Out of necessity rather than choice, I’ve taken the majority of my blog and Instagram pictures myself. Before I get cracking on the hows and why’s, a quick shout-out to mum, Si and Holly who have helped on occasions to take some shots when we’re out and about or on walks – it’s a rare treat to be able to focus on attempting to master a decent pose, instead of having to juggle trying to snap a blog worthy and technically sound photograph while holding said pose.
I’m not going to sugarcoat the process of self shooting, nor pretend it doesn’t come with regular frustrations, but hopefully I can offer a few tips to help others in my situation, and highlight some of the positives of creating content entirely independently.
These three images showcase my latest shoot set-up. Amazon rails, soft box and backdrop, and LUMIX GM1 Camera with 45MM lens stationed in the ensuite on a tripod.
INDEPENDENCE AND REWARD
For sure, It’s very annoying and creatively stifling not to be able to execute some of the grand or complex ideas you have in your head due to logistical issues or equipment limitations. But for the shoots in your realms of possibility, it can be incredibly rewarding to know you did it all yourself. DIY styleee. When I’ve worked with people in the past I’ve always felt a bit odd accepting or replying to compliments on an image if I knew that I didn’t take the shot, didn’t edit the image, or have much to do with composition, setting etc. Basically it felt like I was saying thanks to someone for acknowledging that I did an okay job of dressing, standing in front of the camera, and not looking too horrendous doing so. Maybe I just think like this because I’m from an artistic background and want control over all aspects of the image, who knows. Whatever, the fact remains I didn’t feel I could take ownership of any rewards that came because of the success of the imagery, because I felt such a small part of it. So if I do get in the position to work with photographers again I will want to make sure I have significant input into the creative direction of them, otherwise I don’t think I will get that feeling of satisfaction I yearn for when I create blog imagery.
Cropped out edges of backdrop and evidence of rail and bedroom behind. Added a preset from Visco. Increase the contrast a bit to make the curls more defined and the background appear more glittery and added a bit of a vignette.
Added the same A6 filter from Visco, cropped bot side of image and increased contrast again
This leads me nicely on to editing. To self shoot you don’t have to be a particularly talented photographer, or have the swishest of technology at your disposal – I’m proof of that with my tiny camera (that’s been dropped a million times) and my limited if not non-existent photographic knowledge. So much can be rectified and elevated in the edit phase, and I can’t sing the praises of Lightroom enough and it’s ability to rescue what may feel like a failed photoshoot. I pay just under 9 pounds a month for an Adobe Package that allows me to use Lightroom, Photoshop, and some other software I don’t ever touch.
To edit these images I use Visco to apply a filter and crop the image. I then used Facetune and the patch function to removie creases in the backdrop by selecting a smooth area of the fabric and pasting over the creased areas. I then put into Lightroom to lighten and warm up a touch.
If you feel like the lighting wasn’t great, Lightroom can brighten and reduce shadows in a quick stroke of the curser. If you want certain colours in the image to pop, you can pick them out, increase the saturation, even change the hue. If you want all of your blog and Instagram to have a clear and consistent feel or mood, you can choose a preset that you then apply to all the images you import in to Lightroom. Lots of bloggers and photographers now even sell their presets , so if there’s someone you follow, whose work you admire for it’s editing/colour grading etc, then this is a quick and easy way to apply it to your own photographic work. On the fly I often just rely on VISCO to edit my pictures (my fave filter being A6) and upload straight to Instagram. If I don’t think they require further tweaking via Lightroom (which offers more editing options than VISCO) I will export the edited images to my camera roll and import to my laptop (to upload to my blog or save on my external hard drive). The huge plus point of importing all images into Lightroom is that you can select all the pictures and export them, all with a name that will make them more SEO friendly, instead of the number letter combo that cameras usually automatically pair with photos.
A plus point of self-shooting your blog pictures is also that you can maintain control over all aspect of the editing process. Photographers have different ways of working, but many want to keep hold of all the original/raw files and only send over a selection that they’ve picked out. They will also want them edited in a style dictated by their own tastes, which is great if their distinct or particular style is the main reason you’ve hired them, but awkward if you want them to look different. You also run the risk of aggravating photographers if you dare to choose to add a filter to the image when you upload to Instagram, if it’s one that they wouldn’t have approved or recommended that is. This has happened to one of my photos’s before and it is really annoying when you see someone upload a photo of reduced quality, or edited in a way that doesn’t reflect what you wanted the shot to be like – you almost resent being credited because it’s not an image you are necessarily proud to be associated with (once edited to someone else preferences). These things should be established and clarified when working with a photographer, so there isn’t disappointment or confusion down the line.
NO ONE KNOWS YOU, BETTER THAN YOU
When I go through my blog images I sometimes ask opinions of others in terms of which ones should make the final cut for the post, and which should be the top image that makes Instagram feed gold-star status. Sometimes we will be in agreement about the most successful ones, but often the one I hate, and was even tempted to delete, will be one they pick out as a potential winner. People are obviously looking for different things, or have different tastes stylistically, but they also aren’t aware of your insecurities and the things about yourself you don’t really want to splash across your platforms. For example, I know which is my better side, I know which one is my droopy eye, I know that where possible I need to shoot from the ground up to elongate my stumpy legs, I know which is my plumper, more perky boob. You get the idea. I’m happy to make changes to the tripod position and height to ensure I capture my best aspects, but a photographer won’t always have these issues in mind (probably because they don’t see them as a flaw like your self-critical self does) and you won’t always feel comfortable to instruct them/boss them about to ensure you get images that YOU like of you at the end. You also may feel more relaxed to attempt those smouldering looks with a Tyra Banks shmize in an empty room on your own. Yeah it’s still cringe, but if you fail on the sexy face and instead achieve an expression that connotes excruciating piles, no one will ever know about it.
SOME THINGS COME NATURALLY
Don’t have professional quality cameras or lenses? Can’t afford expensive backgrounds? Please don’t feel defeated. Some aspects that contribute greatly to creating successful images come for free, or are inbuilt. So much about photography is about having a good eye. Whether that’s putting together pleasing or interesting compositions, teaming complimentary colours together, creating angles that draw the eye in. Don’t let your situation completely dictate your success. So often being forced having to think outside the box, or having to be inventive, can lead to your learning new ways to make things work for you, or coming up with something fantastic. Enjoy experimenting and getting crafty with it (the lesser known Will Smith ditty).
Focus can make a huge difference to what you are drawn to in an image. So think about how you position yourself. If you bring something closer to the camera, a hand in this case, the background will become more blurry. A lot of people seek depth of field in a pursuit of that professional looking image. When I situate myself closer to the camera it helps in that the background is less clear and therefore creases of the material less visible too. The first image says Stop to me, where as in the second you feel a feeling because of a connection and eye contact with the face.
We may not be able to get out and pose against those incredible outdoor locations, but we can inject interest and character another way. Think about how your outfit can look it’s best or most striking. What background would compliment it, or even artfully clash? What is your pose sayin? If your post is about party looks, does your pose have a sultry evening feel or hint to a night of dancing and saucy escapades? If it’s a deep or heartfelt article are the accompanying images in tune? Do they show vulnerability, are they atmospheric, are you hiding the windows to your soul, or staring right into the lens? All this can effect how the image is received and interpreted. In my recent OASIS suiting post I wanted to try more editorial, fashion-magazine inspired poses. Knowing I was against the same background for each shot I knew I’d have to play with the angles of my body to maintain interest throughout the gallery. I don’t know if I achieved it, but some of them are okay!
LOVE, SHINE A LIGHT
One of the most vital aspects of creating blog worthy images. It’s integral, particularly in these bleak and dingy wintery months. Whether you go for a ring light or soft boxes is a bit of a personal preference thing. I think a lot of beauty bloggers go for ring lights as they can direct the glow to the face and they tend to be flattering on skin texture due to the frontal position – there are mixed feelings about the rings that appears in the eye-ball if you go for these though – I personally like it. I bought two large soft boxes a while back for about £30, and while effective in their function, they take up a LOT of space, and for people lacking in energy, a bit of a faff to pack away each time. Mine are set up at all times and a huge inconvenience to all that live here, but when used together can help to create a polished and professional final image – it’s all about the angle and height you place them at. When it comes to the look of your image you need to decide what style of lighting you are after. Do you want that soft focus look, do you want to create some harsh shadows (if so position one light to one side). Do you want to create that candid, paparazzi feel, if so, utilise a flash.
Before you start shooting the final images play about with the positions of the lighting to ensure you’re happy with it. It can effect the look of your skin (when well positioned it bleaches out skin bumps and blemishes, and gives a more flawless look), if positioned at the right angle and height it can reduce shadows and eye bags.
ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?
For portrait work in particular it’s useful to have a stool, preferably one that allows you to adjust height. You don’t want your photo to be ruined by an unattractive back of a chair peeking in and distracting from you or your look. The more objects there are the more things the focus on the camera can get confused by too, so it’s just something extra you’d have to be aware of. Sometimes your camera might not be able to be positioned how you would ideally want due to the space you are confined to shoot within, so being able to adjust your own position and height can add flexibility and ease.
Very often you will find yourself shooting from the waist up, beauty bloggers often just from the neck up. Make the most of this by wearing the comfiest bottoms you have as your disposal – or invest in some if you currently exclusively own restrictive skinny jeans. I wear wide-leg loose-fitting culottes from Nobody’s child, so there’s no chaffing or tight areas that may pinch after a while of sitting. I say this not only to prevent discomfort, and hopefully prevent thrush and varicose veins, but because self-shooting can often be time-consuming do to. An upside of self shooting at home is that you don’t have to worry how scruffy or unstylish the out of frame bits may look.
MAKING THE BEST OF A BAD SITUATION
My home is the least blog friendly one going, there’s barely any white walls, and the painted ones aren’t any in of the desired pinterest colour ranges (stylish greys, greens, or moody blues). They are covered with fairly old fashioned, parental-influenced decor, or in an area of the house so public I’d have the household serving as a judgemental audience as I filmed. I also don’t have any cute corners filled with aesthetically pleasing and intentionally positioned objects that would work for a pleasing nook to film in front of. A few years ago, in an effort to create some visual consistency, I started shooting again a brick wall inside my garage, but not only was it freaking freezing, it was only an option if Dad was in a good mood and willing to move his car out.
There’s loads of us that aren’t lucky enough to have our own studio or office space dedicated to filming and photography (yet), so what are our realistic options? For videos in the last year or so I’ve been nestling behind the door of my parents bedroom where there is a little blank space of white wall. I’ve been battered by Dad a few times when he’s forgotten I’m filming – I don’t have one of those red lights that I can put outside the room to warn people that the camera is rolling – but on the whole it’s been fairly sufficient to get me by the last few months. This picture below was taken here – as you can see the light isn’t ideal as there’s a dark area on the right side where the door creates a shadow, but it’s ok. If I had more time I would have lightened the right-side using Snapsneed which has a tool that allows you highlight certain areas and increase certain properties (brightness, contrast, saturation etc).
PHOTOGRAPHIC BACKGROUNDS ON A BUDGET
This year I’ve decided to up my game by purchasing a new photographic backdrops from Amazon. Ebay sell similarly budget ones. I’ve bought a couple ranging from £9 -15 so far, but there are slightly better ones in the 20-50 mark, even 50 odd, but I don’t actually think it’s necessary for blog content, although actually photographers may wish to invest more for something that will provide regular and lengthy service. They’re so many extremely affordable options online to cater to different visual preference. If you are limited to budget consider which one will be the most versatile, and get the most uses before you tire of it. I’m personally not wanting to use the same backdrop too regularly because I’m worried by outfit posts could become a bit stale, but that’s just me. Are you someone looking to have a consistent theme for all your shots? Are you someone that goes for that very light and white aesthetic. Are bright colours more in-tune with the themes you tend to adopt? Do you want to achieve a moody or industrial feel? Things to ask yourself before purchasing. Also consider the size you purchase. I generally go for for 5 ft by 7ft. I want to ensure it’s large enough to allow me to capture a full outfit look if needed (I could actually use bit larger sized ones so that they cover more of the floor, but I’m slightly strapped for cash). If you’re just doing head shots you can choose a smaller material size.
For New years I bought this glitter one. But I was horrified when it arrived and when I realised it wasn’t actually glitter, it was a photo of glitter printed on the fabric sheet. I was worried it would look terribly tacky and not in that intentional cool way. However, in the photo’s it actually did appear to sparkle and it saved me from finding glitter particles in all my nooks and crannies. I mention this to remind you to read description carefully before buying online. I sometimes buy in haste, because CBA with reading small print. But only you will have to deal with the consequences of buying something that isn’t quite what you were looking for.
If you have a wall to your disposal that you can use however you wish, and secure a backdrop to permanently to, a paper-roll type backdrop might be your best bet. You could secure it to your wall with strong tape or those ultra strong velcro things people use for frames, and keep it there so it’s ready to go whenever you wish to shoot. The key here is making sure the backdrop is completely flush and smooth to the wall, so it will look as close to the real thing as possible when shot against. When I filmed a collab with Zoe London she showed me her then set-up, and it worked beautifully – you’d never have known it was a backdrop taped to her lounge wall. She also showed how if the backdrop wasn’t wide enough how you could take a picture or shoot footage of the backdrop (minus a subject. ie. you) to then pop either side of the image/footage in post to give the illusion of a larger backdrop – this is of course easier with a backdrop that doesn’t require you to match up patterns etc.
Previous to buying the photographic backgrounds, I’ve used bed sheets, rugs, blankets, tablecloths. If the lighting is right and the fabric taught enough it can really work. For flat lay shots, Ikea has some great plate matts and a huge selection of plain and patterned materials that you can cut to any size you wish in store. They can add, colour and texture to your choreographed collection of items. If you’d like a post on flat-lay photography I’ll happily oblige, although I’m definitely pretty average in this department.
Referring back to creating an illusion of a real background I want to talk more about the giveaways you want to avoid. First up, creases in the backdrops. If you opt for a canvas or material option they will often arrive folded multiple times, and due to the thickness of the material these won’t fall out easily just by leaving it unfolded, or having it hung up for a while. The white backdrop that arrived when I bought the rail was unusable without attempting to iron, unfortunately the material melted when I did, much to my horror. I’ve noticed since that, that more brands selling on Amazon are advising how to iron to avoid such mishaps and completely ruining your purchase, and your iron. I got a handheld steamer for Christmas so I’ve been using that just to reduce the creases that appear in the frame. See what the camera actually captures so that you don’t waste time de-creasing the whole material when you only need to do a small section.
Evidence of the crease background
Get creative with the backgrounds – could you add fairy lights to it for example? For Halloween I added some fake cobwebs (from Tiger) to a black furry rug from Wilkinsons and it looked perfectly creepy. Can you project images or light onto it? Could you drip something liquid all over you? Could you use glitter or reflective surfaces to deflect light off your body? Can you throw things in the air. How can you incorporate props in a cool or fresh way?
Having cameras that have remote wifi capabilities have been a game-changing in terms of solo shooting. It allows you to control when you camera snaps (and usually a few minor changes like ISO) and once you’ve finished you can transfer to your phone (to check you have what you need or whether you need to continue shooting, or to edit what you have and upload straight from there). When you’re connected there’s also a screen so you can see what you look like, whether you are positioned correctly in terms of composition, whether your clothes are malfunctioning, whether you have something in your teeth, whether the camera is focused etc etc.
If I’m taking a close up picture of my face I will have my phone in my hand but out of shot and press the button. If it’s a full length shot I will put my camera on the 10 second timer, press the shoot button on my phone and them throw my phone, maintaining the pose till the camera flash or shutter noise goes off. So you don’t break your phone when you fling it out of shot, have something soft positioned for the phone to land on, alternatively a surface nearby you can put it on without disturbing your pose too much.
The compact nature of the rooms in my house make it extremely difficult to create places for me to stand and pose, but also fit in the lights and the tripod.
In the image above you’ll see that my backdrop was placed in front of my parents bedroom, and to enable me to use my nicest lens (which is a fixed 45mm meaning it has to be set far away to fit the desired image in the shot) I had to have my tripod placed in the ensuite. The issue was then was that I liked the lighting effect but the soft box was creeping into shot. So do I sacrifice on lighting or force myself to crop the image. I opted to crop because no on would know any better (if I hadn’t told them via instastories that is). I often have to place tripods on tables in my house as my mum won’t let me move them because she doesn’t want new table leg dents in the carpet. To avoid damaging furniture I got this table protector fabric from John Lewis (which you can cut to size) – it just protects surfaces that could get damaged in some way from your tripod or lights etc.
TAKE MORE SHOTS THAN YOU THINK
Even if I think I’ve got enough useable shots I always take more. Because you are often referring to your results via a small preview on your phone you don’t always notice that a shot is just very slightly out of focus, or that there’s an annoying rogue hair stuck to your lipgloss, for example. I guess this is why people like Leanne Lim Walker would link to her laptop so she could see in large form what her set up and results were looking like as she went along. Considering what a faff it can be to put up the rail, back drop, lights and tripod in preparation for the shoot session, you don’t want to pack it all away and then be forced to get it all out again. Trust me, once you’ve done this once, you won’t do it again.
DON’T BE HASTY WITH THE DELETE BUTTON
When you do your initial edit, the first flick through where you delete the complete duds, the mid blinks, the triple chin nightmares, take a moment before you press the erase confirmation. Sometimes the one’s where your face isn’t looking particularly prime, when cropped, may make for a brilliant detail shot of an accessories – buttons on a jacket, a feature buckle, an earring, and so on. This happens pretty much every self shoot for me. So if I were you I’d import them all into Lightroom or the editing app you use (Visco for example) and play around with crops.You can easily delete from there if you find it really can’t be salvaged by a clever edit or zoom.
I have done a few outside shoots on my own, but they are few and far between. Remote, rural, or countryside locations are manageable, but busy towns or city’s you will always be taking a risk, and that’s not something I’m willing to do with my already limited equipment range. I definitely don’t feel comfortable standing metres away from my camera and tripod, you’re asking for a chancer to knick it in front of your eyes – and because you’re posing in a blog-worthy outfit you may not be wearing suitable running shoes to chase after them. Private gardens, National Trust spots, or walking locations, are safer outdoor shoot destinations. The only thing is that I feel like people in cities, particularly London, are used to see tourists and bloggers doing the photoshoots in edgy, ‘street’, iconic or aesthetically pleasing spots, but you do feel like a bit of a weirdo when a rambler comes over a hill, or from behind a bush, to see you in an outfit that seem’s very unsuitable for an outdoor pursuit.
So that’s just a few tips, I really hope they were helpful to some of you or at least relatable!
Let me know in the comments whether you’d like more posts like this!
Things to Buy
Camera with inbuilt remote wifi
A tripod (Ideally one that has an attachment that allows you to shoot in portrait too)
Backdrops (makeshift or professional)
Soft boxes (2 if possible, although one is definitely workable) or a ring light
Props/Things to jazz up backgrounds
…….and house with a studio, and an insta husband/wife.