How to Take Great Business Photography: Document, Don't Create

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"Put your chin down." 

"No, a little higher." 

"OK, that's better but try tilting your head slightly left." 

"No, the other left." 


"Try to be happier looking." 


"That's a little too happy." 

*takes picture*

Business photography can be awkward. You're at work, in your element, the place you feel comfortably in command...and some photographer is barking orders to "lift your head just so" or "try again, but think happier!"

Instead of being who you are, you're required to be something else - a model. Instead of pictures being about you and your work, they become about YOU. 

Cue the performance anxiety, and the disappointment in final pictures that look fake, contrived, unnatural, and not at all something that make you feel good about putting in front of potential customers. 

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Document, Don't Create

Instead of enduring a possible situation like this, a viable option businesses choose is to take do their business photography themselves. There are a lot of positives to this option, but an easy trap to fall into, and one I see people make all the time, is that as soon as someone picks up a camera they feel like they need to become A PHOTOGRAPHER, and they bite off more than they can chew trying to figuring out lighting, posing, composition, and every piece of gear that guarantees better pictures. It's daunting, and they fall down the rabbit hole of trying to become a professional picture-taker, rather than using pictures they take to serve their business. 

A better approach is to keep things simple - document, don't create. 

Every day at work, you do things that are worthy of a photograph. You might not immediately see them because most people think about how to create a good picture rather than looking at the people, things, and events happening around them that already have the makings of a good photograph. 

Creation involves influencing the environment  - posing, lighting, props, mood, expression, story. All these variables combine together to create pictures, good or bad. The issue here for a lot of businesses is that the person behind the camera needs to have a lot of skill, knowledge, time, and experience in order to combine and control all these variables to make a picture a picture work.

But thinking about documentary photography as the way to market your business minimizes those variables because this style of photography is centered more on capturing moments, people, and events as they happen than on the technical aspects of taking a picture. It's focused more on capturing the truth of your business operating rather than creating a scene that may or may not accurately reflect the business or the people in it. 

Thinking in this way means that the primary skill needed to take a great picture is to simply recognize when an opportunity for a great picture presents itself. It boils photography down to being aware and being ready to grab a camera. 

Does it require more skill than simply "point and shoot"? Yes, definitely. But "point and shoot" is a great (and easy) place to start. 

Over time, you'll feel yourself starting to become more aware of knowing when to reach for the camera, more creative with things like composition and lighting, and more reliable at taking good shots rather than bad ones. 

You'll get better sooner by keeping things simple. Document, don't create. Simply get in the habit of picking up a camera and shooting the things going on around you, and over time your business photography will go from average to good to great. 

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Cheat Sheet

Need some ideas for your documentary-style business photography? 

1. "Make the Thing" - kneading the dough, sawing the wood, mixing the cocktail
2. "Meet the people" - employees in action, portraits, pictures of customers, people from other businesses that help your business
3. "Watch the event" - meetings, continuing education, conferences, anniversary, parties
4. "The Thing in the World" - your business and how it interacts with the city, your product on the shelf, your food on the table