10: How To Use Smartphones To Take Great Pictures For Social Media


Smartphone photography need to be tricky, in this episode, I share tips and tricks of using smartphones for taking brilliant pictures. For full episode, see below.

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Hi everyone and welcome to episode 10 of Your Social Media Journey. Today’s episode is all about photography. Good photography has never been more crucial for a business, if you are to use social media as a marketing channel. And, for social media to work for you, it is very important that you be switched on all the time as a photographer - because, lets face it, it is impossible to have a professional photographer present at all times! One of the main reasons my own business, Fair Cake, managed to make a big impact online was because I take very good pictures. Not boasting, just casually claiming. I have never claimed to make the best cakes, far from it, but I do take good enough pictures - those that did my products justice. And, I also know how to edit them. Before you accuse me of, well, cheating, know that pretty much every picture you see on social media has been edited. In fact, you probably already know that different cameras give you different results. Some smartphone cameras give you a saturated image even before you tell it to. In this episode, I will break it down - I will tell you the BASICS and some tricks about how to take good pictures. But, if you are already in the know about f-stops and exposure and apertures, maybe give this episode a miss because you are already way ahead of me, my friend!

If this is your first time listening to my podcast, my name is Shikhita and I started my business, Fair Cake, in 2007. In the last eleven years or so, I have extensively used social media to promote and market my business. Fair Cake now boats of more than half a million followers across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and is still going strong as London’s best Cake School. In this podcast, I share my experiences of starting and running a business, and, above all, how I use social media to minimise my marketing budget. I also interview other business owners and discuss with them their strategy of how they use social media on a day to day basis.

So, let’s get back into photography.

Smartphones were not around in 2007, so I started my business with a little Canon point and shoot camera that produced images of 8megapixels. I was very happy with that. My current iPhone shoots images of 12mega pixels. I am also happy with that! Back in the day, I used to shoot the images on my camera, then attach the camera to my computer and then download images there. I used a free software called Gimp (or GNU Image Manipulation Program) to edit those images and then would put them on my website. Phew! Now, I mostly take images with my phone, which is currently a slightly damaged iPhone 7+, use apps to edit and post them straight onto social media. Things have moved forward. However, the principles have remained the same.

I do have some experience of DSLR (Or Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras) photography and I will can tell you the that image difference between a DSLR camera and an iPhone camera is still HUGE. There is a reason that photographers are MORE in demand, even though most of us have a super computer in our pocket - it is because DSLR photography does produce better results. However, having said that, you can still use your smartphone to take equally good pictures. Here are some tips on how to take good pictures, using a camera or a smartphone.

1. Tip number one is to use a tripod. You will not believe just how useful a tripod is. You can buy a tripod very inexpensively online and they are even cheaper secondhand. Once you have a tripod, if you are using a smartphone, you need to ensure that you also purchase a mount on which to clip on your phone or camera. Having a tripod made a HUGE difference to my photography. Firstly, I was able to shoot similar images of different products. Second, it helps by eliminating hand jitters and third, you can focus on rearranging the product for multiple images than worrying about the camera. Once it is set, it is set and ready to go. When the camera angle remains the same, and you get multiple images, it is much easier to sort through and choose the best one. So this is a non-negotiable basic requirement, get yourself a tripod!

2. Tip number two is to not photograph things in directly sunlight! I know, this is so counterintuitive. Things SEEM so well lit on a lovely sunny day, but actually, they cast really rather strong shadows. The best outdoor light for photography is that where shadows are not strong, so an overcast but bright day is perfect. In my experience, the best place to photograph pretty much anything is next to a large window, but indoors. If the sun is streaming through that window, I hang a light weight white bedsheet as a curtain to keep the light coming in but not the shadows. Even when photographing cakes, no matter how pretty they look in the sunshine, I prefer to photograph them indoors. This is true especially of selfies - and if you are taking pictures of someone. When the sun is bright on your face, you most likely squint your eyes, or if you force them open, then your forehead sort of crinkles. Trust me. I have several of my own wedding pictures to prove - it was a lovely sunny day, thank you very much!

3. Tip number three is to use the Portrait Mode. Check the settings on your smartphone. If you have an iPhone7 and above or have bought your phone over the last couple of years, chances are that the phone will have a portrait mode. Portrait mode allows you take professional looking picture with a blurry background. It is great for, well, portraits and product images. Now the reason whey portrait mode works is because it computationally, big word there, fixes the issues that you will face when taking a selfie. Now, ordinarily, when you take a selfie, your camera is usually less than two feet away from your face. It is proven that selfies distort your face by around 30%. I will link to this article in the show notes, if you are a geek like me, check it out. To ensure that your nose does not look rounded or massive, it would be great to have five feet long arms, but we have not evolved that much yet. Instead, use portrait mode and you will see a difference straight away. If someone else is taking a picture of you, ask them to use portrait mode. If you are taking it yourself, get that tripod out. There is a big difference!

Here is the link to the article I mention: https://www.livescience.com/61896-why-selfies-distort-your-face-math.html

4. Tip number four is to find a plain background for your images. Not one-colour plain, but plain as in fuss-free. Again, this is because a fussy background detracts from the image itself and our eye is drawn to everything else that is happening in the picture. Most of the very highly successful photography brands on social media tend to have very simple images. Simple does not mean easy, a lot of effort goes into it! For product photography, especially cake photography, the set up in my workshop is very simple. I buy photography paper -if you look this up on google, you will see that you can buy large rolls of different colours and prints. I tend to stick to colours rather than buying prints. This paper is draped on a photography backdrop stand, which is essentially a horizontal bar propped up on two stands. Then I place a table in front of this backdrop and click away. The whole thing can be folded away. Pretty much all cakes that are featured on the Fair Cake website were photographed this way! The focus then becomes the cake rather than anything else.

5. Tip number five is to avoid using flash. Using a flash adds a very shiny light to your image, it pretty much never looks good. You can use a flash artfully on proper cameras by making light bounce here there and everywhere, but smartphone flash pretty much never does anyone any good!

6. Tip number six to avoid zooming in. Since smartphone cameras do not have a long lens, such as the one you would find in a proper camera, they zoom in computationally. As a result, the final image is not as high a quality. If you must zoom, see if you can get closer to the subject. I’m sure you have seen photographers perched on the boundaries of big football matches and music concerts - with their HUGE camera lenses. Now those are proper zoom lenses. Our smartphones are not quite there yet, not in 2019 anyway!

7. Tip number seven is good editing. Sometimes, despite great effort, by the time you got the subject in place, and the tripod all set up, the sun goes behind the clouds! Or, someone calls you on the phone you are taking pictures with or some other bit of life takes over. And before you know it, the cake that you were photographing is slightly tilted, or a bit of a comic book shows up in one corner of the image, or, the light was not quite right. We used to have PhotoShop, which was relatively expensive and, not to mention, technical, or free photo manipulation software that tended to be counterintuitive (at least I found so!) and overly tricky to use. Well, my friends, the good news is that there are so many apps that you can now use to fix your images. Here are some of the things you can now do, without being an IT wizz -

a) If an image looks a bit tilted, you can straighten it up. Most iPhones will allow you to do so in their own built in photo editing tools, so will most Android phones. If you wish to do so using an app, look for one that allows you to change Perspective. A free app is SnapSeed. It is by Google and is fairly simple to use on your smartphone.

b) If the light was a bit poor when you were taking a picture, you can brighten it up, not just by using brightness and increasing it, but by increasing exposure. Again, on SnapSeed, you can do so fairly simply.

c) If your product or subject is looking a bit washed out and you wanted to make it look more colourful, try playing around with saturation settings. Incidentally, you can do a pretty good job of editing pictures on Instagram, including saturating with colour and fixing tilts.

d) Finally, if there was a little smudge on the tablecloth or a little mark on the picture that is totally bothering you, you can fix that, too! On SnapSeed, you can fix this by using a feature called Healing. Good name, eh?

So I wish that SnapSeed were sponsoring this podcast episode, by they are not. I just like the app. But, if someone in Google is listening, get in touch - I would love to have a you as a sponsor.

Back to photography -

After you have upped your photography game, you will feel so much more in control of your social media presence. Images play such a big role in representing you and your brand that it is worth investing some time and effort into good photography.

Having said all of this, I do still believe that a professionally taken picture can do absolute wonders for your brand. And, if a professional photographer is much too expensive for you to consider, then consider buying a proper DSLR camera and take a photography class. It is easier than you think. But DO take that class! In the last few years, I have met countless people who come to my workshop with super fancy cameras, but use it in the Auto mode! I took the route of taking a one-day photography class and have never ever regretted it. We learned three basics - f-stop, exposure and aperture and it changed my life. So I highly recommend you take a class. It is much easier to learn when someone can tell exactly what you are doing and what you could be doing better.

I actually recently got a quote from a photographer to take some pictures of me. I am after those pictures - you know the ones? The ones where I could be laughing perfectly, looking away from the camera, with perfectly white teeth? Or the ones where I am sitting on a desk, behind a laptop, with a coffee in hand and typing effortlessly? Though, how would I type with one hand? I am sure you have seen the kinds of pictures I am talking about, personal branding pictures. Anyway, the quote was around £350 for 10 images. That is £35 per image. I will definitely get those done, because I know that I NEED good images of me, BUT, it is still a high price. But before I hire someone for £350, I want to make certain that I have the entire photoshoot planned, the outfits ready and a venue ready. Before that happens, I will also practise smiling at a camera - in order to do that, I have gone ahead and ordered a bluetooth remote and will take my own pictures with my iPhone. If you want to see what these pictures look like, you can follow me on @yoursocialmediajourney on Instagram, because they will definitely end up there! And when I do end up getting a professional photoshoot done, I will be sure to make a podcast episode all about it.

So there you have it, seven tips on how to up your smartphone photography game. As always, I would love to hear from you. The show notes of this episode are available on my website, www.yoursocialmediajourney.com/podcasts/10. Thats yoursocialmediajourney.com/podcasts/10. Here you will find all the tips written out and the names of any apps I have mentioned . If you have not done so already, please subscribe to this podcast. I would love LOVE a good review, especially on Apple Podcasts. And, if you have any questions, please do let me know. you can reach out on Instagram where you can find my on @yoursocialmediajourney or you can send me an email via my website. And I DO mean ANY question - I remember that feeling myself when you feel that your question might be too basic. Well, basics is what I am good at - so send away! And, if you have a contact that works for SnapSeed, send them a link to this podcast. Why not, eh? Until next time, bye for now!