A good picture can remind someone who is already familiar with your farm to buy something. A great photo will sell it to someone who knows nothing about you. Our customer base for cut flowers very much lives on Instagram and Pinterest so engaging new buyers requires a proficiency in the language of an image.
It’s hard to discuss photographs without lots of photographs to illustrate what I’m talking about. Photography is my thing and I walk around constantly composing an image in my mind. I will attempt to break down that process with the general guidelines that make an image unforgettable.
Branding is how we tell our story. A logo anchors every choice we make in presenting ourselves, but by embracing an aesthetic for every image we take, the objects we photograph tell a cohesive story. There are some schools of thought that Instagram feeds need a tightly controlled aesthetic. As long as my pictures have the same tone, lighting and focus, I’m content for a looser color palette. Consistency breeds familiarity so that my customer can scroll through their feed and recognize something as one of my images.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to designate an area in your workspace that is only for staging pictures. I keep mine set up on a drafting table in front of a window. By keeping it clutter free, it’s ready to use; nothing goes out the door without documentation.
Although it’s tempting, especially at night, to immediately take pictures of whatever I have spent hours finishing, I’ve learned to wait until the lighting is right to capture that image. A badly lit or poorly composed image can actually impede a custom order and change a customer’s mind.
I strongly believe in culling so that I’m only posting one image a day on social media feeds by using my best images to tell the story of my farm. Flooding social media with multiple messages at a time can be counterproductive, distracting and cause posts to be buried. Extra images, or those that are informative but not stellar, can be posted as stories or Reels. I take 12 – 20 pictures of everything so that I have multiple choices in composition, to avoid technical disasters and because some pictures will be used at a later time. Stockpiling photos makes it possible to create and follow a weekly posting calendar without repeating constantly. It’s also very helpful in the off-season.
Categorizing pictures into types helps build content that is dynamic and holds the attention of your audience. There’s always the white background product image that is the staple of sites like Amazon and Etsy. But to actually sell a product it’s important to put the item into perspective. That can be achieved by focusing on details including all dimensions, showing the flowers in use in a vase on a table, for sale at market in buckets or the classic arm full of flowers. My favorite each week during the season is to show the buckets lined up on the way to market in soft morning light. It demonstrates the breadth of what I will have available later in the day. Along with this, it’s important to include field shots, such as action images of planting, harvesting or performing maintenance.
In the age of smartphones, most of us have a good quality camera with us at all times. By learning to use the camera settings and editing functions to our advantage, making strong images becomes an everyday habit. Almost every photo I post benefits from adjusting the brightness and contrast. If the light is right when taking the picture, there is enough digital information so this won’t degrade the image or cause pixelation. Using the portrait setting forces the camera to read the white balance as daylight. I never use preset filters, but I do use adjustments so all my images have the same light quality.
Proper lighting makes or breaks a picture. A perfectly lit but generically composed image will garner positive attention, but a badly lit but well composed image will be lost among all the others. In this situation, we consider quality of light as being warm, cool or daylight. The best option for beginners is to use diffused daylight from a window indoors, or at least under an overhang outside. Bright sunlight is only good for landscape shots and even then it’s best in the morning or evening. Noon sun causes harsh shadows and washed out areas.
My biggest rule is to never mix light. If I’m taking something inside my studio, it needs to be under one type of bulb or just from the window. We start noticing mixing of light when adjusting for brightness and the shadows take on yellowish tinge. I use sheets of white (fabric, poster board, paper, etc.) as reflectors to bump light into the shadows to soften them.
Composition is the art of making sure everything in the frame tells the story you want to tell. It includes editing and cropping out anything that distracts from the focal point. When it’s not possible to have a solid background, it helps to reduce the depth of field to the object. On a smartphone, using the portrait setting accomplishes this. It’s especially helpful in the studio where the visual chatter is constant (especially my studio, where there are bold colors everywhere).
The right background makes all the difference. White or cool colors work the best. Natural wood is fine. Most important is a matte surface. Anything reflective can create distracting bright spots. Take the time to iron fabric or otherwise ensure smooth surfaces to eliminate distractions. But the most important consideration is that the background is larger than the arrangement so flowers are not spilling into other areas. Again, when you find what works for you, this becomes part of your branding so make it a dedicated spot that is always available when you need it.
All social media channels have different orientation requirements on different devices. Although it’s known for the square picture, Instagram now gives an option of orientation, but Reels and stories are vertical. Facebook is mostly horizontal and will add bands of color to fill out a square on a desktop. These colors are pulled from the image and don’t always work to our advantage.
There are challenges specific to flower farming in composing images. Vases are often reflective and it takes practice to make those spots work with the image rather than be distracting. Saturated warm colors like red and orange can visually bleed in photographs if not handled right. This often manifests itself in the loss of detail, especially in harsh light. Being aware of this and adjusting light levels often solves the problem.
Good, consistent design is not something we are born with; it’s a set of skills we’re constantly honing. It’s paying attention to the details such as light and composition and having the patience to continually adjust until we have a great image. I bump up the lighting and crop almost every picture I post so that I control the narrative on my social media pages. Small changes make all the difference.