Autumn is officially here. There's a few tell-tale signs; the days are getting dark and gloomy, we're seeing more rain than sunshine and the heating is definitely on. But the biggest giveaway that six long months of dark and gloom are ahead? Bloggers are freaking the hell out. Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed a growing trend on my Twitter feed; bloggers everywhere are terrified, terrified of the dark days and poor lighting, worried about how they'll take photos over the colder months and wishing we could have glorious sunshine all year long.
As a blogger, you quickly learn that lighting is both your best friend and worst enemy at the same time. In the warmer months of spring and summer, we all take advantage of the gorgeous natural light and our photos usually come out looking pretty darn good. Come the colder months and it's a whole different story. There's a dark, grey cast over your photos no matter where you take them, you have to arrange lighting around your room like an assault course just to get one decent photo and why do they always look so grainy?! With the cold, comes every bloggers worst nightmare.
Or does it?
When I first began writing this blog, two and a half years ago now, my photos were abysmal. I'm being serious when I say that they were absolutely cringe-worthy, but we all have to start somewhere and I didn't have a clue about photography when I first started Tattooed Tealady. I was hopeless. But over time I took inspiration, tips and advice from friends who are photographers, experimented with placements, backgrounds and lighting, and although I'm still pretty clueless about photography, I have picked up some tips and tricks on the way.
Like learning not to care so much. That might sound like a bit of an odd tip for getting better at photography, but hear me out. Blogging is beautiful because of one thing and one thing only. It's individual. Every single blog is written by a different individual, a different person with different tastes, ideas and abilities. We turn to blogs for honest reviews, inspiration and advice. Everyone writes differently, everyone reviews and posts things in their own way, and that's something we all strive for and look for in the blogs that we read daily. What fun would it be, if everyone's posts looked the same? Of course there's bloggers out there whose photos are absolutely beautiful, whose product shots are always the best, whose interior is our dream home. Some I even get serious life-envy over. But I'm me, not them, and I can only take photos the way I take them, the way I want them to look. It took me a long time to realise that was OK. I spent so long worrying over trying to make my photos as good as everyone else's, and all I accomplished was boring shots with no imagination when I got stuck in a rut - and a tantrum - over not being able to create those perfect, holy grail shots. Now? I couldn't care less. Well, of course I care, I want my photos to look good. But I want my photos to be mine. I can only use my own surroundings, imagination and set up, As soon as I stopped worrying about how my photos would compare to other's, I found a way of taking photos that not only worked well with my current set up - but photos I was excited to take and share. Your blog is yours and yours alone - you decide what your photos look like, not the expectations of others. So long as they're big, clear and in focus, you could take your photos in the depths of hell for all I care.
So not caring so much what others thought of my photos was a turning point, but it's not the most helpful tip you can give someone, is it? Something else I've learnt is to take advantage of your surroundings. I have changed the background in my photos a million times. I started off using a foldaway table, then I started using wallpaper as background, sometimes I'd just use plain white card. Now? I use my desk or dressing table as is, not caring if something is in the background because after all, you're concentrating on the products, right? Sometimes I'll take photos outside, sometimes somewhere as simple as a windowsill. You can use anything and anywhere to take photos, it doesn't have to be the perfect set up, it just has to be your set up.
But what if you have the perfect set up, and your lighting is still your biggest problem? Work with what you have. We all know it's difficult in the colder months when most days are overcast, grey and dull, but there's still windows of opportunity to get good lighting during the winter months. I find natural light works best for me in the mornings, and around 2pm-3pm. That's quite specific, I know, but with the way our home is set out, I just find those times best for me, for good lighting. For you it might be different, so paying attention every now and then to when the light is brightest and clear, can give you a good idea of when to plan your next photo session.
If all else fails? Try artificial lighting. I currently own one Softbox Studio Lighting Kit, which last winter was a massive help and was the perfect way to get good photos without natural light. But they are bulky, they can be a pain to have hanging around and they can get in the way, so I'd always recommend trying with natural lighting first. If not? They make the perfect alternative. I bought mine from Amazon (see here) for around £40 for one, and I kinda wish I'd bought a twin-set instead, but the one does the job. You don't have to splash out on studio lighting though. There's tons of tutorials online and on YouTube particularly, on how to make your own studio lighting using nothing more than a box, paper and lamps. I've heard dozens of bloggers say they use nothing more than simple lamps, tall lamps, even filming lighting instead of photography lighting, some use candles. There are ways to do things on a budget and there is definitely no rule as to how you go about it. What works for you is all that matters.
But what if that window of decent lighting is rare, so rare that you have to take advantage of it whilst you can? Take photos in bulk. It's always the way I've taken photos and I genuinely have no idea how I would ever have the time to post, if I took photos individually one post at a time. Get as many photos done at one time as you can! Sometimes I end up with my room looking like a bomb site, with products thrown everywhere and an assault course of packaging to get through. But taking one, two, even three weeks worth of photos in one sitting, saves me time every single day. I know a lot of people work full time alongside running blogs as a hobby, I know time can be short for some people and there's not much you can spare, but taking photos in bulk will ultimately save you time elsewhere. Plan the photos ahead; plan what you want to feature, make a list, tick things off as you go along so you know you've got everything, jot down ideas. When I'm ready for a bulk photography session, I pretty much lock myself in the bedroom, stick my Buffy the Vampire Slayer boxset on and away I go, a recluse from the outside world until I've got every photo I need.
So you have your lighting sorted, you kind of know when is the best time to take photos or you've created a set up that works for you. But you're still not happy. everyone has one of those really expensive cameras and you don't, whatever will you do? The type of camera you use to take blog photos, does not matter, at all. Honestly, it doesn't! When I first started Tattooed Tealady, I used my phone for blog photos - a Samsung Galaxy Nexus to be exact. Then I moved on to my dad's super ancient Fujifilm, which wasn't the best. Then I pulled out an old point and shoot Samsung ST61 camera I picked up in the sale years ago, and until April this year, that was the one and only camera I used for blog photos. Yes, I now own a Canon 600d which is a very expensive piece of equipment, but I didn't buy that 'for the blog', I bought it for me, because I actually like taking photos and want to learn - my simple point and shoot did the job just fine. There's so much worry in the blogging community over who has the best camera, when I really don't think it matters. Why on earth should anyone go out and buy a camera that costs hundreds and hundreds, because there's this unspoken rule that says you have to have the best of the best? Well I'm crushing that rule right here, right now, YOU DO NOT NEED AN EXPENSIVE CAMERA TO BLOG, nope, no, you really don't. The only thing you have to do, is to learn how to use the one you do have. Learn how to focus your camera properly, use the Macro and Super Macros settings for clear, well-focused photos, read your camera's instruction manual (you know, the things most people ignore when buying anything new?), find out how it works best, so you can use it the best way you can. Check tutorials and how-to-guides online, ask other bloggers. Just don't feel like you have to go out and get yourself an expensive camera, when any camera can take a decent shot.
So you think you have everything sorted, you get the photos up on your desktop and BOOM, they're still dark! Try photo editing websites to make your photos stand out and products pop. I know there's some mixed views out there on whether or not you should edit photos, and personally I think sometimes there's a fine line between nicely edited to enhance a well-taken photo, and making the products look like they're from the handbag of an alien on Mars. But, editing can be your ultimate saviour and last hope sometimes, and so long as you don't go overboard, it's fine. Make sure that product shades don't change, that you're still portraying the product as naturally as possible, then editing can be a bloggers best friend. I've got no idea how to use the 'proper' editing programs like Photoshop etc, but all I ever do to edit my photos is pretty simple; crop if necessary, brighten and lighten. That's it. I use a free website, www.picmonkey.com, which does the job fine for me, but there's tons of free photo editing programs and sites out there that you can find with a simple Google search.
Where there's a will, there's a way. There's no need to get upset or wound up over lighting. We live in England, there's not much you can do about it, we know the weather is abysmal and we know the lighting is crap. But unless you're planning to move to Australia where the sun is always shining, then we have to quite frankly, like it or lump it. You can spend the next six months panicking, worrying, giving yourself completely unnecessary stress. Or, you can stop caring, take advantage of your surroundings, work with what you have, try artificial lighting, take photos in bulk, learn how to use your camera properly, or try editing photos for those finishing touches. With autumn and winter comes Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Years - I think I'd rather concentrate on fun times and the festive season, than spend my time getting worked up, don't you?