Design

5 Things to Consider When Photographing Products

In a company with a large creative team, each person works together to accomplish the common goal of success.  Each role has responsibilities to complete a part of a project and oftentimes, photography and design can be separate roles.  However, it is vital for the photographer to share the same vision for photography as the designer.

Since my role falls more into designer than photographer, I often wish I had different angles of a product or something was missing from the photo that would have made it really great for my project.  So I have compiled a short list of things photographers need to consider during photo shoots:

  1. Consider the background. When photographing a product, make sure you are aware of the product’s surroundings: does the background reflect off or blend with the product? Will it be difficult to remove the background from the product when editing the photo?  A large item may not fit in your standard photo booth, but removing a checkered floor, patterned carpet or pegboard background can be incredibly difficult; find a place with a solid background that contrasts with the product.
  2. Get multiple angles.It’s easy and necessary to use a default angle when photographing products, especially if your products are similar.  However, it is wise to get multiple angle shots of products for multiple reasons:
      • To show what the product looks like from all sides
      • To capture a UPC, model number or other information printed on the product
      • To make marketing content more interesting
      • To allow multiple angle shots online
      • To show close-up angles of parts or the product itself
  3. Focus on branding. If your product has a logo or tagline on it, make sure that the photos show that logo or tagline clearly.  A product photo showing only part of the logo gives the impression that the brand is not important; make sure you always capture the logo in a manner that is representative of the brand.
  4. Product quality is vital. While Photoshop can work wonders, nothing beats a high-quality product photo to begin with.  Make sure the product is clean, without flaws and a perfect example of the product.  Loose threads should be trimmed, dirt or fingerprints should be wiped off and all parts should be displayed in an orderly fashion.
  5. Be consistent. While it is important to get multiple angles, it is also important to be consistent in default shots.  Create templates of how products should be displayed for photographing by using tape lines or specific points on the products themselves.  For example, if you are photographing different angles of shoes, you may want to set up a shoe template that has an outline drawn around each angle the shoe should be photographed in as well as a print out of the different angles photographed.  This will ensure that you get the correct shots in a consistent manner each time.

What are your photography tips?

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7 Steps to Increase Usability

Whether you are sending an e-mail, designing a website or setting up a store, the easier you make the experience for your customer, the more likely they are to be a repeat customer and refer your company.  This also goes for anyone with a website they want others to view.

Using the following steps, you can create increased usability and a more positive customer experience:

  1. Determine the call to action and create a clear pathway to the end result.  What do you want your customer to do?  Whatever end goal you are intending, make it as easy as possible for your customer to get there.  If you’re sending an e-blast and you want them to purchase a particular item, link directly to a place where they can purchase the item.  If you want customers to request a quote from your website, place links in very visible places.
  2. Create a layout prior to designing. Sketch a basic layout of everything you want to include, create category headers that make sense and start designing from there.  That way, you have a clear idea of how everything should fit together and it will make sense to your audience as well.
  3. Keep it clean and concise. Use short paragraphs, bullet points and limited words so viewers can easily skim to find what they are looking for.
  4.  Break sections into chunks with headers. There are times when you need to have a lot of information on a page, but you can make it easier on your viewers by breaking it down.  For example, on a health website, perhaps someone has been diagnosed with a condition and only wants to know about treatment.  By breaking the condition article into smaller sections, the viewer can quickly skip to the treatment section.
  5. Test and observe. The best way to determine usability is to give it a test run.  If you are getting ready to launch a new website, get a group comparative to your target audience and have them test it and provide usability feedback.  Adjust as needed to make the website easy to navigate.  Another option is to use a website heatmap to see precisely where your viewers are clicking.  Integrating Google Analytics is also an excellent way to track trends, clicks and time spent on your website.
  6. Use bullet points and text formatting. Rather than write a paragraph that will likely be skimmed, try breaking the information into a bulleted list for easier reading.  Bold important keywords that your viewers may be looking for.
  7. Make links (and non-links) obvious. It may look cleaner to not underline links, but we have been conditioned to understand that underlined text is usually a link.  That being said, be cautious when underlining non-linked texts because it can be confusing to the viewer.

By making your website, e-blast, store or whatever easier for others to navigate, you are increasing your chances of them returning.  What other ways have you found to increase usability?

Using Blending Modes in Photoshop – Part 1

Even fairly seasoned Photoshop users may not have much or any experience working with Blend Modes, but they can prove to be extremely helpful in getting your image to look as realistic as possible.

Working in the sporting goods manufacturing industry, I am constantly working with images of 3D objects. In preparing these images for web use or showing a customer what their logo will look like on a ball, I am regularly faced with the challenge of putting a flat image on a pebbled surface when creating virtuals. While it could be understood that a virtual is a glorified drawing, it is also very helpful to provide the most realistic view of the finished product.

There are several ways to accomplish this task. One way is by adding a 5-10% opaque layer of the ball over the top of the logo or decreasing the opacity of the logo by 5-10%, however that affects the integrity of the logo by changing the color.

Another way is to create a pattern of the pebble by cropping a sample of the ball, adjusting coloring and/or using a mask and saving the sample as a pattern. Simply apply the pattern over the logo or image, drop the pattern opacity low enough to show, but not high enough to affect the logo and you will see a patterned logo. The problem with this is that the pattern may not match the background quite right so it can be counterproductive, making the logo look more distracting and separate than as actually being on the item.

One of the best ways I have found (so far) is to use a blending mode. You will find this in CS4/CS5 at the top of the Layers panel, next to Opacity. It should default to “Normal.” To gain access to advanced blending options, you can also access it through the FX tab at the bottom of the Layers panel, or by right clicking on the layer and selecting Blending Options.

Below is an example of the difference between not using a blending mode and using a blending mode. The image on the left looks really fake, the logo just sitting on top of the ball, no texture showing whatsoever, other than where I cut the white out of the logo to show the ball through.

Using Photoshop Blending Modes

The image on the right looks like an actual photograph of the ball! I added a spherize filter of about 75% to give the logo the appearance of being wrapped around the ball. I then added a linear burn blending mode to the logo to attach it to the pebbling underneath. Finally, I decreased opacity to correct the logo color.

Experiment with the different blending modes to see what works best for what you are doing and to learn what each setting does. While most of the options won’t work for your current project, it’s good to keep in mind the other possibilities for future projects.

Happy Photoshopping!

Staying Organized in Photoshop

If you’ve ever had to work with a Photoshop file someone else created, you may notice they have a much different way of organizing the layers than you do. If you have to make multiple changes, you may find their organization or lack thereof can really delay your progress.

Don’t be that person.

Working with layers can be great, but it can also be maddening, especially if you’re working with several layers. The good news is that Photoshop offers some great ways to stay organized so you can work efficiently. The two best organizational tools for me are layer names and grouping layers.

Take the time to label your layers. Chances are, you’re not going to remember what Shape 3 copy 5 is offhand, so labeling it “footer blue box” will ensure you don’t confuse it with “header red box”. If you’re like me, you create duplicate layers while working, then delete unneeded copies when you are complete. Labeling can also help remind you which layers to keep and which to delete. Sometimes I’ll even name a layer “footer blue box delete” so it’s there if I need it while I’m working, but I remember to delete it at the end since it is unnecessary.

Group layers. Maybe you didn’t feel up to committing to putting layers in a group, but it is an incredible time saver! Say you have an information box consisting of a headline, text, 2 photos, 2 photo captions, a bounding box and 2 photocorrection layers—that’s 9 layers that you probably won’t need to mess with much once you have completed them and 9 layers you are likely to have to move multiple times across your document. By grouping layers, you preserve the location of each facet and can easily minimize and mazimize the layers for editing. You can add or remove layers by dragging and dropping and by highlighting the group layer, you can move all at once.

I usually start by creating the first couple layers of the group, highlight the layers I want grouped, then click ctrl + G to group them. If I have one of the grouped layers highlighted, the next layer I add automatically gets added to the group, which makes it very easy to add to the group.

Another way this comes in handy is with my templates. If I am creating multiple designs on the same background or product, I can leave the constant layer ungrouped, then create new groups for each different design. This keeps a consistent look and makes it incredibly easy to create multiple designs in a short time frame.

Ungrouping layers is just as easy as grouping: click on the group and press Shift + crtl + G or just right click on the group and select Ungroup Layers.

Lastly, before I got into grouping, I always made a point of organizing my layers by where they appeared on my document. Header items were at the top of the layer list and footer items were at the bottom. This way, if I want to make a change, I know approximately where I can find the layer on my list.

By staying organized in Photoshop, you not only save yourself time, but if you need to send that file on to someone else, they can quickly pick up where you left making you more of a pleasure to work with.

Overcoming Creative Blocks

If you’ve ever been tasked with creating something, whether it is a product, design or copy, you’ve probably hit a mental roadblock at least a couple times. In my experience, it seems I hit a roadblock when I have a lot of different things to do and am trying to create something new and different from my usual style.

While it can be tempting to just shove the project aside and forget it exists, that should never be an option and giving up on projects won’t help you get ahead in your career. Instead, it is important to take a few breaths, and find a way to complete the project.

Here’s what works for me:

  • Stick to familiarity: If you are pressed for time and it is acceptable to do so, follow a design you have previously successfully used. If using a particular design layout and color scheme works for what you are doing, use it as a template for your project. Having a basic template can save you time and sanity when deadlines are quickly approaching.  Templates can also help maintain a brand image.
  • Ask for opinions: And don’t limit it to those in your creative department. I’ve received incredible feedback from colleagues in accounting and sales because they can look at things with fresh eyes. Just remember to trust your instincts on the final product to ensure the quality deserves your name on it.
  • Sketch out ideas: It can be hard to see the framework of a project when it is covered in images and colors. Try sketching out three or four basic layouts on a sheet of paper and go from there. Sometimes laying out the basic skeleton of a project is all you need to build your ideas on.
  • Take a break: When was the last time you were away from your desk? If you are feeling fried, take a walk outside or to the water cooler to refresh your mind and reset the panic alarm that has been going off in your mind. If you can clear the scatter in your brain, it will be easier to focus on your project.
  • Write a to-do list: When I have multiple projects to complete at once, I can get very overwhelmed and it affects my concentration. By writing a list of what needs to be done, I can tackle each project as it is listed and feel a sense of accomplishment each time I cross something off my list.
  • Focus on the end project: What are you trying to achieve? Instead of getting overwhelmed with all the details, imagine the final product in its entirety. Sometimes the feeling of calm this imaging brings is enough to help you clearly see what you need to do to complete the task.

If you can’t tell, I’m in the middle of a block right now, so this is me stepping aside for a moment to calm my stress level and find the best way to complete my projects. It is much less daunting now when I can see two projects are complete pending final approval and the remaining projects are intertwined, so I will be complete soon. This makes things much easier on me and I know I have a greater chance of completing my work if I take the time to focus on completing one thing at a time.

Creating Effective E-Blasts

E-blasts are a great way to communicate with your customers about specials or new information about your products or services.  If you have shopped online or signed up for emails from a business, chances are you receive e-blasts on a regular basis.  They are eye-catching emails sent out to a group of contacts to inform or create a call to action.

But don’t just start emailing everyone in your address book or you may turn away customers.  Here’s what I suggest:

Find an e-blast service to manage contacts, analyze statistics on the effectiveness of your message, prevent SPAM, conduct surveys or polls, and create interesting e-blasts.  I’ve been using iContact for several years and have found it offers a lot of great features at a competitive price.  A couple other services are Constant Contact and Mail Chimp.

Build up your contact base and make sure to categorize them well for optimal targeting.  iContact offers a sign-up form you can create with your own custom fields.  This is a great way to sort out customers based on their interests, purchases, demographics or whatever is important to you.  The more you can specifically target a group, the better your results will be.

Keep your e-blasts brief, yet informative and interesting.  Start with an eye-catching banner.  Make sure to include your logo and website and/or phone number.  This banner should link to your home page or the special you are e-blasting.  Keep short paragraphs, inserting links where necessary.  Brevity is your friend here.

Make sure you highlight the call to action.  What do you want the recipient to do after viewing your e-blast?  Identify the action and make it as easy as possible for your contact to perform that action.

Test the e-blast prior to sending.  Different email clients display graphics differently.  For example, one graphic I use is an animated gif of our catalog.  It is small and in the corner, but eye-catching because the pages are turning.  It looks great in my Gmail or older version of Outlook, but in more recent versions of Outlook, animated images are disabled so you only view the first image.  This worked out fine because the first page was the cover and that told the story as well as the page-turning catalog, but if your image is a series in which animation is necessary, it’s best to re-think the graphic.

Also test for spam ratings.  Why bother sending an e-blast if your contacts won’t receive it?  Send enough high-spam rating e-blasts and none of your messages will get through.  Prevent this by running a spam test through your e-blast server and keeping the balance between text and graphics fairly even.  Certain words, such as casino, can also trigger a high spam rating.

Include a text-only version that is equally interesting.  Some people have html emails disabled so if you create a really incredible html e-blast, but no text, they will receive a very boring, blank email and most likely delete it or mark it as spam.  So make sure you create a text version with all links spelled out and even offer a link to the html e-blast online so they can view it if they choose to.

Respect unsubscribe requests.  Even though there are unsubscribe links at the bottom of every e-blast I send out, we will receive email replies from some recipients asking us to unsubscribe them.  If you get this request, make sure you follow through with it.  And no need to reply—they already didn’t want the first e-mail, they surely do not want any more.  iContact allows me to simply click on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email they replied to in order to unsubscribe them, so it is very easy.

Include contact information.  It seems obvious, but just as you have an email signature or a business card, make sure you provide your contacts with a way of reaching you.  The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to do it.

Study your statistics.  In mail replies, a 6% response was considered good.  In e-blasts, expect at least twice that percentage and much higher for highly targeted e-blasts.  Determine what is working and continue those tactics and stop doing what isn’t working.

Keep it simple, interesting and relevant to get the most out of e-blast marketing!