Please bear in mind, photography is a relatively new hobby of mine and, by no means, am I any kind of an expert. However, over the course of shooting product pictures for the blog and also growing into a DSLR camera and learning to use it properly, I have discovered some simple tips for composing a decent picture (no matter what camera you have!) that I think are worth sharing. I have read countless posts from other bloggers on their photography tips and tricks so, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and share some of my own, very amateur, discoveries including ideas for set up and picture composition as well as why it is so important to shoot in manual mode!
Unless you are going for a particularly arty effect, you never want to take a photo with the light behind your subject. It will cause all kinds of darkness, shadow and discoloration that will be hard to correct in the editing process. Where the detail of the subject isn't as important as the bigger picture, images of people/animals/buildings backed by bright or ambient light can look particularly effective and produce some beautifully natural and carefree exposures.
However, in the case of blog pictures, whether they be of food, make-up, decor or jewelry you are going to want to take your pictures with the subject facing into the light. In other words, the light should be behind you, the photographer, as opposed to the item in question.
The two images below of the same lipstick highlight just how important lighting is in picture composition. Despite being set on a window ledge during a sunny day, the lipstick appears dark and cast in shadow. However, by moving the lipstick to a table in front of the window and standing with the window behind me, I can get a much clearer, more evenly lit picture without even fixing the exposure.
Also on the subject of picture composition, I find a white surface is best for working against. Not only does it add natural brightness to your picture but, it also ensures that the subjects are the main focus. Too much texture, colour or busyness can detract from the finished product. If you don't have a white tabletop, use a white sheet of paper or some large white foam boards and create a makeshift studio. Also, having a mirror nearby will reflect the light and brighten the picture.
Auto versus Manual
This, I believe, is the difference between good photography and great photography. With all the settings offered on cameras these days, it is very easy to fall into the trap of using auto modes. However, the difference working in manual will make to your pictures is worth the small amount of effort it takes to learn how to work in manual. As shown in the pictures below, the auto setting produce an okay picture though, with a lot of darkness. The Manual exposure, on the other hand, can be corrected to ensure a bright, well-lit and colourful shot! I've included a quick guide below for how to get started using manual so, hopefully this will be of help!
Shooting in Manual: A Quick Guide
I spent years terrified of the Manual setting. All I knew was that if I took a picture when the dial was set to "M", it would expose as a dark, hazy mess. So, I avoided it. However, one of my goals for 2013 was to learn to shoot in Manual and, after reading just the first chapter of this book, I am raging with myself that I didn't learn sooner!
No matter what camera you have, it should have a "Manual (M)" setting and options to change the ISO, the shutter speed and the aperture. I know these words seem kind of overwhelming so, I am going to attempt to explain them in basic English! I will give brief definitions of some of the phrases and then share with you how I set my camera up to shoot in manual, only changing one element of the Exposure Triangle (ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed). This isn't perfect photography but, as I have mentioned, I am only new to this myself and find that I can get really decent detail and clarity of picture by just working with the Shutter Speed of my camera. "Proper" photographers will alter all elements of the Exposure Triangle for almost every shot.
The ISO number is the level of the sensor's sensitivity to light . The lower the ISO number, the better the quality of the shot, assuming there is good lighting, while the higher the ISO number, the more noise/fuzz/graininess there will be in your picture e.g. ISO 100 is less sensitive to light than ISO 3200.
I'm a sham in that I currently leave my camera set to ISO Auto. However, I will be learning to work with this setting soon! A good question to ask yourself when shooting is "Is the Sun On?" If the answer is yes, turn the ISO down. If no, crank it up and considering using a tripod or time delay so as to reduce graininess.
The Aperture is the size of the lens opening when a picture is taken. The bigger the hole, the more light that gets in. Aperture is measured in numbers called F-Stops e.g. f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and the smaller the f/number, the bigger the Aperture so, f/5.6 is gives a bigger aperture and more light than f/22.
In the book I linked above, Understanding Exposure, the author recommends that everyone sets whatever camera they have to f/5.6 to begin with, which is what I do, and revisit this setting at a later date or alter it on a case-by-case basis!
Shutter Speed or Exposure Time is the amount of time the camera's shutter is open. Together with the Aperture, the Shutter Speed determines the amount of light that reaches the cameras sensor and the level of exposure.
Shutter Speed is generally measured in fractions of seconds and the bigger the denominator, the faster the shutter speed. For example, 1/500 is faster than 1/30.
Most photography guides recommend using a tripod for Shutter Speeds below 1/60 as images taken when the shutter is open for this long are prone to shaking and blurring. Shutter Speed is the only element of the Exposure Triangle that I generally change. By using the dial and watching the Exposure Meter (see below) I can ensure a relatively good exposure with a good light balance.
A photograph is an exposure. It can be overexposed i.e. too bright, underexposed i.e. too dark or perfectly exposed. You will be able to alter the exposure of a picture by using the Exposure Meter. On most camera, this looks like a number line, running from -3 to +3. Setting the marker along the minus side of the 0 makes the picture darker while setting it on the plus side of the zero makes it brighter. Adjusting the marker to hover around the 0 will ensure an adequately exposed picture. I tend to slightly overexpose my pictures as this gives me the best colour payoff.
For whatever reason, dept-of-field has become a massive trend in the blogging world. That is those images that have a sharply focused foreground and a blurred, softly focused background. Whether you use auto or manual focus (The auto focus on my camera is quite good so I work with that 99% of the time), you can control which element of the image is sharp and which is less so. In terms of beauty pictures, make sure to focus on the element you are discussing, i.e. the lipstick below and not the cosmetics in the back.
My Camera Stats
Camera: Canon EOS 600D
Lenses: Canon EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens
Accessories: Canon Remote Control RC-6
Peacock Picture - Dublin Zoo
Sunset Picture - Somewhere near Bermuda