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SSW Photography Guide

by Derrick Cui February 28, 2020

SSW Photography Guide

Photography is considered by many a subjective art form. However, there are some basic tips that I'll cover to give your photos the best chance at being aligned with what we are looking for here at SSW Off-road. If you are reading this as a sponsored driver, presentable HD photos are a part of your responsibilities, so keep these tips in mind for yourself or your photographer! 

There are three fundamental things that must be actively considered every time you take a photo, or at least when first starting. Lighting, Focus, and Composition. These three are all equally important, and work hand in hand to create a balanced photograph that is pleasing to the eye.  


On the surface, lighting seems simple. "Make sure there's enough light to take a photo." For many, this may be as far as it is considered. However, if careful consideration isn't put towards lighting as a factor, photos can come out wildly inconsistent. Because of the nature of what we do, a majority of the photos we receive are taken outdoors. Which means during the day, the sun is usually our primary light source. Unfortunately for us, the sun is also very dynamic. 

We can't move the sun around like a studio light, and as far as I know, adjusting the intensity is definitely out of the question. So we need to do a little bit of planning to be able to use it to our advantage. If at all possible, taking your photos right around sunrise or sunset usually yields the most favorable lighting.

As the diagram above shows, this period of time is often known as Golden Hour or Blue Hour depending on the location of the sun relative to the horizon. The reason this is favorable is because, during mid-day, the sun is usually high above and the light is very intense. What's wrong with that, you may ask? Well the combination of intense light coming from a high angle usually means a couple things. 

1. Extremely pronounced shadows

2. Stark lighting contrasts

Obviously these things don't make it impossible to capture a good photo, but it does increase the difficulty. Take this Photo:

The background is properly exposed, however the wheels and side of the truck are not. If we were to increase exposure until the wheels were properly defined, the rest of the photo would be washed out and way too bright. We could move the truck, or move the photographer, but regardless, harsh direct sunlight tends to be less than ideal. Here instead is a photo taken right after the sun has set:

Note the softer shadows, even lighting and more natural colors. These photos were taken with the same camera, to better showcase the difference lighting can make. With less light however, shutter times will usually need to be longer, which in turn requires a steadier hand, or a tripod.

We understand that it's not always possible to wait until the sun is setting to get a photo. There are some tricks you can try to get more even lighting. Here's an example of a customer who came in and picked up a set of wheels during the day. Obviously we can't have him wait for three hours so we can get a picture, so we moved him to an area of shade behind the warehouse.

Since the entire truck is in the shade, you don't have to worry about the truck itself drawing shadows or causing sharp contrast. The trade-off is that the sky behind is overexposed, but at least the truck and it's details are not difficult to view. There are other solutions such as HDR photography, but knowing these fundamentals are a good place to start. 

Focus and Composition

Next is how we structure the photo with focus and composition. Composition refers to how the subject of the photo is framed, and where it/he/she sits within the photo. Focus refers to which part of the photo is defined and which is blurry, from the perspective of depth. Both work together to set the environment and the atmosphere around the subject. 

The most common composition of a photo is front and center. Especially from a product photography standpoint, this is usually the most common. Sometimes however, especially when we are outdoors, the background can contribute just as much as the subject itself. This is when we can utilize the rule of thirds to allow more of the background to come through.  Here are some examples: 

Note how when the photograph is cut into thirds vertically and horizontally, the subject still falls at the intersection of two of these lines. Although the subject isn't centered, the photos don't feel lopsided or off center. This technique allows us to see more of where the subject is, and creates a sense of immersion. Long story short, if you are taking a photo with the subject centered, make sure it is actually centered. If using the rule of thirds, try to place the subject at one of these intersections.

In this photo, we run into some issues with both focus and composition. The focus is biased more towards the grass in the foreground of the picture rather than the wheels/truck. Also, the composition places the subject not centered, nor on any third. The result is a photo that feels a bit unbalanced and leaves your eyes kind of wandering. Even though this particular photo has some issues, there were photos in this set that we're very good. Which is a reminder that going out and taking any photos at all, is still better than not even trying. 

A helpful tip, almost every camera has an option to bring up grid lines to assist with this. As you get more comfortable, again, you don't have to strictly adhere to these rules, but as with the previous fundamentals, this is a good place to start.

Now get out there and tag us in some beautiful photos! 


Derrick Cui
Derrick Cui

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