EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BEING MY OWN BLOG PHOTOGRAPHER (AKA TRIPOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS)

As we wrapped up 2013 last week, I was thinking a lot about the progress of my blog in 2013. When I look back at the beginning of the year, I see a big difference, and feel really excited about the changes I’ve made and goals that I’ve accomplished.

One of the things I worked extra hard on this year was my blog photography. When we moved to California, right at the end of 2012, I decided to take a fresh start and really focus on the photos I put on my blog. Of course, my photos weren’t amazing right away, and even still (a year later) I’m still working to improve them, but the difference a year of practice, experimenting, trial and error, and creativity has made has been huge.

You may know that I take 80% of the photos on my blog. More than half of my outfit photos are taken by myself with a tripod. And if you didn’t know this, then I’m doing something right, because my goal with each tripod shoot is to make you think that a real photographer took them.

At least once a week I get questions about my photography, and when people find out I use a tripod, they ask for advice. So here we are…everything I’ve learned about being my own blog photographer. Grab a snack or something, cause here we go!

. . . . . . . . . . . 
all photos taken with my tripod. The photos at the top of the collage went very dark for some reason when I uploaded it and are not like the original. Just so you know. 

First of all, let me tell you a few of the reasons why it’s important for me to have great photography.

  • People appreciate and are drawn toward beautiful photos. People are more likely to engage and stick around on a blog that has beautiful photos. People are more likely to pin beautiful photos. You may say it’s superficial, but I say it’s reality.  Even if you just blog for fun, you want to engage your readers, and you probably still want to gain a greater readership, and making an effort with your photography is definitely a huge part of that. 
  • The power of blogging and social media is unmatched these days, and companies are reaching out to bloggers for all kinds of great advertising. For me, those companies who I work with, who are sending me their product for a feature, deserve my best work. I want to make each collaboration special and memorable to them so they want to maintain a relationship. 
  • My blog is my portfolio. I don’t really know where I’ll be in five or ten years, or what opportunities will present themselves, but when companies or people find my corner of the internet, I want them to really be able to see what I do, and be able to focus on my content without the distraction of poor photography. In fact, just in the last few months, I’ve tried to make every photo, even my simple tutorial step photos better, because I’m realizing that every. photo. counts. 
  • Every single company, website, or idea has to constantly be improving and morphing to the demands of society. If you’re not consistently and proactively evolving, you can easily get left behind. For me, constantly improving my photography helps me along that path toward bigger and better things every day. 

 So now that you know why I do it, let’s talk about Materials. 

  • Tripod: I have a really basic one, like this one from Amazon. I’ve had it for three or four years and it’s basically still in brand new condition. No need to buy anything fancy — just as long as it’s one that extends roughly to your height. 
  • Remote: I have this one from Amazon. There are a million out there, but I love this one because it’s small and easy to hide in pictures, which is key for me (so I can trick you all into thinking I have a photographer!!)
  • Lenses: I’ve owned a handful of lenses over the years since I got my DSLR, but I’ve loved none as much as my 50mm f/1.4 lens. It’s pricey, but it allows you to get a really nice blurred background, is great in low-light situations, and just takes gorgeous photos. It’s the only lens I use for my blog photos now. 
  • Camera: I started out with a Nikon D40x (now a discontinued model) and then upgraded to a Nikon D7000 two years ago. The D7000 is a much nicer camera, but that doesn’t matter for this — you just need a camera that works with a remote.
  • Photoshop: I have Photoshop CS4 that my husband bought me after I graduated college, but I’ve also worked with Photoshop Elements and it has a lot of the same capabilities (and is a lot cheaper). 

Commitment. About a year and a half ago, when I finally got the courage to take my pictures outside, I stuck to the same location — the grassy area behind our condo building. Then when we moved to California, I upgraded to two locations — the walkway in front of my house, and the alley behind my house. Then when my husband agreed to start taking my photos, we added one more location into the mix — the street next to our house. After I while, I realized my photos all looked the same, and I felt like it was time to move to the next level again, and I decided it was just time to bite the bullet and start taking my tripod to location shoots. 
This is where I am today. I still force my friends and my husband to take my photos when they can, but most of the time it’s just me and the tripod. It’s a commitment, especially with two kids, but it’s a commitment that I’ve decided is worth it for me (see paragraph above about why it’s important to have great photography). 
Here’s the commitment breakdown for me: 
  • Time: 
  • Outfit shoots with a real photographer take 5-10 minutes. Tripod shoots take me 25-30 minutes. So plan for the extra time. 
  • Locations: 
    • I’ve found 3 or 4 locations that each have 2-4 locations within them. I use these areas regularly since they’re secluded and have decent lighting. I also shoot in my home quite a bit since there is good lighting in my front room (and it’s incredibly convenient!)
  • Time of Day
    • When my husband took my pictures, we would do them at dusk when he got home from work. Now with Daylight Savings, it gets dark so early (which is why he doesn’t take my photos at all anymore), and I have to work around my boys schedules. I typically go around 10:30 or 11:00 am, and just stick to shady areas so I avoid any harsh shadows. 
    • I’ve also found that Sunday afternoons are good for me. My husband always takes a nap after church, as does the baby, so I grab several outfits to shoot and then bring Peanut along with me for an hour. Business complexes are deserted on Sundays, so I get most of my urban shots in on those days. 
    • UPDATE: I do all my outfit changes in the car. I plan my outfits to be shot in an order that’s as easy as possible to change from one to the other (ie. skirt outfit first, then pants are easy to slip on underneath without flashing everyone)
    • Even though I shoot several outfits at a time, these are all outfits I’ve worn during the week — I never shoot an outfit I don’t actually wear! This is real life style πŸ™‚ 
  • Shooting with Kids
    • The several locations I go to have a big parking lot, or are part of a park, so I park the car and then let Peanut get out and play by the car with some toys I bring along. Buck stays in the carseat with the doors open or the windows rolled down, and is either asleep, or gets a snack to keep him content while I shoot. 
  • Learning My Camera [update from reader’s comments]
    • This is a huge part that I forgot to mention. Learn your camera! I only shoot in Manual Mode, and although it’s a steep learning curve, your photos turn out unbelievably better when you know how to use it. I learned by reading a lot of online tutorials and a LOT of trial and error. 
    • For me, I think the nice blurred background makes your outfits really stand out without a lot of background distraction, and working in manual mode is the only way to get your depth of field as shallow as it can go (which achieves that super blurry background). Otherwise the camera just chooses for you. 
    • There are a million tutorials and posts out there that cover how to use it, so I won’t even get into it. But LEARN. YOUR. CAMERA.
  • Did I mention it’s a commitment?? πŸ˜‰

  • Creativity: 
    •  The key to getting shots that aren’t obviously taken by a tripod is creativity:
    • Location, obviously. I’m always on the lookout for new spots that will work. Also, see above. 
    • Angles: Try lots of different shots — super wide angles, close-ups, from the back, side, etc. The reason my shoots take so long is because I take about fifty photos, trying all sorts of different poses and angles. Some work, some don’t, but just keep trying new things. 
    • Poses: Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing tripod photos for so long, but I can spot a tripod photo from almost a mile away. Usually it’s because of the poses or the facial expressions. People make faces and do poses for a tripod that they typically wouldn’t for a photographer, and to me they stand out. Pretend there’s a person taking the photo, and just be as normal and relaxed as you can. Yes, it’s awkward that you’re taking photos of yourself, but move past it and act as natural as possible. 

    A Few Other Random Tips:
    • Focusing the Camera: I struggled with focus for a long time, and still have little blips here and there. But here are three little tips that I’ve found work for me: 
    • I use AutoFocus, and I make sure that my Priority Selection is set to Focus, rather than Release (since release allows it to take a photo even if it’s not focused). 
    • Make sure your camera is set to as many AutoFocus points as possible. Mine allows either 11 or 39, so I always have mine on 39, which helps the camera keep my whole body in focus while shooting. 
    • If it’s not focusing on me and I can’t figure out why, I go stand in front of the camera, about 2 feet away, and take a picture with the remote. Because my distance to the camera has changed drastically, the autofocus will change to try to get me in focus, and that sort of resets it. Then when I back up again, it re-focuses again and starts working. Very technical, right? πŸ™‚ 
  • Hide your remote. If you’re taking pictures with a remote, we don’t need to know. I hide mine in pockets and behind by bags most of the time. But if I don’t have a good hiding spot, I just press the button and throw the remote πŸ™‚
  • Put your remote on a two second delay so you have time to hide the remote. Check your camera’s manual to figure out how to change this setting. 
  • Edit your photos. Don’t post unedited photos. Just don’t. I try to take good enough photos to avoid a lot of editing, but a few simple adjustments make a huge difference. I almost always boost the exposure a bit to brighten up the photo, adjust the levels to darken the darks and lighten the lights, use the Dodge tool to brighten my face specifically, and then sharpen the photo using Bloom and Grow’s “final sharpen” action in her Basics Action Package
  • Whew. Did you make it? 
    Am I forgetting anything? If you have any other questions, please leave them in the comments! 
    Happy Friday!
    . . . . . . . . 
    Also, in case you want even more stuff to read, check out what I’ve written at Babble so far this month!
    20 Winter-Appropriate Outfits for a Warm Winter (cause a California girl loves a good scarf and coat too)
    Creative Combinations: Dresses and Loafers (those loafers are always hard for me to style!)
    • This is a great post! Thank you!
      I do have a question though… if you grab several outfits and then go somewhere, do you just change in the car? I need to figure out a way to take a few pics of diff outfits all in the same location ahha

    • Ash

      Great tips… your pictures always look awesome and mine… don't and I know it's something I need to work on (even though my outfit pictures are sporadic and just for fun.) Now if only you could help me not look incredibly awkward and use the exact same hand-on-hip pose in every picture =)

      • Haha! Try holding a bag — it gives you something to do with your hands other than on your hips!

    • Wow, I totally thought your husband was taking all these photos! Also, I am so glad to see hear about someone as accomplished and put-together-looking as you also has two kids playing quietly (or whining) nearby! I wondered how you did it, and now I love your photos even more when I can imagine the sweat that goes into each one. Beautiful work… you're doing a fantastic job, mama!

      • Just thought of a question: do you use the manual settings at all or do you just set it on automatic and trust the camera? And then edit later, as you already mentioned?

      • Thank you for your nice comment! And yes, I do it all in manual — I updated the post to talk a little bit about that. So glad you reminded me to add it!

    • Merrick- great post! I'm not interested in getting into blogging my self, but I found everything you had to say really interested and informative! I've definitely noticed the change in your photots, so I would say, keep up the good work. I even like the ones of you on your couch every now and then– it gives you a really personable and cozy look :).

    • Thank you for this!!!!!!!!!

    • This is a really helpful post as I have tried taking photos with a tripod and have failed to like any of the pictures. Now I know why! really great advice πŸ™‚

    • So glad you posted this!! I was going to comment the other day to see who was taking your photos πŸ™‚ Do you also take the photos of your family?

      • I didn't take our Christmas photos, if that's what you're asking. They were taken by Sara Walk Photography!

        saracwalkphotography.blogspot.com

    • Your pictures are beautiful. What kind of camera do you use (I'm guessing some sort of Nikon to match the lens you linked)? Do you just put it on auto mode, or do you use manual? Did you take a class, or just learn settings with trial and error? And about editing, I guess I am unfamiliar with the "Dodge" feature, etc. Is that a part of photoshop?

      • Yes, Dodge is just a lightening tool on the sidebar. Photoshop and Photoshop Elements both have it!

      • (and I answered your other questions by updated the post — thanks for your questions!!)

    • I love this. I need to be better about my photos. I'm much too dependent on my iPhone.

    • This was incredible helpful! THANK YOU! My boyfriend takes my pictures when I do outfit posts, but I'd like to start doing more and these tips will be so helpful. I got the tripod and remote for Christmas, now I just need to work up the courage to go find spots to take the photos where not toooo many people can see me. I'm chicken! And living in the city we don't have a backyard or private outdoor space!

    • Thanks for these tips! My husband is getting sick of taking my blog pictures so I've been thinking about trying out a tripod πŸ™‚

      http://kacieskloset.blogspot.com/

    • Awesome post. I was always curious about the inner workings of your photo shoots, and you've answered all of my questions! (I always really did wonder what the kids were up to if you took them yourself haha!) I've always loved your photos, and I'm now really in awe, knowing that you DO take them yourself with 2 kiddos behind the scenes! I can barely take selfies with my iPhone, but now I have a go-to tips section if I ever needed a reason to take real photos of myself! Thanks!

    • Do you mess with the focus or do that on Auto? I struggle if there is not someone with me to get the focus right when it's just me.

      • Oh, good question! I meant to cover that! I've updated the post above to answer your question πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for the tips! Being your own photographer can be a challenge, but also very rewarding! I do hate the time element though, especially in the freezing cold winter. Often I'm wishing for someone else to be holding the camera!
      Chic on the Cheap

    • I LOVE this post, it's one I've been not sure how to approach with my blog. I couldn't even tell you took your own. I love your blog πŸ™‚

      http://www.jacqueline-ann.com

    • ahaha I honestly thought Philip took all your photos!!! excellent job Mer!!! just wanted to say that, I'm gonna keep reading …

    • These are great tips, backed up by the fact that we see the good work you do on a near-daily basis. I think you're doing a fabulous job! I admire your dedication and commitment to learning a skill.

    • Thank you for sharing. I love your photographs – your poses are so natural. Keep up the great work!

    • OMG, I'm honestly in awe that you take the majority of your photos yourself, including the ones in this post, wow! Any tips on auto-focus specifically? That's what I always struggle with the most! Also, do you have an l-bracket? My tripod can't seem to hold my camera when I try to rotate to shoot vertically! Thanks in advance, you're a rock star.

    • My mind has been blown. I had no idea you were using a tripod! Better photography is my blog goal for the year. So glad you use a Nikon. I've also had a canon inferiority complex, thinking I can't take good pictures because I don't have a $2k camera. Feeling inspired. Already signed up for a photography class. I'll use online stuff too, but with a 2 year old and a 2 month old who take tag-team naps all day, I don't have much time for myself, so I thought this way, I'll actually get started on it. You're awesome!

    • Oh my gosh, this post is awesome. Thanks so much for all the wonderful tips, Merrick!

    • Great post! I admit to following more photo pretty blogs than anything else, even if the content is really good. I think about that with my blog but I never feel like I have the time or the right camera to take better photos. You are so right about it being a commitment! Great advice! And I never thought about a remote. What a great idea!

    • THANK YOU so much for this post! I am a tripod blogger photographer too & it is the most frustrating and yet somehow truly fulfilling aspect of my blog!
      xx
      Here&Now
      Enter my current giveaway!

    • this is AMAZING! not having a photographer has stopped/delayed me from blogging but thanks to you ill start trying again. this is really a great post AND and inspiration. thank you!!

    • You completely had me fooled! I can't believe you don't have a photographer pro following you at all times! πŸ™‚ Thanks for breaking this down for me – maybe I'll have to start some outfit posts!
      xx Kelly

    • This is excellent advice. I actually am still learning to use my camera AND tripod but am starting to finally get the desired results!

      xo, nina
      afterthe40barfinish

    • You are a great tri pod photographer and thank you so much for these tips! I bought one and haven't used it yet because like you mention, it just takes so much time.

      Alice
      http://www.happinessatmidlife.com

    • Thank you for sharing! These tips were very helpful!

    • Oh my goodness. I've been meaning to ask you about this. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this all together. I know if will help a lot of people! Your pictures are all amazing.

    • This was great to read! I would have never guessed that you use a tripod! In fact, as I read your posts I always wonder who is taking your photos — your husband, a friend. So obviously you're doing a great job!

      I've tried doing self-portraits and they are hard! But I also do not have a remote, so I have to set the 10 second timer and run & pose. Fun times. Anyways, thanks for the tips! Your pictures are always lovely!

    • such a great post! thanks for the awesome tips!

    • Thanks for all of the great tips!!!

    • This is awesome! Thank you for sharing!!

    • This is amazingly helpful. I started my blog as a creative outlet after my son was born, but it's been pretty hard keeping up with it as my son has gotten more mobile (he's now 17 mos). My husband would get exasperated trying to take pics with a 20+ pound photo-bomber running rampant in the background. With both of us working full time – weekdays were pretty much impossible – until now! I can't wait to try out a selfie photo session! Thanks again πŸ™‚

      -Michele
      http://www.TheSaltyHanger.com

    • Wow, this is very detailed and extremely helpful! Thanks!

    • Really helpful! Thank you!

      http://WWW.JILLIANUNDERCOVER.COM

    • lol… "….I just press the button and throw the remote", I thought I was the only one that does this.
      These are really great tips, I think learning your camera is definitely the biggest thing, I'm pretty good when the camera is "in my hand" but really struggle when it's on the Tripod.

    • Merrick! This is amazing. I can't wait to dive in and use well, every single tip. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

    • Ooh, such good stuff! I love how you've figured out a way to make it all (kids, clothing changes, locations) work together. Thank you for the excellent tips!

    • This is SUPER helpful! Thank you so much! You truly are an inspiration!

      http://www.geekyjessy.blogspot.com

    • Your photos are always fantastic. You are right I stop looking at blogs (unless I know the blogger) with poor photography.Are your detail shots (of shoes, purses) cropped images then? Majorly impressed with your son to be present while you are taking hte self portraits!.

    • I just found this on Pinterest and I cant believe that you are taking these fantastic photos by yourself! So amazing and this post is incredibly helpful