Develop a photo style
This weekend I spoke at Blog On, a blogging conference, in Winchester about developing your own photography style. By this I mean a style that people can relate to you, a theme if you like, to your photographs.
Here are the notes I wrote for my session along with handy links at the bottom - I hope they are of use to someone somewhere. A huge thank you to everyone who came along to the session ♥
What is a photographic style for a blog?
Blog photos and Instagram photos have a lot in common as you will discover as you read on. If you have ever attended any sort of 'Ways to make your Instagram shine' style sessions before, there are elements that apply to blog photography. With your Instagram feed, there's value in creating a consistency in your feed so that it flows together - the same applies to developing a style for your blog photos.
For example, on Instgram you might consistently use: Plenty of white or cream (the beige brigade as I loving call it) , negative space, soft whimsical colours, apply fade to your images, use bright colours, make use of lots of props, stick mainly to black and white or masculine colours.
To help explain further, here are a few examples of bloggers who have developed a distinct style. These are people who's images I find instantly recognizable, knowing it's likely their photos long before I see a name:
If you click through and visit any of these blogs you will see that their blog photo style flows throughout. Such consistency is especially useful if you blog covers many topics as though the content may vary the aesthetic doesn't.
Grab a pad
Write down 5 words that you want people to think about your blog when they visit it, for example: Stylish, happy, cool.
These are the sorts of questions that a professional designing a blog logo might ask to find out what you are about and the image you want to portray to readers. The same sort of analytical look at your blog can be used when developing a photography style - after all your photos will be shared far more than your logo so arguably it's more important that your images speak about your blog as a whole.
We’ll come back to these 5 words later in the post!
The golden triangle
Ok so I made that name up, but I think it fits. Think of developing a signature style as a triangle. In each corner you have PRACTICE – STALK – EDIT
Practice involves taking lots of photos. Over time you will start to get a feel for what you enjoy taking photos or and what works for you. Once you have experimented in this way and tried different things you can develop your skills. I think it's important to be honest at point and say that not everyone has an eye for photography but everyone can take a better photograph. From amateur to professional, there is always room for improvement and development. I've spoken to people who have been approached by bloggers who say "Ooo what camera do use use? I need one like that so I can take good photos like you". The camera does not maketh a good photo. It can help, naturally, but ultimately it's the person behind the camera that makes the photo what it is.
Practice will save you time and improve your photos in the long run. A couple of years ago there was a big influx in new bloggers. These bloggers were not like the bloggers who started 5 years or so ago when I did. Back then practically everyone started on a free WordPress or Blogger theme and muddled along for a year or so until they worked out what their blog was about and improved it's design and aesthetic. A couple of years ago things had changed, more bloggers were starting out with professional looking blog themes, shiny properly designed logos and clear identities. That was the point I felt that I needed to 'up my game' and improve my blog. But how was I going to do that? As I don't particularly enjoy writing (shock, horror, blogger hates writing!) I decided to make the effort to improve my photography. Pinterest was kicking off and social media becoming more and more image led, so this felt like the best move for me.
When I decided to make an effort with my blog photography a couple of years ago I would go to a festival for a day and take 300 photos. Fast forward two years and now when I go one and take 50, because time, experience and feedback has taught me what makes for a good photo. I know to look at the lineup and decide what I want to cover on my blog and go with a ‘hit list’ of photos in mind. This saves time and energy, means I can enjoy the festival more and I am not tied to the computer edited and deleting photos. Going back to feedback, take on board any glowing feedback from people about your photos and don’t be afraid to ask people for honest critique.
Stalk - Start a Secret Pinterest board to pin photos that inspire you or catch your eye. You might find such images on blogs, Flikr, Pinterest or online magazines. Photos that reach out to you and make you think 'I want that on MY blog!' Because the board is secret only you can see it so be honest and open with a description, adding why you are pinning the image, such as 'love the props', 'that light is stunning!' and also any elements you don't like 'over-edited, too much saturation' for example.
Sit down one evening for 10 minutes with a pen and paper. Pick one of the pinned photos photo, write down all the things you like about the photo.
Here’s an example of one I loved and pinned:
So, looking at that image I wrote:
I like the darkness, it give it a soulful mood
I like the rich colours
Obvs I like the cake!
I like the slight fade
Loving those props!
Now, I need to look at my list and see if there’s anything impractical for me personally, that would hold me back from creating that photo and put a line through them. Here's the ones I crossed out:
Cake – I’m not a food blogger- I would need to buy cake for that as I couldn’t make it = impractical
Those props. I love them but I don’t have them. And realistically at the moment I haven’t the money or time to start up my own prop collection. One day, one day but for now I’m crossing that off the list.
So I look at the things on my list that are left:
I like the darkness, it give it a soulful mood
I like the rich colours
I like the slight fade
I took those three things and applied them to a photo. Which leads me on to...
Just as we edit on Instagram we can edit our blog photos to give our images a distinctive look for our blogs. The three main editing programs people I speak to use are: PicMonkey, Photoshop and Lightroom.
PicMonkey has a few filters and options to offer and with a bit of imagination you can add a fade to photos for example very easily (select a rectangle overlay and reduce it's opacity!). But to make the best use of it you need to upgrade to Premium or ‘Royale’ as they call it for $4.99 a month (something like £3.20).
If you are paying for Picmonkey Royale each month but want to take the next step and get more serious about your photos then seriously consider changing to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Package which gives you both Photoshop and Lightroom for £8.57 a month incl. VAT. It's not that much more expensive and will make a huge difference. It's a game changer and one of the best investments you can make for your blog. I would even go as far as to say editing software over camera!
It means you can edit your photo ones by one of in batches in one click. Resize all your images in one click. Add a watermark you images in one click. If you are using PicMonkey the time you will save is vast.
So going back to my list of three things I loved about that pinned image. I opened Lightroom and chose this, very ordinary, very technically great photo:
So I took my list of ‘darkness, rich colour, slight fade' and applied them one by one. I took the brightness down, the saturation up and the fade up. It took a minute. The apples then looked like this:
I saved that combination of edits as a 'Annies Moody Ass Preset'. Apart from having a fine name it means I can apply exactly the same settings to one or indeed 100 photos at once.
I just want to touch on watermarks. Watermarks are a bit like marmite – you are a lover or a hater.
Some bloggers swear by them for getting your ‘brand’ out there. It’s a visual and easy way to let people know that is your photo, to build up awareness.
It’s less about stopping people from nicking your photos these days than it was 5 years ago. The now hughely successful and well used free stock photo websites Unsplash, New Old Stock and Death to the Stock Photo ( and there’s plenty more – just Google ‘free stock photos’ and you’ll see) have changed things a lot. There’s a huge resource of high quality, beautiful images that people can use for free and that’s personally one of the reasons that I don’t watermark my images, because actually I love the concept of people just sharing their images, that moment I loved and photographed being able to be appreciated by an infinite number of people. I have shared some of my photos on Unsplash (you can see my profile here) and it's really lovely when people get in touch to tell me they like them, or indeed when I see one pop up in my Facebook feed being used in some random Social Media advert from a company. It's a personal thing.
The other reason I don’t use a watermark is that I tend to pin photos with watermarks on less than those with them. That’s just me though. If you look at the bloggers with big Pinterest followings and look at their boards you won’t see many watermarks in their feed – and they don’t watermark their own images.
Tip: If you use do a big bold watermark and don’t seem to be doing well on Pinterest it might be worth testing out a few pins with a less intrusive watermark and see if that makes a difference to re-pins.
PRACTICAL EXERCISE for those using an iphone
Play time! This exercise is designed for people who don't edit using Photoshop or Lightroom because the thought of it seems scary or daunting.
Take a photo in the Instagram app, do not edit in any other app for this exercise. Do not publish straight away to Instagram.
Use Instagrams own editing system, now don’t just go ‘bam’, hit your fave old trusty preset and think 'job done'. The editing option in the Instagram app is the spanner icon in the bottom right hand corner.
Look back to your 5 words you write down and think about how you can translate that into editing that image. If you write ‘Happy’ as one of your words you might like to play about bringing the brightness up a bit, or a slight rise on the saturation. If you wrote ‘soulful’ you might like to tweak that darkness down a bit and add a bit of fade.
Publish your photo.
Editing in Instagram is simple and familiar and many people are already doing is daily - you can be doing those same thing in Photoshop or Lightroom with your blog photos. There's no need to feel that you aren't capable of using these things - you already are in Instagram with ease!
If you don't have an iPhone you won't have access to the full Instagram so you could try this exercise in any app that gives you control of editing your images alongside presets. I've added links to some good apps below that would do the job.
Here's some very different edits by some lovely people who came along to the session - click any image to view in Instagram.
Photo editing for computers
For getting started with Photoshop or Lightroom
Google and search on YouTube:
'Getting started with Photoshop'
'Getting started with Lightroom'
Rule of thumb is that if it's on the first couple of search result pages, it's good. If using Google, search for articles in the past year to ensure you find the tutorials relevant to the latest version that you will be using.
Decent free stock photo websites
Good Photo Editing Apps
Free Instagram ecourse
7 days to a better Instagram from Me & Orla