First, announcement time: I’m teaching an Instagram photography course on April 30th in Seattle! More info/how to register at the end of the post. On to the fun stuff!
This is focused on Instagram, but it’s also meant to improve your overall photography. And while there’s no quick way to get a better photographer besides practice, there are tools and techniques you can start today. As in, right now. Let’s get going!
(Note: I am assuming here that you have some comfort with taking pictures on Instagram. I’m going to do an intro to Instagram photography post later, but these tips will still help if you’re just starting out.)
Pinterest review sessions
When I first got started in Instagram, that square frame thing felt completely off. I knew how to style rectangular shots, and my old works didn’t crop easily into this new format. I needed a way to improve my square skills fast.
Here’s what you do:
Pick a board/keyword search of Pinterest in your subject matter, then set a timer. (I’d start at 5-10 minutes, 30 minutes max.) For each photo that catches your eye, ask yourself these four questions:
- What do you like about the image? Why?
- What do you not like about the image? Why?
- How would you improve on it or style it differently?
- How would you style it to fit a square format?
Seems like a lot of work, but set that timer and let yourself get into the swing of things, and it’ll start to go by smoothly. I saw improvement in my work within weeks just from this. (And I was doing the early stuff while ill and unable to use my camera.)
And yes, you could do this on Google Image search, or Instagram. It’s that I found using Pinterest was way easier to stay on topic, and Google searches gave me more conventional photos.
To compare, here’s a google image search for cupcakes:
Since Pinterest has more blog posts, you’ll get more of a range of images. Even though more of these are finished cupcakes, even this little snippet has options to talk about. Yay!
Bonus: it’ll make you feel far more comfortable when you go to review your own work, because you’re practicing the language of constructive criticism. (Which you should be doing, because it’ll help you improve. This is a nice way to ease into that practice.)
But again, set that timer, or you are so going to be on Pinterest all freaking day.
Change up your backgrounds/props
You’ve probably been using the same 1-2 backgrounds and props for ages. Which isn’t a bad thing, especially since Instagram readers love consistency, it can get so boring. And you need to flex your creative muscles or you are going to get bored of your own feed.
You need fun photography time. So today (or whenever you have time to fit it on the calendar), you’re going shopping!
There are two places to check out (with a small budget – think $5-$10 tops):
- An art store. I want you to try and find 1-2 backgrounds that seem fun to you. You’re not going for brand consistency here, just what you want to play with. (If you have paint/glitter/supplies at home, that works too.)
- A thrift store. Your quest: pick 1-2 accessories/props that you want to shoot with. Think unusual glasses, statement accessories, maybe a really ugly book cover. Anything that gets your attention.
You can also raid your house or borrow from a friend. No wrecking the budget (or props) for an activity, yo. A scarf in your closet would work great as a background, same to whatever’s on your shelves. Office supplies can make for gorgeous backgrounds.
I mean, check out these file folders! I love that they have two colors, so you have two different colors/styles in each. Win! (And I’d use the bag behind it too if I could figure out a way to block the branding a bit more. And my graduation garland behind that. And the wall, since that color never shows up on my feed. You get my point.)
Take your goodies home, clean them up if they need it, and just try shooting. See what works. Play!
Here are some photos you could take:
- Something that makes you laugh
- Something that reminds you of [insert famous photographer/Instagrammer]’s style
- Toss everything on the set and photograph it as is (I’ve done this before with dice; it’s really fun)
The goal here is to enjoy photography for photography’s sake. Even a half hour of non-work practice a week is huge for reducing burnout. So take silly photos! Take incredibly silly photos! Besides, you never know where it might lead you.
Shoot outside your range.
This is simple, but also important for keeping burnout at bay.
I want you to schedule a half hour to go out and practice shooting in a style or genre you don’t normally do. Why? Because it forces you to think outside your set parameters.
You shoot food? Go shoot portraits. You’re a portrait photographer? Shoot outdoors/landscapes.
And when was the last time you tried out a different style? There are so many out there – chiaroscuro, black and white, you name it. Make a list of the styles that sound interesting, and try them out, one at a time.
Here’s a shot I took a few days ago over in Fremont:
I do not feel this is a great photo. In fact, as a conventional photo, it’s really boring. My goal here was to see if there was a way to get an unusual angle of the Fremont dinosaurs that might be Instagram friendly.
And honestly, it cropped better than I expected:
It’s not a great image, yes, but it was amusing to take, and I can see now how to get a better shot if I ever decide to reshoot.
Most importantly, don’t feel discouraged if your photos in this session aren’t as good as what you normally put out. You’re learning, after all, and not every style will come naturally to you.
Rent/borrow a different camera
For those of you on DSLRs, trying out a new lens or camera can be all sorts of fun for changing things up. However, this requires either renting or borrowing a camera. Which I know, it so isn’t cheap to rent – sheesh, it’s $100+ to rent a Fujifilm mirrorless for a day in Seattle!? – but the point is to try out something you have no experience with on occasion. Please don’t break your budget.
Because I also have a tight working budget, what I prefer to do here instead is host a shooting day with other photographers. You pick a day, set up a subject piece, and take turns using each other’s stuff. Ideally indoors so it’s temperature and humidity controlled, because you just don’t want to risk your friend’s gear (or yours) during a test shoot. Nothing wrong with doing things outdoors, more I like being able to have a controlled environment with all that stuff around.
Also, if you’re shooting food, this is not the time for anything sticky or melty. Shelf stable stuff, please. I’ve shot enough ice cream sundaes to know that hot fudge will get everywhere, and you don’t need to find that out when you’re using your friend’s gear. Go for pears. Pears are good.
So yes, that announcement!
I’m teaching a course on Instagram photography in Seattle on March 26th! Since we have a few seats open, I thought it would be best to ask if any of you awesome folks want to join in!
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Photography basics for Instagram (cell phone photography focused)
- Writing your post’s first line so it’s awesome
- The nuts and bolts of getting more followers
When: Sunday, April 30, 2017, 1-4 pm
Where: a studio in Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA (NOTE: the studio will require going up a flight of stairs. If that’s a problem, please let me know ASAP. I don’t want you to feel left out, and I have an alternate space in mind!)
What to bring: yourself, your camera, something to take notes with, a snack, and maybe something you want to include in your next Instagram post! (That last one isn’t required, but will let you leave the class with a completed post, which is pretty awesome.)
When you sign up, you’ll be directed to a survey so I can better plan the photography section of the course exactly to what you need.
I can’t wait to see you in class!