Let’s talk about a subject that has presented its set of challenges for me over this past year: Blogging Photography. I often find myself admiring the exceptional photographs featured on other blogs. Both envious of their skills but also using my admiration of them as a motivating factor to improve my own abilities. Sometimes, great photographs can be partially attributed to a great camera. These days it’s all about DSLR, a digital single-lens reflex camera. But what if you can’t afford one? Or don’t see yourself carrying around something so large? Can you still take great pictures? I think the answer to that, if you’re willing to put in the effort, is Yes.
When I first started Blogging, I used my IPod to take photographs. I was always frustrated by the quality and desperately wanted a new camera. For my birthday, about 4 months into starting my blog, I was lucky enough to receive a fantastic point and shoot from Mr. Bear (Nikon Cool Pix s9700).
While it isn’t a DSLR, it was a step up from the IPod. But after using it for a while, I noticed something interesting. Sometimes, the difference in quality between the photographs I was taking with the new camera and SOME of the photographs I had taken with the IPod, was very minimal…in some cases non-existent. The reason? Lighting.
I’ve read about the importance of photography and lighting before, but it was only when comparing my own photos that I truly gained an appreciation for how important it could be. Some of the photographs I took with my IPod turned out pretty decent. And some of the photographs I took with my Nikon Cool Pix s9700 left much to be desired. In all of these cases, the determining factor was (and still is) lighting. If I got the lighting right, the difference between a photograph take with once device versus the other was virtually imperceptible.
I think the two photographs are pretty comparable in terms of quality. And the lighting is definitely better in the first one. At the end of the day, while I do find that it is easier to take a good photo with the Nikon Coolpix – you can still get a great photo without a so-called “proper camera”. Plus, these days some phones take better pictures than cameras do. 🙂
All photographs on the Blog between May and September (and a few in October) were taken in natural light with my IPod. In the beginning, I would take photos next to a window. But even on a sunny day, they would come out dim and dull with obvious shadows. I am fortunate to have a small balcony, so I started to experiment with photographing outdoors. My balcony is covered – it’s like a rectangular box with an opening on one side. Light filters in but does not shine directly into the space. It’s like the perfect filter. In the late afternoon, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun (in my part of the world) is at about midpoint in the sky, I get the perfect lighting.
Despite enjoying the natural light, however, I couldn’t exactly be on my balcony at 3 p.m. every time I needed to photograph something. Plus it rains. And I was limited by what I could use for background. Sometime in the beginning of the year, January/February, I decided to purchase a pair of *Limo Studio soft boxes.
The set of lights that I chose are simple and very inexpensive but made a huge difference in my blogging life – giving me increased flexibility. If I use both lights simultaneously, I can produce some great pictures. But my space is small. I don’t have the luxury of a room dedicated to my blogging needs. Therefore, using both soft boxes at the same time (which helps reduce shadows and gives better light) isn’t always possible or practical.
My Combination Method
After experimenting with both natural light and artificial light (soft boxes), I’ve recently settle on a method that works for me. The reason it works for me is because it is the most convenient way for me to produce decent photographs. Notice that I didn’t say that this method gives me the best photographs. At the end of the day, we all have to do what works for us – what fits into our lifestyle, working conditions, circumstances etc.
Anyway, at the moment I’m using a combination of natural light and one of my soft boxes. Basically, I place the object(s) that I wish to photograph between a large open window and one of my soft boxes. The light coming from the window, as well as the soft box is usually enough to sufficiently illuminate the object(s) to produce a good photograph. Despite my best efforts, sometimes the quality is better than other times. However, I’m working achieveing greater consistency.
Other Blogging Photography Considerations:
Reflective Surfaces: I’m afraid, there is no easy answer as to how one goes about photographing reflective surfaces. Unless you have a studio or have the space to create a makeshift one, it’s going to be quite difficult. Basically in order to reduce reflections to a bare minimum, you will need to completely surround the object with as much blank white space as possible. A significant source of diffused light also helps (i.e. from a softbox). Your camera should be placed on the opposite side of the light source. Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of space or setup to be able to surround my objects with blank white space. I just try shooting from different angles until I find a position the reduces glare and reflections. No science behind this (or if there is, I don’t know it).
White backgrounds: I love a white background, but I’m beginning to discover that they can really mess with my photograph quality. Sometimes a white background can make objects look blurry, dull or overexposed – especially if the object itself is mostly white. The lack of contrast definitely makes it a challenge and editing can just make things worse. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with adding pops of colour (contrast) onto the white background which seems to really help the situation. If anyone knows the technical reason why this appears to be the case, I’d love to know.
Eye makeup: This is a work in progress. I was photographing my eye makeup the same way as I do everything else – sat between a window and the soft box, facing the softbox. I think most people who feature eye looks photograph facing the primary light source – I can often see their ring lights in these photographs. But I’m starting to think this may not be the best angle given the lighting that I’m working with. My soft box isn’t exactly state of the art. It isn’t large or bright enough and there are too many reflections in the eye. I’m working on some new angles, so this is one I’ll have to update you guys on. 🙂
And the end of the day, a good photograph is about one’s skill level. But you don’t have to be a professional. Experiment, experiment, experiment. You may not get it right every time, but hopefully, as you practise you’ll learn what works best for you.
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