Welcome to the second installment of From Mary’s Desk, a series focusing on issues that bloggers face on a daily basis. (See Part 1 here.)
Even if you’re not a blogger, I urge you to read this because it’ll give you a little peek backstage.
This time, I tackle the pressure of taking pictures.
Although I’m not a professional photographer and I haven’t taken any photography lessons, I’ll share basic tips and tricks that I’ve learned since the beginning of Swatch And Learn.
I hope that veteran bloggers will chime in and share their experiences when they first started out so that this may provide comfort and reassurance to new bloggers. And, I hope that new bloggers will say what they’ve been struggling with to help others realize that they’re not alone.
The underlying theme of the From Mary’s Desk series is that learning is a two-way street. And on that street, there’s a streetcar named Desire. And in that streetcar is Marlon Brando. And…wait a minute, stop distracting me!
Warning: This blog post is text heavy!
Dealing with Insecurity
When I first started blogging, I was only comfortable showing makeup swatches on my arm or hand. It took a lot of internal convincing for me to post Eye of the Day looks later on. And nail swatches? Ha, at one point, I decided never to show photos of my nails on here!
Obviously, since then, I’ve changed my mind.
Showing the world how I polished my nails with up-close photos that magnify every little imperfection made me feel self-conscious and inadequate. After all, I wasn’t a nail pro. I was just a nail-polish nutcase.
Why would anyone want to look at nail polish that was sloppily applied or a manicure with dry cuticles? Or worse yet, what if the photo quality itself was blurry or not colour-accurate?
Polishing my nails was a relaxing activity. Looking at my painted nails made me very happy. But now just thinking about sharing my love with the rest of the world was making my stomach twist into a knot.
Something wasn’t right.
New Goals: Happiness & Progress
The more I added fuel to the fire that was my insecurity, the more I questioned why it would be so terrible if my photos weren’t perfect. Talk about a first-world problem! Is anybody perfect? (Don’t answer, David Beckham!)
Although I’m always silly, at this point, I felt even sillier.
People weren’t going to throw their bottles of polish at me in contempt even if my photos were crappy! (Although, if they did, hopefully they would be hard-to-find ones that I’d been lemming.)
Even if people didn’t like the colours I wore and liked or even if people thought my photography skills were substandard, at least I was challenging myself to grow creatively. At least I would be able to express myself in a new way, too. And along the personal journey, I’d constantly be pushing myself to improve with a handy method of documenting my progress!
Plus if I loved wearing a manicure, nothing that anybody could say about it would detract from my happiness. I wasn’t about to let anyone pee on my parade, even if I swam in their toliet every Saturday. (Wait, what am I saying?)
It was at this point that I threw caution to the wind. (Sorry, Wind, but I know that you can blow off a lot of things that are thrown at you. Hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.)
Despite the potential negative repercussions of what people might think or say, I thought that sharing was worth the risk. Sharing is what makes me happy, and I love also looking at stuff that people share with me.
So, I picked up my camera and snapped away.
Had I never come to this conclusion, you may have only seen photos of just my arms, which aren’t nearly as exciting as nail polish…unless maybe you’re a doctor or a person with an arm fetish.
It’s Not About What You Can Buy.
It’s About Using What You Already Have!
You don’t need a fancy DSLR camera to take great pictures. Since I started blogging, and up until just recently, I was using the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC W200 point-and-shoot, which is about 5 years old. (I had to replace it because the well-used and beloved camera would ‘die’ after every handful of shots. There were also adapter issues.)
Unless you can factor it comfortably into your budget and you can justify splurging on an expensive camera for use on your blog and outside it, I suggest using what you already have. You can “make it work” as Tim Gunn always said.
When you become more comfortable taking creepy up-close photos of your eye, nails, etc., then you can consider making an investment purchase.
It’s a good idea to get a feel for blogging before committing because blogging definitely isn’t for everyone. Give yourself time to see how you like it and if you find it enjoyable or a hassle.
Plus even if you splurge on a DSLR, it doesn’t mean that instantly your photographs will look incredible. The learning curve still applies, and you’ll need to build your skills.
*~* Photography Tips *~*
Here are just a few things that I learned:
Macro Camera Setting
Before blogging, I hardly fiddled around with camera settings. Now, I enjoy messing around with the functions! (Sometimes, adjusting your camera settings can actually be more efficient and less work than altering your photos with a computer-graphics program after the fact.)
One of the things that made the biggest difference for me was using the macro setting on my camera. (It’s usually indicated by a flower.) This setting is specifically for taking photos of objects that are close, like a butterfly on a leaf or a butterfly manicure.
By simply using the macro setting that’s on pretty much every digital camera these days, you’re one step closer to producing better-quality shots.
Consider Your Lighting
Digital cameras often display ISO values, and you can fiddle around with them manually, too.
The ISO value is important to pay attention to because it can mean the difference between a sharp photo and one that’s so grainy, whole-wheat bread gets envious.
“Always let your ISO be your guide!” Jiminy Cricket sang in Pinnocchio. (Okay, he didn’t sing that. Conscience? ISO? Close enough. )
My new camera displays the ISO value right on the screen. I try to photograph things when the ISO value is at 100, 200, or 400. Anything higher than that gets trickier.
Although, of course, since I don’t have a proper lightbox set-up, sometimes I have to take photos in less-than-ideal conditions. (When the ISO value is really high, I use the flash.)
Consider playing around with the manual ISO value on your camera. Take a few pictures of the same thing with different ISO values, and keep track of which is which. Then upload your photos onto your computer to compare and contrast the bunch. Trial and error is the best way to learn photography.
- Sunlight: This is by far my favourite lighting because colours tend to appear more accurate. Although, keep in mind that sometimes overly bright direct sunlight can wash out colours. Also, sunlight at different times of day can look very different. E.g. Early morning sunlight can look much yellower or dimmer than sunlight at different hours.
- Flash: This is great for showing off the base colour. The flash can overexpose a colour, but it can come in handy, especially if you’re photographing one of those near-black hues and want to show that the base is actually a plum or green.
- Daylight: I also like photographing in daylight or ambient natural light because sometimes it helps you see the individual pieces of glitter in a polish. (Sunlight makes all the glitter sparkle like crazy, which can make it hard to see the fine details.)
- Artificial Light: This is my least favourite lighting condition. I try to avoid it if possible because I don’t have daylight-balanced lights. Regular light bulbs tend to make things you photograph look yellower than they actually are to the naked eye. (Whenever I’ve photographed my skin under dim artificial light, I can’t help but think I have jaundice!) If you find yourself taking photographs often when the sun’s down, you may need to invest in special photography lights.
Take Photos from Various Angles
Play around by taking photos from different angles, especially when it comes to pictures of your nails. If you’re wearing a duochrome, multichrome, or other polish that catches the light, photographing it in different angles will help you better show off its personality. Also, certain angles may reduce the glare on your nails, which makes the actual colour easier for people to see.
Stabilize Those Shaky Hands
I’ve always had shaky hands when it comes to taking photos. If cameras didn’t have image stabilizers built in, everything I snapped would be a blur.
You could invest in a tripod. (I have a cheap one, but I never really use it just because I’m stubborn like that!)
If you don’t have a tripod, there are still some things you can do to reduce extra movement that could cause blurring. Here are some things that I do:
- Lean your hand (the one you’re taking a photo of) against a wall. This will allow you to concentrate on steadying just the hand you’re holding your camera with instead of trying to steady both hands simultaneously.
- Alternatively, you could plant your elbow (the one on your ‘camera arm’) onto something like a desk to stabilize it. Then you just have to focus on keeping your featured manicure steady.
- Or…you could stop being stubborn like me and just use the tripod!
Take More Photos Than You Think You’ll Need
You may think you ‘got the shot’, but sometimes it comes out blurry. If you take more photos, chances are that at least one from the bunch will come out as expected.
It’s better to have more photos to weed through and then choose which make the final cut rather than to be limited to a small handful of blurry pictures. When it comes to photographs in this case, less isn’t more.
Just to give you a better idea, for each nail ‘swatch’ blog post, I take around 100 photos. Then I choose just a few to show. If the polish I’m wearing is a duochrome, multichrome, or another finish that’s harder to capture, I take even more to increase my chances that some will turn out okay.
Remember, though, that those 100 photos include pictures I’ve taken in different lighting conditions, of just my thumb, of just my 3 fingers, of the ingredients label, of the nail-polish bottle, etc. If you’re concerned mainly with photographing just your manicure in one type of lighting, you can easily get away with taking fewer photos than I would.
Also, if you’re a better photographer than I am, you may not have to take so many images for more to turn out! (This is just what I do and what works for me.)
Swatching vs. Wearing
I continue to be impressed by bloggers who are able to swatch entire collections for one post. Painting your nails, photographing them, removing the polish, and repainting all in a single day is a lot of work!
You don’t have to swatch.
You can wear polishes like you normally would and photograph them as you wear them. This is what I do because I don’t like swatching polishes. (I just call the photos of my manicures ‘swatches’ on here because that’s the lingo.)
I prefer to wear them for at least a full day and often longer. I feel like if I started swatching lots of polishes in one sitting, I would get burned out quickly. I want polish to always bring me that carefree joy.
If you prefer swatching, go for it! Remember, the goal is happiness. What works for me might not work for you.
These were just a few things that I’ve been wanting to share with you ever since my previous From Mary’s Desk post. I hope that you found some of it helpful and some of it amusing.
What’s your biggest struggle with your blog? Were you shy about sharing photos of yourself on your blog, too?
More From Mary’s Desk:
- Part 1: Some Things I Learned While Blogging
- Part 3: How to Plan & Execute a Blog Giveaway
- Part 4: Public Relations (PR) & Requesting Press Releases & Samples