The last few posts in my blog tips series have been long, rambling and kinda introspective, so for this week’s post, I thought I’d do something short, snappy and tip-laden, instead. Then I remembered I’m not actually capable of doing “short and snappy”, so here’s another long, rambling post, although, in my defense, it does contain actual tips this time. Baby steps, people, baby steps.
This post is specifically aimed at fashion bloggers, and even more specifically, at outfit bloggers. Here are six easy ways to improve your outfit photos… without having to buy a DSLR…
01. Take them in natural daylight
Now, I know outdoor photography isn’t always an option for everyone, and even when it is, it brings its own set of challenges (The weather and The Others being the two that immediately spring to mind). I also know some bloggers who take most of their photos indoors, and get amazing results every time. In general, though, natural light is far preferable to the artificial light you get indoors, so my first recommendation is to try to take your photos outdoors if it’s at all possible: they’ll be lighter, brighter, and much more natural as a result.
Remember, however, that not all natural light is created equal: very bright sunlight, for instance, is hard to shoot in, and can create harsh shadows, which aren’t flattering: trust one who knows. You don’t always have the choice with this one (here in Scotland, for instance, I often find myself having to choose between the lesser of two evils: either bright sunlight or pouring rain…), but ideally you want to try and take your outfit photos on a day when it’s bright, but not TOO bright. You’ll hear a lot of bloggers and photographers raving about the “golden hour”, which is that magical time right before the sun goes down, when the light takes on a lovely golden hue: early morning light can also work well, so could be an option for those of you who are much more organised/less lazy than I am.
02. Clear the background
In terms of backdrops, you don’t have to have show-stopping scenery to get a decent outfit photo. I’ll never pass up the opportunity to take photos in front of a ruined castle, or a famous landmark (or, you know, with a horse...), but while those kind of backdrops are great, and can add a lot of visual impact to your outfit shots, they’re not essential. The whole point of an outfit photo, after all, is to show what you’re wearing, and sometimes a fairly plain backdrop can be a good choice for that, allowing the outfit itself to do the talking.
I use a lot of country roads or other not-particularly-interesting areas: don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if every set of photos could feature a stunning location (and if this was my only blog, they totally WOULD…), but those country roads work perfectly well when I don’t have a handy adventure planned. They’re not particularly identifiable (which is something to consider if you value your privacy), they don’t “compete” or clash with the outfit, and they allow me to take advantage of the natural light without having to drive for miles to find somewhere more photogenic.
For me, the most important thing is that the backdrop not contain lots of visual distractions: if you’re taking outfit photos outdoors, a plain wall can work better than a crowded public place; indoors, meanwhile, it’s a good idea to remove any clutter from the area you’re shooting in – a messy bedroom, a floor covered in discarded clothing or an overflowing bin, for instance, will all detract from the quality of your photos, and make them look less professional.
03. Learn to crop and re-size
When you download your outfit photos from your camera, they’ll generally be so huge you could paper your wall with them, and sometimes you’ll be just a tiny dot in the centre of all that vast space. Before you post those photos to your blog, you need to do two things:
♦ Re-size the image
Re-sizing involves changing the size of the file to make it fit into the space available for it and – even more importantly – to make it download quicker. Most blog software will automatically change the PHYSICAL size of your photo, so it will fit into your content box. It won’t, however, change the FILE size, which means that every time someone clicks on your post, their computer will have to download that gigantic, fresh-from-the-camera file. That will make your blog slower, which will make it frustrating for readers, and which can also damage your search engine rankings. You can change the file size of the image using any photo editing software: if you don’t have an image editor on your computer, you can find lots of free ones online: I recommend PicMonkey, which allows you to resize the image, and a lot more besides.
♦ Crop the image
Cropping isn’t ALWAYS necessary, but it can really help to emphasize a particular element of your outfit, or give an image more impact. Here’s an example of an un-cropped image:
And here’s the version I actually used in my post:
In the un-cropped image, there’s a bit of visual clutter, in the form of the menu boards, and the table and chair. They don’t add anything to the shot – in fact, they detract from what is supposed to be a photo of my outfit, and makes it look more like the holiday snap it is than the outfit shot I wanted. The photo is also crooked (one of the perils of taking photos quickly, in public places!), and in order for it to fit into the content column, it’s been shrunk down to the point where I’m a tiny dot in the middle of the photo, and you can’t really see my outfit all that clearly.
I re-sized it for this post, so it doesn’t slow the page down too much, but the original photo was almost 5,000 pixels wide: my content column is just 690 pixels wide, so you can see that the raw file is much, MUCH bigger than it needs to be, and if I’d uploaded it straight from the camera, it would still LOOK the same, but it would take FOREVER to load. And you would all get bored and go home. In other news, does any ones else fancy a fresh, thick shake, or is that just me?
Anyway, in order to turn this into an acceptable outfit photo, I’ve cropped around the area where I’m standing, so the outfit becomes the focus of the photo, and you can see it in much better detail, without all that other stuff. Oh, and cropping it also allowed me to straighten it up, so I no longer look like I’m standing on a slope. I use Photoshop to do this kind of thing, but again, a free photo editor like PicMonkey (who I’m not being sponsored by, FYI: it’s just the only editing site I’m familiar with!) will also allow you to crop your images. This post isn’t supposed to be a tutorial, so I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of HOW to do it, but most of these sites will have clear instructions for you to follow, and I really recommend giving it a go: cropping your photos is really quick and simple, but it can make quite a big difference to how they look in your post.
04. Switch off the flash
Flash is great: it allows you to take photos in low light, creates sharp images without much effort, and, well, it can help smooth out your wrinkles. Ahem. On the downside, however, it can also make you look shiny, fake and honestly, just a bit … strange. (I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone but me, but again, it’s basically the difference between what looks like a holiday snap, and what looks like a magazine shot.) Don’t get me wrong: flash isn’t always a bad thing, and there are times when needs must, but as a general tip, my advice would be that if you find yourself wanting to switch the flash on, try increasing your light source first. That could mean moving to a better-lit area, switching on another lamp, or just waiting a couple of minutes for the sun to come out from behind a cloud: hopefully adding more light will eliminate the need for the flash, so try that first, and only if it fails, think about switching on the flash.
05. Invest in a tripod
If you take your own photos, a tripod is a great investment, which will instantly improve the quality of your photos. Mirror-selfies are perfectly fine, obviously, and there will probably always be a place for them (especially on mediums like Instagram, where you just want to get the shot as quickly as possible), but they can be tricky to get right, and if you’re looking to work with brands, to get into fashion blogging as a career, or just to improve your outfit photos as much as possible, the mirror should probably be the first thing to go.
That doesn’t, however, mean you have to spend a lot of money on a new camera, or hire a photographer to follow you around: you can still take photos on your phone, using a self-time app (I have one called CameraTimer, but there are tons of others in the App Store…), or with a regular camera using either self-timer or a remote control. While the majority of my outfit photos are taken by Terry, I do occasionally take some myself, using a tripod and remote control for my camera: it’s not ideal, and it doesn’t result in the same quality of photos I get when someone else takes them, but even the worse photos taken with the tripod and remote are better than the best ones with the iPhone and mirror, and I know some fashion bloggers have made a veritable art form out of self-timer photos, so it can definitely be done!
06. Wear more makeup
This tip is aimed more at outfit photos you’re taking for the sole purpose of the blog, as opposed to the photos you take “on the go”, but I generally find that, in order to get the best photos possible, I need to wear slightly more makeup than I would day-to-day. I wear makeup every day anyway, but for reasons I’ve never really figured out, it seems to almost disappear in photos, so if I know I’m going to be taking some outfit shots, I’ll generally go for a bolder lip colour, or a little more eye makeup than I normally would. As I said, this only really works if you’re JUST taking photos: I’m definitely not advocating wearing clown makeup to go about your daily business (or AT ALL, for that matter), just a little more definition than you might otherwise go for. Of course, if makeup isn’t your thing, don’t force yourself to wear it, or you’ll just look unnatural, and not like “yourself”, but if you’re comfortable with it, it’s worth experimenting to see which colours and techniques will photograph best.