Learn Photography : Practical Ways To Improve Your Blog's Photos
You know the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words?" Well the fact is, we process images 60,000 times faster than text. So in reality, a picture is worth 60,000 words! Which makes perfect sense because we're naturally visual beings, so photography helps bring our stories to life! Whether it's on your our blog, Instagram, Pinterest boards or wherever, here is a guide on practical ways you can improve your blog's photography, and create awesome visuals that keep your audience engaged!
1. SHOOT IN RAW
You’ve probably heard this before, but if you want to really see a major difference in the quality of your photos, shoot in raw.
In most if not all DSLR cameras (some mirrorless), you have the ability to adjust your camera settings to shoot in either raw format, jpeg, or both. So what exactly is raw?
RAW file of your image preserves most of the information from your camera, such as sharpness and contrast, without processing and or compressing. As oppose to shooting in jpeg, where in this case the image is compressed so a lot of information from the file is lost.
It’s like the difference between baking a cake from scratch, versus making one straight from the box or better yet getting it from a store. When you make it yourself, you get to add as much or as little ingredients to your liking. But when it’s store bought, everything is pre-made, and although this process may be quicker, it doesn’t often taste as good as the one you make yourself.
So what EXACTLY am I trying to say here? Raw files give you the freedom and more flexibility to process, edit, or change the photo to your liking (most especially during post production). Like a homemade cake. Whereas, jpeg simply does it for you.
2. FIND GOOD LIGHTING
If you want to see drastic results in your photography, follow the light. Here’s the thing. Your eyes don’t see the same thing as your camera's viewfinder, so what "looks" like a great shot of your chicken alfredo in a dimly lit restaurant , is more than likely not (trust me on this). So if you really want to get the most out of your images, take them in natural lighting. That is either outdoors, or close to a window.
I would say that 99% of my photos are taken outdoors in natural light. But of course not all light is created equal. In fact, you can take a photo at the exact same scene during different times of the day, and get drastically different results.
"So when's the best time to take my photos outdoors?"
Shortly after sunrise, or right before sunset. This is the time we often refer to as “The Golden Hour.”
It’s that perfect time when the sun is not too high in the sky, or setting too low. Why does this even matter? Well a bright overhead sun in the middle of the day causes photos to have extreme highlights, (or really dark shadows). And if the sun is too low then, well, I mean really who wants to take photos in the dark?
So in order to get that perfecting lighting and save you a ton of editing time during post production, aim for taking your photos early in the morning (before 8 am or so), or late in the afternoon/ early evening around 5 pm (this of course varies depending on the season i.e. summer vs winter, and also area you live in).
3. LEARN THE EXPOSURE TRIANGLE
Ok now here comes the technical jargon. I know you may not think you need to learn and or understand what half of this stuff means, I find no matter what level you’re on, learning the backend of how your images are produced is really the stepping stone to creating better and more quality photos for your blog, social media, and overall online content.
So first thing’s first. Let’s talk the exposure triangle, also known as “the 3 kings,” ISO + Shutter Speed + Aperture. These settings are basically what determine the quality, sharpness, and brightness of all your images.
1. Shutter Speed:
This is exactly what it sounds like. The speed at which the camera takes a photo, but also the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. In other words, the faster the speed, the less light, and the slower the speed, the more light your camera receives. For the most part, these speeds are measured in fractions of a second. For example, 1/60 (1/60th of a second), 1/125, 1/250 etc.
So if you want to freeze motion like capturing your hair flip or splash of water from the beach, you will opt for a fast shutter speed. And if you want a blur ( think all those wanderlust Hawaii photos with the waterfall in the background), you will go for a slower shutter speed.
My general rule of thumb when shooting everyday photos is to stay within 1/100 to avoid camera shake and get sharper images. And I’d say the lowest I’d go is 1/60 ( depending on the lens).
Measurements (fractions of a second): 1/2000, 1/500, 1/60, 1/30, 1, 4 etc.
This is literally just the hole within a lens that allows light to travel into the camera body. The larger the hole, the more light that passes to the camera sensor. The aperture is also the secret sauce that gives you that beautiful bokeh (blurred background) that we’ve all come to know and love. So it basically controls the depth of field, (distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that’s in sharp focus).
Okay so here’s where it might get a bit confusing ( if it isn’t already).
The larger the aperture, the smaller the depth of field. Whereas the smaller the aperture, the larger depth of field. Also, the smaller the aperture the larger the hole in the lens becomes, (which allows more light to pass to the camera’s sensor), and vice versa.
So when you’re taking a photo with a shallow (or small) depth of field, only a small part of the image will be in focus. But when you have a much larger depth of field, it does the opposite and more of the image is in sharp focus.
Small depth of field = Larger aperture (f1.4) = Bigger hole = More light = Less in focus = More blur
Larger Depth of field = Small aperture (f/11) = Smaller hole = Less light = More in focus = Less blur
Okay, that definitely sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo (even for me) but I promise it gets easier to understand over time (and with lots of practice of course).
Measurements (Focal ratio “f” numbers): f/1.4, f/4.0, f/5.6/, f/8 etc.
This is a way to brighten your photos ( that most people are familiar with) in the event that you can’t use a longer shutter speed or a wider aperture (which are both designed to allow more light to travel through the camera). For this reason, I tend to adjust the ISO last, and if I can help it, I’d leave it on auto.
Unlike shutter speeds and apertures, this is pretty straight forward. The higher the ISO the brighter the image, and the lower the ISO, the darker the image.
But keep in mind when toggling the ISO, the further up you go, the higher chances your images will come out grainy. So you definitely want to keep it below 500 if you can help it (the lower the better) which keeps your images sharp.
Measurements: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 etc.
4. USE THE RIGHT CAMERA MODE
So if you have a camera you’ve probably seen a dial that says P (P) S (Tv) or (S) A (or Av) M, and have no idea what each mode does, so you play it safe and shoot in Auto. Well here’s a quick break down of each mode, what you can and cannot control and which I think it best.
p.s never shoot in Auto.
1. Program mode (P):
This mode is basically as straight forward as point, and shoot. Why? because based on the amount of light that passes through the lens, the camera will simply automatically choose the Aperture and the Shutter Speed for you. Which sounds like a good in theory, but sometimes (most times) when it’s left to the camera to balance the amount of light and speed at which light passes through the lens, it may get it wrong. So if you choose to adjust the aperture, the camera will guess the shutter speed, and vice versa. But if it guesses wrong, there’s pretty much no way to override that ( in Program mode that is).
So I personally never use this mode, since it does not give me much control over the exposure or really anything for that matter. But I find that most people find it useful in situations when you have to quickly snap a picture in real time. For example, when traveling and or in street photography when there’s not much time to play around with camera settings because you have to quickly capture the moment.
CAMERA CONTROLS: Aperture + Shutter Speed | YOU CONTROL: Nada
2. Shutter Priority mode (S or Tv):
This is sort of like a step up from program mode. With shutter priority, you can manually set the camera’s shutter speed, and the camera automatically picks the right aperture for you (based on the amount of light let into the camera).
This is often used when you need to freeze motion in an image, or make it blurred like sporting events (frozen motion), or waterfalls (blur). In this mode you simply control how fast or slow you need the camera to capture a photo, and the camera determines how much light the lens needs for that image.
So in Shutter Priority mode, the shutter speed stays the same (whatever you set it to), while aperture automatically increases and decreases and this adjusts based on how much light is let in the camera.
Side Bar: I don’t ever use this mode either.
CAMERA CONTROLS: Aperture | YOU CONTROL: Shutter speed
3. Aperture Priority Mode ( A or Av):
This mode works in the opposite direction of shutter priority. That is, with aperture priority, you get to manually set the lens aperture, and the camera will automatically choose the right shutter speed to give you a properly exposed image. Basically this means that you have free range to customize and depth of field of your shots, while the camera pretty much does the hard part by measuring the shutter speed. This way your images don’t turn out extremely bright, or way too dark. It also it saves a ton of time between shots because you aren’t constantly adjusting each dial (shutter speed + ISO) every time you change the aperture.
So think of it as this. When shooting in aperture priority, your only focus is precisely how much light you want in the image, and the depth of field. That is, do you want to focus the camera on a specific image and isolate the background (like a portrait or product shot), or do you want a really sharp image with everything in focus (like the scenery from travel shot or a group photo). Once you determine this, the camera pretty much figures everything else out.
And for the most part, it does a pretty darn good job. Which is why both beginners and pros love shooting in aperture mode. And I actually recommend starting out in this mode to give you a sense of balanced exposures, and this is an easy way to learn how to navigate lighting and depth of field.
CAMERA CONTROLS: Shutter Speed | YOU CONTROL: Aperture
4. Manual Mode (M):
Manual mode is exactly what it sounds like. Full “manual” control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (unless left on auto) of your camera. In this mode, you can fully take control over the exposure of your camera by manually setting the aperture and shutter speed to whatever value you want. Although in aperture priority the camera “gets it” most of the time, sometimes the camera’s auto settings won’t quite pick up and or adjust in extreme lighting situations. For example, shooting in a really bright area (beach), or a dimly lit one ( restaurant).
This is what makes manual mode so perfect because you can manually customize how light, dark, sharp, fast, and or slow you want your image. That is, everything from a smooth creamy bokeh in your portraits to action shots for fun shoots that require movement.
I shoot in Manual mode 100% of the time. Although I won’t COMPLETELY rule all other camera modes out, shooting in manual gives me consistency, a ton of flexibility, and full creative range to get the images I want both indoors and outdoors not matter the time of day. All other modes adjust based on what the camera “thinks” you need; manual allows you to insert inputs that reflect on exactly what you want.
p.s Remember a camera doesn’t make a good photo, the photographer does.
CAMERA CONTROLS: Nada | YOU CONTROL: EVERYTHING!
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT LENS
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but when it comes to photography, the lens usually determines the image quality far more than the actual camera body does. This is why choosing the right lens is exceptionally important when considering taking photos for your blog. And although there are a range of lenses you can buy I find these two to be the best so far for blog photography.
50 mm 1.8 a.k.a The Nifty Fifty
If I could recommend any lens for your photography kit, it would definitely be the 50 mm 1.8 lens. This small but mighty lens has practically everything you would need for blog photography and is equivalent to what our human eye sees (a.k.a not that wide). It’s light weight so you can carry it around all day and in your purse. It’s relatively cheap compared to other heavy duty camera lenses (that aren’t always even as great if you ask me). It has a pretty large f/1.8 aperture, which makes it great to shoot with at night or in any low light situations. And last but not least it puts the bokeh in bokehlicious (yes, I said bokehlicious) and gives an incredibly shallow depth of field.
I think this lens is great for blog photography whether it's self-portraits, food, beauty etc.
35 mm 1.4
Now this lens is my personal favorite (for all the reasons mentioned above) only it is a bit wider and of course pricier. This lens is perfect if you want to create images that include more scenery i.e. travel photos, and or some lifestyle shots, events etc. It’s definitely not the widest, but I think it’s a happy medium between normal lens (50mm) and a wide angle (24 mm ). When I use this lens I hardly ever have to switch it out ( a.k.a it almost never leaves my camera’s body).
6. INVEST IN POST PRODUCTION
A lot of the magic happens post production, that is, when editing your images. Here you can adjust the color, contrast, brightness, sharpness, saturation and so much more of your image and take your photo from blah to BOW!
BEFORE & AFTER ( Using Adobe Lightroom)
My number one editing software I use is Lightroom. Sometimes ( hardly ever) I also use Photoshop in combination with Camera raw depending on what I’m editing.
7. PRACTICE AND SHOOT EVERYTHING!
Practice. Practice. Practice. Photography is hardly innate. It’s an acquired skill, and no matter how many years you’ve been shooting, there's always room for growth. Needless to say, your favorite photographer’s favorite photographer is STILL learning. You get better simply by practicing and forming habits around the skills you’ve learnt. When I bought my first Canon *insert random bottom of the barrel model name here* I would have NEVER imagined shooting in anything outside of auto or the preprogrammed food, landscape, portrait modes.
Photography seemed so far-fetched and too technical to learn. But I practiced (and still do). On family members that would allow, flay lays with random objects in my house, plants outdoors, food, everything!
And THAT’s how you really improve your photo skills. By DOING. As often as you can, everywhere you can.
Related: MASTER THE INSTAGRAM FLAT LAY ( a FREE E-course)