Ok, so I’m a wee bit excited about this! I have been wanting to develop a series of features & interviews with Australia’s top content creators and online creatives for a while now, and I am legit smiling from ear to ear that it’s finally here!
The Cool Creatives series aims to bring you the lowdown on the best tips, tricks, info & workflows from amazing, generous creators, so you can steal all their insider secrets for yourself – whoop!
Our first cab off the rank is the beautiful Katie Jane of Pretty Squares. For those of you who don’t know her, Katie is an incredible stylist, designer & mama, who has been working tirelessly to create an online marketplace that matches super cool content creators with brands who need high quality product imagery. If there is anyone qualified to discuss all things visual content, it’s Katie! She was kind enough to discuss her journey and the challenges brands face in getting their online image polished to perfection, and she gives us her top 5 tips for creating your own Pretty Square!
Tell us a little bit about Pretty Squares and what made you start?
Pretty Squares is a visual content creation service. We match businesses, requiring affordable and engaging styled images, with talented photographic stylists.
I’ve always been a passionate people person and an enthusiastic problem solver. So I knew one day that I wanted to form a business aimed at making a positive difference in people’s lives and businesses.
The creation of Pretty Squares has been a natural progression from my time as a brand representative and product stylist for a variety of food, interior and lifestyle brands.
Throughout that time I witnessed and experienced both the shortness of work for creatives who are either living in an area of low opportunity, or at a stage of their lives where family comes first, as well as the lack of affordable options for businesses needing styled content. So it seemed like a good idea to create a marketplace that solves both of these problems.
We believe that visual content is super important to a brand’s online presence. What have you found to be the biggest challenges small businesses face in getting their images on point?
Yes you’re absolutely right. The imagery is the brand’s identity and sells their value, so it’s hugely important to present your product in the best way possible in all aspects of your advertising.
This doesn’t need to be by hiring a top agency, or even outsourcing to an alternative option such as Pretty Squares, it can be through learning how to take great, clear and well thought out shots yourself. It’s such a priceless ‘owned’ skill to have and will give your business an advantage over it’s competitors.
From speaking to many business owners they seem be lacking the confidence to even have a go at creating their own images. I’d say the technical photography element of our job is probably the most challenging and daunting aspect, and absolutely the most important part to get right. It’s all about practising your lighting, angling, and editing!
My advice? If after having taken a short styling and photography course online, speaking to a mentor and practising your shots you’re still not hitting the mark, perhaps look into finding a brand representative who’ll be happy to take some of your product as compensation for their images. Whilst this is usually a bandaid fix, it may just see you through your launch stage and get your business on the map and onto people’s screens.
What have been the biggest challenges you have had in building your own business online and how have you overcome them?
Challenges are forever hitting me in the face like unexpected meteorites, and are ongoing! It’s all about how you deal with them and not to let it get to you.
Prioritising jobs has been my biggest challenge. You have this incredible idea and goal and you set about creating a business and marketing plan, a website, some PR material, all your social media pages and think you’ve got it all sorted only to realise that you’re only 5% there. You then create a list of things to do and find it’s actually all a top priority!
I’ve learnt from my days renovating to just pick the one thing that you actually feel like doing that day and get it done before moving on to the next. It’s a great feeling ticking things off. That’s my super secret ‘worth it’s weight in gold’ advice, ha!
How important has social media been to growing awareness of Pretty Squares? What has worked / not worked for you?
Social media has been the launching pad for this crazy helicopter ride. I was fortunate enough to be able to leverage off my personal styling accounts that had a great following consisting of small business, PR reps, magazine editors, and all round supportive people. The majority of my conversions have come from social media - it’s imperative to have a strong digital presence!
I think there’s two factors to really consider before signing up to every social media platform. Firstly, you have to really look at who your target customers are. This will determine what channel you should be really focusing on. As I mentioned above, prioritising is so important and will save you so much time. For instance is your target other businesses? Then you should have a strong presence on LinkedIn and Facebook. Is it retail consumers? Then make sure you’re on Instagram and Facebook.
Secondly, determine your product value and niche. Create social media campaigns and be transparent in your offering and point of difference, and of course have beautiful, engaging and consistent visual content!
What are your 5 most important tips for crafting the perfect ‘Pretty Square’?
The background and props you use will determine the overall style of your shot. Consider who your target audience is and style for them and in their environment. This will become your brands identity.
Another cool trick is to find a brand that nails your preferred ‘look’ and study the elements within their images. What is it about this that appeals to you? Why and how are these choices supporting the product? Then try to gather similar props to re-create the style in your own unique way.
This is so important when product styling. You must consider which layout and angle works best to highlight your product.
Sometimes it’s by placing your piece front and centre and allowing it to be the hero among other props. Or it may be that the colour/shape of your product is so striking in comparison to your props that you can set it off to the side for a more curious, edgy style.
Overall I prefer contrasting images that really hone in on the details of the product, I find this style very striking and appealing to most people. Show your product’s value and draw people in to the detail that makes your product unique.
Note from Karli: I actually wrote a blog post a while back about the Foundations of Composition, so if you're interested in diving deeper into this area, go and have a read!
This step will make or break your image! If you don’t get the lighting right then the next two steps are irrelevant and you need to start here again.
Always shoot in natural light, preferably indoors next to a window. Make sure you have at least two white foam boards to reflect light into all angles of your shot (these can be purchased at hardware stores) - you might even need these to shield the reflections on those shiny pieces like sunglasses.
The best time of day to shoot is in the morning with silver skies!
Whether you’re using your phone or DSLR camera, make sure you move around and take the shot in a variety of angles. This gives you more choice when it comes to editing. It’s also a good idea to change up your composition slightly and add/remove props. This technique may also provide you with a more diverse selection of squares to use at no real time cost!
Did I mention to make sure you have your HDR on if using a phone camera?
Note from Karli: New to iPhone photography?? I outlined the camera basics here!
This is where the magic happens and makes you second-guess if it’s actually the same image!! Go back to tip #1, where you found a brand that has your perfect look. Copy these images and your un-edited images to your notes alternately between yours and theirs.
Now it’s time to play ‘spot the difference’!!! How much brighter is their image? Is their white the same as yours? If not, do you need to cool/warm your tones? Do their colours pop more? Are their images more defined? Then use your answers to edit your images in Lightroom, Snapseed, VSCO or Photoshop (or editing program of your choice!). Continue comparing until you feel you’ve achieved the look!
Please don't let this stage of comparing daunt you or make you feel unworthy, I guarantee your style icon has been where you are before.
Katie Jane xx
Is there anything you'd like to know more about when it comes to crafting your 'Pretty Square'? Comment below and Katie & I will do our best to answer all your burning questions!
ABOUT KATIE + PRETTY SQUARES
Katie Jane is an interior designer, stylist & serial renovator. With years of experience working with top lifestyle brands to create engaging product photography, Katie knows brands and how to present them. If you are a business in need of stunning, styled visuals for your website, social media channels or print material, you need Pretty Squares! You can contact Katie at KJ@prettysquares.net. You can also follow Pretty Squares on Instagram (@pretty_squares), LinkedIn & Facebook.