I’m not a good photographer. There, I said it. I need all the photography tips I can get. You can peruse my blog, scan posts from the past, and witness evidence to this claim. I’ve posted some photos that show off my lack of photography skills, unfortunately.
I’ve also mentioned before that I used to be the queen of close-up finger shots, and how thankful I am for digital photography and the instant gratification (and editing opportunities) that it provides. The amount of money I’ve wasted on photo development is embarrassing. No one wants to pay for pictures that show off extreme close-ups of his/her derma on the extremities. Hence this article on photography tips for bloggers and online sellers, from a non-expert who needs them. Thanks to these tips (some of which I’ve gathered from others, some of which I’ve learned by trial and error), I’ve improved my blog and product photography immensely. Now, I’d like to pass some of these tips along to you.
First of all, I would like to point out the importance of original photos on your blog or seller site. Ripping off other people’s photos is a big no-no in the internet world, and could cost you in the form of a) having to remove the photos from your site or possibly, b) lawsuits. Personally, I’m against these things happening to me, but you have at it if you’re a risk-taker. Plagiarism is not my thing, and I never use someone else’s photo without permission or accreditation. It’s very simple to type in “Photo Credit: Phred Phenworthy (ex.)”, and it’ll protect your beautiful website from being targeted by an angry photographer. There are plenty of free stock photos online, as well, so if you must use someone else’s photos, take the time and effort to procure some. This might be the most important photography tip I can share, so read this again if you need too.
Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned when it comes to photography is to shoot in the correct lighting. Shadows and dark spots and icky, yellowish hues do nothing for your pictures. If you want high-quality, bright, cheery pictures, shoot on sunny days in indirect sunlight, or outdoors on an overcast day. When I’m shooting product photography (taking pictures of my Etsy listings), I always do it on a sunny day, outdoors, on the North side of my house. I set up my backdrop, which is a table-top of sorts, on my deck railing, lay a white piece of foam board on top, and sometimes use a cloth backdrop on top of that, depending on the colors in the item I am shooting. Some pieces look best with a white background,
but with some of my more brightly-colored items, a tan or neutral setting is better.
Play around with your backdrops and different areas to find the best lighting for what you’re taking pictures of, because it’s worth the effort.
Here is my set-up.
I have to use the step stool to get the right angle, and I spend lots of time climbing up and down, halfway up, halfway down, teetering on the edge, and then cropping out the surroundings. It works for me. Sometimes the deck gets a little slimy and makes this job treacherous, but it’s good fodder for the dogs (Roll is photo-bombing) and Madre to laugh at. It’s preferable to have an assistant hand me things, but I don’t always have someone around, so I just go up and down, up and down.
Play around with your angles to minimize shadows, and pay attention to the surroundings in your frame before shooting. I often have to move things around and clean up a little to get a good shot, and it saves time to look through the frame for a few seconds first, so I don’t have to re-take the shot. No one wants to see your messy house, underwear strewn around, or reflections of you half-naked in the background. Not that I take pictures when I’m half-naked…. Here’s one I did indoors.
For smaller objects, you could also take advantage of a lightbox, which is pretty easy to make yourself. Shining light on the object from above and the sides, through a filter, helps eliminate shadows and creates a clean, bright shot that will grab attention. It looks more professional, and you’ll be so proud of the pictures you created by taking this extra step. The best tutorials I’ve found for making your own lightbox are here and here. You can purchase one, if you’d rather, for around $30. Google it, you’ll find a bunch to choose from. It’s cheaper to make your own, and it’s not difficult at all. I made one a long time ago, but it got damaged when we moved here to Big Creek, so I’ve been taking advantage of the great outdoors ever since.
There are several fun ways to edit your photos, and the method you choose depends on what kind of camera you use. I take 99.9% of my pictures on my iPhone 4s (I’m always a few phones behind), and I get so much use out of the photo editing gadgets right there on my phone. Using these tools is the difference between crappy shots and beautiful shots. There are several editing features on my phone, and if you have a newer, better phone than me, you probably have even more. I use the crop feature,
the light-adjusting feature,
and the filters
all. the. time. There’s color adjustment, a rotator, and numerous other tools right at your disposal. I never use a photo I snapped on my phone on the internet without using one or more of these features, and neither should you!
Sometimes, when I want more options or want to add text or filters to my shots, I go to my favorite online editing resource: picmonkey.com. You can create collages, posters, and a gazillion other neat pictures with this amazing tool, and it’s free (unless you want to upgrade and have a gazillion more options). Just last week I made these simple edits
and created a fun Valentine’s theme on my Facebook page in minutes! I even made this cute collage to advertise a coupon code for my Etsy shop, and used it all over social media.
Another great editing tool is Instagram. It’s not only social media, it’s a photo editor. See this post. Instagram is my absolute favorite social media site, because it helps me take my pics from zero to hero in no time! The filters are fantastic, and it pays to take the time to look at your image with each and every filter before deciding. Thanks to Pooh, my teenager, I now have a handful of new filters to play with on Instagram. She never shows me how she does these things, just says “give it here” with exasperation, takes my phone, twiddles around with it for a second, and flops it back at me, all “here!” I’m grateful, but I can’t share what she did to get these for me, because I’m also clueless.
When I’m using my phone and don’t have access to my laptop, I use an app called Pic Stitch. Pooh has had to tutor me with it a few times, as well. You can create cute collages, add text, and probably a multitude of other things that I haven’t even figured out yet. When I want to share a few different angles of an item or subject on Instagram, I pop into PicStitch first and make a quick collage.
It works, because I sold that pink striped cape just yesterday! Just go to your App Store and download PicStitch; it’s free, and you can get more new layouts for free just by watching short videos on occasion.
The key to good editing is taking as many shots as necessary, sorting through them, editing the best ones and tossing the rest. Yes, it takes time and effort, but anything worth doing does. You’ll be glad you did, trust me. I always end up with a few crazies in the mix, blurry shots that I thought were going to be perfect, so it pays to take several.
Product Shots vs Social Media Shots
If you’re an online seller taking product shots, you’ll want to keep the pictures simple and clean, and you want the product to be the first thing that is noticed. Adding a ton of props or watermarks distracts from the item you are trying to sell, so it’s best to just focus on the item itself. Adding a little something for a more interesting photo is ok, but too much can be really distracting. I like for my product shots to be of my product and nothing else, so it’s important that the clarity, color and lighting are spot-on (hence the outdoor set-up, see “lighting” above).
On the other hand, if I’m sharing my product on social media, I know it’s best to have a little something in the shot to make it more interesting. I’ve learned from experience that no one on Instagram is going to look twice at a boring ol’ close up of a Flaxie Hug. I recently took some time to shoot some much more interesting photos of my product for the purpose of sharing them on social media, and I’ve already shared a couple of them around.
The response I got was overwhelmingly better in the form of likes, comments, and new followers/visits. Just adding a little prop or maybe a cute blurb of text can made a big difference, but action shots are even better for engagement. I got a few comments about this being the after-effects of margarita night with this one!
For The Seeing Impaired (not blind, just blurry)
(**An aside** I obviously did not take the above pic; Coach did. Coach can’t see well [sorry, Love, you know it’s true]. Every single picture on his phone is blurry! I coached Coach in this situation to use the focus feature on my iPhone: just touch the screen until the little yellow box comes up and it will focus for you!)
You may be wondering why a novice like me is giving photography tips at all. I’m still working on my photography skills, and always open to any new tips or ideas for making my pictures better. My goal is to improve the quality of the shots on this blog, as well, until I’m settling for nothing less than almost perfect. Plus, I needed a tutorial of photography tips for beginners when I first started out, and that was hard to find!
Daddy-O is a master photographer, and he’s probably shaking his head at the lack of talent I inherited from him, but he’s always given sage advice. He told me once about suggesting someone take an art class, and getting the response “But I don’t know how to draw!”. He frustratedly answered, “All the more reason to take a class!” He’s right. If you suck at something, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying, but that you should do everything in your power to learn how to not suck. Practice, read, take a class, or do whatever it takes to improve, because you’ll be surprised at your progress! I know I have been.
What are your tips for great photography? What have you done to go from zero to hero? Let me know in the comments, because I crave your feedback like a picnic ant craves crumbs. Not only that, but I’ll bet some of my fabulous readers have mad skills and are just dying to share your photography tips with me, since you’ve been subjected to my pitiful photography on this blog. I’m learning, and I’m improving, right? Daddy-O?