Growing Your Blog – Photography & Styling

by | Jan 5, 2012 | Photography, Running a Business | 8 comments


I kinda have to pinch myself today.  I have four of my blogging icons here to share some words of wisdom on using quality photos to grow your blog and then I get to chime in on the subject as well.  Kate from Centsational Girl brought us together to share a series on Growing Your Blog.  I know I would’ve loved to read something like this when I first started, so I’m honored to be a part of this.  The topic for today is photography and styling.  I’ll give the floor to my guests and then share some additional thoughts with you…

Y’all I should be arrested. I use a 4 year old Nikon D40 whose lens cap was lost a year or two ago. I have Photoshop but I don’t have time for the learning curve so if I do any editing it’s in iPhoto that came with my Mac. I rely much more on sunshine than I do editing and I take about 10,000 photos of house stuff every year. I really want to learn how to use my camera better but I just haven’t taken the time. And for the record I keep my camera dial on the little no-flash lightning bolt setting all the time.

Nesting Place would looks so much better and more professional if every photo I posted were magazine quality and staged. They are not. I try to have just enough socially acceptable/staged/good quality photos so that I don’t lose credibility. I mix in very imperfect, real, unstaged, dog-tail-in-the-picture every day photos as well~ but I think every photo I publish is beautiful because of what it documents. I think it works OK for me since the motto at Nesting Place is’ It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful’. Even though 100% gorgeous photos would look better, it wouldn’t be true to who I am and what Nesting Place is about. However, I think beautiful photos are more about lighting than staging and I think everyone should align their photo publishing philosophy with the purpose of their blog. All the bloggers in this series are such a great example of doing just that.

Up till a little over a year ago, I used a simple Canon point and shoot camera. I did quite well with it and still say any blogger can do the same with some styling and editing! That being said, I purchased a Canon Rebel last fall and I do think it makes a difference in my photos. I still haven’t figured out how to use the thing beyond adjusting the aperture, but just in general, it takes great photos. I use Picnik for editing and LOVE it! Most of their options are free for anyone — it’s helpful for brightening up pictures, making the colors more vibrant (as they look in real life), and adding watermarks to photos.
I try my boost to take photos during the day, with natural light, and I pretty much never ever EVER use a flash. Flash just washes out the subject and I now avoid it at all costs. 🙂 I will take a TON of photos for just one post — it’s all about trying different angles and styling and perspectives. It’s not until I get on the computer and see the pictures on the screen in front of me that I know what’s going to work best. Photographing, editing and then choosing the right photos takes a TON of time — sometimes just as long as doing the actual project!

I’m not a photographer by any means, but I do know that beautiful pictures will make or break a blog. You can have the best idea in the world, but your idea will not be shared without pretty pictures. I use a Nikon D40x – and I hate to admit it but I shoot it on the auto mode most of the time. And I never, ever, use my flash.

I have a few tricks that help make my pictures look good. First, I use Picnik, an online photo editing service (you can use a lot of it for free). I wrote an article about it at the CrafterMinds site–with some examples of pictures before and after editing and the steps I used to get those results. Second: my light scoop. I found out about this company this year: the light scoop is a nifty, inexpensive tool that redirects your flash light up to the ceiling, bouncing the light back to your subject. It doesn’t look like you’re using a flash, but lights your subject evenly regardless of time of day or even on a cloudy day. And that last thing is styling is so important. A clean background looks great for almost any project. And don’t give in to the temptation to take pictures when the light isn’t good. (Taking a photography class is on my list of things to do in 2012.)

I’ve come a long way with my photography, a loooong way. When I first started blogging three years ago, I knew nothing about photography, I didn’t see it as very important, and my pictures were just okay. I don’t think it became that important until about a year ago with the influx of the Pinterest sensation and the big brands finally taking notice of the people behind creative blogs. I do believe there is a direct correlation between good photography and the opportunities that arise to work with brands and magazines, which naturally leads to more attention and traffic for your site. I don’t cater to those interests per se, but I always keep this in the back of my mind: my blog is my resume, therefore beauty shots do matter if I want my work to be featured or noticed.

And I think there’s something nice about inspiring others with pretty images since we’re naturally drawn to them. It’s why we buy magazines, subscribe to blogs, or store images in our inspiration files. It doesn’t mean that our homes are perfect all the time (mine certainly is NOT), it’s just a choice to share more of the prettier stuff and less of the chaos. That’s one thing I learned from Matthew Mead, you should let things be what they really are, not fake or phony, but real, because they do tell a story, and taking the time to set the scene and photograph it in proper light with a decent camera makes all the difference. But I don’t think readers should be intimidated or overwhelmed by the concept of great styling or better photography. Instead, be inspired. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can learn the basics of taking better pictures, I know because I’m proof.  This article is a better explanation of what I’ve learned and offers a few tips for better interior photography.

I loved reading the different perspectives on this topic.  It should be so encouraging that Sarah grew her blog to humongous with a point-and-shoot camera and that The Nester hardly ever edits.  All four of these blogs were grown without a professional photographer and stylist behind the lens, so don’t feel like you need to be either of those things to get your blog where you want it.  That said, photography is so important.  This is a visual industry and readers are drawn to “beauty shots” and eye candy.  Like Kate said, good photography can bring in more opportunities that can lead to significant blog growth.  Readers are going to Pin, share and Tweet beautiful pictures.  Editors, producers, peer bloggers, etc. are going to be more likely to feature you or contact you about opportunities if you have gorgeous pictures to back up great content.  Kate is also right that anyone can learn to take better pictures if they are willing to work at it.

Here are some links to posts I’ve written, so you can check out what aspect of photography you’re most interested in…

If you’re curious about my gear, you can check out the post on My Camera & Lenses.  Since this post, I have added a Nikon shutter release cable, a nicer tripod and my big splurge, a Nikon SB-900 flash.

The Art of Styling

One of the secrets to great photography – My infomercial for a tripod.

Watermarks and actions – Since this post, I have been using a new action.  I now almost always use the Classic Bright action in the Classic Workflow set by Shanna Rae of FloraBella.

Blogging and Photography – There are some links in this post to other great photography series and posts.

If you don’t have time to go through all of those, here are my top five tips to get your photography (and your blog/Etsy shop, etc) noticed…

Lighting is EVERYTHING – Take your pictures next to a window to capture soft natural light.  Learn where and when your best light is and take your pictures there.  Turn off your flash and use a tripod, so you can use slow shutter speeds to let lots of light into your camera.

YOU take quality photos, not your camera – Don’t buy a better camera thinking it’s going to make you a better photographer.  You can do more with a lower end camera that you know how to operate than a fancy schmancy camera you use like a point and shoot.  If you bought a fancy schmancy camera, learn how to use it.  Read the manual, watch You Tube videos (which can be awesome) and spend lots of time playing around with your camera until you’re getting the looks you like.

Take time to stage – It is time consuming to stage pictures and get shots from different angles and with different lenses and camera settings, but it is totally worth it.  You don’t have to do this for every post or every picture, but start throwing in one or two proper photo shoots a week and see how your readers (or customers) respond to it.  I guarantee you…if you have an online shop, your traffic and sales will increase if your merchandise is photographed and styled well.

Take time to edit – This is another time consuming thing.  I can spend hours editing photos, resizing them, adding watermarks, etc., but it’s really worth it.  I can take a picture that’s OK and make it look bright and beautiful.  If you don’t have the time (or desire) to edit all of your photos, just edit the “beauty shots” to make them look their best.

Be patient and stick with it – Photography is part art, part technology, so be very patient with yourself as you’re learning.  I do all of the photography and editing for my work with HGTV, Cottages & Bungalows and I’m shooting for my book and I STILL feel clueless about a lot.  I’m sure I do some things entirely “wrong” and I have so much room to grow when it comes to photo editing (which is why I like actions) and some of the more technical aspects of photography.  I sometimes get discouraged with this, but then I see someone like The Pioneer Woman say she’s still not 100% happy with her photography, which is amazing, and I know I’m not alone.

Make sure to visit Centsational Girl tomorrow for the final installment on Balance.  Wow…I need to read what the other girls have to say about that one.

Since the Favorite Furniture of 2011 party is still live, I won’t post FFF this week, but get ready to share your new projects next Thursday at 10:00 pm EST.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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