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!