Month: January 2014

Seven ways to grow your blog, part seven: group (and solo) giveaways

Welcome to the end of my series on seven ways to grow your blog in 2014! To recap, thus far I’ve talked about the importance of a good layout and design, sprucing up your “about” and PR pages, crafting great content with great photos to match, and networking your blog via social media and other outlets. To wrap it all up, I want to talk about giveaways: why group giveaways rock, how to set them up, and a few legal pointers to keep in mind before you hit “publish”. Read more after the jump!

Giveaways do two things for you: draw in new readers, and reward existing followers. I like to do giveaways to say “thank you” to those who follow my blog, but there’s so much I know now that I didn’t know (and wish I had!) when I first got started. If you’ve never hosted a giveaway before and aren’t sure how to get started, here are some things to keep in mind, along with tips for hosting a group giveaway. *Please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, so none of this should be taken as legal counsel for hosting a giveaway. This is simply based on my own research. I strongly recommend you do your own research prior to hosting a giveaway, particularly as international law can be very different from U.S. giveaway requirements.*

Brush up on the legalese

Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to putting together a giveaway than just picking a prize and creating an entry form. Before you get started, read everything you can on blog giveaways and the law (I recommend you start with this article from Sara F. Hawkins and this one from For Dummies) to be sure you understand what you can and cannot do while putting together the giveaway. This is even more important if you’ll be hosting a group giveaway, since you’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page.

For example, you can’t require that entrants follow you via a given channel, so don’t create an entry form demanding they follow all eight (or whatever number) of the host bloggers’ accounts before they can unlock the rest of the entry options.You can offer a freebie entry as the mandatory entry and offer “follow me” entries as the additional “optional” entries.

Decide whether to go domestic or international

There are pros and cons to both. Aside from the legal complications that can come with international giveaways (see the above article links), you have to remember that the cost of international shipping can be prohibitive, and some items (like nail polish) cannot be shipping overseas. On the other hand, many bloggers don’t want to leave their international readers out in the cold. Whether you’re flying solo or hosting with a group, you’ll need to decide on this element before you pick out a prize.

Pick your prizes

Especially if you’re going international, an e-gift card is a great way to offer an instant prize without the time and expense of shipping; it also lets each of the participating host bloggers chip in a small amount of cash towards a larger prize. (Typically, one blogger collects the money via PayPal and purchases/sends the gift card once a winner is drawn.) The downside to this is that the website might not ship to your winner’s country, so be careful to choose a store that any winner can enjoy.

If you’re shipping physical prizes, you’ll have to come to an agreement: are you chipping in toward one larger prize, or will you each contribute a smaller prize? Who will cover the shipping? You should also agree beforehand on a timeline for shipping.

Sponsored prizes–yea or nay?

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, hosting a sponsored giveaway lets you give something away with no cost out of your own pocket (yay!) and you’ll probably get some cross-promotion by the sponsoring brand via their social media pages, since they obviously want people to come enter your giveaway. On the other hand, if the sponsor flakes out on sending the prize, you can find yourself on the hook for sending an acceptable substitute–and unfortunately, it does happen. Just something to keep in mind before you host a sponsored giveaway for a $200 item.

Put together your entry form

I absolutely recommend using the free version of Rafflecopter; it’s easy to use and makes sifting through entries a breeze. Please don’t host a giveaway in which entrants have to leave a comment for each entry (one as a regular comment, one to say they’re following on Twitter, etc.)–those are annoying and time-consuming for the reader, and they’ll be more difficult for you to moderate. Remember, you have to draw the winner at random; it’s so much easier to do with the Rafflecopter widget!

As for awarding points per entry: keep it even. Don’t award one point for a freebie and ten for following on Instagram. It’s unfair to your readers and depending on what state you live in, it could be illegal (gulp).

Write out your terms and conditions

Be explicitly clear when writing out your terms and conditions; here’s a post from Pink Heels Pink Truck that gives a good example of what to include. You can add these to the bottom of your Rafflecopter widget or just paste them into the blog post. I like to add in my giveaway posts that all entries will be moderated, and those that are “spam” entries will be thrown out. I don’t know why, but people will click all of the entry buttons without doing anything at all, and that’s not fair to the other entrants. This is where the moderation panel comes in handy! If you’re hosting in a group giveaway, decide beforehand who will be moderating (typically, the “lead” host, who will also create the Rafflecopter).

Why group giveaways rock

Group giveaways are awesome for a few reasons: it means less out-of-pocket expense for the prize, it’s just fun (co-hosting almost always is!), and it’s a great way to gain cross-exposure for your blog. Since each of the bloggers involved will be posting the giveaway on their blogs and then sharing it via their social media channels, the potential for new faces to see you included as a host is huge. This is a great way to gain new readers for your blog with very little effort.

If you want to host a group giveaway, cordially invite a few bloggers to join you and create a sign-up form that can be filled out detailing what social media links they would like to share and what they’ll contribute to the prize. You might also ask each one to send you a photo of themselves and a brief bio that they’d like shared in the giveaway post, so readers can learn more about the bloggers behind the giveaway.

Partner up with bloggers you trust

This is where I have to be a Debbie Downer and say what no one really likes to say out loud: on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. I’ve heard way too many stories of bloggers who hosted giveaways or swaps and never sent out their goods, or vice versa–bloggers who won a giveaway and never got their prize. If you want to partner up for a giveaway, make sure it’s with bloggers whom you trust. You do not want to get left holding the bag if someone else suddenly goes AWOL.

That’s it for my blogging giveaway advice! Do you have anything else to add that I didn’t cover here? If so, leave me a comment and let me know your best advice for hosting a giveaway (solo or otherwise).

Why Jezebel’s Lena Dunham photo bounty is going too far

 

If you haven’t heard by now, Girls writer and actress Lena Dunham is gracing the February cover of Vogue magazine. Landing the feature spread in the fashion Bible is usually enough to light up the Internet anyway, but Dunham’s photoshoot got an extra boost of publicity this week after feminist snark site Jezebel raised a hullabaloo over her retouched photos. The ruckus culminated in the site offering a $10,000 bounty for unretouched photos from the shoot, which were subsequently delivered and failed to impress almost everyone who saw them. (You can see an example over here on Yahoo! Shine.)

So what on earth is the big deal? (More after the break.)


I mean, this is the same website that railed for days about Jennifer Lawrence’s Flare magazine slim-down, and put out a bounty for unretouched pictures from Lupita Nyong’o’s Vanity Fair shoot, and…wait, what? You mean to tell me they didn’t? But…why not? Aren’t all Photoshopped shoots created equal?

Apparently not.

There are a lot of reasons I have a problem with Jezebel’s actions. For starters, it reeks of Mean Girl faux-feminism. The assumption seems to be that Lena is clearly so fat and squishy and non-pretty that she must require loads of Photoshop to be worthy of a magazine like Vogue. Whereas, with a thin and traditionally pretty celeb like Jennifer, well–yes, it’s a big deal that she was airbrushed, because she’s pretty. She doesn’t need it. But it’s not like there are juicy, horrifyingly unairbrushed photos to be dug up, right? But surely in this case there’s some dirt to be had, and we want to see it, dammit.

Which brings me to the second thing that makes me so queasy: Jezebel is essentially saying that Lena’s body is not her own. Never mind that Lena seems to be pretty happy with her photo shoot, apparently Tweeting about it on Thursday. Never mind that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that magazines airbrush their pictures and that, as Lena herself has pointed out, Vogue‘s photo department makes a habit of retouching photos for a fantastical interpretation of the world. No one has been misled into thinking their photos are unretouched.

In Jezebel’s world, how Lena feels about her body is of secondary concern to how everyone else feels about her body. Jezebel is trying to pretend that they’re shaming Vogue on her behalf, but let’s be real here. Lena didn’t call for the release of the photos; a bunch of voyeuristic editors decided that they had the right to see them, no matter what anyone else though of the matter. Because, you know, feminism.

It would be nice to see a round of huzzahs for a female comic, and a curvy one at that, landing the cover of what is probably the most prestigious fashion magazine in the world. Being a woman in Hollywood is hard. Being a female comic is harder. Being curvy? Now you’ve got a triple threat. But instead of showing a little female support for a woman who has taken the entertainment world by storm–not for being a reality TV star, or for dating someone famous, or for posing for Maxim–but for being talented and raw and real–Jezebel decided it was time to throw her to the wolves. Because that’s what they did: under the guise of making Vogue look bad, they invited everyone to return to the debate over Lena’s fat, fat, fat body, and everything that’s apparently wrong with it (hint: fat).

It also bugs me that Jezebel is so transfixed by Lena’s body, and not by many of the other bodies that have been altered before hers. The site has been guilty before of holding up the faux-feminist myth of “the real woman” and “the real female body”, and I feel like they’re doing it again. They’re so eager to prove that a “real” woman with a “real” shape is being altered, but what about a thinner woman (J-Law)? What about a woman of color (Lupita)? They’re not getting nearly the same press, and that’s wrong. (And yes, I realized that both of those women were mentioned on the site, but they didn’t receive nearly the same level of vitriol that Lena has.) All bodies–short, tall, fat, thin, dark, light–are real bodies. All women are real women. Sites like Jezebel need to stop selectively flying the body-positive flag only when it suits them.

And you know what, I understand that some of Dunham’s fans will be unhappy with her photos. She preaches body positivity and appears in a magazine that’s known for being anything but; I can see where someone would cry foul. But let’s be honest with ourselves: how many of us edit, crop and alter our own photos before we post them to social media? Apply filters on Instagram? Ask for a light bit of retouching for the wedding photo package that cost more than our first car? Be fair. If you were appearing in a magazine read by millions of people, wouldn’t you want your photos to be the very best they could possibly be? Maybe ask for those god-awful undereye circles to be whisked away, for your terrible posture to be digitally corrected? I think Lena probably feels the same as any other young woman enjoying her moment on the world stage–equal parts thrilled to bits and scared to death–and if someone gives her a light perk in her photos, she probably doesn’t mind.

There’s one more thing that bothers me, and that’s the nasty fact that a website actually shelled out $10,000 for what basically amounts to a publicity stunt. Jezebel is notorious for their click-bait-y headlines and this just seems like another attempt to drive traffic to the site. Sure, they’re shrouding the whole thing in self-righteous rhetoric about the evils of airbrushing and body positivity, but their angle seems to have nothing to do with being body-positive; it just seems like a chance to boost pageviews. And I can’t help but wonder: how many body-positive or feminist charities could have benefited from that $10,000?

Seven ways to grow your blog, part six: Reach out (networking)

http://writergirlm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Barcelona-traffic.jpg
(photo of Barcelona traffic via Unsplash)

Happy Friday! We’re almost to the end of my week-long series on ways to grow your blog. If you’ve missed any of the posts this week, you can go back and check them out here: how to smarten up your homepage and layout, fixing your “about” and PR info, producing great content, adding great photos, and using social media to network and grow your blog. Today I’m going to talk a little more about networking, hooking up with brands and other bloggers, and how to increase your blog exposure beyond the social media realm.

With so much traffic through the blogosphere, the idea of networking with bloggers and brands can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Whether your aim is simply to make bloggy friends or eventually work with brands full-time, here are some tips for making new contacts, increasing your blog exposure, and landing sponsored gigs.

Leave comments–lots of comments

Whether you’re looking to draw new readers to your blog or just want to make friends (or both!), one of the best ways to get things started is to leave comments. Leave lots of ’em. Make sure you’re not a “no-reply blogger” so the blog admin can e-mail you a reply to your comment if they want to! If other people comment on your blog, replying (by e-mail if possible) is a great way to further engage with them. You’re not obligated to visit their blog, if they have one, but it’s nice to drop by and say hi if you have a moment.

A word on comment etiquette: if bloggers ask that you not leave a link back to your blog, don’t include one; and please don’t ask other bloggers to “follow for follow”–this is rude and a good way to get your comment marked as spam. Asking someone to check out your blog is kind of on the border, so I typically don’t do it. Some bloggers will say that it’s okay to leave your blog link, in which case you can include it as part of your signature, but if in doubt–leave it out. You don’t want to look like you’re only there for the self-promotion.

Join link-ups

There are more link-ups in the blogosphere than I could possibly list here, so rather than try to point you to a specific link-up I will just tell you to get out there and find a link party you think you’d enjoy, and have fun! You can find topical linkys, challenge linkys (like weekly fashion link-ups), “hop” parties based on a type of social media (Instagram, Pinterest), and so much more. This is a fun way to find new bloggers to follow and also to draw new readers to your blog. Plus, it forces you to write a post when you might otherwise be lacking for inspiration!

Participate in blog challenges

If you really want to get crazy, try a blog challenge. Some of these run on a weekly basis, others ask you to blog every day for a month. Like link-ups, they’re fun, they provide instant exposure, and they’re a great way to “meet” new bloggy friends.

Consider hosting

Here’s a scary idea: consider hosting your own linky or blog challenge! If you’ve made the acquaintance of a fellow blogger and think she’d be a great co-host, shoot her an e-mail and ask her–if you’re both somewhat new to blogging and link-ups, this is a great way to test the waters together, while also dividing the work of creating buttons, linkys, etc.

Join blog networks

The SITS Girls is my personal fave, but there are others out there as well. These not only provide you with chances to network with bloggers and brands, they can provide great sources of tips and inspiration for your blog, from creating better content to utilizing social media, networking, handling legal issues (like copyright and photo usage), and more.

Hook up with brands

It would be nice to think that e-mails would just show up one day, asking you to work with a brand or test a product, but in the meantime take advantage of blogger programs that hook you up with brands looking for sponsored posts and reviews. Influenster connects active bloggers with themed VoxBoxes based on their blog niche and expertise; products can include anything from beauty products to home goods to food. BzzAgent hooks you up with products for review; like Influenster, the products offered cover a wide range of blog niches, from beauty to health to parenting to food. The site is partnered with MyPoints so taking the eligibility surveys (usually 1-2 minutes long) and reviewing the products you receive for review racks up points that you can turn into gift cards–a nice little added perk!

Tomoson lets you apply for promotions based on your niche and blog stats and provides products from clothing to makeup to food to books and more. iFabbo offers bloggers free luxury beauty products for review. etailPR and Brandbacker are two more sites that primarily work with fashion and beauty bloggers. These are just a few of the hook-ups that I use and enjoy; keep in mind that many of the programs currently available are only open to U.S. bloggers. (Sucky, but hopefully they’ll expand in the future.)

Be professional

If you hope to work with brands full-time, you need to prove that you’re worth their products and money. I’ve touched on these points throughout the week, but to recap: proofread your posts for clarity and spelling errors, and use clear, sharp photos. Insert that disclosure policy at the beginning of every sponsored posts. Use your social media pages to talk about the brands you’re working with or hope to work with. Make sure you’re not lacing your pages with profanity or anything that’s not “family-friendly”, since brands will not want to promote you in turn if they think your content will offend other customers or readers. Finally, respond to all e-mails in a timely fashion, even if you aren’t interested in working with the brand; a short polite response is all that’s needed. Which brings me to my last point…

Say “no” once in a while

I think that one of the biggest challenges for newer bloggers is learning how to say “no” to invitations to review products, join networks or link up with new projects. You can spend a long time getting zero offers while watching other bloggers get tons, so when the offers start arriving it’s tempting to say “yes!” to everything just because you’re so thrilled to finally be on the inside of the blogging community. But saying “no” is an important thing to learn, because not every offer that comes your way is going to be worth your time or even pertinent to your blog.

Out of the brand offers, sponsored opportunities and e-mail pitches I see on a weekly basis, I probably accept or apply for less than half. There are simply too many that don’t really fit with the theme of my blog, or maybe involve products and services that I wouldn’t really use of my own volition anyway. There’s a lot of mixed sentiment about sponsored posts in the blogging community and if people feel that you’ll give a thumbs-up to any product that’s tossed at you just so you can keep getting free stuff, it will seriously hurt your credibility.

As far as getting involved in networks or linkups: don’t stretch yourself too thin. Once you’re no longer having fun, there’s not much point (you are blogging because you enjoy it, aren’t you?). If it becomes a chore to join in hops or linkys every week, or if you find that keeping up with a network is just too time-consuming, consider bowing out. Streamlining your focus will give you a smaller pool of contacts but also allows you to cultivate more quality time within those networks, and leaves you more time for the most important thing of all: writing new content for your blog!

I hope these tips will help propel you forward into the fun world of networking, making new blog friends and working with brands! Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping up this week of blogging tips with a post on giveaways: hosting, joining, the benefits of group giveaways, and the legalese you need to consider before you get started. In the meantime, leave me your questions in the comments section below!

Seven ways to grow your blog, part five: Use your social media networks wisely

http://madebyvadim.com/
(image by Vadim Sherbakov via Unsplash)

Happy Thursday everyone! We’re almost to the weekend. For the past four days I’ve been talking about ways to perk up your blog and grow your audience this year; so far I’ve been covering ways to make over the blog itself, including redesigning your homepage and layout, fixing your “about” and PR info, sharpening up your content and taking or finding great photos for your posts. Over the next three days I’m going to shift focus onto ways to share the awesome-sauce blog that you’re working so hard on, via social media, networking, giveaways and other outlets. If you’re new to blogging then making that jump into the world of social media link-ups can be a little daunting, so today in particular I want to share a few tips on how to get the most out of your social media channels, without losing valuable writing time to the inevitable time-suck of the social media universe!

Decide whether to merge or separate

The decision to hold personal and blog-related accounts separately or to merge them is one you have to make for yourself, based on your personal circumstances. Some people like to keep their personal and “professional” social networks separate but honestly, I feel like this is time-consuming (all of that signing in and out!) and kind of tricky (what happens if you accidentally log into the wrong account?). In the end it really boils down to the question of public recognition: if you link your personal accounts to your blog, much like using your full name, anyone in the world will be able to easily track you down and associate you with that blog, including employers, in-laws and old classmates.

Personally, I have no problem with anyone knowing that I blog. I feel like I get a better experience out of merged accounts, since I spend more time being personable and chatty instead of worrying about whether what I’m posting should go into account A or account B. Remember, followers like to connect with bloggers who are personable and “real”. However, there are times when you might want to maintain separate accounts–for example, if you want to keep a private account for friends and family and a public one for your blog ramblings. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s up to you.

Make sure they’re linked to your blog

Take a few minutes to add that pro bio and photo I mentioned on day two to each of your networks, and make sure they all link to your blog homepage. You might even link them to each other; I occasionally blog about books, so my Goodreads account is linked to Twitter and automatically Tweets out new reviews each time I rate a book.

Follow just a few

Lots of people will tell you that you should follow as many users as possible in order to really get the maximum social media experience and find new networking contacts.  I’m going to say, take that advice with a grain of salt; while following lots of different users can certainly expose you to bloggers and brands that you might never have discovered otherwise, it can also clog up your feeds until they’re unusable.

For example, on Twitter, I try to only follow users whose feeds I actually find really interesting; otherwise my feed clogs up with updates I don’t care to see, and I find myself endlessly scrolling searching for the handful of updates I actually find useful. Trimming your list doesn’t just improve the quality of your feed, it also lets you spend more time interacting with like-minded bloggers and social media users, meaning you’ve got a better chance of making friends and developing contacts. 

Chat with other bloggers, and have fun

Friending or following like-minded bloggers and your favorite brands on social media is basically soft networking; it’s a way to start growing your exposure and contacts in a casual setting. Beyond that, though, it’s a good way to start making friends in the blogging community, and it’s just fun! Don’t be shy about leaving “likes” and comments and sharing posts. You might find new blogs you love or even gain a few new readers of your own. It’s okay to not treat the social media branch of blogging as a 24/7 job; part of the appeal of sites like Instagram is the fun factor, so remember to enjoy yourself! If social media starts to feel like a chore, it’s time to reconsider.

I know several bloggers who have quit Facebook because the work of updating and maintaining a separate blog page became too much of a drag. While they were initially worried that this move might lose them a few followers, in the end they were much happier because they didn’t have to face the chore of sustaining that branch of their network. If something doesn’t work for you, cut it off; you don’t have to be hyper-connected to be a good blogger.

Allot your time wisely 

In theory, you could open up multiple tabs on multiple devices to stay hyperconnected to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more while trying to work on your blog. But you won’t get much done that way; not only is the constant updating a distraction, those timelines have a tendency to pull you into a leisurely scroll that eats up minutes before you know it. After I publish a post, I usually post the link to each of my social networks and I’ll give myself a few minutes then to scroll through other users’ updates, comment, share, and so forth. Then it’s back to work, and time to close out those tabs–if I don’t, my productivity goes down the drain.

Instead, I like to schedule ten minute breaks to “check in” on my feeds. This lets me play around without getting lost in space (which happens way too easily when I’m on Pinterest!) and also gives me a mini respite from writing or whatever else I’m doing at the time. Obviously, I spend a lot of time at my desk, but if you don’t and you only have, say, an hour at the end of the day to squeeze in your blogging and related tasks, then time management is even more critical. Finish your posting, editing and other major tasks, and save the Tweeting and chatting for the last five or ten minutes so they don’t take over your writing time.

Post often

Obviously, the more you’re posting, the more you’ll show up in your followers’ feeds. It can be discouraging at first to post throughout the day when you only have a handful of followers, but building a timeline of frequent, fun and informative posts builds appeal for potential new followers. It also shows brands that you work to engage with your audience on a regular basis–crucial to landing sponsored gigs, since brands want to work with bloggers who can promote their products outside of a regular blog post. This infographic shows you some peak times to post on different social networks based on their traffic flow.

Take advantage of features

Beyond the basic posting and following, take a little time to explore other features available to you. For example, on Twitter, you can jump into hashtags to follow topics that interest you and participate in chats or Twitter parties. This is a great way to find new blogs and bloggers to follow. Use hashtags and tag other users in your posts on Twitter, Instagram and other networks, particularly if you want to mention a brand; you’ll often get shares from those tagged, which increases your exposure.

Don’t spam your followers

No one likes an account that screams “look at me!” so don’t just flood your timeline with links to your latest blog posts. Comment on (and possibly share) posts from other users. Chat with other users and your followers. Share pictures, links to blog posts or articles that you like, or even updates from your other networks (like Tweets about interesting Pinterest finds).

Be a tease

Sure, you could simply post up links to new blog posts as they go live…or you could post photos and updates that give your followers a “sneak peek” of upcoming content. If you’ve got a new product that you’re excited to review, post some photos and let your followers know that a full review is coming soon; you might also talk a little about the product as you use it. Again, use hashtags and tag any brands mentioned so they’ll see your posts.

I hope you found these tips helpful! Tomorrow I’ll be talking about networking in a broader sense, so be sure to come back for that!

Seven ways to grow your blog, part four: Take lots of (great) photos

http://www.jennifertrovato.blogspot.com/
(photo by Jennifer Trovato via Unsplash)

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along with my series on growing your blog in 2014! So far I’ve talked about redesigning your homepage, fixing your “about” and PR info, and producing great content even when your inspiration is ebbing. Yesterday I mentioned that part of crafting great blog content involves adding lots of great photos to your posts; today I want to expand on that topic with some photography tips, how to find free photos for your blog, and a few things you should never do when adding photos to your posts. Since this is going to be a bit of a longer post, I’ll let you keep reading after the jump!

Confession: when I started blogging I rarely if ever added photos to my posts. It’s not that I didn’t know how to take pictures; I dabbled in photography in high school. It’s just that I had a cheap digital camera that I could barely point and shoot, much less use for macro product shots, and I was too shy to take pictures of myself for the beauty and fashion posts. Truthfully, though, a blog without pictures is just a bunch of words on the screen; not only do pictures spice up your posts and make them more attractive to readers, they help break up those huge monotonous chunks of text. Plus, with everybody and her sister on Pinterest, pictures add a little incentive to share via social media, which translates into more exposure for your posts! Everybody wins!

What I’m not going to do in this post is give you tons of technical tips on how to take better pictures, such as adjusting angles, exposure or shutter speed. For that, I point you to Pinterest or to the many ‘how-to’ photography manuals you’ll find at your local bookstore; going into these points in any depth would just make this post far too long. It’s not a hard subject to teach yourself, so don’t be put off by the idea of learning a subject with no formal instruction.

Also, don’t be discouraged when you see bloggers shooting with $1,000 cameras. While it’s true that they’re using professional-grade studio gear and having top-notch lenses can really improve photo quality, digital cameras have improved so vastly in the past decade that you can now find a tricked-out model for under $100 that will allow you to shoot in macro, film videos and even experiment with artistic effects. So find one, learn how to use it, and most of all, practice shooting. The more pictures you take, the more your craft will improve.

Technical aspects aside, here are a few tips for taking more attractive photos, finding freebies, and using your photos to best enhance your posts:

Shoot in daylight whenever possible

Flashes and artificial lighting can look harsh and can also alter colors, with unflattering results. Daylight gives the most natural, gentle result, especially if you’re shooting makeup. Be aware that if you’re shooting people, bright sunlight can cause odd shadows and/or make people squint into the camera, so angle around accordingly. An overcast sky or an indoor location near a window is best. If you do choose to shoot indoors with artificial light, make sure you adjust the color & exposure settings on your camera beforehand and use a fill flash (not full-on flash). You don’t want your photos to be super-dark or super-light.

One exception: when it comes to lifestyle photos (and even some fashion photos), sometimes the “best” lighting for the photo is not always the ideal. Confused? A backlit subject can turn into a powerful silhouette. Interesting shadows in a background can add an almost architectural element. Night shots are often low in light but high in atmosphere. Play around with lighting in these situations and you might find that, as with angles, the most straightforward and “informative” shot is not always the one that looks best in the end.

Reshoot until you’re happy

I’m almost never pleased with the first photo I take. If at all possible, I recommend carving out a little time for your photo shoot so you can take tons and tons of pictures and select only the best for your blog. Particularly when it comes to shooting people, fashion posts, etc., I find that reshooting is essential to getting great pictures, since timing is everything and it can be hard to capture the perfect facial expression or group shot on the first try. Also, reshooting can let you move around for more candid snaps, since people start to relax and ignore the photographer. If you primarily shoot lifestyle photos and want to get more creative, I recommend checking out this post from A Beautiful Mess–it’s got some great tips and examples of how to take ordinary photo ops from “blah” to “wow!”.

Edit them correctly

Particularly for product shots, you want to get in close for your original shot. Crop closer while editing if you must. And once you upload the photos, make sure you make ’em nice and large in your posts. Tiny photos are hard to see (duh) and don’t really do a lot for your blog. Crop out distractions at the edges, like a date/time stamp, and add a watermark or copyright tag. You don’t have to use a fancy photo editor, though they can certainly be fun, and can help with tinting issues. Remember, though, that 90% of what makes a great photo happens during the actual shoot; it’s far easier to slightly tweak a good photo than it is to fix a bad one, so don’t depend too heavily on an editing program.

Show your face

This particularly applies to fashion/beauty bloggers: don’t freak out about people seeing you in a photo. I think a lot of us shy away from “selfies” or showing off new clothes and makeup in OOTDs because we’re worried someone will say what we’re thinking inside: Why does she think that looks good on her? What messy hair! Her, a beauty blogger–with those eyebrows? I’m not going to lie and tell you that you will never get a mean comment on your blog or that everyone in the blogging community is 100% open and supportive. But stop hiding out of fear that someone will tell you that you look crappy. Because a) they’re shallow and b) you probably don’t anyway. Or if you are having a messy hair day, remember: we all have them!

Put your snaps on social media

If you’re shooting for a post, consider putting one of the snaps up on your Twitter or Instagram accounts. Consider it a “sneak preview” for readers. Once your posts are published, Pin your photos to Pinterest, share on Tumblr, etc. Photos are eye-catching and are a great way to entice readers to stop by your blog to see more, when they might not click on a bare-bones link.

Use free photo sites

This post from the blog Slap Dash Mom lists a bunch of amazing sites that offer free photos for use on your blog; my favorite is Unsplash. These sites are great sources of images that can be used to spruce up your posts when you don’t have anything on hand from your own camera. Be sure to review the terms of use on each site and credit the photos properly.

And DON’T do this…

Whatever you do, do not search for photos on the internet and copy/paste them into your blog. This is stealing and you can face penalties for it. While this applies to blogs in all categories, it seems like the worst offenders are fashion bloggers who pull images from sites like People.com and slap them into their posts. Not okay! And no, it doesn’t matter if you link back and include credit; you’re using copyrighted material without permission. If you’re unsure of the licensing terms on a photo, move on. It’s not worth being hit with a DMCA takedown request and accompanying related headaches; believe it or not, depending on how aggravated the copyright holder gets over the photo(s) in question, your blog could actually be shuttered. And you don’t want that, do you?

I hope these tips will encourage you to add more photos to your blog posts and have more fun with photography in general! That wraps up the first half of the week; hopefully you’ve gotten some great ideas for turning your blog into a professional space with a snappy design and killer content. For the second half of the week I’ll be focusing on networking that shiny new blog, using social media, link-ups, giveaways and more. Tomorrow I’ll specifically focus on social media, so be sure to check back in for that!

Nail polish swatch: P2 Opulent

Here’s a quick swatch of a new nail color I got for Christmas! My friend Katrin sent me another bottle of P2 Sand Style polish from Germany. This one is called “Opulent” and it’s a dark blue-green liquid sand loaded with teal microglitter. It dries down to a matte gritty finish, but like my favorite Zoya liquid sands it’s a fairly smooth sand, not a bumpy one, so I didn’t bother adding a top coat.

There’s a barely detectable shift to purple at the edge of the nails, but I don’t think it really showed up in these photos. This is the first time I’ve encountered a holo liquid sand, so I’m pretty thrilled with it! I think you can see the purple a bit more at the edges of the polish bottle, if you look closely.

 

Ten on Tuesday: I’ve been away so long!

Ten on Tuesday, link up, random link up, two thirds scarlett

1. I’m taking this course on forensic science from FutureLearn and really loving it so far. I went ahead and signed up for classes on modern business and Shakespeare for March!

2. I’m really on a Led Zeppelin kick lately, and I don’t know why.

3. This is no doubt one of the best Pins I’ve ever found. No more excuses for not sneaking in a few moves, even if I don’t have time for a regular workout!


 

4. Is it weird that I enjoy housecleaning? It’s how I relax on Sunday mornings after a long night at work.
5. I was so excited to get a bit of snow last week, but the next day it started raining and all the snow went away. Waaaaaahhh!
6. I get insanely frustrated when I’m waiting on a library hold and don’t get it in time because the last person decided not to return it on time. It’s a FREE book. You borrowed it for FREE. You don’t even have to pay to be a member of the library. And you get that FREE book for a MONTH. But you can’t return it on time for the next person who wants to read it?!
7. I finally picked out colors for my Zoya promo order: Charisma, Darcy, Destiny, Purity, Rue, and Song. (Three were free, and the other free bumped up the order total high enough so I could get free shipping.) I can’t wait to get my new polishes! Zoya is hands-down my favorite polish brand ever.
8. Is it weird that I would rather spend a little more to get the free shipping? I mean, c’mon. $12 worth of shipping fees is another polish and a half!
9. I finally went to see Catching Fire and good grief, it was intense. Loved it.
10. I’m once again feeling tempted by bangs. Even though I know they don’t look so hot with my thinnish hair. Even though I hate styling them. Even though I hate growing them out. In other words, even though I have no reason to get them and am sure I’ll be tired of them within a week…I want them.

Hey, It’s Okay Tuesday

Today I’m linking up with Amber from Airing My Dirty Laundry for Hey, It’s Okay Tuesday! This week I say, it’s okay…

…to only care about awards shows for the clothes on the stars.

…to be ready for spring while also thinking it’s just a little bit early for stores to start stocking Easter candy. It’s not even February, people!

…to say you’re cutting back on coffee for the New Year, and then replace it with tea.

…to count moving furniture for spring cleaning as “exercise”.

What are you okay with this week?