The photos your show on your website, social media and marketing materials reflect how potential customers view your business, paddling lifestyle / culture and help them determine if you're a good fit.

Here's a few tips to improve your photos used in paddling websites, social media and print marketing:

Use of Generic Stock Photos:

  • Grabbing stock photos that have no relevance to your location, type of paddling or mission will confuse potential customers who may move on to another business or your competition.
  • If you say you have a strong safety ethic and use leashes and PFD's but show stock photos of people wearing none of these, then you are not backing up your own mission and/or company policy.  And it may contradict your risk management plan.
  • If you say you use MTI lifejackets and SurfTech boards but the stock photos don't show these, again you're not showing authenticity and are losing out on getting additional free marketing from the brands you work with.  For example, I work with MTI and they use my class photos for their marketing and tag my business and list my company website.
  • Generic stock photos just look corny.  Real people in real locations using your gear is authentic and genuine.

Stock photo showing really old (60's?) uncomfortable looking life jackets. Boards don't have leashes, photo washed out.






Weird fakey stock photo used by one of my sup business consulting clients. I asked that this one be replaced asap.









Poorly Lit or Dark Photos:

  • Dark, underexposed photos don't sell well.  Where I live in Seattle, folks are very sensitive to the weather. Our paddling business is mostly in the summer, only on sunny days. This means folks don't see value or are excited by cloudy or stormy days. If you show images shot on a sunny day but that look dark, potential customers will think 'that looks cold' or 'I'll wait until summer!'.
  • Only post properly lit images even if lightened in an image editing program. Add warmth (temp), sharpness, contrast, saturation.
  • In Instagram, level horizon in Adjust. Add Brightness, contrast, structure, warmth, saturation, vignette to highlight the subject more, tilt shift to focus on a specific object or person (great for making a bad photo look better) and finally sharpen.  Be careful with the Filters as some get pretty arty. Be consistent with your filters - Be all b/w, color, arty or not. Don't go too crazy on tweaking.

Dark poorly lit uninteresting photo









Well lit and edited photo










Inspire Confidence with your Photos:

  • Too often I see photos on SUP websites with students looking uncomfortable, awkward, in between strokes or sitting.  Your potential customer is already nervous about standing, may have low self-esteem or feel they have bad balance. Or they've already struggled to stand on a rental or bad lesson. You should inspire confidence in your photos. Not only properly lit images but those that show confident students standing and taking a forward stroke (vs changing hands). Or those that have been paddling standing for awhile so are feeling good vs just having stood up 2 secs before and look like they're barely balanced.  If you show folks sitting, then show another photo juxtaposed with the student standing up showing a progression. Or explain why they're sitting - 'Learning to paddle up wind' 'trying kayak (or canoe style)'.
  • Many feel that wearing a vest PFD may be uncomfortable or they've previously had a blocky orange PFD (life jacket) from a rental or lesson.  If you show your students in crappy uncomfortable gear, you'll lose customers.

Dark flat photo and can't see faces. And why is the person kneeling vs standing? Answer to put in caption - Couple after 4m trip down the coast, or viewing marine wildlife underneath, or teaching how to kneel as an alternative.










How to Get Great Photos:

  • Hire a photographer by paying, barter/trade or find a photo student looking to build their portfolio.  Make sure you discuss and create a contract with them prior that you want to show authentic photos of your shop/business/brand vs high fashion or images that don't depict your safety mission (lacking life jackets, leashes etc).  Asking them to shoot editorial style will be the most real pov.
  • Shoot your own via a GoPro or similar camera either hand held, attached to your paddle and on-shore casual portrait style, or group selfie.  Shoot several of each to avoid blinkers, folks looking away or in-between paddle strokes. Raise baseball hat lids to avoid dark eyes.
  • Add a line item to your Waiver asking your customers to allow you to use their photos for marketing.  Essentially the same as a model release.  I've only had one student in 8 years turn this down.
  • Separate elements. Meaning, no telephone pole coming out of paddler's heads, separate paddlers vs blending together. Simplicity sells. Confusion, well, is just confusing and uninteresting.
  • Download an easy to use photo editing app. Search for 'best free photo editing app/software' and start to try a few out that may work for you. I use Lightroom Mobile or just Instagram then re-use those edited photos for other purposes. Keep it simple so you will make and edit great photos vs feeling it's too hard and time consuming.
  • These days you don't need a fancy camera to shoot great photos. I just my iPhone 6s. As a former commercial photographer, I still upload a few of those iPhone images to a stock agency for royalty sales (my former job).  5k camera? Save the money for better paddling equipment for your business or hire a great photographer.
  • Where to find a great photographer? Check the directories for the ASMP, APA, PPA or ask friends for recommendations. You can also start paying attention to local media for photogs shooting similar images. For barter/trades create a contract as those can get iffy or a miscommunication could lead to a bad experience.

Bonus Tip - Want to shoot better photos? Shoot more photos more often. Practice does make perfect. You can also take photo workshops in-person or view how to photo seminars on places like Creative Live and Udemy. Look at live photo workshops at Santa Fe Photo Workshops, Maine Photo Workshops and others.

Post a Daily Photo: For my sup business, I post a daily photo to Instagram which also posts to my business Facebook page. This keeps me shooting and keeps my marketing consistent.

What to Post on Social Media:  Not all photos are happy students. Many show my paddling lifestyle, recent trips, surf outings, product reviews, product tips, companies I support and/or am an ambassador for, beach clean-ups (and beach trash), and marine life.  YouTube can be customer testimonials, how-to's, class video or epic surf sessions.  Always tag each post so it can be found.

Get Your Photos Noticed More: Add an ALT tag to the title of all your images posted online. This means instead of a file name like LASUP-123222.jpg - post something that describes your photo. This will show up in search on Google. So instead do this LASUP-SantaMonica-Surf-SUP.jpg

My business photo pages:

Instagram: and @prosupassociation

Facebook - Salmon Bay Paddle -

Facebook - PSUPA -

Need Help? I do provide personal and group photography workshops and Paddling Business Consulting.  Contact me at or

My Background: Before starting a SUP business in 2010, I was a commercial photographer for 20 years shooting editorial, design and advertising for clients nationwide. I also submitted to stock photo agencies such as Getty. Prior to shooting my own work, I worked in the film business and as a photography assistant in LA and Seattle.  Photography Portfolio