Let’s talk about your lifestyle photographs. Here’s a quick reminder of the kind of image we’re aiming for:
Another word for these pictures is vignettes. You may have come across this term in books or blogs about interior design. A vignette is a small arrangement of objects which expresses the personality and taste of the person who lives in that particular home.
Lifestyle photos live in your wholesale catalogue, your website and on your social media channels. But what are they, exactly?
Well, imagine I turn up on your doorstep with my camera and tell you I’m here to take a picture of your bedside table – exactly as it is, right this second.
Would that image tell me something about who you are?
I’ll give you one minute to make changes.
Would you swap some items, take something away, add something? How would you make the photo properly reflect your personality?
Here’s an extra twist: we’re going to show the picture of your bedside table to someone who knows you very well.
How does that influence your decision-making? What kind of shot would would make them say “That’s SO you!”
The thought process you’ve just gone through is similar to the process of styling lifestyle photos. As we saw, they’re essentially vignettes – captured moments which tell a story.
The difference, however, is that it’s not your taste and personality we’re trying to express. It’s your ideal customer’s.
Which products should be in your lifestyle shots?
The simple answer is: when you’re starting out, try all of them.
Getting into your ideal customer’s head isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s hard to say whether the shot you’ve just taken is an evocative glimpse into their life, or just a tangle of stuff.
So unless your collection is enormous, plan to take lifestyle shots of all your pieces at first. If you stick with it and keep trying things, you’ll naturally get better at creating set-ups that work.
Eventually, you may get to the point where you don’t need to take a photo of every single item in a new collection. You’ll know which ones to go for and which ones are best left as white box photos.
In the beginning, though, give yourself lots of options.
How many products should be in each photo?
Lifestyle shots are an opportunity to add flair and excitement to your catalogue, perhaps by running a single photo across two pages or including a series of close-ups.
In that case, you may decide to have multiple subjects in your pictures.
But even when there are two, three or more products in a single shot, the standard rules of photography apply. Jamming many similar-sized items next to each other is generally a bad idea – it reads as chaotic and confusing.
Instead, be kind to your buyer’s eyes. Give him or her the time and space to decipher what’s going on in each image.
Odd numbers can be helpful here.
Many shopkeepers will tell you that, when it comes to merchandising, odd numbers of items look best. The same principle applies in lifestyle shots. Instead of showing two or four items, try three or five.
Similarly, three identical items with a regular amount of space in between will probably look fake or staged. One big item, one smaller item and something that connects them, however, is pleasing to the eye.
So you might have a greetings card, a postcard and some cheerful twine between them. Or a bottle of bath gel, a bar of soap and some soft, sculptural ferns to bridge the gap.
Exploring your styling possibilities
Let’s pause there for a quick recap.
We’re discussing how to take lifestyle photos of your products.
Lifestyle photos bring your work to, well, life.
By incorporating props and different types of background into your lifestyle shots, you can tell a story about how your ideal customer uses or enjoys the lovely thing you make.
But how do you know which props and backgrounds to choose?
It’s time to talk about styling.
Styling is the process of arranging objects in a visually harmonious way. Through careful selection and editing, the stylist’s goal is to bring disparate elements together into a cohesive scheme.
Remember how I took a photo of your bedside table, then gave you a minute to make changes?
Those changes were styling decisions. The goal was to create an image that expressed your personality, so you moved some objects around, took some away, maybe added a little vase of flowers for a dash of colour and a book on French philosophy to make you look brainy.
I ain’t judging.
If you turned up to take a picture of my bedside table, I’d be sweeping seven Nutrageous wrappers into a drawer before your foot was on the stairs. By the time you arrived, there’d be a vintage carafe filled with mineral water and lemon slices, a postcard of a scary painting by Egon Schiele and “The Cherry Orchard” in the original Russian.
Humans are constantly absorbing messages from objects in the world around them. Styling is a way of refining those messages so that a room, outfit or photograph conveys the meaning you intend.
So how should you style your lifestyle photos? Before you even start to think about props or accessories, there are the two big questions to ask yourself:
1. What’s the focal point of this picture?
Or to put it another way, what’s the star of this shot? What do you want the retailer’s eye to alight on first?
It’s likely to be one or more of your products. Which ones?
2. How do I want this picture to feel?
Notice that this isn’t about how you want the picture to look. Concentrating on the feeling you want to express allows you to zone in on the overall message.
Do you want the photo to feel happy, fresh and playful?
Should it be relaxed, glamorous or sweetly nostalgic?
Once you’ve got a description that speaks to you, you’ve got a framework for all the decisions that follow.
Now we’re going to explore three distinct types of style from Holly Booth’s portfolio. (Holly is a friend of Indie Retail Academy, and a lifestyle photographer for makers and designers.) There are obviously many more possibilities but these three are a good place to start.
The first look is grounded in the colours and textures of nature. Although simple and unrefined, it expresses an easy-going, relaxed elegance.
Here are some examples:
This style is lively, youthful and fun. It’s elegant but there’s a sense of playfulness and optimism.
This style can be nostalgic or traditional, perhaps with a glamorous twist. It’s a warm, inviting and polished.
Taking lifestyle photos can seem difficult at first, but it’s really about combining two things: a glimpse of your customer’s ideal life, and the personality of your products.
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