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)