Blogs and Photographs – Putting Your Best Image Forward
It is common knowledge that posts which contain quality photographs have a better chance of attracting and retaining readers than those which do not. Images break up lengthy posts and provide the reader with visual support and understanding. Let’s face it, most of us are a bit lazy when it comes to reading a long blog post and a picture really is worth a thousand words! Oftentimes, your photograph is the story, so why not strive to put your best image forward at all times.
There are two ways to achieve that goal, 1)use an image from a copyright free site, or 2)take your own photos. This post is for those who choose option #2 and want to take better photos.
Does It Make Sense?
First and foremost, a good supportive image should always make sense. There is nothing so disconcerting as an image which is completely irrelevant to the post. If you have to explain it, it probably shouldn’t be there.
Is It a Good Image?
Photographs with too much light, too little light, out of focus or badly composed will be a turn-off to your readers. We are all guilty of this, but, don’t post those – no matter how much you love them. Post relevant images that enhance your post and support your point.
Use whatever you are comfortable with. My Iphone 11 has photo editing capabilities which allow me to fix things like exposure, color, contrast and shadows and I almost always need to adjust one, if not all of those. If you use a camera phone for your blog photographs, make sure you understand and use all of its capabilities. You might also consider free photo editing apps, like SnapSeed and Painnt if you want to get creative with your edits.
I frequently use a Panasonic Lumix GX7 mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. My favorite lens is a 12-35mm wide angle, which I use for landscapes, I have a 100-300 zoom for nature shots and a 40-200 for portraits.
It sounds like a lot of equipment, but depending on what I plan to take photos of, I will only carry the equipment I think I will need.
As a hobbyist with a passion for photography, I have managed to learn a few things over the years, mostly with the help of friends (who are professionals) and through a bit of trial and error. My first piece of advice is to start at the beginning. Read your camera’s manual. When you understand how your camera works, you can then begin to create the shots you want. In addition to LIGHT, the three most important concepts to grasp along the way to abandoning Auto mode is Aperture, ISO and Shutter speed. There are some great YouTube tutorials out there, and I recommend starting here for a basic understanding of these elements.
I almost always shoot in Aperture Priority mode, which gives me the ability to chose focal distance. For landscapes, I am usually around f8 to f11 which makes everything in the frame in focus. For portraits, I usually set Aperture as wide as my lens allows (lowest #). That setting will blur the background, which is what I want for a soft, natural looking portrait with no background interference.
One of my favorite things about using a camera (versus a phone) is the quality of the photo and the ability to manipulate the image with post processing software. The other thing that I love is that it allows me to learn at a pace that is comfortable and retreat to Auto Mode whenever I get frustrated. That will happen, so be patient.
The cheat sheet below illustrates what happens to your photograph using narrow to wide F stops. With your lens wide open at an F stop of 5.6 and lower the background will blur and keep your subject in sharp focus, while an F8 and higher will focus both subject and background.
In addition to understanding F Stops, I highly recommend that you know where to locate the white balance button and how to adjust light compensation. Knowing those two features will get you out of trouble in circumstances where light is not ideal. The manual for your camera will explain where to find these buttons, but to understand why you need to know them, read this article.
The rules of composition are pretty straight-forward – tell a story with your picture. When you look at a subject, whether it be a beautiful landscape, an animal in the wild, a child, or a flower, what is it that holds your gaze? What do you see? When I squeeze the shutter, what I see as well as what I feel is important to me.
The pros tell us to mind the rules of classic composition, like rule of thirds, leading lines, fill the frame, etc. but mostly, I rely on instinct.
I have shared this photo before, but it fits most of the classic rules, so please indulge me. When I took it I did not think about rules. I looked up and what I saw through my lens was just WOW. Sometimes a gut feeling is better than a rule.
In addition to the wow factor, you will want to train yourself to see small details and avoid cluttered backgrounds. Power lines draped across a beautiful sunset are not attractive. Does the scene lend itself to landscape or portrait orientation? Never settle for the shot that is right in front of you and always look for a different vantage point. When it comes to composition, curiosity is your ally. What would give your photo more texture, more interest?
I love the way this dock creates texture against the water and night sky. I have taken dozens of photos here, but this is one of my favorite perspectives. The little corner of sea grapes adds depth, framing and a pop of color to the overall blue palette. I created that extra detail by experimenting with the on-camera flash.
Whether you are using a cell phone camera or a DSLR, be creative with positioning. Tilt your camera, shoot from ground level, find the highest elevation, position your body in the middle of traffic and look up (maybe not), zoom in, zoom out, find the story in the details. It’s all about perspective.
To crop or not to crop is always an issue. Professional photographers frame the photo they want and rarely crop an image; or so they say. Us mortals may not have the right equipment or the eye for composition and will need to rely on a good crop from time to time. Again, why post a so-so image when a crop will enhance the central focus and make more sense.
The composition of the first photo is balanced, but I like how the emphasis moves to the eye of the bird in the second photo.
There are a lot of reasons to crop an image, including narrowing the emphasis to a central focus and getting rid of unwanted space, but sometimes you simply want a different shape. I recently joined a photo challenge at The Life of B, that requires the main photo in the post to be square. I used this tutorial from Hugh’s Views and News to adjust the photographs I wanted to use in my post from landscape to square in just a few minutes. You can read the post I shared for Square Perspectives here.
When to Use a Tripod
It is impossible to avoid camera shake when holding a camera. Most hand held shots will look fine when printed in smaller sizes, and will definitely work for a blog or Instagram post, but if you are planning to produce large prints, you will definitely want to use a tripod. Otherwise, your printed images will have a grainy, out of focus look. Also, using a slow shutter speed to intentionally produce blurred motion like in the waterfall below, will require a Tripod.
I don’t often shoot photographs like this and I don’t enjoy using a tripod. Mostly because they are heavy and restrict mobility. Unfortunately, a tripod is the only solution if you want to be in the photograph so I use one for family photographs and I love the cell phone tripod that I wrote about here. I use a remote shutter release for both my camera and my phone, but if you do not have Bluetooth capability, you can get the same result by using the timer.
If you are like me, you probably take a lot of videos on your cell phone that you will likely delete without ever posting anywhere. A few months ago it occurred to me that I could take a screen shot while the video plays which might produce something interesting so I did it and got the three images below. I am sure this is not a revolutionary idea, but it is new to me and I thought I’d pass it on to those of you who struggle with capturing candid shots of your grandchildren or for those who have difficulty timing action shots. Instead of stressing about the shot, capture all the action on a video and screenshot your favorite images later. These are out of the phone with no edits, and definitely not my best shots, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Photography is a stimulating hobby that satisfies on many levels, from academic to emotional. Anyone can take a picture, but few will take the time to compose a photograph. If your only take-a-way from this post is to pause and consider, that is a good first step.