DIY Photography for Your Small Business

You can create your own images quickly, easily, professionally!


My niece, Sienna Ditmore, recently graduated esthetics school and I wanted to help her build a photographic portfolio while also demonstrating how she could create her own visual content for her online portfolio and social media pages. If you’re an esthetician, cosmetologist, artisan or entrepreneur, visual documentation of your work is an important asset and key to staying relevant and drawing in new clients. In this series, “DIY Photography for Your Small Business,” I am going to share the same photography tips and tricks I taught Sienna, so you can apply them to your work too. I will discuss gear essentials and techniques, how to create a catalog of beautiful images you can use to build a visually dynamic website, stock images you can use to create your own unique social media engagements and down-and-dirty tricks to capturing solid, beautiful portraits of your clients.

Sienna applies foundation to her client, Cali, during a portfolio building session in Charleston, SC. (Image taken by Stacy L. Pearsall with the Nikon Z 7 and NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4s lens)

Potential clients devour visual content every day and are very clever consumers who recognize quality when they see it. They critically judge the superiority of an artisan’s work by how it’s presented in an image. If the picture is awful, they swipe and move on. Therefore the quality of images you capture directly impacts a potential client’s first impressions. In short, if you take mediocre pictures of a banging hairstyle, it’s likely the viewer won’t appreciate your efforts, or even really “see it.” That goes for anyone trying to sell his or her creations through pictures. If Sienna is going to build a client base, she’ll not only have to know how to contour with make-up and shape an arched-brow like a boss, she’ll need to be able to capture dynamic, quality images of her creations too.

A natural window light portrait of Sienna’s model, Cali, after completing her make-up portfolio piece. (Image taken by Stacy L. Pearsall with the Nikon Z 7 and NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 using the FTZ Mount Adapter)

For those of you who do not know, esthetics is the specialization of beauty and skin care. Estheticians like Sienna perform a wide range of services to include facials, wax treatments, lash and brow tinting, make-up and more. Like most specialized job descriptions, hers does not include photography or media. In a world driven by views and clicks, it should be in the top-ten. Like most new esthetics and cosmetology graduates, Sienna literally has no quality content to build her brand, her website or social media pages.

Tip: With a little ingenuity, a spark of creativity and a few minutes of your time, you can create super-cool pictures to use for your business. Here’s an example of what Sienna and I did, and what you can do too!

As most entrepreneurs do, Sienna could license stock images but it won’t be her own creations featured in the images and it costs money. She could hire a pro photographer, but she’d have to do so frequently to keep her content up-to-date and that costs money. Instead of seeing any entrepreneur pay for stock images multiple artisans use, I’d rather you invest that capital in a camera kit you can use create your own pictures over the course of your career. That’s what I’ve recommended to Sienna. That’s what I encourage you to do as well.

A pallet of eyeshadow is prepped with lights for a still life image Sienna can use on her website. The image will be taken with the Nikon Z 7 and NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 using the FTZ Mount Adapter. The lights used are a household LED light panel found at any hardware store and a Manfrotto Lumimuse 8 LED.

Let’s talk gear for a moment. I know you’ve probably been snapping pics using your smart phone, but frankly a smart phone’s camera capabilities are limited and the quality is just okay. If you want to do killer portraits and product shots, you’ll have to invest in a proper camera and lens(s) kit. If you’re anything like Sienna, and every other entrepreneur just striking out, you don’t have much pocket money. That’s perfectly understandable. You don’t have to break the bank to get your hands on a starter kit. A Nikon D3500 with two lenses is less than $500, a Nikon D750 with one lens is less than $1,800 and a Nikon Z 6 with FTZ Adapter and one lens is less than $2,750. 

I know you’re probably wondering what the difference is between the cameras other than price and it all comes down to file size, capability and quality. I’ll keep this brief and in lay terms as best I can. Most smart phones like the one Sienna carries in her back pocket have 12 megapixel cameras while an entry-level Nikon D3500 has 24.2 megapixels. Basically this means the Nikon D3500 can record double the amount of data than Sienna’s phone can and produce higher quality files to boot. More megapixels means better quality photos. Keep this in mind too; megapixels mean nothing if you’re using a cloudy, scratched lens. Have a look at your phone’s camera lens. Is it covered in finger grease like mine? It’s probably riddled with scratches from being in and out of your pocket just like Sienna’s too. Those imperfections are impossible to work around when you’re trying to capture sharp, quality images.

Tip: There are three sensor types Nikon offers: DX, FX and BSI FX. The smallest is the DX format, which is a cropped sensor in the Nikon D3500. Then there’s the FX sensor, which is equivalent to a 35mm film and considered a “Full Frame.” The FX sensor is in the Nikon D750. Finally, there’s Back Side Illuminated BSI FX, which is also full frame and enhances low-light capture capability. The Nikon Z 6 has the BSI FX sensor within. 

Nikon Z 6 featured in this picture has the BSI FX sensor within. 
The AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR that comes in the Nikon D3500 kit

An entry-level NIKKOR lens like the one that comes with the Nikon D3500 kit has clarity, range, multi-layered optical coating, vibration reduction, distortion reduction, auto-focus and more. In translation, it captures clean, sharp images with little to no flare or distortion. Plus, you can’t stick it in your back pocket, nor will you feel inclined to swipe your thumb across the lens. Well you could, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. 

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. Here’s the short of it. No matter what phone camera you have now, any entry level DSLR and lens will blow its capabilities out of the water. Let me put it to you like this… Every blush compact comes with a dinky blush-brush included – it works, but it’s not ideal. Instead of using the cheap plastic throw-away brush, you buy a dedicated, pro-level brush with domed shaped tip and luxurious, smooth applicator bristles. Why? Because that’s all it was engineered to do – apply and blend blush perfectly.

Like Sienna, and so many others, you may be thinking about convenience. The phone is always with you, yes. However, the phone’s camera is not good enough, nor does it have the capability to produce the quality, professional images your career demands and deserves. Leave your phone for calls and your camera for taking pictures. 

Tip: You may be looking at an entry-level camera now because it’s on the low end of your budget. That’s understandable. Please consider the long term before you make any purchases. A DX format camera is good. It’ll get the job done for you and do it better than any smart phone camera out there. An FX format camera is great. It’ll out perform any DX camera in terms of quality and capability. And there’s the BSI FX sensor, which is the best there is bar none. It doesn’t get better than that. If you can afford to get an FX or BSI FX sensor camera, do it. It’ll save you from upgrading your gear once you realize how amazing creating your own pictures can be!

An eye shadow pallet from Sienna’s make-up kit is lit with a household LED light panel covered in blue gel and a Manfrotto Lumimuse 8 LED light panel with yellow gel. (Image taken by Stacy L. Pearsall with the Nikon Z 7 and NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 using the FTZ Mount Adapter)


Where We’ve Been

States visited in GRAY // States yet to visit in ORANGE

Where We’ve Been

If you’d like to see where the Veterans Portrait Project has been, simply have a look below. Each gallery link will take you to a gallery that features portraits taken on that day, in that city, in that state. If you see the same city multiple times, it’s not a mistake. We just did back-to-back shoot days in that location. Each event is listed in order of date, so take your time and have fun learning more about our American heroes!

If you see your state in ORANGE, we still need to get there. You can help us get there! Learn how to host a VPP event HERE. If you can’t be a host, you can always contribute by making a DONATION.

If you see your state in GRAY, you can find the gallery(s) of images from your state below.

VPP at Raritan High School in Hazlet, NJ

I was invited by high school teacher, Teresa Genneralli, to bring the Veterans Portrait Project to Hazlet, NJ. Naturally, I said yes. It was an opportunity for me to teach students, reach out to a new community and photograph veterans all at the same time. Teresa included another teacher, Rosemarie Wilkinson, whose students were going to interview the veterans and write-up something on each other them. She was also nice enough to house my assistant, Trish, and me for our brief visit.

Here’s a quick video showcasing the Raritan High School VPP session and educational outreach day!

It was wonderful to hear the young students say, “Thank you for your service,” to the veterans. Plus, the students did a great job behind the camera! See for yourself below…

Click HERE to see the gallery portraits the students captured during our time with the veterans.

VPP Introduction

A behind the scenes look at Stacy Pearsall’s Veterans Portrait Project as she travels across the United States taking portraits of American military veterans.

House of Love Jewelry
[I start the shoot day with a self-portrait while visiting the VFW Post in Pleasanton, California.]

Black-and-white photos of WWII, Korean, Vietnam, OEF and OIF veterans make up just a portion of my Veterans Portrait Project (VPP). Some of my subjects are smiling, and others are gazing at a distant point, but in each, an unseen light catches the emotion in their eyes.
As a veteran of more recent wars, I try to capture the veteran’s character and the experience etched in their faces while listening to their recollections of war and their time in service.

House of Love Jewelry

Like most photographers’ personal projects, I’d begun the VPP without any intent of it getting so immense and far reaching. I certainly didn’t anticipate it would have such an enormous societal impact. Really, it started as a gift of my talents to my fellow veterans – a free portrait as my way of saying, “Thank you for your service.” During the course of my physical rehabilitation from combat injuries in 2008, I brought my camera and mini-studio to my doctor’s appointments. I took ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, eighty portraits of veterans at a time. However many I could manage in the window of time I was afforded.

Eventually, I began to set up my studio at my local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital outside of my appointment times and spent four to six hours taking veterans’ portraits. A creative director from the VA asked to see some of the portraits I was producing. She liked them so much; she asked if a permanent exhibition of the work could be displayed prominently down the main hall of the medical facility.
I was gob smacked. I’d never intended the portraits to be seen by anyone other than the veteran and myself. Alas, the exhibit was installed with prints larger than life, and each veteran’s name and branch of service showcased alongside. People from the region traveled in to see the exhibit, and what started as a personal project evolved into a fulltime philanthropic endeavor.

Veterans who’d sat for a portrait in Charleston, South Carolina, told their friends in North Carolina and Georgia and the word kept spreading further and further out. They all wanted me to bring the fledgling project to their areas and do the same thing for their veterans. Quiet frankly, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from individuals and organizations such as USAA and the Veterans of Foreign War, and the enthusiasm of veterans who wanted to be part of the VPP.

Furthermore, as a wounded combat veteran every portrait I took brought me one step closer to being healed. I’d found my path to recovery occupationally, physically and most importantly, emotionally.

House of Love Jewelry
[I wait for veterans to arrive at the VFW Post in Tomball, Texas.]

House of Love Jewelry
[I figure out the set-up of the VPP studio at the 2013 VFW Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky.]


With the support of USAA, I set about taking the VPP on a nationwide tour in 2013. I traveled with an eight-foot white roll paper background that I shipped in a homemade PVC pipe container my husband made.
I had four Elinchrom BXRi 500 compact flash heads, a Gossen Digisky light meter, a strip softbox, a square softbox, two reflector dishes, a Manfrotto backdrop stand, six Manfrotto stackable light stands, two A-clamps, two Justin clamps, four extension cables, two power strips, a collapsible foot stool, a gardener’s foam knee pad, two hundred model release forms, two clipboards, twenty pens, spare flash tubes, spare modeling light bulbs, Gaffer’s tape and a multi-tool. All of this equipment was distributed into my Kata LW-97W PL and LW-88W PL organizer cases and the light stands and backdrop system were transported in a Kata LS series bag. In total, my entire portable studio systems weights in around 150 pounds.

I didn’t want to chance any rough handling by airport workers, or risk having my camera bag be a no-show at my arrival destination so I always carried my two Nikon D800 camera bodies, and a variety of NIKKOR lenses, my laptop, hard drives and other essential accessories with me at all times.
Often, I’d have to fly on smaller regional jets and my gear just barely fit in the overhead. In those instances, I’d have to keep it at my feet.
Once I arrived, each location offered new problems that needed to be solved whether that was low ceilings, space restrictions, power shortages, high foot traffic and the like.
If I wanted to do any full-length portraits, I needed a minimum of a ten by twenty foot space. I had to make sure there was enough distance between the background and subject, so the light didn’t spill over onto the subject’s face. And also needed enough camera-to-subject distance to achieve compositional flexibility.

© Veterans portraits and story by Stacy L. Pearsall, Behind the Scenes images by Des’ola Mecozzi