I recently read a post by a successful blogger, Mark Manson, about his top tips for blogging. Mark hit the nail on the head with all of his tips; I especially liked his focus on quality writing and perfectionism.
But Mark left one important blogging subject out of his post: photography. Photography enhances blogging more than it does any other literary genre. Photos are to blog posts what chocolate is to peanut butter: They make an amazing combination, but must be combined properly and the quality and packaging are important.
One of the main reasons my blog is successful (in my own mind, at least) is because I’m good at combining blogging and photography. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1) Practice, practice, practice. Want to get better at taking pictures for your blog? Then take as many photos as you can, everywhere you go. If you don’t have a camera then use your phone (although an actual camera is better). Ignore the voices in your head that say, “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I’m not a good photographer”. The more you practice, the better you’ll be.
2) If at all possible, use your own photos rather than someone else’s. Photos communicate emotion, just like words. Your own photos will enhance your storytelling and convey the emotions you felt during a particular experience. Your readers will appreciate this. (Also, see tip 4.)
That cliché about a picture telling a thousand words? It’s true.
3) Don’t post bad photos – e.g., photos that are blurry, poorly lit, or badly composed. If you want to blog about a particular place or experience but you’re not happy with the photos you took, then try to go back and take better ones. If that’s not possible, just leave the photos out (see tip 10). Or if you must, use someone else’s photos but make sure you have permission (see tip 4).
That said, not every photo in your blog needs to be perfect. If a photo is slightly fuzzy but tells a great story, then use it. Just know where to draw the line between “imperfect” and “downright bad”.
Food photography is hard — I often don’t have my camera with me and restaurant lighting is notoriously bad. Nonetheless, I resist the urge to post crappy food photos. (If you’re serious about food-blogging, invest in a camera that performs well in low light.)
4) Don’t steal photos. In other words, don’t use a photo that you didn’t take yourself unless you: a) Know who the photo belongs to; and b) Are 100% sure that person is okay with you using it. Stealing photos makes you look bad and can get you into legal trouble. So don’t do it. (I addressed this topic in a previous post.)
Need a Joburg skyline shot for your blog and feel tempted to take someone else’s without asking? Don’t.
5) Watermark your photos to prevent others from stealing them. I know what you’re thinking: “My photos aren’t good enough to steal”, or “I’m not a professional and I don’t care if others use my photos.” This is exactly what I thought for the first few years that I blogged. Then I began to realize that: a) My photos had become good enough to steal; b) I had become a professional; and c) I did indeed care. I started watermarking my photos and wished I had done so from the start.
Even a small watermark (bottom-right corner of this shot) can be enough to make others think twice before using your pic without asking.
6) If you have good photos for your blog, then post them big. Give each photo its own line, and size the photo to the full width of the page. Photo collages frustrate me because the individual photos in the collage are too small to see clearly. I also hate text that wraps awkwardly around a photo; there’s no need for text-wrapping in a blog. Keep your format clean and simple and devote a full line to each picture – most people don’t mind scrolling.
Bigger is better.
7) Caption each photo so your readers know what’s going on. Even if a photo’s message seems obvious to you, it might not be obvious to someone else. A good caption tells the photo’s story in one or two sentences. Captions also provide a nice buffer between two photos, or between a photo and a block of text, enhancing readability. Captioning is worth the extra time.
Brother Jabu makes the “One Love” symbol next to a pile of marijuana at the Judah Square Rastafarian community in Knysna Township. (It’s easy as that. I center and italicize my captions to set them apart from the blog text.)
8) Intersperse photos throughout the blog post, rather than lumping them at the end. Photos are great story-telling devices; use them to tell the story. Again, interspersing photos improves readability and is totally worth the extra time it takes.
9) Don’t over-edit. In this age of Instagram, it’s tempting to slap one-size-fits-all filters onto your photos before posting them. This is a bad idea, because preset filters generally suck. If a photo is good to begin with then a filter will usually make it look worse, not better.
Less is more when it comes to editing, especially for beginners. Find some editing software that you’re comfortable with – Lightroom, iPhoto, Picasa, whatever – and experiment with minor edits like adjusting brightness, contrast, and saturation. Tread lightly until you become comfortable.
Let your photos speak for themselves: Don’t over-edit them.
10) If you don’t like photography, then blog without photos. Photography enhances blogging but it’s not essential – there are plenty of great writers who blog only with words. Also, I personally hate bland stock photos, memes, and GIFs; I’d prefer to see no images at all. If you’re not into photography, then don’t force it. Find a blog template/theme that makes your writing look good on its own (WordPress.com is a great place to start), and type away.
I’m glad you decided to write about this because you are such a great photographer. I particularly love the “don’t over edit”. As an expat, I see a lot of over-saturated PS pics of Thailand, and I’m like, “That’s not what that looks like!”
That, plus, bad photos turn me off. And I don’t have a fancy camera – at all. I used to think I was a bad photographer, but my brother would give me tips and then my friend Yuko said the nicest most confident building thing, she said,”You’re a creative person, a good writer, so you probably are a good photographer, too.” She really made me think twice about what I thought I could and couldn’t do and now I just have fun.
Thanks so much, Lani, I really appreciate that. PS, I like your pics and your blog 🙂
Very interesting. I love blogging. And only use a phone camera. That’s my limitation. And know it but very willing to stick to it for convenience sake. I’ll be getting my smartphone camera lense kit during the next few days as well as a great battery back.
I will experiment and learn: travelling while I take photos.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the comment Johan! Smartphone lenses are really fun – enjoy 🙂
Oh Heather, you already know I think you’re the queen of photographers and your images are always so interesting. Can’t wait to improve over the next few months as I experiment more, I’ve already seen such a positive response over the last couple of months that is really encouraging. Thanks for putting down these tips, I love how you caption your images and it isn’t something I’m great at doing but will definitely focus more time on that going forward. My most recent post on the Cango Caves made me super proud because there was such low light and I had to shoot in low light, even though they’re still a little fuzzy in spots: http://indikate.net/2015/05/cango-caves-worth-suffering-the-guide-for/
I somehow missed that post before – great pics!
Heather, this is a great post. So helpful. Thanks for the hint about using italics for the caption. Never thought about that. Keep it up!!!
Glad you like it! It was a surprisingly fun post to write.
Hi Heather, what tool do you use to watermark your pics? Thanks for a lovely blog post! 🙂 Claire
Hi Claire, I personally use Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Thanks for sharing these tips. I am so guilty of over-editing, have stopped doing that now. I also love the tips on how to layout the pics in a blog post. Hopefully after reading this, my blogs will look better. As always, your work inspires me. I totally agree that practicing photography as often as possible makes one a little better at it. I am finding it totally addictive.
Thanks Di. Your photos have really been looking great lately 🙂
Your photographs are awesome and so inspiring. Really helpful tips in this post… I am one of those that thinks my pictures are really crap (really are!). I do take a lot of pics, especially of food, but you are right – its just not the same with a camera phone. Have been thinking about a ‘real’ camera for a while now, maybe its time to tale the plunge!!
Thanks Mia. Do it! A camera will open up a whole new world for you. Cell phone cameras are great but they just don’t cut it in low light.
Hello Heather, great that you wrote his post..As a travel blogger, photography is a must as it does the actual justice to the travel experiences. However, if a smart phone can convey the message without much ‘edition’ to the photos, it is a great way for a start. I too am looking for a good lens to start with. It definitely makes a lot of difference….
I recently bought a G7x camera and its very good at low light and has all the sophisticated setting you normally only get on an SLR – that travels with me wherever I go these days
This is a great post.
I am not a blogger; but I shoot a lot for Instagram. I carry a Samsung Galaxy Camera with me at all times. It has excellent low light capability, a 21x optical zoom (approximately 400mm DSLR equivalent) a quality chip that approaches DSLR quality and it slides easily in and out of my side pocket — even when I am wearing tight jeans. It is also WiFi enabled with a good sized, high quality touch screen so images can be edited and transmitted immediately.
I would think this would be a blogger’s dream camera.
P.S. I don’t work for Samsung. Maybe I should.
This is a great comment. Although I don’t like the idea of my dad wearing tight jeans. You should take to my friend Gareth — he’s the official Samsung ambassador for South Africa.
thank you for putting this post up, you continue to inspire – tips 7 & 8 are what i’m working toward.