5 Must Know Tips for Taking Better Blog Photos

By Kimberly Murray

Everywhere I look it seems that someone is posting a beautiful picture online. Have you noticed that, too? Whether on Instagram, Pinterest, or your blog, visual images are key to communicating to people more about yourself, your brand, and/or your products and services. For bloggers, high-quality visual images are essential to securing the best sponsored post opportunities with the brands that you love. For businesses that sell a product, they are crucial to showing how your product looks or works. Many creatives choose to hire a professional photographer to create images for their visual marketing strategy. However, you may want to create them yourself. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure that your photos stand out.

1. Learn Your Camera
Regardless of the type of camera you are using (e.g., DSLR, point-and- shoot, cell phone), it is important to know all of the features that are possible to adjust. Sure, you can take a decent photo with your camera on “auto,” but you have so many more options if you learn to adjust some of the manual features. Instead of having the camera guess the type of look you are trying to achieve, you have control over whether you want everything in focus, the background blurred, a really bright image, etc.

Sometimes, when your camera is on “auto,” the resulting image will be underexposed or too dark. You might think to yourself, “I can just fix it in photoshop.” But, you shouldn’t have to. Take time to learn your camera settings so that you can get it right “in camera.” If you aren’t ready to jump right into full manual mode, many cameras have in-between settings, where you adjust one component, such as the aperture or f-stop (which controls the amount of blur in your photos), and the camera automatically adjusts the other settings for you.

2. Turn Out the Lights
After learning your camera, the number one thing you can do to improve the quality of your photos is to turn out the lights. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. In my opinion, natural light is the best way to go! (Unless, of course, you have an awesome studio lighting set-up. In which case, you probably wouldn’t be reading these tips.) When I am at home, I take my photos near the windows in the mid- to late-afternoon, which is when my living room gets the best light. If I am in a cafe or restaurant and know that I want to snap a picture with my cell phone to post to Instagram, I always choose a seat by the window.

Turning out the lights applies to shoots outdoors, too. If you do “outfit of the day” posts, try taking your next photo in the shade and avoid the urge to use your pop-up flash. This creates an image with nice, even lighting. If you want to try that hazy or sun flare look, then stand with your back to the sun and have someone take a photo of you. This is referred to as a backlit photo.

3. Study Your Surroundings
Spend a day studying the light in your home. Turn out the lights and see which rooms get the most light and at what time of day. What if none of the rooms get ample light? Take your setup outdoors. Mother nature provides the best light there is! If you opt to stay indoors, shoot in the rooms that you’ve learned get the best light. Hey, no one needs to know that you shot images for your latest recipe post in the bathroom…unless of course, you have tell-tale signs in the background. Speaking of which, once you decide on where you want to shoot, take a moment to make sure that there is nothing distracting in the frame. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to upload your image to your blog or website only to discover that you forgot to remove that dirty mug. Finally, it is wise to look around and make sure that there is nothing nearby that is creating a color cast (or unintentional tint) in your image. For example, if you are trying to achieve a bright image with lots of neutral or light tones and there is a bright pink object nearby (but out of the frame), that pink color might create a tint to your otherwise neutral scene.

4. Buy White and Black Foam Core
Most craft stores sell foam core in white or black. They can double as both backgrounds and objects to reflect or detract light. When I’m shooting an image and I notice that the shadows are a little deeper than I’d like, I prop up a piece of white foam core next to the setup (and opposite the window) to reflect light back into the scene and lighten or remove the shadows. Anything white or silver will do the trick…a white sheet of paper, a white pillowcase, or a piece of aluminum foil wrapped around cardboard. The opposite is true with black foam core. I use it when I want to create more shadows.

5. Experiment with Angles and Aperture
Once you’ve learned to adjust your camera settings, found the best light, removed distracting elements, and set up your scene, it is time to take the picture. If you are using a digital camera or cell phone, there are an endless number of exposures you can take. So, don’t be afraid to snap away! Typically, I either shoot my images straight on, slightly above the scene at an angle, and directly overhead (oftentimes called the “bird’s eye view”). Which angle I choose depends on what I want to highlight. The angle also affects what aperture or f-stop I choose. (Again, the aperture dictates whether some aspect of the photo is blurry or whether everything is in focus. It is adjusted by changing your f-stop.) When I take photos straight on, I almost always blur part of the background to make the main focus of the image stand out. I achieve this by choosing a smaller f-stop, such as f/2.8 or f/2.2. For extreme blur, some lenses go down to f/1.2. I also achieve this by moving whatever I want in focus away from the objects in the background and closer to my camera lens. The closer they are to the objects in the background, the more everything will appear in focus. When I shoot at an angle, I typically want to focus on the object in front and show the other objects in back, but slightly out of focus. When I shoot from above, as I do with flatlays, I always shoot at a higher f-stop (e.g., f/16) so that everything is sharply in focus. In general, if you want to show height, such as with a stack of cookies, you will choose to shoot straight on or slightly above at an angle. If you are shooting something flat (e.g., pizza, invitation suites, what’s in your bag), you will likely choose to shoot from above.

Those are some of my top tips for taking better photos for your blog or website. With a little bit of practice and experimentation, you can create images that make your brand stand out. How will you use these tips for your next photo project?

Kimberly Murray is a product, lifestyle and portrait photographer. She works with creatives to enhance their visual marketing strategies prior to their launch and throughout the life of their businesses. She also collaborates with bloggers on special projects. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and at Kimberly Murray.

The Business Strategy That’s Good For Your Mental Health

Over the past year I have researched and been distracted by all the shiny objects that promote a ‘6 figure income’ and all the other claims that go along with that. And no, I’m not going to give you another one now. However, I will tell you one that’s caught my attention lately that many business strategists have been loving. Doing one project at a time. Sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not that easy to do when we’re faced with a to-do list up to our eyeballs, emails pinging and not to mention that shiny social media. Now, I’m not a business strategist by any means, my business is mental health and is focused mainly around improving teen mental health. But, I did want to explain how this strategy might not just be good for your business but your happiness as well.

It’s all got to do with flow. Psychology Today relates flow to ‘being in the zone’ concentrating on only one thing. When we’re faced with a task that may be challenging some of us tend to procrastinate and put it on the back burner. Even if this is something that might really help your business take off. So how can we find ‘flow’ in business and be happy? When we are in moments of flow we aren’t thinking about all our other stresses in life. We’re not worried, at that moment in time, what we’re going to have for dinner, how this bill is going to get paid and whether you can afford those brand new shoes. We are fully focused on the work that we are doing, we might not be super happy, but we’re not feeling down either. We are content.

We can put this into action by listing our tasks or projects in order. For me this looks like creating a Facebook ad before writing a blog post. Then writing that blog post before checking in with my clients. Of course, there are many different projects that your business has, but doing them one at a time creates less distraction and more flow. For bigger projects this might look like setting aside 1 hour everyday before starting the next big project, and I recommend setting a timer to do this to minimise distractions. Moving from one task to another without completing the first one will only cause anxiety, frustration and a lot of procrastination.

Be happy, do one task at a time.

Alex is the founder of Positive Future Youth and a registered teacher. She spends all her spare time with her head in positive psychology books and loves the idea of improving what’s right than focusing on what’s wrong.

Alex specialises in positive thinking, improving anxiety and building confidence in pre-teens and teens. She has recently written 2 books on how to help children be more positive. You can check out her free ebook here and connect with her over on Instagram and Facebook.

3 Tips to Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Page

By Jen Wille

You’re on Instagram and notice a photo posted by a fellow creative entrepreneur of a beautiful dinner party filled with people laughing and smiling, a table covered with food and candles and a perfect city skyline in the background. A wave of envy passes over you.

Welcome to the Social Media Comparison Game. In a world where Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and many other social media platforms dominate, it is trickier than ever to not compare yourself to others. Feeling “not as good as” or “not having enough of” ultimately causes fear and self-doubt, which leads us to staying right where we are. Not ideal. We end up putting our own personal thoughts and projects on hold, and not sharing them with the world.

Even with the best of intentions to connect with new people and share your adventures in business and life, it is often unavoidable that at some point you will find yourself entrenched in this [not-so-fun] game. As someone who works persistently on keeping my eyes on my own page, here are my tips and tricks that help me navigate social media comparison.

1. Get good at identifying the envy.
Start noticing how you feel when you are on social media. Are there certain people or pictures that trigger feelings of envy and jealousy? What does it physically feel like in your body? For me, I start to feel flushed in the face, a little hot around my neck and chest, and want to withdraw immediately, usually in the form of avoiding my own work. It’s important to know how envy shows up for you so that you can better recognize it and intervene before it stops you in your tracks.

2. Follow, Unfollow.
Once you identify the envy, you’ve got to check in with yourself and ask if following this person on social media is good for you and your business. If you find yourself feeling down most of the time when you see their photos, it is likely a sign that you should stop following this person right now. Sure, they post beautiful photos. Sure they seem great. Sure you love their vibe. But the reality is that it is vital you treat your social media network just like your network in real life. You wouldn’t keep people around on a daily basis who zap your energy, so why allow your social media network to do it? Follow and keep people close who light you up, and inspire and motivate you to keep at it. Drop and unfollow people who don’t.

3. Create what you are craving.
Even when your network is made up of people you admire and love, it is inevitable that you will find yourself feeling envy from time to time as people promote and celebrate their lives and businesses. Even though a part of you is absolutely happy for others’ success, you still may not be able to shake that slight feeling of jealousy. Use that feeling to understand yourself a bit more. What is it that you are craving or wanting? Let’s go back to the dinner party scenario. Instead of feeling down and discouraged after seeing the photo, you could ask yourself in your mind, what am I really wanting? It could be that you want to attend a dinner party just like that. Now it’s up to you to create what you are craving by getting out there and hosting one yourself. The key is to become intentional about the life you want to create by treating your feelings of envy and jealousy as personal-research for understanding your own wants and desires. I know it’s not an easy
process, but with time and practice it is possible to have a thriving, inspiring social media network while keeping your eye on your own page.

Jen Wille is a Certified Professional Life Coach for vibrant women who are ready for more. Her warm approach, unique flair to self-development, and desire to help people bridge the gap from where they are and where they want to be is always at the center of her work. Find her at jenwille.com and on Instagram.

Photography by Marc Moran

5 Tips To Free You From Obsessive Social Media Scrolling

By Tess Bartlett

Several weeks ago I found myself in a slump. I was so tired I felt like I’d hit a wall. I was doing far too much and knew something had to shift. It was during a coaching session with a lovely client that I became acutely aware of how reliant I was on my phone, social media, and the internet. It was the last thing that I did before switching my phone off at night and the first thing I did every morning. My alarm went off and I would reach for my phone and start scrolling. Waking up to images of models on Instagram would immediately put me in the “not good enough” mindset and I would start comparing myself to other people I didn’t even know.

Every time I had a couple of minutes spare I was flicking that damn thumb down the screen, my eyes glazing over and staring intently into nothingness hoping that something of interest would pop up and change my existence. It never did. I was lost in an online world and not at all present in my life. This was definitely not my happy place.

When I logged onto Facebook I noticed that my heart started beating faster and there was a spike in my anxiety. When I shut down my screen I would let out a sigh of relief. It was literally sapping the life out of me. Not only this, there seemed to be a spike in my anxiety every time I logged on. It was after becoming aware of how social media was affecting my mind and my body that I made the decision to beat this social media frenzy and bring space, calm and connection back into my life. I have worked a lot over the years on creating healthy relationship boundaries with those around me, where I am honest, assertive, and where I make sure my needs are being met. The same is needed for social media and the internet.

If you want to live in a world where you have meaningful connections with those around you, where you are at peace and feeling creative and inspired then there needs to be space. In order to make this space you need to have boundaries

These are the steps that are going to free up your time. They will give you energy to feel creative and inspired to write, where you feel calm, energised and relaxed.

1. Be mindful
When you use social media be mindful of how it makes you feel in your body (download your guide to meditation here). Notice where your mind goes and the stories you are telling yourself. If you find yourself going off into comparison or judgment with stories of “I’m not good enough” or “look what they have” then maybe it’s time to rethink your social media use. Do you notice any change in your breathing? Become curious about any change in your state – are you agitated, frustrated or is there negative self-talk? Or, are you using it as a way of connecting, sharing, and being generous and kind to others?

2. Invest in an alarm clock
Rather than having your phone by your bed and waking up to a boring alarm with instant access to social media and the internet, go out and purchase a snazzy alarm clock. I bought a cool little blue clock with a radio alarm and today I woke up to music. Now that’s what I call an ideal wake up call.

3. Have designated social media times
If you have a business and you use it as part of your marketing strategy, then have a strategy. Instead of checking it whenever you feel like it, allocate times to check it when your fans/clients/readers are most likely to be online and use this time to respond to comments, like posts, share articles and write posts. Allocate 2-3 times a day to do this and leave it at that. No ceaseless checking. If you don’t have a business but find yourself feeling shite after you have looked, then maybe check in with how often you are using it and create some allocated social media times throughout your day. It will feel liberating and freeing to know you have so much time outside of this to do WHATEVER you choose and you will be much more productive when you log on. I schedule posts at night for the next morning and that way I am not thinking about social media when I wake up. It might suit you to schedule posts weeks in advance.Personally I have found that I tend to feel inspired in the moment and so post that way, just find something that works for you. Doing this will free up so much of your time! How many times have you gone to check social media and looked at the clock only to find that 20 minutes have passed?

4. Log out 
Once you have finished using social media, log out. Remove Facebook from your phone and only check it on your computer. It’s about being in control of your phone, not having a phone that is in control of you. Here is a great post from Nectar Collective on turning your phone off during the day. Logging out means that every time you want to check social media on your phone you have the added steps of logging on and you can choose not to.

5. Technology free after 6 pm
Being technology free after 6 pm means refraining from surfing the internet while the TVs on, or checking your emails or social media. Doing this allows you to relax and have space to breathe. It gives you down time and your mind, body, and soul will have the opportunity to slow down and be present to what is going on around you. Night time is about switching off and giving your mind and body the rest it needs to recuperate.

Tess Bartlett is a writer, speaker and Director of Tess Bartlett Holistic Coaching where she leads coaches, consultants and creatives who are Catalysts for Change and ready to refuel their passion for their craft and tune into their own superpowers. Tess gained her credentials in Life Coaching from The Coaching Institute, Australia and is a certified Meta Dynamics practitioner, incorporating mindfulness and self-compassion into her coaching practice.

Tess' writing has featured regularly in The Successful Coach Magazine, Happiness and Wellbeing Magazine, Blog Society, and on her own blog Whisperings of the Mind. She is also undertaking a PhD examining the experiences of fathers in prison.

Tess Bartlett

3 ways to solve problems like a designer

By Calli Reynaga

As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and blogger, I write about things that I’m passionate about: technology, starting a business, marketing, organizations, people, behavior, leadership, productivity, and goal setting. I am always learning and expanding my knowledge base and skills.

For those who are looking for something fresh, and written from a different perspective, keep reading.

My appetite for information is vast and constant. I like to read blogs that teach me something, are entertaining, and well written. I also try to write about interesting topics within my expertise. For those who are currently reading this article, we are going to define UI and UX in technical terms so you can say you learned something and then apply it to solving problems with design for people.

UX Design is another way of saying User Experience Design, while UI Design means User Interface Design.

In general, design is like a blueprint or a plan or rendering to show the look and function of a product (digital). Both are crucial elements to a product and work closely together. UX is more analytical and technical whereas UI is what we mostly know as graphic and visual design.

If the digital product is a human body, the bones give structure just like code, and UX design are the organs measuring and optimizing for supporting life functions. UI design are the cosmetics of the body - presentation, its senses and reactions. You can read more about this relationship. in a layman’s guide.

The best-designed solutions happen when we truly understand the underlying needs. Problems are actual challenges while solutions allow people to understand something. Designers have to cut through the clutter to create a solution that can be communicated to users.

There are a few things you can do to think like a designer. Design thinking is about empathy. This empathy goes beyond knowing and responding to how a person feels. To approach problems through the eyes of a designer or design thinking, empathy is the starting point in a process for innovation. This often leads to better insight into human behavior and inspiration.

In psychology, there are three types of empathy. The first is purely cognitive. This is being able to understand things from another person’s point of view or perspective. This is what UI designers do. The second type, personal distress, is to literally feel another’s emotions. The third is emphatic concern. This type is what most people refer to when they say, “empathy.” It is the ability to feel another person’s emotional state or to feel in tune and show appropriate concern.

All three definitions are what a good designer feels in order to design for people and create solutions to design problems. They must practice empathy and design for people by communicating and with creative problem solving.

Just like a designer, I can use empathy to catapult innovation. By observing, analyzing, and interviewing to create a process, the information I’m gathering will lead to a solution.

Here is a real life problem: my desire is to target a specific demographic of women for an online campaign. After reading about empathy and innovation, these are the 3 steps I plan to use:

1.     Observe

  • Use Facebook groups for ideas and to get in touch with my target audience.
  • Look for and at women’s forum’s to see what they are saying.
  • Go to a group (in-person) for the women you want to talk to.

2.     Analyze

  • Calculate
  • Try to identify patterns in the way people behave.

3.     Interview

  • Use Facebook groups to reach out to women.
  • Message or email to connect, add friends
  • Survey monkey
  • Face-to-face
  • Email
  • Ask how they feel and how to improve their situation

We start with individual needs because designing this way leads to greater awareness and inspiration. The best solutions come from insights into human behavior. I will get a good idea of what my audience thinks, feels, and behaves by observation and through interaction.

What I’ve determined is that I would like to wear the design hat more often. As a creative I can relate to being empathetic and writing to your audience. What I appreciate about designers is the power to solve problems systematically and with creativity. It has given me an efficient way to think through and address problems as they come.

The most useful thing I’m taking with me from this is to feel what your audience feels, whether it be joy, frustration, enlightened, or unsatisfied. You can better relate to their pain points and success. This is crucial when solving problems and creating digital content.

Calli Reynaga is Zen master – a Silicon Valley founder, and creative force behind EVOLVE OS. 

She brings innovation and perpetual improvement to her content, communication strategies, and marketing. She is passionate about helping start ups and individuals communicate articulately both visually and narratively. She has recently consulted with companies, curated web content, and produced copy for corporate stories. Her specialty is messaging and branding. She has studied arts and humanities and is a Communication Specialist at Innowest. Follow her on Twitter and her blog.