The big (blog) photography guide: my tools, setup, and tips
Taking pictures is my favorite part of creating blog posts and one of the main reasons why Instagram will still be my favorite platform despite its wacky algorithm. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about my photos – what equipment I use and how I take them, so I figured it’d be easier share all the details with you guys here rather. Warning, long post ahead!
Table of Contents
- My photography equipment/tools
- My photography setup
- My go-to photo editing apps
- How I edit my photos in Photoshop
- Miscellaneous photography tips
- Illuminating iPhone Case* – I use my phone for 99% of my selfies, travel/style photos, and IG stories, and this LuMee case is a lifesaver in a non-existent lighting situation. It has duo lighting for both the front and back cameras, and you can adjust the brightness of the lighting with ease. I didn’t think I needed this until I started using it, but look at the difference with and without the LuMee:
The lighting on the back is great for food photos in dark restaurants, but I think the front lighting is where this case really shines (pun totally unintended though I’m quite proud of myself for this). Game changer if you love taking selfies, but also awesome for retouching makeup on the go!
- IPhone X – This was a recent addition but I love the portrait mode on here! I use to bring my Sony A5000 when I travel, but not anymore since getting this. But honestly most recent smartphones have great cameras now, I don’t think the X is necessary, but it’s definitely nice to have :)
- Canon T3 – Proof that you really don’t need a fancy DSLR to take decent pictures. I’ve had this for 6+ years and it still does a great job. If you want to invest, invest in lens, not the camera body.
- 50mm f/1.8 lens – The lens are what will really make a difference to your photos, and while some can go upwards of $1000+, this one is just $125. I never use the kit lens and always use this as it takes crisp images and has a large aperture (ie. low f-stop) so you can really get that bokeh effect! I usually stick to 4.5 because the lower you go the less sharp your photos look.
- A tripod – A must have for stabilizing your camera, especially if you plan to shoot with a slow shutter speed to let in more light. Personally I always use a tripod – no risk of shaking or blurring!
- Macro Filter Kit – For less tan $15 you get 4 filters that you can attach to your existing lens and they’ll allow you to really zoom in and get that perfect swatch shot! I usually use the 2x for my hand swatches. Mili at Sharmtoaster wrote a nice review on these if you want more details.
- White foam board – I use this for reflecting light, which gets rid of unflattering shadows and brighten the photo. You can find this in your local craft store for around just a few dollars.
I also have soft box lighting that I used to use in my earlier Instagram photos, but I’ve stopped because they just can’t compare to natural lighting. Plus they looked so bulky and ugly in my office :(
I take most of my pictures in my office in front of a large east facing window, so I try to shoot during my lunch break on weekdays to get a softer light. Ideally you want a north or south facing window as those give you soft light all day long, otherwise experiment taking photos at different times to see which results you like best.
Most of my props are conveniently place either on the shelves or in a box, but often times I’ll also bring jewelry or piece from my bedroom as needed. For prop ideas I recommend reading: How to take better (blog) photos: props.
I also have a foldable stool in case I need to expand the tripod fully, because #shortpeopleproblems. The camera is placed perpendicular to the window rather than in front, otherwise I risk getting the ugly shadows associated with backlight. I usually position the foam board in front of the camera or across from the window depending on what gives the best result.
- Photoshop – I don’t use Lightroom, it intimidates me. Plus I like that I can use one app to do all my photo and graphic editing.
- Snapseed (iOS & Android) – If I take photos on my phone this is my go-to editing app. It allows you to adjust the tone curve and the Selective tool is great for brightening up darker areas.
- VSCO (iOS & Android) – I usually don’t use filters, but theirs are really beautiful and natural. My favorite free ones are A6 and S3. VSCO also has a nifty Skin Tone tool which is great for not only adjusting skin tones without changing the temperature of the entire photo, but it also be used to bring out the pinks in your photo:
- Instagram – I really like their editing tools. My most used ones are brightness, contrast, highlight, and shadow. Occasionally I’ll also use their Lux tool (the sun icon at the top) to make the details more defined.
- Weather Underground (iOS & Android) – Yes this is a weather app, but it has a “smart forecast” feature that will tell you the best times and days for photography based on your location! There’s no “indoor photography” preset, so I just used the “landscape photography” one and decreased the cloud cover setting. Now I know exactly which days to take pictures and plan accordingly.
Guys, I made my first video in years (well actually months, I made an empties video a while back that I never uploaded, oops) and it only took me 10 tries because I said “um” too much. I still say it a lot here, so please bear with me:
As promised, the before and after comparison:
- For blog photos I always use the Save For Web feature and set the quality to 60 to decrease the file sizeThe result looks almost as good as the original but at less than 1/3 of the file size. Always optimize your photos with Photoshop rather than an online image optimizer! The tradeoff between file size and quality is horrible with the latter.
- Always resize your photos in Photoshop. WordPress does have resizing features built in, but your image quality is going to suffer if you use their resized photos. Always pick “Full Size” when adding images to your post to prevent that! Also, if you use WordPress, make sure to turn off the Image Performance/CDN feature as that will also decrease your image quality.
- When shooting with a DSLR cap your ISO! I like to cap mine at 400, but basically this prevents the camera from using the highest possible ISO to compensate for low lighting. High ISO means pixelated photos, so I avoid it at all cost.
- Don’t use the lowest f-stop/highest aperture. I mentioned this briefly in the photography equipment section, but the lower f-stops (eg. 1.8 – 3) actually produce fuzzier images, and the difference is especially noticeable when you’re photographing text. You can still get a good bokeh effect with 4 or even 4.5, but you’ll want to go even higher if you want the most crisp text. This post has a more detailed rundown if you’re interested.
- Invest in spare camera batteries. Imagine finally getting that perfect lighting and setup…only to have your battery die and now you need to wait an hour (or more) while it recharges. Good lighting waits for no one!
- Turn on the grid in your camera. This is helpful for determining the composition of the square Instagram photos, but also the positioning of your subject. You want your feature subject to be placed where the grid lines intersect.
I hope you found this post helpful and if you have any questions let me know in the comments below and I’ll definitely get back to you! Thanks so much for reading and watching, and happy Valentine’s Day!
PS. If you haven’t done so yet, don’t forget to enter my worldwide giveaway on Instagram to win a customized set of Activist Skincare Hyaluronic Acid Serum + Activist Skincare Precious Oil Serum!