How I Am Improving My Photography in 2015

My blog-related New Year’s Resolution was to get accepted by The Blogger Network (or AdThrive. I haven’t decided which, to be honest). Which means I have a whole load of goals in place to get me there.

The big one? Page views. I desperately need to increase my page views. I’ve been blogging for over two years and I’m still only at 15,000-25,000 per month (you need at least 80,000 to get into The Blogger Network).

The reason is that I haven’t worked hard enough at getting my blog seen. That’s changing this year. So now I have goals to help get me to 80,000 monthly page views.

Since I mostly write about food and DIY, I need to up my photography game. So my goals look like this: Photography > Page Views > TBN/AdThrive. Basically. What I want to do along the way is walk you through each step (rather than coming back when I’m big and successful and saying, “Here’s what I’m doing NOW to make $7000.” That’s not helpful if you don’t know the roads I had to take to get there). So let’s concentrate on photography for now.

How I'm Improving My Photography in 2015 --- Blog photography is incredibly important, especially if you're a food blogger (people eat with their eyes first). Here are 4 ways I'm improving my photography in 2015.  || via #blogging #photos #photography #tips

How I’m Improving My Photography in 2015

Guys, photography matters. I know you hate to hear it, but it does. You can’t put up some dark, yellow, unappetizing picture and expect to get tons of repins and page views. It doesn’t work like that.

The best thing I’ve learned from reading How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging (affiliate) is this: People eat with their eyes first. If your blog is DIY-centric, you can get by for a little while on crappy pictures if the project is inventive enough (even then, it won’t get you far). But with food, you need to have great photos all the time.

I’m not saying you need to be a professional photographer NOW. I have a TON of less-than-great photos on this blog. For months, I have been working very hard to redo all of those recipes and get some better photos up.

What I’m saying is that you need to work on your quality and get your photos to look as nice as you can on your budget. Don’t buy a fancy new DSLR if you can’t afford one. They’re nice, but if you have to use your phone to take photos, then that’s just how it is. But there are things you can do to improve those photos.

As someone who’s photography has been a little lackluster for the past couple of years, here are four ways I am improving my photography this year.

1. Join a program like FoodGawker.

FoodGawker is this completely free and completely awesome food photography site. I joined a week ago and I am already seeing AMAZING results.

The basic idea behind FoodGawker is that you submit your photo (with the blog post attached) and they will either approve it or reject it. If you get approved, you get some page views. If you get rejected, you get a reason. It is SO VALUABLE. The most common reasons my photos have been rejected is for composition (which I know I struggle with) and lighting. 

A lot of people are afraid of rejection and, yeah, rejection blows…but it’s necessary if you want to grow. Each submission is a learning experience and my photography has GREATLY improved in the last week alone.

Small rant: I know a lot of people say they don’t get any page views from it, but I’m getting tons. Not from my less interesting recipes, of course, but my pizza stuffed chicken? People are loving that because it’s interesting and not something you see often. My turkey meatballs, on the other hand, get a lot of likes because the photo is nice, but they aren’t getting any page views…because people have seen meatballs before. Something that hasn’t been done to death is going to garner more page views. End rant.

Even if I don’t get any page views from it, the feedback is SO valuable! I mean come on–I’ve gone from this:

Date Night Jar --- Create a date night jar to add some excitement to your relationship! Bottom of the post has a list of date night ideas, ranging from expensive trips to free stay-at-home dates. || via #date #night #jar #ideas #easy #quick #crafts #valentinesday #valentine

To this:

Date Night Jar --- Create a date night jar to add some excitement to your relationship! Bottom of the post has a list of date night ideas, ranging from expensive trips to free stay-at-home dates. || via #date #night #jar #ideas #easy #quick #crafts #valentinesday #valentine

Which do you think will get more pins?

(When we get to #4, remember the above photo.)

2. Don’t let your ego be what holds you back.

Remember when I wrote about how I monetized my blog and I said that my ego kept me from making more money last year? Another part of that was with my photography. If I liked it, it was good enough. It’s my blog, so my opinion is what matters.

Not quite.

A big problem I see among other FoodGawker members is that they take it WAY too personally when they get rejected.

Look, I’m familiar with the, “Screw you, I’m awesome” attitude when someone doesn’t like me. But there is a time and a place and at some point, you have to move away from it.

I see people saying, “I got rejected for lighting issues even though I took this photo outside! Sometimes I think they just make up reasons.” No, they don’t. They don’t know you, they have no personal reason to reject you. Your photo just wasn’t good enough. (Edit: As Stephanie pointed out in the comments, it also depends on the person reviewing your photo. If you think your photo was AMAZING, then wait a few days and try again. It’s possible you’ll get someone else and they’ll like your photo just fine.)

This is where your ego can hold you back. These people are so appalled that they would be rejected that they refuse to look at the photo and try to see what FoodGawker sees. 

The first photo of mine that FoodGawker rejected was for my almond sugar cookies (the very first picture, but it didn’t have the text), which surprised me. I thought it was a great photo. The reason they gave me was, “Composition and awkward angle.” When I looked at it again, I saw it. The composition was boring and the angle? If I stare at that picture too long, I feel like I have motion sickness. The angle is all wrong. And now I know what to change about it the next time I make that recipe.

I’m not saying I’m this magical person who never takes criticism personally. It’s hard not to…but I’m learning. Constructive criticism doesn’t start with, “The photo is GREAT! But….” Constructive criticism is specifically meant to tell you what to fix, not to make you feel good. 

So every time I receive a rejection, I take their comment into my next “photo shoot.” They thought my angle was awkward? No more angling my camera that way. Now it’s all eye level and bird’s eye view. And do you know what happened? My photography was immediately 500 times better than it was before.

3. Learn how to use lighting correctly.

One thing a lot of bloggers (including myself, for a while) struggle to understand is that lighting isn’t as simple as making sure it’s daylight. Taking your photos outside is a good idea, as long as it’s an overcast day. So, “I took my photos outside!” isn’t a good enough appeal for a rejection stating lighting issues. 

Here’s an example. I took this photo of my pizza stuffed chicken in direct sunlight:

Pizza Stuffed Chicken Breasts // Budget Girl --- This chicken gives you the taste of pizza without all the added calories! Nutritional Info: 180 Calories, 5 g fat, 5 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 30 g protein #chicken #pizza #healthy #stuffed #cooking #recipes

Here’s one taken on a cloudy day:

Pizza Stuffed Chicken --- Pizza stuffed chicken gives you the taste of pizza without all the added calories! Only 180 calories per serving, high in protein and, of course, amazing. This healthy dish is a family-favorite. Customize it by adding your favorite pizza toppings! Nutritional Info: 180 Calories, 5 g fat, 5 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 30 g protein || via #chicken #pizza #healthy #stuffed #cooking #recipes

See the difference light can make? I had no filter, no reflector. I just set that plate on the table and took a picture. I’m still not 100% happy with the bottom picture, but try telling me it’s not better.

Though the blogger who took her photo outside got one thing right: if your lighting isn’t working in one room, try another.

Those of you who have been around for a while may have noticed that I don’t take step-by-step photos of recipes anymore. You now only see the finished product. One reason is because those photos were slowing down my site and they were really unnecessary.

The other reason is because the kitchen in our new apartment is closed off and dark. So, unless I have to show you something (like with my chocolate covered cherry shortbread cookies), I don’t take photos in my kitchen anymore.

I take the dish into my spare room, set it by the window, and I photograph it there. It’s the best light in the apartment and I have plenty of room to work in there.

It’s not even as simple as that, though. I have poster board that I use to reflect light. I have a white sheet that I fold in half and drape in front of the window to reduce glare. Which brings me to my next point….

4. Get inventive.

In response to my comment that, “Photography is more complicated than just taking a picture outside,” a blogger told me, “I don’t have money for expensive spotlights and equipment.” This whole conversation was basically a disaster, actually. Mostly because she was too stubborn to listen to more experienced bloggers/photographers (I’ve been there).

I don’t have expensive equipment. Until six months ago, I didn’t even have a DSLR. I used a cheap point and shoot and my photos were great. (Take a look at my parmesan crusted tilapia and then imagine what it would look like if I had understood how lighting and color balance worked.)

I do put a lot of thought and effort into how my photos are staged, though. For instance, this is often what my staging area looks like:

How I'm Improving My Photography in 2015 --- Blog photography is incredibly important, especially if you're a food blogger (people eat with their eyes first). Here are 4 ways I'm improving my photography in 2015.  || via #blogging #photos #photography #tips

This photo makes the room look like a mess, but there’s a reason. On the table, I have a piece of wood that I got at Home Depot, stained, and now I use it as a stage (I have a few of those in different colors. The date night jar was taken on one that I painted in a grey-ish purple color and then lightly sanded to make it look weathered).

The black board is just a piece of black foam board that I got at Michael’s (or Wal-Mart…I don’t remember which). I rubbed chalk all over it and then rubbed the markings in with a cloth so it would look like a used blackboard. (The bed is covered with a bunch of other stages and boards, so I can easily grab and discard them as I’m working. Sometimes I rotate through the stages multiple times but, for some reason, I usually settle on the one you see pictured above.) When not in use, all of this stuff is stored under the bed.

I use a piece of white foam board as a reflector, to keep my photos from being weird and dark in one area. (It has greatly improved my photography!) The white foam board is being propped up by that chair. The metal thing in the corner of this picture is a step ladder that I use when I need to put up the bed sheet, because I’m short. (One of these days, I’ll probably rip into that sheet and make a set of curtains. Problem solved.)

The second date night jar photo has all those hearts in it. Those were leftover from my Glittered States Art. I couldn’t think of a way to stage that photo so it would look interesting…and then I found those in my box. I spent 20 minutes setting them up so the hearts were facing the camera and so the same color didn’t appear too many times in one area. (And then I had to be really careful about my camera angle.) Sometimes getting the perfect picture is A LOT more work than you intended.

Anyway, here’s my photo area from another angle:

How I'm Improving My Photography in 2015 --- Blog photography is incredibly important, especially if you're a food blogger (people eat with their eyes first). Here are 4 ways I'm improving my photography in 2015.  || via #blogging #photos #photography #tips

I know a lot of bloggers work during the day and when they get home (especially in winter), it’s dark. 

For you, there are DIY light boxes. There is also the option of cooking your whole week’s worth of meals on your day off, photographing them while you have light, and then freezing them (to reheat throughout the week). I know it doesn’t sound appealing, but you either want to be a blogger or you don’t.

How I'm Improving My Photography in 2015 --- Blog photography is incredibly important, especially if you're a food blogger (people eat with their eyes first). Here are 4 ways I'm improving my photography in 2015. || via #blogging #photos #photography #tips

If you are just blogging for fun and have no interest in growing your following or monetizing, then you can basically ignore this whole post. But if you actually want to see your blog become a business, you have to make an effort. It’s hard work, but the pay off is worth it.

What have you done to improve your photography? Do you have any goals you’d like to meet this year?

This post was featured on the Inspiration Spotlight Party.

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  1. Lauren says:

    Love this post!! After nearly a year of blogging I am finally realizing just how important good pictures are! I am not a food blogger, but these are great tips for anyone! πŸ™‚

    • Chelsey says:

      Thanks, Lauren! I’m glad you found them so useful–I’m never sure if my experiences as a food blogger apply to other niches or not. πŸ˜› And you’re realizing the value of a good picture way sooner than I did–very awesome! πŸ™‚

  2. Stephanie @ Sustaining the Powers says:

    I love your perspective on using Foodgawker as a venue for a free professional photography critique! I think a little bit of it depends on who the editor is that reviews your image. (Like I accidentally re-submitted a photo I’d had rejected once by them for low lighting and a different editor loved it and accepted it.) So do take it with a grain of salt, but it’s usually great feedback. I’ve recently started a “Food Photography Friday” tutorial series on my blog that you might enjoy. My behind the scenes of my “fancy photo studio” looks a lot like yours. πŸ™‚

    • Chelsey says:

      Definitely! I have some photos I’ve debated on submitting again, but others I look at and say, “Yeah, I completely see why this was rejected.” And it definitely gets annoying to see, “Composition” because there are times I think, “OK, I’m going to need something more specific than that.” But even if I disagree with the rejection, throwing a tiny tantrum about it (something I’ve had the misfortune of seeing other bloggers do a lot lately) isn’t going to get me anywhere.

      I’ll need to check out that tutorial series. (Though at the moment I’m eyeing your tabletop softbox…I need one of those!) Thanks so much, Stephanie! πŸ™‚

  3. The Future Mrs. Vines says:

    This post has inspired me to really focus on my foodtography. I’m not much of a foodtographer, but I LOVE to cook and create new recipes. I’ve made it a goal in 2015 to have at least one photo approved by FoodGawker. Thank you so much!

    • Chelsey says:

      Ha! “Foodtography” is a much better word for it. It’s very different from other types of photography, isn’t it? So many specific rules for food.

      That is a great goal! I found that figuring out what wasn’t working in my photos was one of the hardest parts, so feel free to email me if you ever need any help reaching your goal. πŸ™‚

  4. Nicole Neverman says:

    Thank you so much for attending week 17 of #PureBlogLove and linking your fantastic blog post, I can’t wait to see what you have in store for our next party, Thursday 8 PM EST- Sundays at midnight. Your post has been added to the #PureBlogLove Pinterest board for all to see πŸ™‚ Have a great day!
    Nicole Neverman recently posted…Apple and Strawberry Crumble CakeMy Profile

  5. jessica says:

    this is great info! I have a hard time taking photos of some large DIY projects because we work in a garage with no windows or lighting. i use natural light bulbs and try to turn the lights off..but nothing helps in that dark place. I am investing in a light studio kit and I am determined to make my photos better! I will be doing the same for my food photos. I dont know why but I never like how they turn out even if it is decent. it drives me crazy looking at other bloggers awesome food photos and mine are bla! I hate to compare myself to others though. Thanks for sharing this valuable information over at Totally Terrific Tuesday! I love having you there! Cant wait to see what you link up this week! Pinned and shared!

  6. Brittany says:

    I know photography is a huge weakness of mine! We got a DSLR for Christmas and I’m determined to learn how to use it. I’ve enrolled in classes via Craftsy and ShootFlyShoot, & I hope that will help. Thanks for all the tips and for showing your setup!

    • Chelsey says:

      It’s something I struggled with for a long time, too. There are tons of great tutorials and “cheat sheets” on Pinterest that helped me a lot. I definitely recommend searching for them! Good luck!

  7. Meaghan | Cook. Craft. Love. says:

    I love this! I read How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging by Chelsea (on your recommendation in the Learn to Blog group, actually!) in a weekend and my eyes were opened wide to the importance of photography. So I begged for a camera and got a point and shoot for Christmas! Then was pleasantly surprised I could afford a DSLR with my tax return. I’m still having some growing pains finding a good staging area for pictures. I think I just need a white sheet for the window in my kitchen and more props. Great article! Pinning!
    Meaghan | Cook. Craft. Love. recently posted…Conversation Heart Sugar CookiesMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      Right!? I knew it was important, but didn’t realize how much until I read that book! SO helpful! Awesome that you can get a DSLR! They’re so nice. πŸ™‚ The sheet definitely helps. I recommend getting one big enough that you can fold it over two or three times. Thanks so much for the pin and for stopping by! πŸ™‚

  8. Shelbi says:

    Found your blog through the Makers link up and love all your tips about how to improve your blog! I started my blog over a year ago and am constantly learning and trying to improve, so please keep sharing tips!

  9. Mila says:

    It was helpful to read your take on step-by-step food photos. I was on the fence about it until just now. I know that by step pictures attract visual learner type people (I.e. most people). You can even skip reading the recipe when there are good step by step pictures. I didn’t realize they weigh down te site. But they do take a ton of time to produce, plus like you said- impossible to do in a dark
    Mila recently posted…Effective no-spanking discipline system: β€œ3W”sMy Profile

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