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
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:
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.
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:
Here’s one taken on a cloudy day:
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:
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:
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.
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.