The blogging world has changed immensely over the last decade. Nowadays, it seems almost every blogger is also a professional photographer. And there’s a reason for that – high-quality, well-edited, and thoughtfully composed photos are essential when it comes to capturing the interest of readers in the sea of blogs out there today.
The good news is that all it takes is some basic photography skills and a few key tools and equipment to capture some great looking photos. So for anyone who may be interested in how to get started, here are some tools and tricks that I personally find to be absolutely essential during my photo sessions!
The number one essential is a camera. Cell phone cameras and point and shoots are getting more advanced these days, but when it comes quality, lens options, camera settings, and flexibility in post-editing, a DSLR is a must.
If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend picking up an older, possibly second-hand DSLR, which will allow you to get familiar with the camera settings and experiment with different lens without making a huge investment. EBay and Fred Miranda forums are both great places to search for used gear. You can also find a great guide here that goes into more detail on how to buy used.
The Right Lenses
If you have a DSLR, the next step is to decide what lens to use for your photos. If you’re shooting product photography and want to get a nice depth of field, make sure get a lens with a low F-stop. Anything three or less will give you that nice blur or bokeh effect.
Bokeh effect created from tiny string lights by setting a wide aperture (around f/2)
For really close-up product shots, a macro lens is a must. It also comes in handy if you’re doing close up shots of the face (for eye makeup looks, for example).
Since I like to do both, I picked up a 60mm Macro 1:2.8, which allows me do full face shots (and even full body shots), then kicks into macro mode for some super close-up shots. It also has the ability to create that pretty blur around my subjects since the F-stop goes down to 2.8.
Backgrounds & Textures
Now it’s time to set the scene. When it comes to shooting products, you need to have the right background/surface to position your subject(s). To keep things clean, I recommend picking up a large white foam poster board and shooting from either over head, or at an angle to create the look of infinite edges. This also gives you a blank canvas to work off of, and complete freedom when it comes to ‘designing’ your layout.
You can also play with different textures to create a more interesting backdrop and ‘scene’, like wood or marble. I personally love the look of a slightly vintage-looking white wood table, so I decided to make my own using an old second desk and some white chalk paint.
Adding a ‘vintage’ touch by scrapping off some of the paint with sandpaper
And the finished table in a product photo…
You can also just as easily reproduce this look using a few wood boards from your local home improvement store (here’s a great tutorial on how to do that). This makes it a whole lot easier to transport and setup wherever you decide to shoot that day.
Marble textures are another favorite of mine. Don’t have one in your home or apartment? No problem – here’s to make one: Pick up some marble laminate from Amazon, eBay or your local home improvement store, along with a cheap ikea table, and carefully roll on the laminate. Here’s a photo of my ‘faux’ marble table:
DIY Marble table top
The key to great photos is lighting, lighting, lighting! A well lit photo minimizes the need to brighten it up later in post-editing (which only reduces photo quality while increasing noise).
If you have a big open window, then use it to your advantage! Set up your photography station as close as you can to it. Depending on the time of day you shoot, you may need to diffuse the sunlight if it’s too bright and creating harsh shadows. You can do this using sheer white blinds or drapes.
A simple, effective (and inexpensive) setup: One foam poster board placed up against a bright window (with a shade drawn to diffuse the sunlight).
If the weather is decent (and you’re not a night owl like me), you can take your setup outside and shot. Cloudy or overcast days are ideal because they provide nice even lighting all around your subjects. On sunnier days, it’s best to shoot when the sun is directly overhead or at a slight angle, or else you’ll get harsh shadows in your photos (which can be interesting if you know what you’re doing, but most the time, they just end up being distracting).
DIY & Professional Reflectors
Whether you’re shooting inside or outside, you may still need to play around a bit to balance shadows and the overall direction of light. That’s where a reflector comes in. Everytime I shoot indoors (which is about 99% perfect of the time), I set up a reflector directly opposite of my light source.
You can use something as simple as a white 8″ x 11″ piece of paper to help minimize shadows and balance light coming from all directions. Here’s an example:
Alternatively, if you need a larger reflector (for larger items, or wider shots), a simple white foam/poster board works great (yes, the same board we used for a background earlier doubles as an amazing reflector due to its sheer size). Simply prop it up against your table or wherever you’re shooting (no tripod needed). Or you can purchase a slightly more versatile reflector, like the one I’ll sometimes use here (this one also doubles as a great reflector for outdoor fashion/outfit shots, if you happen to do both).
Without white reflector (only light source is a window on the left)
With white reflector (set up to bounce light coming from the window and cancel out shadows)
If you’re just starting out, it’s best to pick up a pair of light boxes. They are a fairly low-budget investment, but are incredibly versatile. You can use them for everything from wide product shots, face shots, and even making Youtube videos.
Ring lights are another lighting option, and the one I’d recommend if you’re shooting a lot of face shots and/or video as they’re typically a lot brighter than light boxes. They also work great for shooting product photography in smaller areas (here’s an example post where I used only my ring light). However, they don’t work well when shooting wide product shots (like large flat-lays on poster board-size areas) due to their size, so if that’s what you’ll be using it most for, I’d suggested sticking with light boxes.
Studios lights are used here to light up a large surface area.
A reflector (i.e. our white foam poster board), can be used to reflect both natural and studio lighting to help ‘fill in’ darker areas and create more balance.
Props & Personal Touches
Finally, to add some personality and interest into your photos, props are essential. It’s an easy as going around your room, or whole house/apartment, and grabbing some of your favorites things. I’m talking candles, coffee mugs, magazines, notebooks, jewelry, jewelry trays, scarfs, hats, sunnies, flowers (artificial, or real!), wood cutting boards, coffee/tea cups – whatever fits the style and mood you’re going for!
Accessories add interest and personality, and help to build a scene or story around your subject.
Magazine photos and collages can instantly add color and interest around your subjects.
You can also use props to fill in empty areas around your subject, and also help balance the photo’s composition.
And finally, when it comes time for editing, you’ll eventually want to invest in some professional photo editing software. While a generic photo editing program provided by the camera manufacturer is going to help you do basic cropping and adjustments to your photos, professional photo editing software is going to give you so much more flexibility, not to mention speed up the entire editing and exporting process.
My current go-to photo editing software is Adobe Lightroom. It offers almost every feature imaginable, including lens correction, color and tone balancing, spot healing, and transforms, plus easy watermarking, and bulk editing and exporting options – everything you need to brighten, equalize, and perfect your photos, and get it done quickly!
That’s pretty much all there is to it! I hope this post inspired you, or perhaps introduced you to some new tips or tools to help make photo-taking a little bit easier, and a lot more fun. So grab a buddy (or furry friend), and have some fun experimenting!
What are your must-have photography tools, or favorite tricks that you use whenever you shoot?