S. 3 Ep. 23 – How To Shoot Professional-Looking Photos As A DIYer

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Cece Payne

Marketing Coordinator at SpeakerFlow - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!

Cece Payne

Marketing Coordinator at SpeakerFlow - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
Technically Speaking S 3 Ep 23 - How To Shoot Professional-Looking Photos As A DIYer with SpeakerFlow and John DeMato

Thought leadership, as an industry, in an undeniably glamorous one, and what better way to showcase your business than killer photos?

With the right photographer, your action and headshots can elevate your perception and make you stand out from the crowd. Plus, they’re great to have on hand for social posts or media kits.

That said, for aspiring or new thought leaders, a professional photographer isn’t always in the budget. Even so, you can still create killer photos by shooting them yourself.

To walk us through this process, we’re joined by long-time photographer and the owner of DeMato Productions, John DeMato.

With years of industry experience, John’s a master at using photography tools – professional or DIY – to create eye-catching, compelling photos that tell a story.

Here, he explains how you can do the same, starting with maximizing the photographic capabilities of your phone and ending with how to use the photos you produce.

In his words, “Even if you use your phone initially after you hire a professional photographer, it’s still good to understand self-portraiture so that, when you’re on stage, you have a way to ensure you’re getting good shots.”

So, whether you’re a DIYer or getting ready to hire a pro, let’s dive in!

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Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing onstage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip by? This is called the Flow State. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.

Austin: All right, boom. We made it. John DeMato. Beware our crap, man. Welcome. Thank you for being here.

Taylorr: In the flesh.

John: It’s always a pleasure to see you two handsome faces in my general vicinity, so I’m happy to be here.

Austin: We love to be in your vicinity, man. It’s really our honor. Oh, man. Yeah. So, this is going to be a good episode, as they usually are. We have a thought that we want to run past you first, though, dude.

John: Okay.

Austin: I think that instead of hiring you to take our next headshot, where going to have an AI do it? What do you think about that, think we can pull it off? Do you think it’ll turn out all right?

John: I think I have to go and it’s been real and I wish luck with all of that. Have a good time.

Austin: Not even acknowledgement, just see you boys.

John: You know what I actually look forward to seeing? Is how many fingers the AI grows on both your hands when you get those photos taken. You will look awesome. And maybe three eyes, I don’t know.

Austin: I already have six, so it should be good. Is it a real thing? Do you worry that someday AIs are just going to generate photographs for us? I personally think that they’re substantially dumber than people give them credit for, so I suspect that’s not a possibility, but I don’t know, you might be closer to it than we are.

John: Well, I wrote an article about it not too long ago where it’s not about the fact that the technology is inherently a bad thing. I feel that with some careful deliberation and real strategizing around the power of that technology, it could be used in really cool and interesting and valuable ways. I think, though; that the larger question that needs to be answered is to what end are we willing to give up our creative freedom? 

This is not about making money off of taking photos. This is a fundamental question of humanity and the way that we interpret the world, the way that we see the world. We make meaning through visuals. And if these visuals are all completely fabricated based off of zeros and ones that this program put together, don’t we already live in a world where there’s a lot of fakery going on? Do we really need to take it to the upteenth level and then just eliminate creative thought and freedom altogether? I don’t want to live in that world.

Austin: It is kind of dystopian, isn’t it?

John: Regardless if I make money off the pictures.

Taylorr: Right. Yeah. Do you think it has a place in creative freedom, what I mean by that is does it have the potential to spark new ideas and elevate how creative a person is? What do you think about that?

John: I think it could plug in the gaps. I think it could create things that we might not necessarily want to do. The reality is, I don’t actually know what the answer is because it’s still in its infancy and we don’t really know where it’s going to go. We have an idea, we’ve all watched these movies that predict all of this crazy, robots are going to take over the world, and I don’t think it’s that particularly crazy. But with respect to photography, with respect to visual art, there’s an entire series of industries that would be completely shut down, and I don’t know, I’m not comfortable with that. 

I am interested and curious to see where it goes and what it could do and how we can temper down the availability of it and how it kind of impacts the way people live their lives and make a living and express themselves.

Taylorr: Yeah, for sure.

Austin: I agree.

Taylorr: Well, It’s going to play out. We’re going to find out how it rolls, but, yeah, we agree, by the way. We like having, there’s a humanity component that just can’t be replicated, so you can stay on the show, don’t leave us, bud.

Austin: Yeah. Yeah. We promise we’re coming to you for our photography. In fact, you were on your website earlier before we get into the meat potatoes; I’m drooling over your pictures. Dude, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody work with the environment and also showcase people, sort of, in their natural best selves. There’s not a single fake smile in any of the pictures that you take, and I just love what you do, man. So, I’m a huge fan, authentically.

John: I really appreciate that, gentleman. I really do. It’s a labor of love. It’s funny you bring up the fake smile thing. I tell clients the moment that they start flashing those crappy fake smiles that they need to stop it because I die a little bit on the inside when I have to stare at it. So, please stop. And generally speaking, that generates a real laugh and then we shoot that and then we’re all good.

Taylorr: Yeah. Heck, yeah. Just have to have that comedic element in there. Well, man, we’re really excited to unpack this today. I think photography can be a little bit of a barrier of entry for people who may not have the resources yet to go full tilt, hire the pro to make it all come together. And we have a lot of technology at our fingertips to still produce good photography, but, as you know, not having the right images or not telling the right story, that can be unhelpful in building a business. And so, how to bridge that gap in the interim while they’re still building and ramping up to hire a pro like yourself, I think is a conversation that doesn’t get highlighted enough. 

So, we’re going to unpack that a bit, but I kind of want to set the tone; in our first conversation, we talked a lot about visual storytelling, the impact and placement of photography and how that has in the business and where all of that lives. But for the listeners that haven’t heard that first episode, and let’s just do a brief recap. So, give us a full picture of how photography should fit into a speaking business; where it’s most valuable, how it should be used, the mindset you should have going into it.

John: Well, the whole purpose of having compelling images is to be able to position in the minds of those that you serve your personality, your process, demystifying the way in which you solve your clients’ problems, as well as showing them how the sausage is made. Whether it’s on a stage, it’s in a room during facilitation, it’s virtually through an online community or online courses, the way in which you coach and consult, whatever the tentacles of your business are. 

The idea is to capture images, create a comprehensive image portfolio that showcases all of these different things to your clients so that you’re able to pull an image from that portfolio, those promotional images, the headshots, the direct address portraits, looking right into the camera, connecting with your audience through your eyes, through their eyes, seeing your eyes. And being able to connect with them on that level as well as the lifestyle portraits where this candid vibe of showing your audience what it looks like to work with you, what it looks like when you’re in action, so that you’re able to visually punctuate the sentiment of every single story that you share online. 

And that’s not just in your online content, that’s also for your website, for your speaker-kit, your media-kit, all of those assets you need to promote yourself, any printed materials that you use for your books. I could go on and on and on, you guys know about all of the different places in which image content is very important and this is why you need this portfolio. It’s a foundational element to be able to truly position your personality and your expertise in the eyes of your audience.

Austin: Cheers to that. It’s a personal brand, it makes sense that for a personal brand, images of you doing the thing is kind of, that’s the thing, that’s the whole business. So, you better be taking some pictures and video too, obviously, but pictures certainly as well that demonstrate you doing the thing that you’re telling the world you are, you know?

John: It’s one thing to tell people what you do and that’s fine, but it’s another thing to show them what it looks like, because, ultimately, at the end of the day. Whether it’s a conference person that’s looking to find a speaker or if it’s a company looking for a trainer, they need to do some homework on you, and while they may have a conversation with you and get this certain vibe, they’re still going to qualify you before they even get on that call. And part of what they do to qualify is, yeah, they’re going to look at your video stuff, of course; but they also are going to look at your image content to be able to see how you position yourself. So, all of these are key critical pieces in this personal branding opportunity that you have through your content and through the way you present yourself across every touchpoint of your online presence.

Austin: Yeah. What I like about what you just said too is, especially we think about the word personal brand, right? You said personality a few times already in the show and I don’t think that’s something that, at least for me, I’ll speak personally about myself. I don’t know about any other listeners, but I don’t even, I think of photos, I’m like, oh, I need a good headshot, to show I’m professional and have it match our brand consistency or whatever. But I’m not really thinking about the importance of showcasing my personality, you know?

John: Right.

Taylorr: I think video can help with that too, but I think photos can capture, we’ve seen this in your own portfolio, but they can really capture the essence of who you are, and especially with the people you’ve shot, it’s almost like you see those photos and you already have a sense of who they are and you trust them more. And to your point about putting those in front of your economic decision makers, is there a better way to even build trust and connection while they’re vetting you out before they have a sales call? 

It just seems like another, I don’t know, line of defense, if you will, to showcase who you really are to people, rather than just some corporate stock image-y type of website and social content. They actually get a chance to know who you are at a personal level just by looking at these photos before engaging with you.

John: Yeah. It’s so important that you bring that up because you need to be the person in your photos that you are the moment that you’re in the room of the people that you serve, the moment that you walk in and you look completely different from all of the promo images and the stuff that people see of you before they see you in real life and you don’t match what you look or sound like. You’ve just lost the trust of the room, so what’s the point of doing that? We’re in the relationship business; speakers, us, the people we serve, we’re all in the relationship business and preferably the long-term relationship business. 

And anything that you do can either support that mission or detract from that mission, it is your choice. And, ultimately, for example, I recently am starting to invest in photos myself, because the stuff that I’m using, first of all is years old and 30 pounds heavier, number one. Number two, they were taken by a non-professional, so I basically got whatever I could get and it’s fine, because I can crop-in and color-in and try to sprinkle some Adobo salt and pepper on it and make it into something. But still the vibe’s not fully there. 

The reason why I am investing in photos now is because I want to recognize the person that’s in those photos because I want to have the same vibe for the people that are checking me out and checking out my content, so that there is an alignment between my personal feelings of looking at these images as well as how I will be perceived by the audience that I serve.

Austin: Yeah, well, having that consistency is so important; the whole what you see is what you get thing, especially in this digital world that we’re in right now, the ability for trust to be eroded can happen so fast when the person that you’re portraying somebody to be on the internet doesn’t match the person that you actually are in real life. And that could even be, maybe you’re more beautiful in-person than you are in your pictures, but still having that disconnect is jarring, you know? So, I think we’ve made a case now for photography in a business, for those that want like the whole in-depth explanation of this, definitely go back to his first episode. 

I do want to transition into the point of this episode, though; and I think the bit that everybody listening to this episode right now is going, oh my god, I absolutely need this. Working with John is absolutely the best way to go if you’re going to go anywhere. However, there are a lot of people listening-in to the show that might not be at a point where they can justify investing big dollars, and that is relative, obviously, into coming to a professional like you. And we do live in a world where we have professional-grade cameras in our pocket, at least relative to maybe what cameras looked like 10 years ago, right? So, first of all, is it realistic for somebody to be able to get the outcomes that you’re describing on the show right now themselves, using the tools that maybe they already have available, rather than going to somebody like you?

John: Well, to a certain extent, yes. Especially if we’re speaking about emerging speakers, right? Folks that are just starting to put the initial pieces together, right? And they’re investing their hard-earned money in other areas to be able to boost their business. While that is absolutely essential, what also is essential is that they can’t forget about the assets, because it is a starting point and there is an opportunity with self-portraiture to be able to at least create some fundamental images that can be used in online content for promotional purposes. Obviously, it’s not as simple as just grabbing it out of your phone and wherever you are just bang out a couple of shots. 

There is some technique, there’s a lot of technique, and more importantly, there needs to be a level of curiosity and intention going behind this, because if you half-ass this, it’s going to look really not good. And that’s what you don’t want. And, by the way, even when you are an established speaker and above and you hire a professional photographer, self-portraits are still important because you do not have a paparazzi following you around 24/7 unless if you’re Vaynerchuk or something like that. 

But if you’re someone that doesn’t have that opportunity, you are still held responsible to be able to share these moments with your audience and you’re going to need to be able to use the camera that’s in your phone to be able to capture those moments and share them to be able to create that buzz and letting people know what’s going on in your life. So, it’s important on all levels, self-portraiture.

Taylorr: Yeah. Okay. So, give us a little bit of a roadmap. Okay. So, regardless of where they’re at in their business, emerging or they just want to take good photos when they’re off on the road, how can someone elevate their photos? What are some of those techniques that you kind of described with the cameras we have in our pocket?

John: Well, one of the biggest benefits to the newer phones over the past couple of years is the forward-facing camera, because it gives you the what you see is what you get vibe, which is essential when you’re creating self-portraits, because otherwise you’d just be staring at a camera and hope that you’re in focus and hope that the headroom is good. So, the self-facing camera is an essential thing. The other thing would be the timer on the camera, to be able to aptly set your camera level so that it’s about eye-level and then you hit the timer and then you can prepare yourself, get your eyes in the right position so you’re not staring at your image in the screen, you’re actually staring at the camera. 

And then another valuable piece about that is lighting and being able to hold the camera in your hand and kind of swivel around to see where the light sources are coming from, because you don’t want the light source behind your head, because then you’re going to look like a hostage victim all silhouetted out, we don’t want that. What we want is to be able to flip the camera and use that light source as a direct source to be able to get that flattering light on your face. And another little trick that’s also very helpful to increase the quality of the image would be, at least on iPhone, it’s portrait mode where it gives a kind of out of focus background look to it. That is a very valuable tool also to have. 

So, amongst those four little pieces right there, that’s really enough to get you kind of started in terms of getting photos that’ll have a professional-esqu type feel to them.

Austin: I love that. How important is setting, setting here? Because I think that having a good background can really make or break a picture even if the lighting isn’t so good. I’d rather, it seems like, and maybe this is just my ignorance here, or my preferences, I guess. But I’d rather see an image of somebody with a cool background, like a brick wall or something interesting, instead of in the office or something, even if the lighting might be better in the office, meaning the light source is in front of you. So, if you were to rank the importance of some of these factors, how important would environment be relative to lighting or whatever other components you think would be on that ranking list?

John: Yeah, the answer is they’re all important. And when you’re in a space.

Austin: All of them.

John: Listen, when you’re in a space where it’s a really lame background, that’s when portrait mode and blowing everything out of focus really comes into play, I do that all of the time with my fancy camera that I use. Sometimes you have to make creative choices, do I want this flowing light, but I have to frame out the hamper in the background and the door to the bathroom or I’m in a public space and there are 75,000 people walking around, what the hell do I do there? These are all creative choices and that’s why it goes back to the initial idea of being curious and have intention with this, because it’s not as simple as simply showing up and snapping a couple of photos. 

You have to do some logistics, some exploring your play space, kind of figuring out where are the best vantage points and what are the best backgrounds. Ideally, you want backgrounds that compliment your personality and brand, that’s ideal. Now, if you’re in a space where you don’t have that and you still want to get some photos because it looks cool, well, there are ways to work with what you have, basically. It’s as if you were dropped in from a helicopter, you have this space, you have a couple of minutes to get some shots and you have to figure it out. 

That’s why it’s important to understand the fundamentals of how to actually use the camera that’s in your phone, so that you’re not going to spend so much time worrying about, oh my God, is this at the right F Stop, what the hell is an F Stop? I don’t know what I’m doing. All right, just auto. Instead of doing that, you spend a half day actually learning how to use the thing so that when you are in an environment, it becomes automatic, the tech, and then it becomes more of your attention goes toward surveying the space and looking for the right corners and nooks and crannies and the right lighting, and you’re spending that time on stuff that’s actually going to make the quality of the photos look better, rather than just getting a good shot.

Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so one thing that’s coming to mind as we’re having this conversation is it sounds like regardless of where you’re at in your business, there’s a use case for self-portraiture and there’s a use case for professional shots. So, can you break down when it’s relevant to do self-portraiture over professional shots and when professional shots are favorable over self-portraiture?

John: Sure. Well, ideally. Ideally. Listen, if you’re in a spot where you really can invest in high-level image content with a professional, obviously, you get what you can get and you make that work until you can hire someone to come in and solve that problem for you. With that being said, if all things were fair; ideally what you would want is professional imagery for the website, for the fundamentals, the online content; not the online content, sorry, actually, yes, you could use it there, but primarily it would be for your promotional purposes, the printed stuff, the headshots, the profile pictures, the speaker-kit, the media-kit assets that you’re using for all of the different marketing and promotional purposes that you have. 

And then the self-portraits, the high-quality self-portraits would be a great complementary piece for the online content, for the social media, for the blog. Actually, one of my clients incorporates both into his website where there are a lot of user-generated content banners on different landing pages with clients shooting with his book and shooting at his events and different things and self-portraits, all of that stuff is great. But ideally, what you could use those self-portraits for would be some really cool blogs and social pieces.

Taylorr: Yeah. Do you think that helps with relatability? Can I have the sense that and maybe I’m wrong about this, so feel free to check me on it, but a professional image has a, I don’t want to say.

John: Prestige factor?

Taylorr: Pedestal or gap.

Austin: Status?

Taylorr: Prestige factor, yeah, status, right? It’s clearly professional, which is awesome, it shows you’ve invested in that, but it sounds like self-portraiture has a way of creating relatability with people in a more kind of real setting. Is that an accurate breakdown of those or am I just completely wrong?

John: No, it’s not that you’re completely wrong at all. I wouldn’t phrase it in that way, because it’s not the tech or it’s not the quality, it’s not the way in which the image was created that creates relatability. It’s the emotion, the body language, the facial expression, the activity that’s captured in front of that camera that creates relatability. And you can use a thousand dollar smartphone camera or you can use a $6,500 professional camera. It’s all the same difference in that respect.

Taylorr: That makes sense. It’s a good distinction to make.

Austin: Yeah. It should be empowering too. And if you think about it, right? Polaroid images have the draw for people and clearly they’re not high quality images, that’s not the point. The point is that you have a convenient way to capture those real genuine moments, at least that’s the pitch that they have. And I know we can do the exact same thing in our pockets, but it speaks to the point that you just made, John, that so much of what is a great picture has less to do with the technical aspects of how it was created and so much more to do with what it captured, you know?

John: Yeah.

Austin: So, it seems to me, and maybe you can either confirm or reshape this idea of mine, but if somebody’s looking at their own photography, it might be more important to think about what it is specifically that you’re trying to convey in the picture from more of a creative perspective than worry about how technically proficient you may be using advanced camera techniques. Would you agree with that?

John: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Part of my strategy call with clients, two of the questions revolve around understanding the aspects of the personality that they want to convey to those they serve, as well as how some words on how they want to be perceived by their audience. That has nothing to do with my camera, that has everything to do with them. That’s a very important point to make because we’re focusing on what’s most important here; it’s about creating that opportunity for my client to be discovered by someone who needs their help the most. And you want that initial point of discovery to feel very genuine in the way that you create that genuine aspect to it is by focusing on them and their personality. 

I could shoot those photos with my iPhone or I can shoot them with my camera, it doesn’t matter. Granted, a lot of different challenges, different tech, but it’s of no consequence to the client because what the client needs are images that will be able to create this opportunity for them with people who need their help.

Taylorr: Yeah. No, that’s a good breakdown. So, it sounds like, let’s say somebody’s doing some self-portraiture, the first train of thought that should happen isn’t like, oh, I should get a picture of this. Or maybe that’s where it starts, but it seems like there’s an element of thinking about what is it that I want to convey in this moment for this photo? I think you mentioned this earlier, but being intentional with the photography.

John: Yeah.

Taylorr: What are some common things that you run into of what people are seeking to convey? And let’s maybe take a couple of examples to compare again. So, think about your top two, I don’t know, things that your clients want to convey in photography, and then how would somebody go about shooting those two messages, if you will? What might be the difference between them?

John: Everybody’s a mixed bag, while a lot of the photos kind of have similarities based on the activities in which my clients partake in which there is a lot of overlap, obviously; in the world that we serve, you guys and me. One of the biggest things that people ask for is, I want to be real in these photos, I don’t want it to feel staged; I don’t want to look like I’m posing for a magazine. I’m paraphrasing, of course; they don’t necessarily say that, but that’s what the sentiment is. And another thing that they want to look like is that they’re knowledgeable, that they are in fact an expert. And it’s not that there are different, that it’s like they’re in silos and that they are separate objectives, they work together, because that’s what you want. 

You want an image that conveys all of these things in one shot, and not only in one shot because there’s no people talk about, oh, we have to get the money shot. Money shots are for editorial pieces, for magazines and for e-zines and for these other types of areas of photography, when you’re talking about working with service-based business owners and experts at that, you need a collection of money shots. They all need to be money shots because they all are going to be earmarked for different things with regard to their marketing and promotional efforts, right? 

So, the idea is to be able to, at the very top of our conversation, to lay out the why, what, and how behind their need for these images and understanding who they are, who they serve, how do they solve their client’s problems. And that information gets translated through their personality piece, I want to look real as well as I want to look like an expert. And that’s how it all kind of flows together, but it all starts from the very top with these fundamental questions to be able to truly understand their wrinkles and nuances to their personality and the tentacles of their business.

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