blogging tips

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 anatomy of a kick-ass about page

By Celeste Mitchell

If you think of the pages on your blog or business website being like the squares of a Monopoly board, your about page would be Mayfair.

So valuable is this piece of virtual real estate, people will come trampling through like it’s a never-ending open house whether you invited them in or not. They’re intrigued! They’re curious! They want to see if the curtains match the drapes, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Is your about page filled with the scent of freshly-baked cookies and beautiful blooms, or does it feel like the worst house on the best street? (Great in real estate land, not so great when it’s your biz and the street is full of your competitors.)

Remember, you’ve got approximately 3 seconds to seduce your Mr or Mrs Right (customer) before they jump ship to the instant gratification of another shiny domain. They’re instinctively going to head to your about page, and when they get there, what they see:

  • Needs to be clear
  • Needs to hook them in
  • Needs to answer questions
  • Needs to have an element of surprise

There are a few key elements that make up a truly memorable about page and how you play with them is entirely up to you. Read: The more you can tweak the page to show off your true personality, the better!

How are you faring in these five areas?

The hook

There’s a clever little tool in writing you’re going to need to get to know intimately, if you don’t already.

It’s called the hook.

It’s your angle. Your “bingo!”. Your “aha” moment. Your “slap me down and call me Suzy, this person really gets me” statement.

And the writers who produce the most memorable work are masters of the hook.

It’s all about infusing the theme of your message with the emotion that will reach right into the belly of your readers, make them spit out their muesli and pay attention to what you’ve got to say.

It takes in the worldview and assumptions of your reader and challenges them with a new idea.

Hit them right between the eyes with a powerful intro statement or heading to your about page that does exactly that. Surprise them, shock them, and most of all… become a master of intrigue through words.

Colourful language

Only when you start to write in your natural voice will you attract the people that think, ‘f**k yeah, this person really gets me’.

Nobody ever made a lasting impression by thinking, ‘I hope I sound professional’. Be bold in your language choices and work hard to ensure you don’t sound like everyone else.

Go through your copy with a big red pen and underline any words or sentences that feel too generic or cliched. If you think you’ve heard it all before, so will your readers, which means you’re not capturing their attention (refer back to the hook and try again)!

Photography & design

You may be a word nerd through and through but if your about page doesn’t look pretty (or work well on mobile) it’s going to be pretty easy for potential customers and clients to left swipe your ass outta there.

Invest in design. Use subheadings to break up chunks of text. And for the love of WordPress, do not publish your page without a photo that shows the world who you are (eye contact and smile, people!).

As a very wise friend of mine once said, you wouldn’t buy anything from a shopkeeper if you walked in and they were wearing a paper bag on their head, so don’t be shy. Show your fine self!

The personal touch

Don’t be afraid to stamp your personality on the page, but don’t feel you have to tell the world your ENTIRE life story, either.

Think back to your connectors, to your audience and don’t get too caught up. They want to know your story but they also want to be able to relate.

Give them just enough of what they need to know about you, but ultimately keep the page all about them (uh huh, that’s right… this page is all about THEM).

If you’re still champing at the bit to tell more of your story, why not write a blog post called ‘10 things you never knew about me’ or tell your story in an emotion-fuelled post like this one?

Or can you reveal your backstory with heart on another platform (like Cara’s Instagram post)?

Call to action

Once you’re satisfied your copy is alluring, interesting, informative and tells your customers everything they need to know, you’re ready to rock!

Think about what call to action you want to include on the page? What’s your priority?

Is it...

  • Directing people to your services page so they can book to work with you?
  • Asking them to contact you to make a booking?
  • Getting them to sign up to your email updates?
  • Sending them onto the blog posts you’re most proud of so they can immerse themselves in your brand?

Don’t overwhelm your customers with multiple links – keep it clean and simple so your about page can perform at its best.

Before you publish your kick-ass new copy…

Use this checklist to BYO (be-your-own) editor:

[   ] Are you using your natural voice? Is it in an easy-to-read and understand, conversational flow?

(PS. Your copy should be able to be understood by an eight-year-old who has no idea about you and your biz.)

[   ] Have you started with an impactful heading, designed to capture your readers and speak directly to them?

[   ] Are you using ‘you’ focused language (especially in your first paragraphs)?

[   ] Have you clearly explained what your biz does, who you (or your company) are and why your potential customers/clients should trust you?

[   ] Have you added your own quirky vibe with stylistic embellishments, slang words, pop culture references and a rocket-full of fun? Do they know who you really are?

[   ] Have you used subheadings and dot points to break up heavy chunks of copy? If so, are they attention grabbing or a bit stale?

[   ] Does it all fit within 200-300 words? If not, does it feel too long OR how can you provide some of the bottom part on another page or behind a hidden tab?

[   ] Have you spell-checked manually twice and asked someone else to check it for you? Even the world’s best editors make mistakes!

Celeste Mitchell is a whip-smart wordslinger & business pimp for entrepreneurs and brands who want to take their online presence from boring to badass.

As a journalist, former magazine editor and the founder of The Devil Wears Flip Flops she’s obsessed with flipping clichéd copy on its head and writing words that will make you sit up and pay attention.

When she’s not figuring out how to use the word ‘mofo’ in a sentence, you’ll find her gallivanting around the world writing stories for Escape, Australian Traveller and Renegade Collective and dishing out advice on writing with personality at thedevilwearsflipflops.com.

She created the DIY word-kit, YOU in Words, for anyone who’s ever struggled to write about themselves and is looking for the blueprint to create a kick-ass about page and bio for their biz (without dropping another couple of grand!).

Photo Credit: Krista Eppelstun

3 Ways To Grow Your Personal Brand // Blog Biz

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By Elizabeth Kelsey Bradley

Blogging is ( amongst many things) a way to show the world who you are and what you stand for, as well as what services or products you offer. It tells people what you stand for, and what your quirks are. From reading my blog, you’ll probably notice I travel often and value holistic health and spending time with my family. My love of old school movies and even videos games creeps in time to time.

You don’t have to have a lifestyle blog to hone in on your personal brand. In fact, I believe that personal branding is integral for businesses and blogs of all types looking to thrive in today’s marketplace. People want to buy from people, and they want to consume content from blogs written by someone they can relate to ( or aspire to be like).

So how do you hone in on your personal brand and grow it with Social Media? Here are my top tips that I use with clients.

1. Own Your Worth
Most of us hate to brag and won’t own up to our accomplishments, associations, or other noteworthy elements that others would find quite fascinating. But this isn’t something optional; if you are a Health Coach looking to get clients, you need to mention your training and expertise. If you are a painter, mentioning where your art has been featured or where you trained will be helpful in crafting your personal brand and piquing the interest of potential buyers.

I know what you’re thinking: what if I haven’t been featured anywhere or have little experience?

I bet you do have the above and don’t even realize it. Honestly, everyone has some accomplishments or associations worth mentioning, whether it’s a guest post or doing an interview on a blog. If you don’t have any, now is the time to start building up your media page.

2.) Show, don’t tell
Developing a strong brand relies on showing and not telling. This can be done by crafting a story over just listing things in a way that isn’t too compelling, or it can include using multimedia and digital storytelling ( use that iphone!) to tell your story. As a Social Media Coach, I tell everyone I meet how visual social media is the future, and guess what? That ties into showing over telling.

Your readers want to get an inside glimpse inside your life + biz. They want to get to know you, and be inspired by you. Use Social Media such as Instagram and Pinterest as well as great branding in your blog posts.

3.)  Be Specific
A strong personal brand is memorable. It’s refined, and not all over the place. You probably have many different interests ( I know I do) and skills, but I challenge you to pick and choose what you want to be known for. These questions will help you decide what you want to focus on:

  • What comes naturally to me? 
  • What gets me SOOOO excited that I just can’t help but do a happy dance? 
  • What questions do people ask me on a regular basis?
  • Where does my business and what I’ve answered to the above overlap?

Remember that growing a brand happens over time. But as a blogger, you have the tools to help grow your personal brand, inspire others, and increase your business in a way that’s never been done before. The internet offers us the way to distribute our message all across the globe. Make sure you know what you want to be known for and what you excel at and you’re going to grow a thriving online tribe.

Elizabeth Kelsey Bradley is a Life + Social Media Coach based in Thailand. Her writing and photography have been featured on Cameron Diaz’s blog Our Body Book, Wild Sister, and Tiny Buddha, in addition to being a regular contributor to Annapurna Living. She blogs about savouring the good things in life at Savouring Simplicity.
 

10 Tips For Networking At Blogging Events

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By Christina Butcher

As a full-time blogger I love working online but real life networking has been the real game changer. It’s had the biggest impact on my journey to full-time blogger. It can feel scary to put yourself out there but that’s where things really start. 

Online conversations can build real relationships but when you take them offline, that’s where the magic happens. I remember my first blogging event. I was so nervous I thought about cancelling and staying home. It was raining too so I totally had a good excuse. But I have this saying that good things happen when you put yourself out there. So I got dressed and went out. I was alone and had never met anyone in the room before (though I felt like I knew a couple of people from reading their blogs). It was terrifying but it was also the best thing I’ve ever done. 

That one event has lead to amazing friendships, professional relationships and even speaking gigs. Now I regularly attend blogging events, especially through Blog Society and have started Little Blog Big to bring new bloggers together. Networking at blogging events isn’t like at a corporate event. It’s more relaxed and authentic. The people you meet are way more interesting and you never know where the conversation can go.

Here are my tips to make networking fun and to make it work for you.

Before the event:

1. Look up the guest list
Check if there is a list of who’s going or if there’s a Facebook group or Twitter list for the event. Doing a little research on the guest list will help you learn more about who will be there and find out if there’s anyone you really want to connect with.

2. Have your elevator pitch ready
Your elevator pitch is a quick sentence or two about you and your blog. It’s a quick way to introduce who you are and what you do. It’s tough to summarise this in a sentence. Try to keep it short and interesting so that people want to ask you more questions and keep the conversation going.

3. Set an intention
Think about what you want to get out of attending this event. Is there a project you're working on that you need help with, or maybe you are looking to meet more bloggers from your niche. Setting an intention helps to keep you focused.

At the event:

4. Smile & breathe
If you don’t do anything else, just remember to smile and breathe. Blogging events are fun and nothing to be nervous about. A smile makes everything better.

5. Put down your phone (just for a minute)
Blogging events are one of the few places where you are encouraged to use your phone as much as possible. You’ll want to Instagram and share what’s happening but be mindful and put your phone down for just a minute. You’re much more approachable when you’re not looking at your phone. You can always #latergram it.

6. Be present
When you’re talking with someone, give them your attention and listen to them. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next. Please don’t look over their shoulder to find someone better to talk to. There's always time to move around the room and talk to others later. 

7. Ask questions
If you’re nervous about small talk, remember that most people like talking about themselves. Ask open questions (who, what, where, when, why and how) and let the person answer. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with questions. 

8. Focus on giving
Often traditional networking is about what the other person can do for you. Instead, think about how you can help the person you're talking to. Maybe it's a service you offer, or you can recommend a friend or another blogger.

After the event:

9. Get social 
Connect with the people you met on social media. Follow them and message them to say how lovely it was to connect at the event. Keep the lines of communication open and growing.

10. It’s all about the follow-up
You met at this event, now what? Keep developing that connection online. Read and comment on their blog and share their content on your social channels. You never know what kind of collaboration or friendship that initial meeting could lead to.

So don’t be afraid to organise a meet-up with local bloggers or go to a blogging workshop or networking event. You’ll learn so much from taking your online relationships offline. 

Christina Butcher is a full-time blogger and New York Times bestselling author. When she’s not fighting bad hair days at Hair Romance or inspiring adventures with her husband Jim at Mr & Mrs Romance, she’s helping bloggers grow their Little Blog Big with live workshops and networking events.

Andrea Ament of Legal Miss Sunshine // Behind The Blog Scene

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I've barely had time to catch my breath since returning from Alt Summit and I promise to post my event wrap-up soon but I will say that one of the best things about making the trip was the incredible community of women I got to meet and chat to, online and at the event itself. Once such blogger was wedding stylist, Etsy shop owner, attorney, roadtripper, and crafter by the name of Andrea Ament of Legal Miss Sunshine.

Andrea is living the life of her dreams and has an amazing story to share - she also describes herself as  partial to flamingos, bookstores, Disneyland, cheeseburgers, and flea markets - a girl after my own heart. Enjoy!

Describe your blog in 3 words… 
Adventure, DIY, Fun!
What is your blogging manifesto? 
I hope to inspire my readers to adventure somewhere, try something, or make something new.
Top 3 blogging essentials? 
1. Camera. It doesn't matter what kind. The best camera is the one in your hand.
2. Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom. In case the camera in your hand is an iPhone.
3. Editorial Calendar. To keep you on track and organized.
My biggest blogging moment/milestone was….
Ask me again at the end of the year, I'm still working on it. 
Best piece of advice I've been given? Blog regularly and use an editorial calendar.
I'm dreaming about traveling to...
Italy, Morocco, Scotland, Iceland, Yosemite, New Orleans, New England, Maine, Savannah/Charleston, the Oregon coast, I could go on and on. 
Best piece of advice to a newbie blogger? 
Always work to improve your photos.
If I wasn't blogging I'd be… 
At Disneyland. Everyday. No, seriously, I can tell you what I still would NOT be doing: Lawyering. Nope, I don't want to wear a suit or be in court. No, thank you! 
Behind the scenes of my blog looks like… 
An earthquake just hit Los Angeles! Currently I have Astroturf and confetti all over my office floor, the insides of my linen closet are in my bedroom, the kitchen is just a mess from a recipe shoot, and the garage is a death trap. Seriously, I won't let my husband go into the garage right now for fear he will get hurt.
This year I'm most excited about…
Accomplishing my goals: growing my blog and Etsy shops and launching my event planning and styling company, The Party Task Force. Lots of awesomeness to come this year and I'm super excited for all of it! 

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