Photography is incredibly important to blogging. Especially if you’re in a niche that relies on photos to lure in readers (such as food or DIY). When figuring out how to take the best photo for your blog, remember these 4 basic elements of a great photo. They should lead you in the right direction.
One piece of blogging advice I see a lot is, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” It’s good advice. But there is one area where I ignore that advice–photography.
Absolutely compare your photography to others.
For about two years, I had this idea that I should only compare my photography to my previous photography. As long as I was better than I was yesterday, I was doing fine.
That’s true to an extent. If you’re always improving, no matter how little, it’s a win. But I wasn’t improving as fast as I could have been. Because I wasn’t paying attention to what made a magazine-worthy photo.
And then I read How I Made 40k in My First Year of Blogging (affiliate). I saw her amazing photos and how hard she had to work to get accepted to sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting. If her beginner photos weren’t good enough, mine weren’t either.
So I went to those sites and took a good hard look at the photos that were getting accepted. I dissected their photos and I spent time figuring out why they were so pleasant to look at. I changed some of my own methods, trying to mimic what these other photographers were doing.
And my photography took off. A great example is one of the photos for my sriracha meatballs. I went from this:
The second photo isn’t perfect. But I’m sure each of you can look at them both and know immediately that it’s better than the first one. Can you also explain why? What makes the second photo so much better?
Answering that last question was an important step in improving my photography.
This is why I compare myself to others. I find a photo I love and I say, “What did they do that I’m not doing? How can I take a similar photo?” Doing this has caused my photography to improve much faster. In less than two months, Foodgawker was accepting every single photo I submitted. (Tastespotting accepts most of them when I submit there.)
Which would you rather have: massive improvement in less than 6 months or small improvements over the course of a few years?
In doing these comparisons, here’s what I’ve discovered makes for a great photo.
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4 Basic Elements of a Great Photo
The first thing to look for before you start shooting is what kind of lighting you’re working with. Few things are more annoying in photography than not being able to see what’s in the photo. The best way to do this is by taking advantage of natural light.
For those of you who work outside the home and find you have only evening light to work with, there are three things you can do:
- Take photos on your day(s) off. (If it’s food, you’ll have to reheat it later.)
- Build a light box.
- Buy lighting equipment.
That said, some people go a little overboard with the lighting. I’ve done it. Shining too much light on an object will wash it out, cast weird shadows, and remove depth. So don’t take photos of objects in direct sunlight. Overcast days are best.
I also try to filter my lighting (with a white sheet or a white umbrella or something). Keeping lights a little farther from the object can also help.
After figuring out the lighting situation, it’s time to adjust the camera. Most cameras–even point and shoots–let you adjust the brightness by changing the ISO. Though on a DSLR, it’s better to lower the shutter speed and f-stop if your lighting will allow it. A high ISO can make your photos look grainy. Aim for an ISO of 400 or less.
If you’re shooting beside a window, you can use a piece of foam board to balance the light. Seting it up opposite of the window will instantly improve your photos.
I also wrap a piece of foam up in aluminum foil to use as a reflector. But you can also buy a reflector.The first thing to look for before shooting is what kind of lighting you're working with. Click To Tweet
As I said above, readers want to see what’s in the photo. Which means blurry photos are not worth putting up on your blog. (I’m about to break this rule.) There are many ways you can fix them, but mostly you just need to find a way to stabilize your camera.
The best way is to just buy a tripod. Amazon’s bestselling tripod is the Amazon Basics Lightweight Tripod. But I use the Sunpak 6200. It’s fine, but I don’t recommend using it as a long-term professional tripod. It’s lightweight and good for traveling, though.
If you’re taking photos on your phone, there are tripod adapter mounts.
If you can’t afford a tripod, many household objects are good for stabilizing cameras. Some photographers set their cameras in a wine glass. I’ve been known to balance my camera on the back of a chair when my tripod just wasn’t doing it for me. Get creative, experiment, and see what helps.
One more thing I’ve done to make my pictures more clear is setting my camera on a 2-second timer. Even with a tripod, the camera still wobbles when I press the shutter button. Without the timer, the pictures can come out a little shaky. Adding the timer gives the camera time to stabilize itself before the shutter goes off.
And if you need to get self-portraits, the Amazon Basics Wireless Remote is excellent. There is one for Canon and one for Nikon, so make sure you select the correct one. (Also, it only works for DSLR. Sorry, guys.) I got this for Christmas a few years ago and it’s so easy to set up and use.
One more thing about clarity: make sure your photos are big enough. Notice throughout this post how my “after” photos are MUCH larger than my “before” photos. Foodgawker has a minimum requirement of 550×550 px. My photos are at least 800×1200. I went with that size for Pinterest, though 900×2000 would be even better. Plus it looks nicer to have them close to the width of my blog’s body.
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Photos that haven’t been balanced right either come out yellow or blue. Neither of those is good. You should change this in the camera settings. But you can also fix it–to an extent–in post-processing.
The easiest way to test color balance is to include something white in your photos. If the white in your photo looks true-to-life, then there’s a good chance your balance is correct.Check your color balance the easy way by including something white in your photos. Click To Tweet
If it doesn’t, there are ways to fix it in editing. Though it’s best if you fix it when you take the photo…especially if your weird color balance is due to lighting. Sometimes editing a photo for color balance backfires if you have to edit it too much. So if you took your photo at night under an incandescent bulb, you’re going to have a few more issues.
If everything I’ve said so far makes you feel overwhelmed, I can relate. That’s how photography posts make me feel, too. But I have some bad news: this part is the hardest.
Learning how to stage photos properly is incredibly challenging. And from my own experience, it stays challenging. But it is one of THE BEST things I have done for photos. For instance, look at these chocolate covered cherry shortbread cookies:
Foodgawker has rejected A LOT of my photos because they looked like that. And their biggest problem: composition. They wanted more interesting, well-staged photos. So I gave it to them.
That second photo has a lot of issues (like the fact that overcompression made it blurry). But this was the first photo that Foodgawker ever approved for me. (Tastespotting rejected it for the blurriness.) By the way, if you want to see the photos Foodgawker has approved for me, you can view my gallery.
Let’s break down the composition of this photo.
The reason I love this photo is because of the way it’s staged. I took this around Christmas and I wanted this photo to have a “gifted” feel to it. So I grabbed some red and silver ornaments from the tree and scattered them behind the cookies. This created a nice background and added depth to the photo.
For the rest, I laid down some brown packing paper. I had to tape it down because it kept wanting to roll. I added a paper doily and I tied some baker’s twine around the stacked cookies. For the background, I used a piece of black foam board. I made it look like a blackboard by rubbing it with chalk and then rubbing the markings with a towel.
It was a lot of effort. I spent an hour setting this up. But the result was totally worth it.
Let’s do one more.
I took these pictures of my easy chocolate pudding in two different styles. BUT they were taken on the same day with the same camera. So they’re the same size, same lighting, etc. The only difference is the way I staged them.
Here’s the original:
And here’s the second try:
That first one is so boring, isn’t it?
That’s the power of staging. And all this took was
- some whipped cream,
- sprinkles, and
- switching out the cloth for a wooden cutting board.
To keep in mind:
There are a lot of things that make for a great photo and much of it is going to depend on the type of photography you do. Mine is generally small stuff–food, small crafts. So these work for me.
Interior design photos, travel photos, and the like all have different rules to follow. But these ones are pretty basic and should lead you in the right direction.
As a somewhat preachy sidenote: We can whine and make excuses (and many do), but there is no easy way out of this. Not when social media relies so much on pretty pictures. We’re all dealing with basically the same challenges–families, work, money. The successful bloggers are the ones who found a way to make it happen, despite everything that was standing in their way. Any excuses are just that: excuses. If you find yourself making a lot of them instead of trying to solve the problem, then this might not be the career path for you.
What do you think makes a great photo and what are you doing to improve your own photos? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. If you want to know what kind of camera I use, check out my FAQs.