Over the last year and a half, I have taken my fair share of photos for blog posts. My pictures have come a long way and I have learned so (SO!!) much. I don't feel like I am any sort of expert and am still very much learning, but after multiple requests (you guys are demanding...in the nicest possible way...), here are my tips for better blog pictures.
Give Yourself Time
Not to sound cliche, but photography is a journey. It's a skill that you have to learn and practice. It won't come immediately, but the more you practice the easier and faster it will become. Also, don't forget that you are always your own worst critic. I will fret over one blown out area in a photo or one small part that I cut off, but in the end I am usually the only one who notices. I won't lie....it will be frustrating at times. There are days I literally want to huck my camera down the stairs, but then other days I feel like it all clicks. Think of it as a DIY project. After that first coat of paint things usually look like crap. You have to persevere and get that second coat on (and maybe even a third) for the finished product to look the way you want.
Invest in a camera
If you are a regular reader then you know that I am cheap. Super cheap actually. I hate spending money. I shot the first 6 months of blog photos using my point and shoot - and you can tell! I was so reluctant to spend money on a blog that wasn't making any money, but I finally relented and scoured the flyers and online sales until I found a camera that I felt fit my needs. I bought a Nikon D3000 with an 18-55 kit lens. Total cost was just shy of $300. I justified it in the end because I knew I would use it for our family photos and not just blog photos. Once I started learning my new DSLR I totally fell in love with photography and now dream of a more a powerful camera, but for blog photos, a basic DSLR will do just fine.
Learn Manual Mode
Yes, that big scary M. In my personal opinion, you have to learn it or you will never have the control you need over multiple situations. Manual mode lets you produce what YOU want to produce, not what the camera THINKS you want to produce. It's scary and intimidating, but it's totally doable. Take the leap and go for it. The nice part about digital is that you can practice, practice, practice until you get a shot you like and it doesn't cost you a penny. (I wrote a post on how I learned manual mode here.)
Once you learn manual mode, it's also important to learn how to spot meter. Spot metering allows you to select a certain point in your frame and expose for that particular area.
For example, in the photo below I exposed for the credenza, not the window light.
The result is that the windows behind the credenza are blown out, but for this particular photo it's ok. The focus is on the furniture, not the blown out windows. If my camera had been set to auto exposure on this particular shot it would have under exposed the credenza so that the windows were properly exposed. On a bit of a side note, blown out windows don't bother me at all. Unless my focus is what is outside of the window, then I generally just let them blow out and let the focus be on what is inside the room.
If you want to learn more about spot metering check out this post.
Find The Beautiful Light In Your House
Unless you are proficient in using a speedlight (which I am not), please turn off your flash. All your flash will do is make your lighting look junky and fake, and will usually create horrible shadows and hot spots. It's better to find natural light in your house and work with.
Only take photos at night if you absolutely have to. Relying on incadescent light (regular light bulbs) can make all of your colours look wonky and can cast bad shadows. I realize that not everyone is home during the day and has the luxury of taking project or room shots when the light is coming in at just the right angle. I take most of my pictures on the weekends during daylight hours. I'd rather wait a few days for nice lighting than rush to publish a post and take all of my pictures at night. In the end though, some rooms just don't receive enough light (bathrooms), so I will resort to turning on the overhead light or lamps in those situations. I will always turn on light sources before resorting to my built in flash.
In my house, our living room has the best light. I use that room for 90% of my furniture or craft shots.
It's east facing, so the morning light can be a little harsh with really strong beams of sun coming in. I usually try and wait until the afternoon to take any pictures in this room so that the light is a little softer. Another trick is to put sheers over the windows so that the light still filters in but it doesn't have harsh beams. The picture of the credenza above is taken in front of these same windows, but with all of the sheers drawn. Don't worry if your room looks too dark at first. Just crank your ISO on your camera - if you expose correctly, the room will look like it has more light in the picture than it does in real life.
On a bit of a side note, see how in the picture above the windows aren't blown? I spot metered on the grass so that it would be properly exposed, which resulted in the room being dark. This is the same room and about the same time of day as the credenza picture above, but it has a very different feel.
Don't Worry About What is Outside Of The Frame
The beauty of photography is that the viewer can only see what you want them to. Think my house looks serene? Ha! It's so not, but I have become pretty adept at not showing what I don't want you to see.
I made this bandana flower a few weeks ago and shot all of the pictures for the post in my living room.
It looks like it's sitting on a wood floor, right?
Well, here is the reality.
This is direct pull back from that same day. We were in the middle of selecting flooring for the new house and I had samples laying all over the floor. I took one of those samples and moved it into a well lit area (which happened to be close to the windows...but I couldn't get too close since Diefenbaker was not willing to move for me). Truth be told, I even left that paint chip sample sitting there in the corner - it didn't make it into the frame. This is where editing and cropping become your friends.
Invest In Editing Software
Just like I resisted buying a new camera for way too long, I also resisted buying actual editing software. I used iPhoto for way too long. Once I gained more control over my camera, it was important for me to also start having more control over my editing. I sucked it up and bought Adobe Lightroom (I have version 4), and haven't regretted it for one minute. I try not to edit my project pictures too heavily, but I usually adjust white balance and a few other aspects for every picture. Not a single picture hits my blog these days that hasn't been through Lightroom.
As a quick example, here is a shot from that same flower project. This is straight out of camera.
I pulled it into Lightroom, warmed it up a bit (added yellow), increased the exposure, decreased the highlights and then sharpened it. Then I cropped so that you couldn't see the carpet (so you wouldn't know my flooring sample trick that I am now exposing to the world!).
The beauty of Lightroom is that once you do the basic edits to one photo, you can then sync all of the photos from that same session so that at a click of your mouse they all have the same steps applied to them. It saves me a ton of time when editing.
Lightroom also allows me to watermark all of my images and size them for my posts, so that when I am ready to upload into the actual post it's really quick.
I know other people swear by Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, but I can't vouch for those programs as I haven't used either of them. I have heard that Lightroom is a little more intuitive to learn. I also like that it doesn't modify your original image, so if at any time I want to go back to an image to see what it looked light straight out of camera I can.
So there you go! I hope the above tips were helpful. Just remember that everything won't be perfect right off the bat. It takes practice and patience. Are there any other tips that you have that I have missed? If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below and I will be happy to answer.