Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Take Good Photos for Your Blog: The Header Picture

I love working on the graphic elements of my blog. And I've learned a few things about taking pictures for my blog over the years, and I wanted to share them. I'm certainly not an expert, so you'll have to let me know in the comments what your pro-tips are. In this post we're going to talk about a few elements that will improve your header pictures. This is the picture that appears at the top of your post and more importantly, in your readers' feeds. It's important to make it count.

The best tip I can give you on taking a better picture, no matter what camera you're using, is to use natural light to light your pictures. Never, ever use the on camera flash. It never looks good. I know the temptation is there when it's midnight, the sun is gone and you want to get that post up with a picture. But don't do it! Your photos will instantly improve if you make use of natural light (especially a diffused sunlight without harsh shadows).

If you're going to be putting text on the photo, make sure you have negative space in the photo. This is the part of the picture that doesn't have anything important in. Intentionally leave space around your subject when taking the photo. You can create negative space by using a plain background such as a floor, grass, a clear sky or a swatch of fabric (e.g. the first picture) or blurring out an otherwise cluttered background (e.g. the second picture).

How to take a photo with a "blurred" background:
If you have a camera that allows you to shoot manual settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO etc.), turn your aperture down as low as you can (e.g. f 1.8, f 3.6 etc.). And if you're using a DSLR extend the lens as far as it will go (e.g. extend an 18-55mm to 55mm). This will increase the "blur", but you may have to back up to capture the whole image.

If you're using a point and shoot, put the camera on the portrait setting. Then place your subject as far as you can from your background. This will isolate your stack of books (or whatever your object is) and blur out the background. Depending on your camera's aperture range, you will get a somewhat blurred background.

If all that fails and your camera just won't do what you want, try finding a cleaner background. It's much simpler to recompose your image than get frustrated. The best camera is the one you have. Besides, simple backgrounds are generally better backgrounds. 

(P.S. You can also add blur in the editing stage using the focal blur tool on picmonkey.com)

But say you want to put the text over the subject? That's when you need to use the "veil" method.
This is the method where you put a something in between the text and the background, a "veil" if you will. In the first picture, you can see how hard it is to read the "Can you read" text. That's because there's no "veil" in between the text and busy background. There's a few different types of "veils" you can use to make the text easier to read.

White text lined with back:
No matter what the background, you will be able to read this. The word "this?" in the first picture uses this method. It's a huge difference between the plain text and this method.

Drop shadow:
This works in a similar way to the white-on-black method, but is a bit more subtle. It's my favourite way of making sure a text is readable.

Tint:
This is where you drop a darker (or lighter, depending on the picture) tint over the picture. This is definitely the best way to make the text readable, but it also obscures the picture behind it.

Each of these methods has their benefits, and ultimately is a stylistic choice a blogger has to make. Sometimes, it's just a matter of using a different colour for the text, but if the background has too many colours, it's important to use a "veil", so you can read it. Picmonkey.com is a great resource for creating these veils, even if you have to add a drop shadow manually.

Now that we've got the picture taken and know that there often needs to be a "veil" in between the text and the picture, let's get to how to make the text look good. This is largely a stylistic category and is up to the designer, but I will share what I like to do. There's two categories to think about: fonts and orientation.

Fonts:
Always pick something that you can read. I know that handwritten fonts are trendy (and awesome), but I've seen a few that are really hard to read. You can also experiment with mixing different fonts and emphasize different words with larger font sizes (e.g. the pictures above). If you do use different fonts, I recommend making separate text boxes; it make's it so much easier to get them to lay right.
Some of my favourite downloaded from the internet fonts are: Bebas Neue (the font used for "Formatting text") and Great Vibes (the font I used in my Jan. Book Haul post pictures).

You can also opt for an actual handwritten font. You can write out your title and just put it your picture.

Orientation: 
The commonly used text orientations are center and right aligned (see above pictures). Those are great, but it's always interesting to try aligning the text to the left or flipping the text on its side. You can also try overlapping text (see first picture), but make sure it's all still readable. When using two different fonts, I like to "fit" them together (e.g. "fitting" the swoop of the "J" over the "R" in the second picture).There's so many different ways to arrange a text on the picture, so experiment and see what works for you!

Now you should be ready to create your own picture header!

I know that this is a long post, but I felt like I had a lot to share with you. I hope you found it helpful! I tried to make all of these tips accessible, no matter what software/camera you have. You can use picmonkey.com (a free, online, editing service) for almost all of these tips.

Let me know what you like to do for your header picture or if you even bother with a header picture in the comments!

18 comments:

  1. I use picmonkey ALL the time for lots of different things. I'm so glad that program is out there!
    And I can most definitely tell that you have spent lots of time with the graphics of your blog. It looks really nice, and I love how you tied in the background to the art in the header. :)

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    1. Thanks so much! It's always nice when someone recognizes the effort!

      Thanks for visiting SOI!

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  2. GOOD TIPS. I have a huge problem with natural light, because it just doesn't seem like I can find a place that is clean and well lit to spotlight my books. It really doesn't help that it's winter too. I'm still in the process of experimenting with photos, but for now I'm just doing whatever :P

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    1. Finding natural light can be hard. I sometimes have to move some furniture around in order to have a clear space in front of a window. Winter also makes it tough to take pictures outside. Snow and books don't mix. Good luck with your future photo experimentation!

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  3. Picmonkey is a wonderful resource for editing pictures. I completely agree with using natural light. It lends a nice quality to your picture without much added effort. I also need to figure out how to create a veil on my photos, because that's something I'd liked to do for some of my photos that are a little bit more busy.

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    1. Natural light is SO important for good photos:)
      As for creating the veil, picmonkey offers some good options.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Great post! I like your tip to use negative space. It is much easier than later having to edit the photo to be able to read the text.

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    1. Once I realized that I could just take a picture with negative space, instead of trying to make text readable over the subject, it was like a light bulb went off. Glad that you found the tip useful!

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  5. Great tips! I can see such a difference when I look at the pictures that use the elements that you suggest and the ones that don't.

    thecollectionofknowledge.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks! So happy that you found them useful! I always like to show visuals to explain why something looks good.

      Thanks for visiting SOI!

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  6. I'm going to try that tip for the point and shoot! I just use a phone camera, but I would love to blur the background, so I'm going to try this!

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    1. Using a phone camera can be rough. It really just depends on the aperture range it has. My advice would be to get really close to your subject and really far from your background. But if it still doesn't work, just blur it in post using picmonkey!

      Good luck and thanks for commenting:)

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  7. Oh, I love this post! I'm dreadful at taking book photos, but I do try. I'll definitely try to implement these tips soon. :D

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    1. Everyone starts off taking "bad" photos. Just keep practicing and you'll get there. I know that sounds corny, but it's true!

      Glad that my tips helped you:D

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  8. I love picmonkey! It's so handy and can do so many cool things.

    One of my goals this year is to really improve my book photography and the pictures I use on my blog so this was a great resource for some tips :) Thanks!

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    1. So happy to be of service! I hope you succeed with your goal:)

      Thanks for stopping by SOI!

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  9. Awesome stuff, Sunny. I'm probably too lazy to make fancy pictures in the first place, but awesome stuff nonetheless. X) Also, TAG YOU'RE IT HAHAHAHA http://rachelssecretscribblings.blogspot.ca/2015/02/valentines-day-tag.html

    I made it up myself. XD

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