4 Steps to Instantly Elevate Your Blog Photos

One of the key things that sets new bloggers apart from the hundreds of similar sites out in the blogosphere is clean, high-quality photos. Yet, a top piece of advice that’s often given to new bloggers is: “Don’t invest in expensive equipment until you’re in the swing of things.” Conflicting advice like this is always frustrating, especially when you’re starting out and every decision feels like a make-or-break moment for the future of your blog.

Here’s the thing. You do need high-quality photos when your blog requires visuals. And it is smart to be savvy with your money until you know that a) your blog proves its worth with decent traffic and maybe a little income, and b) you actually enjoy blogging and have enough to say about the subject you’ve chosen. So how do you straddle the line?

It turns out there are some tricks that can make your limited resources stretch so that your photos from your phone or point and shoot camera are as magically eye-catching as photos taken with a professional DSLR camera.

But First, Why is Quality Important?

Humans are visual creatures. We crave images to supplement ideas that we’re hearing or reading about. Our brains are amazing at constructing mental images, but there comes a point where words alone can’t pull a reader past the finish line.

For example, I can tell you that a product I’m using has four square pans, two blushes diagonal from each other, a bronzer, and a highlight. One blush is a bright pink and the other is a subdued raspberry, The highlight is a light beige with lots of shimmer. The bronzer is medium brown and a bit on the warm side. The packaging is textured cardboard with a black and white, artistic pattern. The area with the pans is raised.

Or, I can just show you this.
Urban Decay contour palette

Now, imagine that the photo I showed you was dark and grainy. Or that there were a handful of other products in the background.

Oh, wait, I can show you what that looks like using one of my own photos I’ve published on this blog.
2013-12-02 23.04.10
Yes, this photo literally exists somewhere else on this blog.

If all my photos looked like this, do you think you’d trust me and my product reviews? Probably not. It looks like I took two seconds to take this photo, as if it were an afterthought. And if someone spends such little effort on their post, you wouldn’t expect that they put much thought into their review, either.

The ubiquity of high-quality cameras means that readers’ expectations are much higher than they were only a few years ago. If you’re not putting effort into your photos, you can bet that ten people with a similar blog are. I’ve clicked off many blogs because the photos were crappy and impossible to decipher. Good photos not only keeps readers on the blog post they land on, but it makes them more likely to stay for more or come back later. That trust is vital if you want your blog to last.

1. Engineer Good Lightning

The most important thing you can do to improve your photos is to use good lighting. If your lighting sucks, the photo is generally unsalvageable.

Take this photo, for example. I took this on my phone with regular indoor light only. It looks OK, but it definitely needs a bit more brightness. There’s also a yellowish tinge from my lamp.
Indoor lighting unedited

Here’s an edited version of that same photo. I increased the brightness, lifted some shadow, added a blue tint to offset the yellow cast, and slightly increased the saturation. This is the best I can do without the photo looking too stark.
Indoor lighting edited

That photo is fine, although you can tell now that the photo is a bit blurry in the upper left. Bad lightning makes you lose pixels.

Let’s compare this photo to one I took earlier in the day with a mix of natural lighting and a diffused white light from my ring light. This one was also taken with my phone. It’s not my best work lighting-wise (San Francisco is very overcast), but it will do for this demonstration.
Natural and diffused lighting unedited

This is a much better starting place, isn’t it? Now when I edit it, I can get a much more accurate depiction of the subject.
Natural and diffused light edited

When you look at the edited photos side-by-side, there’s a clear winner. The first photo looks like it was taken from a lower-quality camera, even though I took both photos with my phone. It also comes across as way too edited. The second photo is much more pleasing to the eye because the colors are more balanced and accurate to what you’d see if you looked at the subject in person.

You don’t need any money to engineer good lighting. You can get good lighting by moving your setup closer to a window at the right time of day. Or if your indoor lighting is excellent and doesn’t use yellow light, you can position your subject just right.

If natural light isn’t quite enough, you can, of course, purchase an inexpensive photography light or softbox online. But I’ve found that nothing beats natural light when you have the option.

2. Mind Your Background

How many times have you seen a friend’s selfie and wondered why they left their laundry strewn about behind them? It doesn’t matter how great her eyebrows look when she’s literally airing her dirty laundry in the process.

A telltale sign of a new blogger is that they’re so focused on photographing the subject, they forget to make sure the background is clean and clear of clutter. A noisy background takes the focus away from the subject because the reader’s eyes have nowhere to land. It can also look unprofessional, as it shows a lack of thought for the reader’s experience.

Compare these two photos. Which one makes a better impression?
Skincare product with clutter in the background
Skincare product with no clutter in the background

3. Colorize for Accuracy

By now you’ve set up good lighting and created a clear space for taking your photos. You may look at your photos and want to post them right away, but remember that your camera has likely distorted some of the lighting or color, even if your lighting is on point. Taking a few minutes to edit your photos can go a long way.

Photo editing is simple and free nowadays, but it’s way too easy to go overboard. Many new bloggers get tunnel vision while they edit their photos and end up with an image that’s much more bright or saturated than they’d anticipated. And when you’re looking at a bunch of grotesquely bright photos back-to-back, it starts to look normal. Believe me, I was that person five years ago.

A good tip is to try to make the subject look accurate to what you see in person, rather than aiming to make the color “pop” or to mimic better lighting with brightness. A trick I use to help with that is to photograph most of my product photos over a white background. The way the white table looks can help me see what the camera might have distorted.

When I edit a photo, I start by trying to get the white closer to how it looks in person, then I tweak the colors using the subject as my guide. Keep in mind I’m not aiming for a perfectly true, bright white. I’m simply trying to get closer to how the white looked to me when I took the photo. Often, my table looks more yellow or blue than normal in my raw photos. Once I fix that, it’s much easier to get the subject right.

4. Add Some Blur

If you follow the first three steps, your photos will already look worlds better than many blogs out there. But this last tip elevates your images even more.

When you’re photographing a subject with something unimportant in the background, you can help draw focus to the subject by adding a slight blur over the background. This can mimic a fancy DSLR camera with an expensive lens.

Take a look at these two photos. Which one looks like I used a nice camera?
Eyeshadow palette with no blur
Eyeshadow palette with blurred background

Both versions are from the same photo I took using my iPhone, yet the second has that professional touch. And the good news is, you don’t need an expensive program like Photoshop to do this. Most free programs have some way of selecting the focus of the photo and blurring the rest, or adding a vignette blur around a specific point. Play around with what you can find on the programs that came with your computer, like Preview on Mac, and online programs like Flickr.

Nowadays I usually get a blurred background with my DSLR camera, but to edit this iPhone photo I used Pixelmator, which is similar to Photoshop but much cheaper. I simply followed their directions to get a soft focus effect. It took me about two minutes!

Cheap Gear Upgrades

When the time comes, updating your gear is a fast and painless way to improve your image quality. But you don’t have to go from “whatever camera I can get my hands on” to a $1200 DSLR and lens kit.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Portable white light – whether you use a softbox, ring light, or small lamp, a portable light is the first investment you should make if you’re serious about your blog photos. I have a cheap selfie ring light that clips right onto my phone, which I started using before I purchased my large ring light. This is a newer version of what I have: Selfie Ring Light.
  • Backgrounds – whether you get a small table or a tabletop photography set, having a consistent space with a clean background can help give your blog photos consistency. I’ve even seen people make light boxes out of a cardboard box to get this effect.
  • Smartphone lens upgrades – you don’t have to sink hundreds of dollars into a new camera to get various lens options. There are lens kits for your smartphone that can act as a great middle step between phone camera and fancy camera, like this one: HD Camera Lens Kit 5 in 1.

I hope these tips can help you get more out of your blog photos, or at least spruce up your Instagram feed a bit. Did I miss any top tips? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. Some of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase an item using my link, I get a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate the support to help keep this blog running, but you can always search for the product manually if this makes you uncomfortable.

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