This a post topic that has been simmering on the back burner for awhile now, as I have been asked quite a bit about how I take my own blog photos. First, I will say this has been a learning process for me, and I feel I still have improvements to make, but over the past three years of blogging I have made definite strides in improving my remote photography. Second, I will say I truly enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being my own photographer and not needing to work around someone else’s schedule. Third, when I started this little blog of mine as a creative outlet, I was also searching for some personal independence, so being responsible for each and each every aspect from start to finish was something I was, and am, truly proud of.
First things first – my equipment
I shoot with a Canon 80D, and my go to lens for blog photos is my Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime lens. It offers beautiful blurred backgrounds and sharp, clear details. When I am in tighter spaces without the long range the 85mm requires, I will pull out my trusty Nifty Fifty lens. This is a good starter lens for getting good bokeh, without a large price tag. I do use a lens hood for both, as I feel they block out unwanted light, but I wouldn’t say I consider the hoods a necessity. I use the Canon RC-6 wireless remote. I have tried a couple of off brand similar products as back ups when I have misplaced my Canon remote and I have to say I just don’t have the same results with them. The sensor isn’t as sensitive or something, because I am usually clicking the button over and over. No matter what remote you might choose, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to select one with a delay. The last thing you want is photos of you aiming your remote at the camera. Oh, and you also want one that is small enough to hide in the palm of your hand. Finally, I recently switched to a ball head tripod for more flexibility with quick angle changes. When you are taking your own photos you don’t have quite the versatility of giving a photographer directions and having them immediately move into place to make it happen, so being able to change my tripod angles easily is the next best thing. I am still experimenting with this new change. As far as tripods go, I suggest you do find one that is sturdy, and even better if you can find one with a hook in the center for hanging weights. Your DLSR is a big investment and you don’t want to chance it with a flimsy tripod. My first tripod was a cheapy and on one windy photo shoot it blew over. Thank goodness my camera survived the fall, but the lens did not and had to be replaced. Also make sure the tripod extends out long enough to be around your same height.
While Canon has been my camera of choice for as far back as I can remember, I am sure the things I have to share in this post will work with all DSLR cameras. You may just have to do a little searching to find the same setting equivalent for your particular camera.
Get to know your camera & Photography
When I very first started blogging I took all of my photos in auto mode. Over time I learned enough to start shooting in Program AE (auto exposure) mode. I was stuck in that stage for quite awhile – those photos were an improvement, but still not where I really wanted to be. Early last year, after a particularly frustrating session with less than desirable results, I finally decided I needed to push myself into learning how to shoot in full manual mode.
I began reading my camera manual and also watching a video I had purchased when I initially picked up my Rebel T6 years ago. Every time I started watching that video I would fall asleep, so I decided an on-line course might be a better alternative for me. I took Photography 101 and 102 from Shoot Fly Shoot and it was a good beginning base to get me into manual mode. I still felt like I needed more, so then I took From Auto to Awesome with Live, Snap, Love and things really started to click. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is trying to truly improve their photography skills, as each module offers detailed and easy to understand lessons.
My Solo Shoot How To’s
Solo shoots take a little longer since you have to adjust the tripod for different angles, or move to different spots throughout the session, so I generally plan for about 20 – 30 minutes per shoot. I take a ton of photos because of wind, glare, goofy smiles, eyes closed, etc. and I want to have a decent selection to choose from. I also make sure I take detail shots of jewelry, shoes, and accessories.
Even though I shoot in manual mode, I do use auto-focus and make sure the AF operation is set on “One Shot” vs “AI Focus” or “AI Servo”. Since I cannot be behind the lens and pin-point exactly where I want my focus to be, I use the Auto Select focus at the max points of selection possible. On my camera this is a 45 point range, which ensures I am going to be sharp in the entire photo.
I typically shoot in a f/3.2 aperture range because I am not behind the camera and do not have as much control over where my focus selection is going to be. While I can still achieve nice photos at f/2.8, it is hit and miss with more images having a softer focus. I am happy with going up in aperture and capturing sharper images, because even at this higher f-stop, I still am achieving a good background blur.
A huge lifesaver for me is to flip the back screen of my camera up, facing me, and turn on live mode. This enables me to see exactly what is happening in the shot – where I am in frame, if I need to adjust my lighting, or if something is being cut off. I generally always mount my camera vertically so I can easily flip the back screen up and facing me. Even my old Rebel had this option, so I am assuming this is pretty standard on most DSLR cameras now.
I have a lot of people tell me they try using their camera self-timer with a tripod and cannot understand why their photos turn out blurry. This is because while you are behind your camera setting the timer, your camera has automatically focused on some random space, and not necessarily where you are going to be when you jump back in front of it. This is why having a camera remote is important when taking your own photos. You stand where you want and the camera is going to focus on you when the remote sensor is activated, not some random area. The exception might be if there is something between you and the lens – the lens may focus on the closer object. I have also experienced an occasional time when my camera will want to focus on something behind me if I am standing off center, but with my touch screen I can touch the general area where I will be standing to readjust where I want the focus. If that is not an option for you, you may try standing in a different spot until it resets and focuses on you again. Finally, don’t forget to hide your remote, in your hand, or a pocket.
Since I shoot all my photos is RAW, I use Adobe Lightroom for all of my post processing. I personally prefer a RAW format because I am in control of the final product versus letting my camera making all the decisions for me. Think of it as back in the day when photographers used dark rooms for developing their pictures, now we just do it on our computers. Anyway, once I import my photos into the library, I select and flag my favorites I am going to edit for the blog and social media. I then go to the develop tab and select one of my photos and edit – I typically brighten, adjust my colors, and sometimes add a little pop. Once I am happy with how it looks, I select all my flagged photos and sync them – with one click of button all my photos are treated to the same edits. From there I go through each individual photo and crop to my preference.
For me, being able to take my own blog photos has truly upped my photography game. I feel more comfortable and unselfconscious in front of the camera when I am on my own, and love being able to pop out for a quick photo shoot on a whim. I may try experimenting with more fun poses in the future and I know for sure I will be trying different angles for a varied perspective. I hope all the things I have learned from being my own blog photographer will help you in some way. If you are still shooting in auto, I think you can still find things here that will help with your own photos. I will encourage you to take the next step and learn manual mode if you really want to take your photos to the next level. If you are like me, it will be something you will never regret. If you have any other questions about something I may not have considered, please let me know and I will answer if I can. Thanks for reading!