Photography for the Amateur, Stagefright-Afflicted Blogger

In her recent post, 2 out of 40, the Queen B of Style Underdog lamented her feelings of awkwardness while posing for outfit shots, then deemed the outcome of her frustrating endeavor as “wonky.”

“This is all I have to offer today,” she proclaims. “Two shots out of 40.  What are you supposed to do with your hands when you pose?  I think I need a crash course in modeling.  Is there such a class as Modeling 101?…Is watching America’s Next Top Model a prerequisite?  Hold on, is there an age limit?”

Ah, B. How I know your frustration and appreciate your honesty. Throughout my own journey from print writer, to Web writer, to blogger, to photographer, to subject, to photo editor, to vlogger, I have also felt the sting of my own ineptitude and the familiar disappointment that comes with the realization that that perfect shot on a 2 x 3-inch camera screen isn’t quite so great at 1024 x 768. I’ve felt stupid and self-conscious and have hated some of my photos.

Like B, I am neither a professional model nor a professional photographer; I have neither the gritty gloriousness of London, nor the grandeur of the River Seine for subterfuge or support. I have no photographer/boyfriend, no boxes of goodies arriving at my doorstep daily. I am not 26 and snapping my way through exams, parties, and fashion design school. It’s just me and my camera. In the clean and plainly pretty southeastern U.S.

So B’s post got me thinking about what it is that makes a great shot, and how you get one. While I am certainly not qualified to speak as an authority on this subject, this is why I think you should listen to me: I’m an average girl in an average neighborhood in an average city, without even a single photography class under my Gucci belt. But lately, if I must say so myself, my photos are getting better. And how do I know that? Because other people seem to think so too. I still have a long way to go, but I have made progress.

That said, I know B and I aren’t the only ones who want to produce compelling, memorable imagery for our blogs. I hope the few things I’ve learned to this point might be of service to others struggling with the same technical and physical challenges.

•• Tips for Better Blog Photography ••

Realize that even the pros take dozens of shots to get a good one.

They may occasionally snap a perfect one with one shot, but realize they’ve been at it so long they know how to time the pushing of the button with the movement of their subject. Practice makes perfect, it really does. Don’t beat yourself up if you shoot 40 photos and only get two. Just keep shooting.

You don’t need to be in London or NYC to get a great shot.

There is beauty everywhere, from graffiti-ed walls, to fountains, flowers, the beach, or even a cemetery. When you can, take your photos outside—the lighting is almost always better, and believe me, people will notice a pile of clothes on the floor in the corner of your room. Scout your regular surroundings and find a place that works for you. If you keep shooting in the same place and hate all the photos, stop! Try a different spot, a different direction, a different time. As long as you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same result.

I shoot all my photos in my yard, because that is easiest for me, and because I have a bit of stagefright and I’m not really comfortable shooting in public. Even in my yard, I switch it up. Some days the lighting and surroundings are better in one area than another.

Your equipment really does make a difference.

My photography totally changed when I got a digital SLR and a tripod. Canon has some fantastic entry-level SLRs. But if all you have is a point-and-shoot, you can still get some great shots. Tripods are very inexpensive and are critical if you don’t have a hot young boyfriend to shoot your every move. Just know that you’ll have to stay closer to the camera when your lens is shorter.

Even average shots can look amazing with a little photo editing.

Don’t be so quick to delete so-so shots—most cameras come with photo editing software that can transform average photos into little works of art. If those programs are too complicated, try Picnik, which is online, free, and very easy to use. It has a wonderful array of filters and effects, plus all kinds of editing tools. Some photos take on a whole new feeling when they are converted to black and white or sepia. Just because your photo came off the card one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Case in point. Below is an example of a recent photo I took, unretouched. Notice the black weed liner that has come up in the yard, and the telephone pole. Not so nice. Lighting’s kind of unremarkable too.

Now here’s the photo after I cropped it and applied effects using Piknik. Definitely more compelling, and more appealing to the eye.

Props go a long way.

Not only do they add to the photo, they give you something to do with your hands. Obvious props are a handbag, hat, scarf, or jacket that are essentially part of your outfit. Less obvious? The items in your environment. I was having some yard work done at my house this past spring and my landscaper left his wheelbarrow and shovel in my yard for a few days. Of course I cheekily included them in a few shots. Other less-obvious props: a ribbon that was in your hair, your dog or cat, flowers, a coffee mug or tea cup you’ve been sipping from. I think viewers want to see the things that make up your every day life—the things you love or use—as much as they want to see you.

Be yourself.

Are you a smiler? A jumper? A laugher? A smirker? Do whatever feels natural to you and the photo will look natural. I am not a chronic smiler, and sometimes that’s not so great in photos, but most of the time, shots don’t look cheesy or forced because they’re not. Some bloggers have a perpetual, slightly-agape smile, some don’t smile. Some jump, others squat. I’m a stander and I feel best not looking directly into the camera. That’s me. Do what is comfortable for you.

There’s a reason why photographers wax philosophic about light.

Most really amazing photos aren’t a result of the photographer’s talent, but his or her ability to catch a subject in the right light, and the right angle. I never realized how stunning sunlight is until I started shooting outside. Now that I’ve done it a fair amount, I have found that my favorite light for my setting is in the morning between 9am and 11am. On a sunny day, I know exactly where the light will hit and where I need to be in relation to it. But that’s because I’ve shot over and over and over and I’m learning. I also know which spots are too bright  because of direct sunlight, and to avoid them because my photos wash out.

Remember that unless you are being paid for your photographs, you should be having fun.

If photos aren’t coming together one day, just let it go. Don’t force yourself to post. When you get shots you like, go for it. At the end of the day, if you’re having fun and love your work, that’s really all that matters. If you have an audience of even one reader, just consider it a bonus. Blogging is not about numbers and comments and popularity. It’s about creative expression—that’s why you started your blog, remember? It wasn’t for everyone else. It was—and is—for you.

Oh. And P.S.: There is no age limit. All one needs is a click through Scott Schuman’s blog to know there is beauty and elegance at every age, in every ethnicity, in every shape.

P.P.S.  B, I hope you don’t mind the mention, and your photos are not wonky!!!

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  1. this is a brilliant post, and a sage advice for every blogger, sometimes we’re the worst critics of ourselves, thanks for sharing these tips, they are very much appreciated, much much love, xoxo

    1. Thank you Jemina! And thanks for popping by. Still thinking of your AMAZING watch collection. Gifts from the in-laws, gifts from the hubby…I love it.

  2. Amazing post darl – I’m sure a lot of people can associate with shooting ‘wonky’ shots – me included and that’s because well, i’m lazy and use my (really old) camera phone – Shame on me! Hence why i don’t do ‘me’ shots! 🙂

    I’ve worked on loads of shoots before (commercial, editorial and for the average Joe) and had to edit the shots with varied professionals… It really helps of course that the person taking the shots is really good, has an eye for capturing the shot – which like you said can be cropped later. If you have someone who can direct (telling you to pout more! Look towards that point there, or move your shoulder to one side more…) then great! It really helps create the perfect shot!
    Self-timer can be hit or miss! – Usually a miss if you can’t find something sturdy to prop/lean against if you don’t have a tripod.
    Pose Ideas: Check out fashion mag shoots – if you see something you like – tear the poses out and try recreating in front of a mirror-sounds silly right? A wee bit – but it will help bring you confidence in yourself for starters and show you what kinda moves/poses work for you. (Dancers always rehearse in front of a panel of mirrors to perfect their moves).
    What’s your best angle? Chin down (is most flattering), swing hips to one side more – makes you look slimmer…
    Practice makes perfect! But at the end of the day, it’s important to embrace yourself and who you are in the pics! V-you’re so right there!

    Holy bananas i can see this becoming some sort of essay… crikey! Sorry, waffling on yet again!

    1. Thank you! I love your comment too…there are some very helpful tips in there as well!

      PS: You said crikey! I love that word.

  3. Oh, excellent tips. I am not a model, nor am I that comfortable in front of the camera. To be honest, I take about 10 shots. That’s it! And I choose from them. I take them around the apartment complex I live in, so people see me do them. I just ignore them. No one has said anything yet. 🙂
    I smile or I just stare down my camera (haha). I think I look kinda mean in some of my photos, but that is the look on my face usually. I don’t smile at my desk!

    I think sometimes bloggers want their photos to look like someone else’s, but we all take different photos, in different places. Mine will never look like yours, and vice versa. You give very good insight into how to make your photos better and work for you 🙂

    1. Thank Suze…I admire that fact that you will just set up and shoot no matter who is looking. I feel like such a dork…I mean I don’t want everyone to think I’m in love with myself, you know?

      You made a great point too…we all take different photos. And isn’t that the beauty of it? I love seeing where other bloggers live or visit through their photography. I’m an admitted voyeur, if you will. I think there is nothing more fascinating than to peek inside another’s life, handbag, room, closet, car, whatever.

  4. Thanks for these pointers. For me, I try to get as nice shots as possible, but I have constraints (time, equipment, not wanting to spend relationship capital on getting my partner to take photos of my outfits). Also, I live in NYC and at least in my neighborhood, I find it really different to take photographs. I promise you that someone would steal my camera if I set it up on a tripod, so taking indoor shots works better (I could take a train and force my partner to take photos in front of more scenic locales, but I don’t have the time for that). Unless you are doing this as a major project, living in NYC doesn’t make for better photos.
    Also, I like the imperfect vibe of my photos. It gives my ad free blog the right amount of indie feel. But everyone’s blog project is different, and that’s cool.
    Love your photos, your killer shoes, and beautiful clothes. I found you through Style Underdog, whom I think we can all agree is no underdog when it comes to style.

    1. Hellllllloooo Brooklyn! My birthplace! So nice of you to visit and comment. I totally get the limitations you face in your own photography (I laughed when you said someone would steal your camera if you put it on a tripod).

      I totally appreciate embracing imperfection, as well as ad-free blogs. God bless you for that. We’re in the minority, hon, that’s for sure.

      Thanks bunches for your sweet words. And I agree, with you and A-Dubs that Queen B of Style Underdog is no slouch in the style department!

  5. great post, i loved reading it!!!! 😀 i like your photo shootings a lot, you´re an inspiration!

    thanks so much for your comments in my style diary 🙂

    love from Portugal,

  6. Thanks, V, for these great tips. And I echo Rad’s comments above: ‘love your photos (which as B over at Style Underdog has said) seem like magazine spreads), and am bookmarking this post in particular! Also, agreed, Rad: SU is no sartorial slouch.

  7. Thanks for the tips, V! I’m glad first of all, to know I’m not alone. I’m ready to level-up in the photographs for my outfit posts, so this has come at the most opportune time! Have you noticed anything about my outfit pics??

    I’m surprised that you’re shy about taking photos in public. From watching iJustine vlog for a few months, I’ve learned that there’s really no reason to be shy! I am a blogger, and I take pictures! Yes, even of myself and my outfits. It’s what I do! :-p


    1. CarolAnn, so glad this post could be useful to you.

      What I notice about your photos—other than your lovely, smiling, happy face—is that you’re very good at positioning your body for a supremely flattering shot. You favor your right side toward the camera, and your hips are angled slightly away from the camera. which is excellent. Aside from your smile, viewers see a super-flat little tummy and an itty bitty waist! The positioning of your feet is also superb. This is your trademark stance; you look comfortable, and the angle is immensely flattering.

      Unless you’re looking to take a more artsy approach with your photography, I wouldn’t change a thing!!! You could be teaching other ladies how to put their best side forward! Well, you already do, don’t you?!

  8. Excellent post! I expect I will eventually start doing outfit posts…and when I do, I will most definitely be referring back to this post. Thank you for sharing.
    XO Piper

    1. Thank you Piper…I would so love to see what you look like! I am smitten with your blog. There is a seriously stylish diva behind that immaculate blog, I just know it.

    1. Yay!!! So glad you liked. Thanks for your vote of confidence…I did submit to IFB, at the very top of the list. I hope it makes the cut!

      And you are a Queen, honey! With the stature to rule, for real!

  9. This post is so helpful to amateurs like me. I am always so scared of looking too contrived or awkward in a pic that I don’t model for pics any more. I am going to try and use some of the tips you have given here!

    1. Thank you Ms. March. Your technique must be working because you do indeed have a lovely smile in your photos!

      Welcome to G&G!

    1. K~

      So glad you stopped by…thank you for your comment! I love your blog and I’m following now. You’ve got some lovely shots.

  10. Great advice – and so true, when it’s just you and the camera, it’s about having fun.
    Also, getting outside in to the natural light is so crucial for me — i hate interior shots, and i loath on camera flash, on days when i can’t get out doors, I’d almost rather not post at all!

  11. I am really enjoying reading your posts, this has got some great tips and as a new blogger I found it very helpful… I am lucky enough to live in London but I have been too lazy to go out and find and inspirational spot to take my pictures, I think it’s time to get out there

    1. Fantastic, Hannah, so glad you like! From your video, it looks like you not only have some potentially great locations, but someone to hold the camera…bonus!

  12. These are all great tips and things to definitely keep in mind. Especially remembering that it takes many shots to wind up with the perfect one. I am learning that and absolutely agree. Thank you for a fantastic post and congratulations on being include in this week’s Links a la Mode! I hope your weekend is going well! =)

    1. Thank you my dear! So glad you found this helpful, and congrats to you as well for making the Link a la Mode list!

  13. Great tips! This is something I deal with as well and one of the main reasons I seldom do personal shots on my blog. I always feel like I’m “too posy” when taking outfit photos and I fear that Tyra will haunt me in my dreams if I take a bad shot (too much ANTM). Either way I agree with all these tips and I certainly need to upgrade my camera. And Picnik is amazing in editing photos!

  14. THANK YOU!!! I stumbled upon your tips for better blog building, and am so happy I did. I’m fairly new to the blog game still, and one of my biggest struggles is my own insecurity with the camera. I practice in the mirror, but the faces and poses don’t always translate the same in the photo; I beat myself up because I see a double chin or a chubby arm.. Basically, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Some blogger’s look so effortless and “model-like” in their photos, and I envy them, but I’m not going to let it discourage me. I’m already learning a lot about what works and doesn’t in my photos, and I’ve recently invested in a new camera that I hope to better familiarize myself with. So thanks again for letting bloggers like me know we’re not alone in our struggles! 🙂

    1. Sarah, thanks much for your comment…welcome, honey!

      I love that you are going to keep trying with your photos. We’re all different people and we ALL have hangups of some sort. The key is to do what YOU are comfortable with, and that will come over time. I still have major stagefright, which I’m sure people would find surprising. I’m fine with shooting photos and videos of myself all day long—as long as there’s not another soul around. But add an audience…even my own hubby!…and I clam up. So I still have work to do as well.

  15. HI V

    I take most of my pictures in my backyard too. I have my hot husband who takes most of my photos and sometime I take my own. I take maybe 10 photos and I might have 3 good ones and that’s okay because at least I have some good ones. I get caught up in my thighs look too big and that kinda stuff. Sometimes my puppies are in my photos and that’s a lot of fun.

    1. Hi JT, thanks for your comment. Sometimes I take photos on a day and NONE make the cut. But practicing really does help! And puppies are always fun!

  16. hey Vahni, just read this old post of yours and its really great cause Im still struggling with this exact thing. Thanks again for your wonderful, informative posts!!

  17. Again this was so helpful!! I do feel like I have to post something new every week so it’s good to know that I don’t have to. I can take it a day at a time and make sure it’s something I’m proud of.

    1. Thanks, Sweet! I confess I don’t know that much about photography. I seriously need to take a class! But I think I’m getting the hang of outfit shots…it takes practice.

  18. This is so helpful. I’ve been blogging for 6 months now and I’ve been a bit insecure about pictures. I can really learn from your knowledge. And yes I’m following as of now.

  19. I’ve just begun my foray into blogging and was directed to your Build a Better Blog resource. It has been so ridiculously helpful, in addition to confirming a lot of the feelings I have about other blogs, how I want to blog, what my goals are, etc. It’s so great that you’re putting your expertise and experience out there for us novices — thanks!

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