There’s a lot of advice out there as to what makes a good blog. Everyone knows that content is king, and it is – strong, engaging content is key to catching your reader’s attention on their first visit and their 100th visit. What we don’t tend to focus on, however, is our images. Your images count for nearly 80% of your reader’s attention. Read that again, and again, and again until it sinks in, ’cause your images are indisputably the most important thing on your blog. No matter how much of a wordsmith you are, your text is a distant second to the photos you post. Sorry. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s one any digital content creator needs to remember: your photographs matter.
What I’m going to quickly cover in this post are five little tips to help you get the most out of your camera, be it a $200 point and shoot or a $2000 DSLR. I’m using my own little sub-$200 Canon Ixus as the example, because it ties into something I think is really important when it comes to photography – it’s not the camera that matters, it’s how you use it. If you’re taking subpar pictures on a cheap camera, spending huge wads of cash on a more expensive camera will not make your photographs better. Sorry, yo. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but it’s always better to know how to use the tools you have.
The material in this tutorial is also applicable to blogs that cover food, fashion, accessories and tech, or anywhere where there’s a strong focus on taking images of static objects. For great tips on taking portraits and action shots I recommend the excellent blog Sesame Ellis by Rachel Devine, and for the art of iPhone selfies you can’t go past this Styling You post by Nikki Parkinson.
My ultimate goal is to get your camera off automatic shooting mode and into manual/program mode. Even the dinkiest little point and shoot is capable of taking stunning shots, but you need to know how to use it first. Your readers want to see beautiful images, so let’s learn how to give it to them!
Blogger Photography Tip #1 – Banish Flash
Ditch the flash and invest in ambient light. Yup, you heard me. Bid farewell to flash forever. Using the flash on your camera is the fastest way to give your photograph extra shadows, blasted out colours, glaring shine and enough lens flares to make J.J Abrams jealous. Have you ever seen a picture where someone has left the flash on and taken a photo of their new compact/phone/lipstick/book/something shiny? It turns into a big over/under-exposed mess full of harsh lines and it doesn’t look too visually appealing.
Turn off your flash forever and instead either find a nice brightly lit spot with lots of diffused sunlight, or make a simple photography spot on a table with a few desk lamps scattered around to provide adequate lighting. If you want to go to the expense of investing in a light tent then feel free, but I find that a sheet of white cardboard and a few cheap reading lamps from the hardware store is more than suitable for my own use. As long as you have enough light for your camera to ‘see’ by without the help of flash, your images will be clean and crisp no matter what.
By turning off flash and instead shooting under even ambient light, your images will appear much more true to life and have a much more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Photography Tip #2- Use Macro Mode
Macro mode makes for mighty images. Did you know your camera has three different mode of focus depending on how close your subject is? It does, and they’re called macro – normal – infinity. They help your camera to make sense of what you’re putting in its viewfinder, and act as guides to help the lens focus correctly. Most of the time you will want to be shooting in macro mode, universally represented by an icon of a tulip. When taking a picture of, say, a lipstick tube, I put the camera into macro mode and hold the camera between ten and thirty centimetres from the lipstick. By using macro mode the camera knows to focus on the closest object (the lipstick) and won’t attempt to put anything else into focus (background objects).
Remember that your camera’s ability to focus itself begins to drop off when your battery is running low, so always keep a charged spare handy.
Using macro mode will allow you take clear close-up photographs without blurriness.
Photography Tip #3 – Master White Balance
Becoming a wizard at white balance is the first step towards creating great photos. Adjusting your white balance allows your camera to properly see the true colour of your subject under different lighting conditions. Even though they both look white to our eyes, a camera might perceive a desk lamp as having a very yellow light, or a fluorescent bulb as being very blue. Put your camera into the right white balance mode and you’ll immediately see your photographs and swatches looking much more colour accurate.
While the human eye is very good at perceiving different temperatures of light and adjusting your colour perception to create an image that you see as being colour correct, your camera isn’t quite as smart. If you take a photograph under a lightbulb that produces warm golden light, the photograph you create will be tinted yellow. If you take a photograph under diffused sunlight, your picture will be tinted slightly blue. Your camera perceives light literally and needs a little assistance to compensate for the temperature of the light you’re shooting under, aka how warm or cool the light is.
Some of the most common sources of light you’ll encounter are:
- Contemporary daylight CFL bulbs – use Fluorescent H mode to stop your photograph from looking blue.
- Old style filament light bulbs – use Tungsten mode to stop your photograph from looking yellow.
- Diffused light shining in through an open window – use Cloudy mode to stop your photograph from looking blue/grey.
White balance is how you can make your camera compensate for the light you have. By letting your camera know what sort of light it’s looking at, it can apply some quick and clever algorithms to compensate and produce an image where the colours are bright, clean and correct.
By matching the right white balance mode against the light you’re shooting under, you’ll always create photographs that turn out exactly how you want them to look.
Photography Tip #4 – Embrace Exposure
There’s little worse than a grey, muddy-looking, under-exposed picture. Put simply exposure is a measure of how much light is allowed to hit your camera’s image sensor – too little light will give a greyish murky image, while too much light will give an image that’s washed out and pale.
While most digital cameras are smart enough to work out exposure settings themselves, a little tweaking of your exposure settings can be beneficial and help to create really lush, bright and attractive photographs. Exposure is typically measured on a scale of -2 – 0 – +2. The lower the number, the less light will be used to create your photograph. 0 is a standard exposure setting, while -1 underexposes your photograph (good if you’re using an extremely bright lamp or shooting a light product against a white background) and +1 overexposes your photograph (shooting a dark product against a white background, or using indirect lighting). I typically have my camera set at +1 to make my images ‘pop’ against the stark white background I prefer in my blog photographs.
By embracing exposure you will create vibrant, attractive photographs that never look muddy or washed out.
Photography Tip #5 – Photoshop Is Not A Crime
Image editing is the secret weapon that turns a good photograph into a great photograph. Learning how to edit your images is the #1 way to make your already good photograph into an amazing product feature, beauty swatch or hero shot. Cropping your images, adjusting levels and contrast, removing dust and smudges, and a dozen other small and unobtrusive tricks are basic things that you should be doing to make your photographs stand out from the pack. At a minimum you should always crop your photographs in a way that emphasises the subject of the image, run basic image levels and contrast, and remove anything that distracts from your image. It is perfectly ok to erase a pimple or a cuticle smudge and never let anyone tell you otherwise ;)
While you can tweak your photographs in picture editing software, remember that Photoshop can’t save a bad photograph. Focus on the basics of constructing a good photograph – composition, lighting and colour – and eventually you’ll be producing great images that only need minimal, if any, image editing.
Image editing is the final touch that turns a good photograph into a great photograph. Never be afraid to tweak your image to create the best result possible.
Never be afraid to get off automatic mode and start experimenting with your camera. By learning how to use the manual shooting modes available on even the cheapest point and shoot cameras, you can create amazing images that look like they’ve been produced with professional equipment worth ten times as much. As I said in the intro, my ultimate goal is to get your camera off automatic shooting mode and into manual/program mode. Even the dinkiest little point and shoot is capable of taking stunning shots, but you need to know how to create them first! I’ve barely touched the surface of camera or editing tips and tricks in this post so if you have any questions at all, please ask! I’m more than happy to help.
By becoming confident with your camera and mastering white balance, focus and exposure, you’ll be sure to take consistently better photos each and every time. Happy snapping!