Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Blog Photography
From battling temperamental natural daylight to finding the right composition, blog photography can be frustrating and time consuming work. To me, there's no feeling more rewarding than finally getting that perfect shot and it's been pretty cool to see my skills improve and develop in the six years I've been running this online space of mine. Photography is also arguably the element of blogging that has the most impact; it's the first thing people will notice about your blog and it's the first thing people will be attracted by. After reading Rebecca's blog post, My Photography Process for My Blog & Instagram and discussing with her my own process, it got me thinking about what I've learnt about blog photography over the years. I decided to flesh out these thoughts of mine and this post is the result from what Rebecca inspired. It's not going to teach you anything technical because our unique setups and photography styles means it's not a one-size-fits-all thing, but perhaps by getting to know my perspective on blog photography, you can take a new and inspiring approach to yours.
1. Getting to know your camera
While you definitely don't need an expensive DSLR camera to blog, the chances are that you'll probably find yourself wanting to invest in one at some point or already own one simply because you're a creative type and that's why you have a blog in the first place. I bought my very first DSLR camera (a Canon EOS 350D) secondhand from a mate at uni (just because I was interested in photography; I was reading beauty blogs, but hadn't started my own yet) and I remember the first thing that I did was ask my LiveJournal friends for advice on how to use it. Only shoot in Manual, is what they told me. I got the basics of aperture, ISO and shutter speed down pat simply by snapping away and since the beginning, I have never ever shot in Auto mode. There's nothing wrong with Auto mode per se, but DSLR cameras are a lot of money and it just seems like a total waste if you're not going to take full advantage of its capabilities. Shooting in Manual can be tricky and even frustrating at first, but it'll give you more control over your surroundings and because of that, I've actually always found Auto really difficult to use. Trial and error is all part of the experience and you'll feel proud once you see your skills flourishing. I took a few photography units while I was at university too, but I mostly put knowing how to use a camera down to simply playing around and experimenting. By my second year of blogging, I upgraded to the 600D (it's what I still use today, but I'd like to upgrade again next year) and I've always stuck with Canon because that's what I learnt to use at uni and because I used to use their compact cameras (this is going back before phones had good cameras!). Another important thing to note - don't believe for a second that you need the latest and greatest camera to take good photos. Technology advances way too rapidly to be able to afford to keep up and at the end of the day, it's not the camera that takes the photo, it's you. I'll leave you with this funny quote by Sam Haskins that I stumbled upon on Tumblr:
A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said, "I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera".
He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:
"That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove".
2. Where you source your inspiration
From the films I watch to the music I listen to, inspiration can come from anywhere and I think it's so important that it's sourced from a wide variety of places. As I was saying to Rebecca, I feel like if you're sourcing your inspiration from a singular place, you're only going to end up completely emulating them as opposed to developing your own style. When I've tried this in the past, I even found that it more often lead to comparison rather than inspiration and I ended up feeling more uninspired than when I started. Obviously, I enjoy the light and airy aesthetic like most bloggers and we're all here because of our similar interests, but I've always felt the most inspired by things outside of blogging. Music and film have a big influence on me; I listen to a lot of dreamy and atmospheric sounding music and I've always loved Sofia Coppola's cinematography (I once made a playlist and was told it sounded like a Sofia Coppola soundtrack, which was the best compliment ever), both of which I like to think translate in my photography. There are also little things like flicking through a magazine, getting lost in my own thoughts or buying a posy of flowers that can give me a sudden burst of inspiration too. It's only natural to feel inspired by more obvious sources like your favourite bloggers, Pinterest and Instagram - I'm not saying that I'm not or that my style is completely original - but take bits and pieces from here and there and make something of your own from them. If you turn to your other creative pursuits and think outside the box a little, you'll find it helps just as much, if not more.
3. Clean products and makeup brushes
I'm going to give it to you straight - grubby products and dirty makeup brushes are a huge turn off in blog photos. Now, I'm not saying everything has to look pristine and untouched, but there's a difference between something that's used and something that's in dire need of a wipe down. Nobody wants to see those foundation fingerprints everywhere or a makeup brush caked in product! More than taking pride in your photos, this is about taking pride and looking after your belongings too. Having said all this, used products and makeup brushes can give that effortless vibe and evoke more realism in an image, but be mindful and pay attention to makeup smudges, dust and just how used your brushes are because I think it can go a long way in producing a better quality photo. Some bloggers prefer taking photos of their products before they begin using them and though I used to do this in the past, I eventually became too impatient for that. If there's something the naked eye couldn't catch and that I only notice when I zoom in on Photoshop, I'll go in with the Clone Stamp Tool to edit things out. Perhaps it's a little pedantic, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist who can't help but notice these things.
4. Making the most of your environment
As much as I wished I lived in my own home with wooden floorboards and marble surfaces everywhere, I can't afford that and by no means should you ever feel inadequate or that you can't take beautiful photos just because you can't either. You can add so much personality to basic IKEA furniture and so long as you have a good light source coming from a window where you shoot, that's really all you need. The possibilities are endless when it comes to sprucing up blog photos; plants, marble vinyl adhesive, coloured cardboard, bedding, books, magazines, jewellery, flooring samples, stationery, candles, home decor, etc. I know blogging has become quite fancy-looking and editorial these days, but blogging is whatever you want it to be and in some respects, I think it's great to see people developing their photography skills. From renting to moving back home, I'm lucky that I've always been able to turn my bedrooms into something quite nice for shooting in and I'm blessed with an almost floor to ceiling window in my current room too. Having said that, living in a city where the sun shines pretty much all year round means that the clouds don't often make an appearance to diffuse the sunlight. This can make it difficult to achieve that soft focus effect while also messing with the temperature, but since moving back home, I've learnt to work my way around this and appreciate the warm glow in some of my photos. Tying in with #1, I adjust my camera settings according to my light source and whether you live somewhere sunny or gloomy or depending on the season, it's still possible to produce great photos without investing in artificial lighting and living in a Pinterest-worthy home. If you know Photoshop or any other photo editing software, they can fix and enhance your photos too.
5. Not being afraid to try new things
Everyone has their comfort zone when it comes to taking blog photos, but I don't like becoming too comfortable or complacent because I get bored otherwise. If I had to shoot my photos in the exact same setup for every single post, I'd probably stop blogging, to be honest. I don't know what it was - it was probably down to my new surroundings - but as soon as I moved back to Perth a few months ago, I all of a sudden found myself uninspired by my photography and in need of a change. Don't get me wrong, it's absolutely fine to stick with the same setup, but for myself, I enjoy mixing things up while remaining consistent with my light and airy aesthetic. At the moment, I find the still life style of photography really fun as I find it provides a lot more freedom in changing things up than flatlays do, and although I mostly shoot my photos on my dressing table, using different props and angles keeps things from looking too samey. It can get difficult visualising new and interesting ideas, so if I'm feeling uninspired, I find it helps to just pick up the camera and play around with setups. Occasionally, the photos don't end up on my blog, but most of the time, I'll surprise myself and accidentally get a really cool shot. Not long ago, I also made the switch to portrait feature blog photos and I've been absolutely loving the change. Of course, there's no right or wrong way to take blog photos, but you don't learn anything new by doing the same thing over and over and for me, it's important that I challenge myself and that I'm never stagnant in my creativity.
6. Your words are just as important
Visuals are our first port of call in attracting readers to our blogs, but I certainly don't believe they're the most important thing and I think we should treat our words with just as much significance. Words provide us with information and opinions, and if a blogger isn't really saying much about a product beyond, "This makes my skin look amazing and it smells so good!", I'm not going to keep going back to that blog. You don't have to write essay-long blog posts, but for me, I'm more likely to read and appreciate a post when the blogger has taken the time to write a descriptive and honest review as it means I don't have to keep searching for the information that I'm after. What are the pros and cons of this particular product? The ingredients? If you like it, who do you think this wouldn't be suited for? What made you buy it? Thinking critically is a good life skill to have and as blogging has shifted to a more commercialised platform, it's never been more important than ever. It's not just about providing information either; I like sharing an anecdote and telling a story through my words too because it's a way of being relatable and connecting with people. My favourite blogs are the ones with a lot of personality; the ones where you can truly get to know the blogger as a person and are engaging and compelling in more ways than just their photos. Whether you're succinct or prefer being a little more thorough like I do, don't let your photos do all the heavy lifting because there's only so much they can do and they definitely aren't the be-all and end-all of a good blog.
What do you think makes a difference in blog photography?