide aperture lens or with phone portrait mode. This photo was taken on Iphone 7:

5. Create some separation from the background by placing the product close, and everything else further away.
6. Shoot with your camera at the same height as the subject, rather than aiming down at it. This helps draw your audience's attention to what you want them to see.

Do Have Fun

Run with ideas and see where they take you. Flow with what's happening. Keep your gear lightweight and easy. Don't overthink it. Beer helps.

Do keep the product reasonably clean

Often this is easier than trying to fix it in photoshop

Do light the product well and make it easy to see

Basically, just try not to make the product really dark. If you want to try out using lights or flash photography, go for it. But I mostly don't. I'm on the move and working quickly. Also, I hardly ever use more than one battery-powered LED light. And when I do, it's only to light up a dark car interior. The rest of the lighting work I do on my computer.

If you want to edit your photos on the computer later, I recommend shooting in RAW.

Do shoot photos horizontally, not vertically
(turn your phone sideways)

This is a contentious issue for sure. If if you're shooting for a magazine article, or shooting portraits, or shooting only for Instagram, some vertical photos may be good.

But, if you want your photo used for any of these things: Instagram, product pages, video covers, print ads, billboards or website graphics, I'd choose horizontal every time.

This is because 9 times out of 10, an editor or graphic designer wants more space on either side of the photo, rather than top and bottom. Look pro, take useful photos, shoot mostly landscape, not portrait.

Do take your time and experiment

Instead of just firing away and moving on, instead, try shooting a few, then review them. Look for things you might want to improve and try them out. Shoot a few more, refine it, repeat. This is called "working the scene," and it's the process of trying out different techniques and improvements, to see what works in the photo at hand. Typically when I shoot this way, I can then select the winner shot from the end of the batch, which makes selecting photos easier.

Do Direct the Action

I caught you. You were learning photography because you wanted to quietly shoot photos and go unnoticed as much as possible. You wanted to be invisible and not have to talk to people. I'm sad to say, it doesn't work. I've tried shooting a wedding, while also trying to be a fly on the wall, you know what I got? A bunch of uninteresting fly-on-the-wall snapshots.

So get in there and tell people what to do (nicely) Simple things like "Lets move this vehicle over here for a photo, I think this background would look really nice" or "Could you wait a second before you do that, I want to catch a photo" or "Could you do what you just did again, it's gonna look great"

Do stuff bags with something to make them look full

Ok, this one is BROG specific. I like to put something inside the bag I'm shooting (e.g. crumpled paper) Nobody likes to look at a limp sack.




Don’t cut off part of the product with the edge of the shot

No brand wants a photo where their product is cut off due to lazy framing.

Don’t shoot from extreme angles

Examples: Up, down, sideways or crooked. Even if the angle works, it often draws too much attention to your photography and away from the subject.

Don’t make the product tiny in the shot

This isn’t Where’s Waldo.

Don’t edit photos too much or go crazy applying styles

If they look “overbaked” editors won't want to use them.

Don’t shoot photos vertically

Vertical photos are not very useful.

Don’t crop your photos super tight

Leave some ‘padding’ around the subject so that it can be cropped for different screens and used in different graphics.

Don't include photos of nothing

If the photo has no subject, it's less useful. Think of it this way; Imagine if someone was describing your photo to someone else, what would they say? If the answer isn't something clear and concise, your photo probably doesn't say anything very clearly and businesses want photos that communicate things clearly. 


Not all of these tips apply to all photos, so don't try to use them all at once. Just look for what makes sense in the situation you're in.

Hope this was useful!

By  C.T. Bell
Content Creator
Blue Ridge Overland Gear