Photographs have the capacity to grab your attention in a way that words on a page aren’t always able to manage. That is a powerful tool when you want someone scanning through web pages to stop and read your blog.
Adding photos to your blogging efforts helps to draw in readers by showing them, with little effort on their part, what your blog is about. It offers a visual introduction to your story, and if it is something that piques their interest or captures their imagination, they are likely to delve a little deeper. That is exactly what you want to build your audience.
It is important that the images you use are interesting and appropriate to the message you want to convey, and, both in a photographic and artistic sense, of a high enough quality to help you achieve your aim of attracting readers.
Know your equipment
It has never been the case that you need the best equipment to capture great images. What is needed though is a good understanding of the abilities and limitations of what you are using, so that you can work towards creating the best photographs possible. Each camera, whether it is a phone camera, point & shoot or high-end digital SLR, has its own characteristics. Knowing how your camera behaves allows you to be prepared for that special moment, and to concentrate on making your art.
So, before you do anything else on your journey to taking better photographs, make sure you have read the manual. If you don’t have the original, start by checking the website of the manufacturer. They will normally have a PDF version of the user manual available on their ‘downloads’ page.
Use the best image quality and image size that your camera allows
The ‘quality’ of an image generally refers to its resolution, that is, how much detail can be seen. The better the quality, the less degradation will be noticeable, especially when magnified. Image size is simply the dimensions of the image, and again, the bigger the size, the more detail that is retained. This means you can either enlarge the image for printing, or you can crop unwanted details and retain sufficient quality. Almost all cameras will allow you to adjust the quality of the image captured via the menu settings.
Using the highest quality and size settings does come at a cost though – the resulting image will take up more space on your memory card, it will take longer to process in the camera, and longer to download to your computer. However, with the cheap costs and large capacity of memory cards now, and with the speed of most computer equipment, these are minor issues and not worth sacrificing the benefits of higher quality photographs.
If you need smaller-size images for your blog, the originals can be reduced in the post-editing process.
Take time to edit (but only when it’s necessary)
Your aim, as a photographer, should be to take the best possible photograph in-camera. Not only can post-production editing take time, it can cause a loss of image quality. However, it doesn’t matter how competent you might be with your camera, sometimes you will need to edit your photographs. There are basic adjustments that can be made to a photo that can give it greater impact. The brightness and contrast of a photo can be changed to compensate for poor lighting conditions. Cropping can be used to eliminate unwanted sections, or to change the format, from say a rectangle to a square, for greater impact. Colours can be increased, or ‘saturated’, to highlight something, or they can be removed altogether to create a black and white image with a different look and feel.
Your camera may have its own image editing software or app. Be sure to check that out to see if it allows you to make the adjustments you want. If not, there are as many other options for editing as there are different cameras. The two main ways for editing come in the form of computer programs or apps, or online editing services where you upload your photo, use their editing tools, and then save the final image back to your device. An online search will give you plenty of choices. Picasa, owned by Google, allows you to store and share your photos online, and has some good editing tools. It is free, and can be downloaded at http://picasa.google.com/intl/en/ . Picmonkey, at http://www.picmonkey.com , is an example of a popular online editing service. For Apple and Android devices, Snapseed (one of the Nik’s popular suite of products) is a terrific app for making many quick and easy adjustments.
Higher-end (more complex) software options come in the form of paid software, including Adobe’s Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements for a cheaper version with fewer frills), its sister-product Lightroom, ACDSee Photo Editor or DXO Optics Pro, or some free products such as GIMP, http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ , and Paint.Net, http://www.getpaint.net/ .
Depth of Field
There are numerous techniques that you can employ to improve the overall look of your images and to help them stand out. One of these techniques is changing the ‘depth of field’ to suit the image you have in mind. Depth of field, or DOF, can be thought of in terms of how much of the image, or which part of the image, is in focus. Manipulating the DOF can help ensure that your landscape photographs are sharp from the front of the scene right through to the distant background. It can make the subject of your portrait shots stand out by blurring the background and eliminating distractions behind the subject. Food photographers will often employ a very shallow, or limited, DOF, to make sure the focus is on the food rather than what is in front of it or behind.
There are several factors that influence the final depth of field in your shot, including the size of the aperture used, the focal length of the lens, and distances between camera, subject and background. How your particular camera can be used to modify DOF will need to be checked referring to the user manual. If your device doesn’t allow much control, there are probably apps available that will help you achieve similar results.
A more detailed discussion on depth of field can be found at https://improvephotography.com/445/advanced-depth-of-field-its-more-than-just-aperture/
Showcasing your products – shooting on a white background
Whatever your blog might be about, whether it is food, antiques, art, figurines or even travel, there might be occasions where you want to ‘showcase’ your subject and totally remove any other distractions. It is here that the mini-studio, or white background, can come into its own. It is simple to create, and very effective in putting the ‘spotlight’ on your product.
At its simplest, your ‘studio’ can be a sheet of white, flexible cardboard. Position the board so that about half of it is flat on your workspace, and the other half curves gently upwards (ideally against a wall) into a vertical position. This creates a plain, seamless background. If you can work near a window that has plenty of natural light, then you eliminate the issues associated with artificial lighting.
To finish off, another sheet of white board can be used as a reflector to bounce light back into your subject to ensure softer, more even lighting. Play around with this as the position of the board in relation to the light source creates different effects.
This setup can be almost any size. The main consideration is that the background is continuous, thereby avoiding distractions from joins and harsh, well-defined shadows and lines.
Black & White, or Color?
Generally, photos seen on blogs will be in full colour. These can be eye-catching and can have an instant ‘wow’ factor. Colour might not always be the best choice though. Black and white images have their own impact, perhaps having the advantage of allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the subject for what it is, rather than being taken in by some fabulous colours.
Portraits, patterns, street photography and even landscapes can all work well in black and white. While we don’t actually need to shoot in black & white mode with today’s digital photos (they can be easily converted into black and white images later), sometimes you might miss a great shot because in colour it doesn’t really grab you. Put a ‘mental’ black and white filter over your mind’s eye when shooting, and imagine how a scene would look stripped of its colour. Go through some photos you already have, and see how they look as black and white images. You might be surprised.
And remember, monochrome or single-tone images don’t have to be limited to black and white. Sepia toning can give an ‘aged’ quality, while blue or red tones, for example, can evoke different moods again.
Shutter speed – choose one appropriate to your subject
There is one simple technique that can change the look and feel of your image in an instant (or in a few seconds, as the case may be). I’m talking about shutter speed – how long the shutter stays open as it captures the light from your scene. A fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000th of a second, can ‘freeze’ action so that there is no detectable movement. Individual drops of water from a fountain can be stopped mid-air, capturing plenty of detail. A slower shutter speed, say 1 second, allows you to create a sense of motion that can make the viewer feel more involved. A beach scene with waves caressing the beach, taken with a slow shutter speed, adds a softness and serenity that you can almost feel. This is a useful technique for creating mood in your images.
Most digital cameras will allow easy adjustment of exposure times. If such adjustments aren’t available on your device, search for apps that will replicate that function.
ISO – how to shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions
The term ISO is a carry-over from the days of film, and it is a measure of how much light needs to fall on the film to correctly expose it. In digital photography it refers to how much light must fall on the sensor. The smaller the ISO number, the longer the exposure required. Each time the ISO number doubles, the amount of light required for a correct exposure is halved, meaning you can use faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures to capture the same scene. For the photographer this gives you the ability to capture photos in a vast range of lighting conditions. Film users must shoot with different films in different conditions. Digital shooters though have it much easier – a push of a button or a couple of menu choices will be enough to switch from shooting in bright sunshine to shooting inside a concert hall.
With this flexibility comes a downside (ain’t that always the way). High ISO settings can introduce ‘noise’, a course graininess with colour artifacts, or blemishes, that become more apparent as the ISO increases. Generally this degrades the quality of the image, although in some cases it can add to the mood.
As a general rule, use the lowest possible ISO setting that you can.
Focus on Focus
Sharp photographs, when they are meant to be sharp, can be aesthetically pleasing. Soft-focus shots, such as can be used for flowers or glamour photography, can be equally pleasing. The important factor here is that choosing how and where to focus is exactly that – a choice.
People and animals feature in many shots seen on the internet. Invariably, the focus on such images should be on the eyes of the subject. This will draw the viewer straight to the eyes, which is a natural reaction. How much of the rest of the image is in focus depends on the ‘story’ you are trying to tell. If the story is about the person, then generally you will want the background to be blurred.
With autofocus on some cameras it might be that you have to focus on your subject, lock that in, and then re-compose your shot. Check your user manual for details on the various focussing options available to you, and practice with them regularly so that you can quickly make adjustments to suit your situation.
For an in-depth look at focus as it applies to landscape photography, go to https://improvephotography.com/769/hyperfocal-distance-wide-angle-lens-depth-of-field/
Metering – getting the exposure right for where you want it
Compact and phone cameras are pretty clever devices now, and with touch screens on many models, making adjustments before you shoot can be a simple process. As clever as they are though, they don’t know which part of the scene you want to expose for. If you are taking a photo of someone outside on a bright day, cameras will often try to compensate for the expanse of bright sky. This will reduce exposure time and leave your subject in the dark. This is because the default metering system used is to take an average across the whole scene. To get around this, you can use ‘spot’ metering. Through the menu you can generally change the setting to spot metering, so that it is always available. The ‘spot’ in question is usually in the middle of the frame, but that isn’t always where your subject will be. The best way to make use of this feature is to half-press the shutter with your main subject in the centre of the screen, and then re-compose your shot before pressing the shutter all the way.
Devices with touch screens will often allow you to simply touch the screen to indicate which part of the scene should be exposed correctly. The user manual will have details specific to your camera.
Tripods – three legs are better than two
As steady as we might feel on our feet, when you shoot at low shutter speeds hand-holding the camera can introduce an element of blur, or camera shake. One easy way to avoid this is with a tripod. There is a huge range of tripods available, from tiny pocket versions that can be extremely useful for phone cameras and point-and-shoots, through to models that can hold video cameras. Get whatever is suitable for your equipment and requirements, and then make use of it.
If your camera has a self-timer, that can be useful to further reduce camera shake, to move yourself out of the way if you are casting a shadow across your subject, or just to get yourself into the shot. And if you don’t have a tripod available, see what is around – a wall, a backpack, or even a sock filled with sand can all be used for hands-free support.
Flash – when natural light just isn’t enough
While natural light is often the best for clear, bright photos, it isn’t always in the right place or even available at all (like at night). Night shots or those inside buildings may well need flash, and that is often understood. What might not be thought about as much is using flash outside on a sunny day, when conditions look ideal. Any light source has the potential to create unwanted shadows, so before taking your shot, make sure the shadows are playing fair. If not, you have a couple of options – you can move the light source or move your subject, if either of those is possible or fit with how you want your image to look. When that doesn’t work, pop up some flash.
Take the example of photographing someone with the sun behind them. To get the background exposed correctly, the person’s face would be in shadow. This can be filled with a reduced burst of flash light, just enough to remove the shadows and leave the whole scene exposed correctly. Stronger flash can make the photo look artificial, so it pays to experiment with different settings.
Organisation – cataloguing your work
When you are working on a blog and want to add photos quickly, it pays to be well organised. When you are racing to meet a deadline, not being able to find that one shot you know you have can be frustrating. With a good photo catalogue, finding the right image is a snap.
There are many options available to help you store and locate photos, and just as many ideas on what works best. In the end it comes down to what works for you and for the number of images you have. Whichever method you choose, the best time is to start now, before your collection grows any larger.
For larger collections, software solutions are often the best. You will need one that allows you to ‘tag’ each of your photos with one or more keywords. Keywords should be chosen to reflect any category or subject that the photo could represent. For example, a photo at the beach could cover beach, swimmers, sunset and palm trees. Once this is done, you simply search for the relevant keywords and all images that are a match will be presented. The hardest part will be choosing the one you want.
Presentation – it’s time to show off
In terms of attracting readers and holding on to them, how you present your blog can be as important as the blog itself. Take a look at the available WordPress templates and you’ll get an idea how different designs have a different impact. It is the same with the images you choose to include on your blog.
The two standard photo formats are portrait (like an upright page) and landscape (like a page on its side). Plain and simple, and on many occasions just what you need. But not all of your images need to be like this. Instagram has made the square format much more popular and acceptable, and that can be a great choice. There’s nothing stopping you from using any shape – round, triangular or in the shape of a country. With the right software, anything is possible. Frames, or borders, can add interest to photos and help to make them stand out. Filters (and there are plenty available) essentially add a see-through layer to your image to change its look and feel. A ‘grunge’ filter, for example, can add interesting elements of texture and drama. Camera software and Apple and Android apps will allow you to modify your images in these ways.
Use what works best for your subject and for the existing layout of the page, but don’t go overboard when applying borders and filters – simple is often the best.
Shoot. Shoot. Then shoot some more.
As with so many things in life, practice makes perfect.
Take lots of photos and spend time reviewing them. Be a critic of your own work and aim to improve – as you build your collection you will get better. Listen to your readers. Their comments on your blog and on your photos are the key to what is working and what is popular. Keep up with trends, but don’t be afraid to go retro or to try something different – it might just resonate with your particular audience and attract new readers.
Most of all, enjoy the process – it really needn’t be a chore.