Blog Photography: What Gear Do You Really Need?
I bet you’ve seen a million posts about blog photography. Well make that 1,000,001, because I’m throwing another one at you. Except I’m not going to tell you to run out and drop thousands on a professional DSLR camera because you probably don’t need one for good blog photography. Unless you are a serious hobby photographer or have a little photography side hustle going on, I highly recommend considering your options before buying a professional-level (and very pricey) DSLR. Instead, I’m going to answer the question, “What gear do you really need for blog photography?” based on my experience as both a blogger and serious hobby photographer.
Good photography is essential if you are showcasing any kind of project or product. It is also a critical part of the storytelling process for many other topics. Imagine a travel blog post that was just a long block of text; even the best writer would have a difficult time grabbing and keeping a reader’s attention without the visual complement of images. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer to take stellar images. You just need to select the right camera for your needs, learn a bit about photography, and have a few tricks up your sleeve. So let’s talk about what you really need in a camera by looking at cell phone, point-and-shoot, and DSLR cameras.
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Choosing a Camera: What Do You REALLY Need?
Cell Phone Camera
Using your cell phone camera is the most affordable and easiest option. Cell phone cameras are small and easy to handle, making them my choice during most of my step-by-step DIY tutorials. However, cell phone camera settings cannot be manipulated nearly as extensively as many other cameras’ settings, and they don’t perform well under more challenging lighting conditions. Because of this, I shoot in the highest quality setting my phone has and process all of the photos in Adobe Lightroom, which allows me to adjust the photos. Check out this CNET article on the best camera phones of 2016. You might already have one, and if you don’t, keep this list handy if you’re looking for an upgrade.
Choose a cell phone camera if you don’t want to make a bigger investment upfront or if you aren’t terribly interested in photography. Make sure you’re shooting in the highest possible quality. If necessary, polish your photos using a photo editing tool.
Here’s a progress pic I took with my cell phone during my trunk makeover project:
You’ve probably owned a digital point-and-shoot camera at some point, and you probably only used it on its “automatic” setting. Point-and-shoot cameras often come with a variety of settings that allow you to control ISO sensitivity (how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light, which helps you capture shots in darker conditions), shutter speed, and more. However, while point-and-shoot cameras may have different “modes” you can shoot in (such as “portrait mode” or “landscape mode”), you can’t change the camera’s lens. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and the Nikon Coolpix S9900 are both great, affordable point-and-shoot cameras.
Choose a point-and-shoot camera if you want an upgrade from your cell phone camera. A point-and-shoot will give you more control over image quality and allow you to learn more about how to capture the great images using in-camera settings.
A DSLR is fantastic if you truly enjoy photography and want to have full control over your images. DSLRs are typically broken into three categories: entry level, midrange, and professional. I use my Nikon D7100, which is a midrange DSLR, for all of my final project photos. I also use it to shoot the free photography I give away. I like being able to shoot RAW images and process them to my liking in Lightroom. I also like being able to use different lenses to achieve different looks. However, don’t waste your money on a DSLR if you don’t plan to learn your camera inside and out. Don’t buy a DSLR if you only plan to shoot on “automatic” mode. Read the manual, watch tutorials online, and learn how to exploit all of its settings to get the best shots.
My first DSLR was the Nikon D3200, which is Nikon’s entry-level DSLR. The Nikon D3300 is the newer version of the D3200— both are excellent entry-level DSLRs. After I had that camera for about a year, I sold it and upgraded to a Nikon D7100 (see the camera body only here or the camera body with a lens kit here). I love it and think that it gives me all of the flexibility I need for blog photography, hobby photography, and any other side gigs I do.
I use the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8g prime lens (see here) most of the time. I also have a Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G (see here) zoom lens (see the lens alone here or with the D7100 body here). My most recent addition is the Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D macro lens (see here). I love this lens and enjoy dabbling in macro photography, but I use this one more for my hobby photography than for my blogging. I recommend investing in lenses, not the camera body.
Choose a DSLR if you are very interested in photography and want to have full control over your images. Do your research before buying a camera.
Photography Tools: Your Best Investments
While I would love to have a studio, I don’t know where I’d put it in my apartment. The good news is that there are several affordable tools you can buy to help you create professional-looking photos, and all of them can be tucked away in a closet when they’re not in use.
Reflector: I don’t care if you’re shooting on a flip phone from 2006—a reflector will help you take better photos. This affordable little tool will help you manipulate the light in your environment by evening out shadows. See the reflector I use here.
Neutral backdrop paper: The most ideal lighting in our apartment is in a spot that doesn’t have a great background: the kitchen. With backdrop paper, I can block the cluttered background using an affordable adjustable backdrop stand to get a clean, crisp shot. You can browse a variety of backdrops here. I have Savage paper in Gray Sky; you can get it here in 26 inches by 12 yards. Here is Gray Sky in action:
Lighting kit: I have the LimoStudio LMS103 portrait studio lighting kit. My apartment doesn’t get tons of natural light, so this kit helps me get great photos indoors. This photo was taken in the evening, indoors, with very little natural light. I set up my herbs on the floor and pointed my lights down onto them. Bam.
Scrapbook paper: Thick scrapbook paper makes a great backdrop for overhead shots. I have a variety of fun colors, and I mix and match them to make interesting color-blocked patterns. Check out the Die Cuts With a View Double Sided 12 x 12 Cardstock Stack here. Here is an example:
Photo editing software: I use Lightroom, but there are plenty of free alternatives. A good photo editing program will help you make good images great. I’ve used Lightroom to edit out distractions in images that I neglected to remove, like a piece of dirt, or couldn’t move, like a light switch. Free photo editing resources include PicMonkey and GIMP, though GIMP has a very steep learning curve. I also use Fotor and Canva, which are both free, to make graphics and collages.
Not a Photographer? Try Stock Photos
If your blog isn’t showcasing products or projects and you aren’t into the whole photography thing, that’s fine! You probably still want to use images to help tell your story, and there are tons of free stock photo resources out there for you.
Here is a good list:
- Death to Stock—upgrade to premium membership for even more goodies.
- Barn Images has free photo packs and premium photo packs.
- Flickr Creative Commons—specifically, the Public Domain Dedication (CC0)* photos, which are filtered here. They may not look like much at first, but if you search a keyword such as “travel,” loads of lovely images will show up.
- Unsplash—10 new high-resolution photos every 10 days.
- Stocksnap—Hundreds of high-resolution images added weekly.
- Gratisogrophy—Free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects.
- Negative Space—Photos added every week.
- SplitShire—Updates every day.
- New Old Stock—Vintage photos from the public archives. Free of known copyright restrictions.
- Jay Mantri—Tumblr page with lovely photos.
- Pexels—New photos every day.
(*Public Domain Dedication (CC0) means that the copyright holder waives his or her interest in the work and places the work as completely as possible in the public domain so others may freely exploit and use the work without restriction under copyright or database law.)
I hope this post helped you get a better idea about what you really need for good blog photography. I’d love to share more tips and tricks, so drop me a line if you have any questions!