Before BlogHer in New York, I attended Blographer, a first time event put on by Adorama. It was a full day session focused on photography, specifically blog photography. And you all know I can use all the help I can get in that area!
The first session was on ten ways to make your photos blogworthy, featuring Amanda Bottoms and Erin Cobb. I learned so much that my head is still spinning. And the almost two hours of this session? It wasn’t nearly enough.
Erin – You might know that in the south we say “Bless your heart,” but here’s the more authentic Huntsville. It is “God love her,” so you can use those two things. “Bless her heart, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing up on stage, bless her heart.”
I’m going to tell you a little about my blog and my journey to where I am now. I started to blog when my daughter was born in 2006 – for my mother, and that was it. I was in Colorado and had a baby. I never had any aspirations beyond that. I had a little point and shoot and that was great. I wanted something better, and it went from there.
About 10 months after I started blogging, a picture I took of my daughter won the BabyGap contest. Then all of a sudden, people cared about my blog, so it started getting hits and my friends and friends of friends started saying, “Can you take pictures of my child?” I decided I will, but you have to pay me. I started a photography business and moved to Alabama. I have a blog for my life and a blog for my business.
Huntsville is the land of engineers – the largest per capita in the country. How do you know an outgoing engineer? He looks at other people’s shoes. How do you know an outgoing blogger? She looks at other people’s phones….
Amanda – I am a full time blogger. I also live in Huntsville with my husband and two dogs. My photography and blog are both food and travel oriented. My blog focuses a lot on food, travel, and landscape, with a lot of desserts. That’s what I take pictures of.
Erin – Empower your images to tell your story. I’m going to tell you a little about each of my blogs. The Pig Bear is my personal blog. I feel like whatever you’re blogging about, food, shoes, engineers, work, kids, you have a story to tell. You have to have something you want to say to the world. The Pig Bear is the story of my family’s life. There is a constant theme that runs through the blog, that life is fun and quirky and real and colorful. That’s the story of my personal blog.
When I say it’s real, we know everyone’s’ life has crappy stuff in it. I try to document that a little, but that’s not what I want to remember about my life. I do blog positively knowing that my children will read it someday, and I want them to know that I treasure them. This is the story I want to remember.
My other blog is my business blog. My clients can go to my personal blog and my friends and readers can go to my business blog, but I keep them separate. I don’t want my client’s grandmother to have to read about my four year old’s fit. The story I want to tell here is about a fun, exciting client experience.
I’m conscious with both these blogs who my audience it. On my personal blog, it’s still my mom and my sister, and my friends and the guy who googled pig bear. On the business blog, it’s my clients, my potential clients, other photographers, and the most important audience for me is the potential clients. I want to blog about this fun and engaging client experience to make people want to call me. If you know the overarching message you want to get across, you already know the images you need to capture and how you need to reinforce the story.
I always want to keep the things that I share in line with my overarching story. We want to remember that we’re happy, that my house is warm, that we’re quirky. And that we’re real. The picture of my child crying is real, and we have to remember that, too. I try to feel the realness, too. On my business blog, I want to keep it engaging and fun. What mother of a teenage boy doesn’t want to see her son mugging up with her to the camera? That’s what I want to show on my business blog.
You know the story you want to tell, and now you have all these tools in your toolbox to tell that story. The trick is how to tell that story to your advantage. You’ve got perspective, the way you approach the scene in front of you – high or wide, close up or not, you’ve got shutter speed and aperture, you’ve got composition and storyboards – the series of images you use to reinforce your story.
A little about perspective.
When you approach whatever you are photographing, before I take that shot, I am thinking, “What do I want to tell? What is the story here? What do I want to tell?” If I were sitting right here, there is the story that the girl in front is scared and everyone is staring at her, so I’d want to take a picture of me up front with some of us in the audience. I’m not just shooting everything. I’m thinking about what story I want to tell and then finding the images for this.
This picture (on the screen during the presentation – showing a baby in focus with the top of a little boy’s head who is holding the baby) is about Baby Jude and being loved and adored. It’s focused on him with my son there but not showing the child loving on him. About five minutes later, this is Ephraim loving on Baby Jude (focused on the boy’s face, with the sleeping baby in the picture but not the focus), so it’s focused on him and his face with Jude there just to show what he’s loving.
You can use objects in your view to show your perspective. Having a door in the background really gives that perspective of peeking around a door. Closer in really gives that perspective of being a part of the scene. Really focusing on the eyes with a big aperture will give you a lot of attitude from the subject of what she can do.
Find the Best Light
Amanda – One of the best tools you have in your toolbox is the light. Finding where the light is coming from, how it hits your subject, honestly it’s not something I thought about at first. I didn’t see where it showcases the highlights and the shadows. It took a long time for me to learn to take the best photos to evoke emotion. I have to find the best light in my house and move things to that area. It can take things from dull and flat with flash lighting to dramatic if you have shadows and highlights.
This is my kitchen (another photo onscreen), where I take most of the photos in my house. That’s good since I take a lot of photos of food. I get a lot of natural light from the big window. I get the sun in the morning. Right after the sunspot goes away, it’s completely flooded in the room. I turn off all other lights in the house because you don’t want any competing light because that’s going to mess up your white balance. I like to have the light just flooding the picture. If I don’t have enough light, I will move the table by the window to get as much light as I can possibly have.
Here’s an example of a picture I took in that lighting. The light hits the food directly from the side and highlights the chocolate. What’s also great about the table is I love being able to just walk around the table and look to see where the light is hitting. The first picture shows the light hitting it from the side. The next photo has it hitting from the back where it has shadows in the front where it then highlights the frosting on the macaroons.
Every picture you ever drew of an apple has the shiny spot on it. We drew it in because our brains know. Find the shiny spot – the interesting highlights – to take the photo. Light coming from the top just isn’t as interesting as light coming from the side or backlight. If you don’t have a good shiny spot, look for the shadows. You can see them up front on the won ton wrappers, because if you have front lighting, you can’t see the dimension as well.
That’s indoor lighting. Now if you’re outside, look for some shade to take pictures, but you want to treat it like that big window. Look for a lot of sun and then move just out of it into shade. You don’t want to see a bright patch of sun in your background because that will be way too bright. It’s the same type of light as indoors with full natural light. Then walk around and see before you even take your picture to see where the best light is. That way you can take 8 instead of 50 photos to get a winner. Look to see where the highlights are hitting the subject. Have the person look at you to see where the catch lights hit their eyes, and that’s where you want to take that photo.
If you’re ever outside and want to get that beautiful landscape shot with a bright blue sky, shoot with the sun behind you, hitting whatever you want to photograph. Shooting towards the sun will give you a white blown out sky. Turn a 180, and you’ll have a bright blue sky that’s illuminated with gorgeous shadows and reflections. For outdoor shooting if you do want to have the sun behind someone, use the popup flash on your camera. The bright light coming in will make the person completely silhouetted.
Expose for the light. Take your camera to where you can just see the sky and hold down the shutter to focus, then move down so items are silhouetted as you want. It depends on what you want to see. Move your subjects to the light.
This photo was taken in a pitch black restaurant where we could barely see the food (gorgeous picture of a dinner that looks fully lit). We want to go out to eat during normal times, but we want to take pictures of our food anyway. You could always use your flash, but I like light coming in from other directions. I have the candle that I moved closer to the food. There is a bright light to the side, where I had a friend turn on her phone to illuminate the food, and it looks like daylight. Most phones have a flashlight app, but that would be too harsh. Hold it at a high angle, to a blank browser page so it’s a white screen.
Be Consistent in Style & Skill
Erin – I feel like when I am about to click on Amanda’s blog, I know exactly what I’m going to see. You have an expectation of a brand and what you’ll get from it. Use GAP, Diet Coke, and Google as examples. You know how it will make you feel.
Every person is a brand; every baby has a blog. Did you know that two years ago, 92% of two year olds and under had an online footprint from a picture or a name on the internet? When someone sees you coming, they have a thought about how they’re going to feel about you, what you’re going to say, or how you’re going to say it. It’s the same thing with your blog and the pictures you put on your blog.
It could not be more important for you to be consistent with your style and skill. There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing how many pictures they’re going to put up or if they’re going to be good or not. Really establish who they are and what they do. You have an expectation. When my clients come to my business bog, they know they’ll see cute families and girls, adorable babies, and happy images.
First, set the expectation through your images what their experience is going to be, then live up to it every time. On my personal blog, I’ve established that story. It’s going to be warm and fun and engaging. It’s going to be a story in the photos. You’re working with this in every post to live up to the expectation to reaffirm the brand. You may not think you have one, but you do.
Don’t forget about that little bit of fun and spark every now and then. Even Coke has Vanilla Coke or Coke with Lime. Don’t forget about that element of surprise. You know the product is reliable, but there’s an extra little fun sometimes. You can do that on your blog, too, and it will help keep them coming back.
Use Aperture to Focus on Important Elements
Amanda – One of the tools you have is aperture. There are things you want a lot in focus and others that you want just a little in focus. Let me tell you a little about aperture; it controls whether you have a lot or a little in focus, if it’s a blurry background or whether you have it all in there. If you have a small number (f2.8) it’s open wide and the background will be blurry. If it’s a larger number, then it will be all in focus. It’s AV in Canon and A in Nikon (and Sony) then turn the dial down as far down as you can go. One of my favorites is the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens that’s about $100. It’s how I get the backgrounds to beautifully blurry.
When you’re doing a blurry background, make sure it’s an interesting background. If it’s just a white or solid background, it won’t have bokeh or be interesting. A picture of perfume sitting in front of a ton of jewelry is reflecting light off the beads. Look for repetitive objects, trees and bushes are fabulous and Christmas lights are great, too. Set it up before you take your shot. That’s what makes great bokeh.
If you want everything in focus, you can go up to 22. Turn the dial all the way up to do that. It’s a narrow aperture with just a little light coming through, so you need a lot of light to come through. That will bring everything into focus. This is something that I use a lot for landscapes. I want the story to include everything. One of my favorite things about using a high F number like 22 is that if you’re taking a picture of the sun or any kind of light, it will create that awesome sun flare. It works all the time whether it’s coming through trees or shooting straight at the sun. It works at night with streetlights, too.
Use your Shutter Speed to Dramatically Freeze or Blur Motion
Amanda – You can use shutter speed to tell your story to either dramatically freeze or blur and slow down motion. When I go outside and I want to take photos of action, the first thing I do it put my camera in Shutter Priority Mode – TV in Cannon and S in Nikon (P for Sony). If you see inch marks on your screen, that’s actually seconds for your shutter speed. You need a lot of light because the shutter doesn’t open as wide. I turn it to 500 and, you’ll capture the action. A high number is a fast shutter speed and it will freeze. The camera will handle everything else but the shutter speed.
On the flip side of that, you can use an extremely slow shutter speed to create a dramatic motion effect, but you need a tripod or something to keep it steady. It’s recording the whole time the shutter is open for a quarter of a second or five seconds or thirty seconds. Nothing else in the background (of a photograph shown on the screen) moves but the water, so the background is in focus but the water is blurry. If you move at all, then it won’t work. This is great for places that are action central where you don’t want to have people or cars in the photo but instead shows the image you want to see.
If you’re going to use a tripod, use a quick self-timer mode like 2 seconds or something. Any shake or movement on the camera will shake or blur it. Even pressing the shutter button will shake the camera. I press the shutter then get away from the camera while it’s taking so the camera has time to steady itself.
The next time you’re taking a photo, think about what images might benefit from a slow shutter speed. If I’m going to do photos of water, I love a slow shutter speed because it gives a slow dreamy effect. The water is choppy and looks flat with no interest to it. There are always railings in places I seem to go, where I can turn on the self-timer and set the shutter speed and let it record. It makes a more interesting picture. If you shoot in manual mode, you can up the aperture to get sunburst, too.
Select Images That Support Your Style/Brand
Erin – You’ve taken all these pictures and now need to choose which ones to share that support your brand. I feel like I can see a picture on the Internet and know Amanda took that photo. There is a very signature look. I know that feels daunting if you aren’t super familiar with your camera. If you’re consistent over time and figure out what you like, you’ll find what’s consistent with your brand. Once you have defined your style and brand, work with each post to enhance and strengthen it. Whatever your style is, make it your goal that your images be instantly recognizable even without your name attached.
With a blog, you don’t really know exactly who is reading your blog. You can look at Google stats, but it doesn’t tell everything. When it comes to blogging, think about the story first – and mine typically are of children, family and people. I just don’t take photos, or care to take photos, without people. I typically know the story I want to tell.
Do you ever see interactions where you want to freeze them and they’re so poignant or special or funny? That’s the story I want to grab. I don’t necessarily know the tone that my blog post will take. I don’t know when I take that picture of my kids snuggled in the bed on a Saturday if I’m going to go funny or poignant with it. It’s when I’m editing the photos that I really start to form the tone and post in my mind. I take the images and know the story then craft the post around it.
The tone influences the number of images I share and the order in which I share them. If I’m doing a story about my day in New York or Blographer, then I’ll share a lot of pictures and punctuate it with information. Storytelling posts do really well with lots of images. The sweet or poignant stories tend to not need as many images.
Some of the blogs I really like frustrate me because I feel like a quarter of the way through the blog post, it has already told the story and it just goes on and on. It feels like I already know this story and it’s just too sweet. If it’s sweet, keep it short. It gets too heavy when it’s serious. Keep it short. With storytelling, you can use more images to tell the story. This is my husband and daughter playing soccer. My daughter has learned to do the “What’s that?” to my husband who plays the fool for her.
Oftentimes, leaving an image out can do more for your blog than putting it in? Does this image support my story without being redundant? It may just be so cute and a different angle, but no one cares if it’s a different angle. Be sure that each image you choose supports without retelling. Does it bring something new to the story?
Is it safe or anonymous enough to be respectful of friends and family? Everyone has a different line, and you have to know that. Most people I’m photographing know that I’m going to put things on the blog, and if they don’t want up, they’ll tell me. Nothing will make your images less blogworthy than friends and family not wanting to be up there.
Shoot with Skill and Edit for Impact
Erin – I’m going to tell you something embarrassing about me. In 2005, my daughter was born. I learned everything my point and shoot, including shooting in manual mode. I knew all it could do. Then I decided it was time for a new camera and got a Canon Rebel. I had no aspirations to be a photographer, so I started researching online. I had no idea that Photoshop existed. I didn’t know about image editing at all. I saw these pictures, in a time where oversaturation was big, and I spent a good six months working my camera to look like these photos that I know now had been edited.
I’m really glad I did this though because it taught me to shoot with skill. When I discovered Photoshop and I can edit, that’s great, but I still know how to take that photograph. My editing philosophy is that Photoshop is like makeup. It works best when it looks like you’re not using any. You don’t want people to walk into a room and say, “Wow, did you see her eyeliner?” You want them to notice your eyes.
If you really like to go for it in Photoshop, then go for it. I sell a Photoshop product that teaches people to use it like I do, so I’m not bashing Photoshop. I want images to point back to your story and not to the editing that you did. You want them to notice your image.
Lighten to emphasize Detail
Amanda – The first thing is the light. I personally think that most photos need a little bit of lightening. You can do this in editing photo tool you have from Picasa or just uploading it somewhere. Everyone is going to have a tool to lighten. It’s when it’s a little bit brighter that lets you emphasize your detail and enhance it. You don’t want to do it too bright because I look at blogs and look at things where it’s just too bright all the time. It’s always ok to shoot just a little darker than you think because you can fix that. You can’t really do too much when it’s too bright and light.
Train your eye to recognize proper white balance
Amanda – There’s nothing worse than seeing a picture that is great but just a little too blue or just a little too yellow. All I do when it’s a little too blue is add a little warmth. It looks like I also lightened it or saturated it, but I didn’t. It instantly adds so much to just add a little warmth. If a plate has anything white in your photo, use that as your guide. If you aren’t sure, start playing around with a photo to see what makes it look better or worse. If it’s too yellow, you can cool it down a bit, which will help you see the colors a little better. The items just pop out a little bit more just from adjusting the white balance.
Finally – Prepare properly for the Web
Erin – Back when I discovered about editing, I learned about RAW. Photographers have a huge debate about this. I started shooting in RAW. I kept dumping all these RAW files with no in camera processing with all the original data in there, which gives you more freedom to change them, but then all I was doing was to go into a RAW processor without touching any of the sliders and turning them into .jpgs. That wasted so much time for me. And now I shoot for the last 5 years shooting in jpg. I say this because RAW is a superior file type. It is. But if you find yourself pulling your RAW files into your converter and not doing anything with them, save yourself time and heartache by shooting in .jpg.
The last thing is preparing for the web. Karen Russell lives in Oregon and teaches online and in person. I went out to see her about two years ago about my editing processes. We spent time together, and it was great. “There was something else,” she kept saying that I was doing to make my photos better. After days, we decided to do a post about me being out there. I started to prepare mine for the web. And that’s where she figured out what I’m doing differently.
I think that there are bloggers who don’t know that you have the option to prepare your file for proper display on the web. It resizes to a smaller file size so it uploads faster, and when you put them up there that way, it looks just a little softer and smoother. The web does something different from when you print it.
If you sharpen it properly for the web, suddenly you’ll figure out how much better it looks. I have a web sharpen action that I will give to anyone who emails me. Do some research into this if you aren’t already properly preparing your images for the web. There are benefits and drawbacks to this. One of the benefits is that you can upload them faster because they’re smaller. If people were to download your images to your computer and print them, then they can’t print a 16×20 from your web file because it will look terrible. Another benefit is that your images will look sharper and display better for your audience.
A drawback is to think about the purpose of your blog. If your purpose is to document your blog and then slurp it and put it into a blog book that you can save as your family history. If you have resized all your photos for the web, every single one of your files will have to be replaced manually because you will get messages that they won’t print well. If your purpose is to present your images in the best way possible or you don’t mind putting in the extra time, then go ahead and do this. As far as the optimal pixel size, it depends on your blog and whatever site you’re putting them up on. Amanda will discuss this.
Question and Answer
Audience: Do you watermark your photos?
Erin – On my personal blog, I have given up the fight on my personal blog because it takes a lot of time. I do not watermark my images. I try to make them inaccessible by disabling right click. There is a great picture of mine with a couple horrible quotes that is floating around the web. Those sorts of annoying thing happen. On my business blog, I have my logo on every picture that is resized for the web and has a border around them. I don’t know if this is the right answer, but it’s what I do.
Amanda – I depends on what image you want to present. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. A lot of cameras now will include your copyright information on every picture you take.
Audience: As a photographer and a blogger, are you calibrating your pictures for print?
Erin – I am calibrating my pictures for print. Unless you’re a photographer, no one else notices it or cares.
Amanda – My philosophy in life is to get it to 95%, and that’s good enough. I get it there and then just don’t care about that last 5%.
Erin – I am a professional photography making my money from selling pictures, Amanda is a professional blogger.
Audience: With both a personal and a business blog, how do much time do you spend?
Erin – I’ve toyed with putting them together. I do a sneak peek for every session, and I do three sessions a week. I also do some filler things. I try to blog on my personal blog every other day or so, but that falls to the side when I get busy. I spend 5 to 6 hours a week blogging. My business has been in my house until last month, so now I’m trying to really recommit my evenings to things I want to do, so I blog on my personal blog more often.
Audience: Do you ever put personal stories on your business site?
Erin – I may put some there. For example I may tell them that I came to New York. I do have a link saying that this is my personal blog if you want to click on it. I want them to have a choice. A lot of my clients do read my personal blog, but I don’t want to confuse the grandmothers. When they come to see the sneak peek of their child, I don’t want them to have to read it (my personal blog).
Audience: When did you start to figure out how to blog the personal stuff after you just started the blog for your mom?
Erin – For me, it has changed. My voice isn’t the same, and it’s constantly changing. I am growing as a person, so I find myself influenced by other blogs I read, but I think I’ve found my confidence in myself after the GAP casting call, maybe about a year later.
Amanda – I have always been a blogger. I was a blogger when I was like 14 years old. We didn’t have Facebook back then. I was your typical 14 year old who wanted to plaster photos all over the internet. I used Geocities back then. I traveled a lot back then, too. I had family and friends all over that I wanted to keep in touch with, and I found the internet. I honestly did exactly what I’m still doing now. I put photos up and write about it. I met my husband when I was 20, and I was still keeping it up. For our one year anniversary, he bought me the domain name kevinandamanda. Even then, I had readers that I didn’t know – not friends and family. I think two things to remember are that you have to talk about what you want. It’s not real if it’s not you. You won’t enjoy it. Say it how you want to say it, how you would tell a friend. Sometimes I get stuck with the writing part. The photos are the voice of my blog. I pretend like I’m calling a friend on the phone. Also, your readers will let you know what they expect from you, so it’s a balance. If I post 50,000 travel photos in a row, I know they want more food.
Erin – When Ephraim turned 2, we bought EphraimCobb.com. Someday someone will google him, and he can do what he wants with it someday.
Audience: How do you manage your SEO when you have a work blog and a photography blog, assuming you put your real name on both blogs?
Erin – I’m not an SEO expert, but I want people to come to find my business blog when they google “Huntsville children’s blog.” I don’t care if they google my name and find my personal blog because there is a link to my photography blog.
Audience: Do you use other social media to promote your business blog?
Amanda – Yes, I use them all. I use a Facebook fan page. I use Twitter, but I resist Pinterest. I tried to resist Instagram. I’m addicted to that. If I could only use one social media, it would be Instagram. I do like Facebook, but the voice of my blog is photos, so I like the places I can share photos. I don’t do a lot of updates, but I’ll share photos or a link back to my blog with what I’m sharing that day. Twitter does not come naturally to me. If I weren’t a blogger, I don’t think I’d be on Twitter. It’s not my thing, but I use it because it’s where I can talk to other bloggers. I have found a lot of bloggers may not answer your email or Facebook, but they’re good at answering on Twitter. I will promote my posts every time I write a new one, but I use Twitter to talk to other bloggers to build a relationship and network with them.
Audience: What do you use to publish?
Amanda – I use WordPress now.
Audience: When you take pictures of other kids or when you travel, do you worry about that?
Erin – For my business, they’ve all signed a model release. I don’t always ask friends and family, but they know that’s what I do, so I figure they’ll tell me. I’m cautious about what I share. Six years old is too old to show in underwear.
Amanda – We have someone talking about street photography later. That would be the person to ask.