Better Brighter Blog Photos

December 20, 2010

Greetings!  I hope you all had a good weekend.  We had a great party despite the huge storm that is pounding California, and a splendid time was had by all.  Today I thought I’d address a question I keep getting via email and in comments:  “How do I take better, brighter photos for my blog?”  I do not consider myself an expert in photography by any means so I wonder sometimes why that question is even directed at me.  However, I have taught myself a few tricks for achieving higher quality images in the past year, and every now and then I take a pretty good shot.

The most important thing I have learned to make for a better brighter photo has everything to do with light.  And a good camera.  When taking photographs, either for your personal use or for your blog, good natural light and a kick booty camera are your two very best friends. 

Most photographs taken outside on a sunny day with a point-and-shoot turn out pretty well, all because of the natural light present.  Yet with interior shots, it’s tough to be as blessed with natural light unless you’re shooting a room with walls of windows on a sunny day.   When shooting pictures indoors in less than ideal conditions, here are a five tips I shoot by.   

My Five Tips for Better Brighter Blog Photos

1) Use a Good Camera

I think it’s essential to invest in a good SLR digital camera with variable settings (F-stop, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, white balance, etc.) if you want to have high quality interior photos.  I know there are a lot of comparatively inexpensive point and shoot digital cameras out there, and they are perfectly fine for so many everyday uses, but for high quality blog photography, invest in a good camera.  I use my Nikon D60 that allows for changeable lenses, and I use two kinds of lenses that I mention in my FAQ page

2)  Know Your Manual 

When my hub bought me my Nikon D60 three years ago, I always used the auto setting just because it was so darn easy and I was, at first, intimidated by the manual settings.  80% of the time, the ‘Auto’ setting worked fine and produced adequate images. 

However, the ability to manipulate your camera’s light settings makes all the difference in the world in less than perfect light conditions, and when shooting interiors or detail shots.  Here is just one half of one page in my Nikon’s manual but look how much information can be gathered from this quick camera tour.   

nikon image settings


Manipulating your camera’s settings to allow for more light requires that you read and know your manual.  Once you do, you will learn that you can manipulate your exposures, and you will gain confidence to stray away from the ‘Auto’ setting.  Once you start experimenting, you will have that ‘Aha!’ moment, I promise!

  Three Simple Ways to Move Beyond ‘Auto’ and Pull More Light into Your Lens: 

1) widen (lower) your aperture; 2)  slow your shutter speed; and 3) increase your ISO sensitivity. 

Quick definitions: 

Aperture: the aperture is the width of the ‘hole’ or opening in your lens and it is measured in what are called F-stops (f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc). 

A lower F-stop translates to a bigger ‘hole’ or a wider aperture which means more light enters your lens.  You’d think a smaller F-stop would mean a smaller opening, but it works in reverse.  A lower F-stop allows for more light, so make that mental note.  Lowering your F-stop also decreases depth of field (blurring the background) but it will definitely brighten your image.

Shutter Speed:  the amount of time your lens is open to take your picture.

In low light settings, if you slow your shutter speed (ex: from 1/100th of a second to 1/20th of a second) then you allow more light to enter your lens.  A slower (lower) shutter speed (especially below 1/10) can make your shot blurry because your lens is open longer, so it’s best to stabilize your camera with a tripod, or on a still surface.

ISO Sensitivity: your camera’s sensitivity to light which varies from 100, 200, 400, 800, to 1600 and sometimes higher.

The higher the ISO sensitivity, the more sensitive your camera is to light, and the brighter your image will be.  However, higher ISO Sensitivity leads to grainier pictures, so I try to avoid going above 400 if possible.  Most of the time, I shoot in auto ISO sensitivity, but in lower light situations, I often up the ISO sensitivity to 800. 


3)  Shoot Interiors in the Best Light Conditions

I never wait until 8 p.m. to shoot any ‘final’ project pictures.  If you want to show off your project or space in the very best way you must shoot it in the very best light.  Ideally, that’s a sunny day with all your blinds open allowing for the most natural light, but in winter or late afternoon, your light is often compromised.  Knowing your best light conditions is key.  In my home in California, I shoot north and east facing rooms in the morning, and I shoot west and south facing rooms in the early afternoon. 

no flashAnd for the love of all that is good in this world, please, I beg you, never shoot any interior shots with a flash.  The flash is not your friend. 

Quite frankly, the flash should always always always be off.  Interior shots taken with a flash are awful. 


4)  Manipulate Your Camera Settings

You can make up for mediocre lighting by changing your camera’s settings. This is where Tip #2 becomes crucial.  Once you get to know your camera by reading the manual, you’ll see that you can brighten your photos by allowing more light into your lens.

Take a peek at these three pictures of my holiday mantel taken in the same place on a cloudy day at 3 p.m. in my living room.  The first is shot with a flash, the second is shot on ‘Auto, No Flash’. 

better pics 1



I made four changes to make this interior shot better.  I switched my setting to ‘M’ (Manual) mode, slowed the shutter speed to 1/5, changed the F-stop to f/5, then increased the ISO Sensitivity to 400. 

manual mode settings


Result from changes to settings:

cg holiday mantel right

All from simply changing the aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity!

I encourage you to experiment with your camera and different lenses.  Start by simply changing the aperture in your ‘A’ mode, then switch over to ‘S’ mode and play with shutter speed.  In ‘M’ mode, you can change both.  Experimenting with your camera can only lead to better interior shots, so go for it!


5)  Simple Photo Editing

You can always boost your pictures with photo editing programs like Picnik, Picasa, and Photoshop (among other countless software programs available).  Most of the time I attempt to significantly brighten a photo with editing software, I end up compromising the resolution.  I lose depth and detail, and my pictures get grainy. 

My latest theory is to simply try as best as I can to get the proper exposure in the original shot to both save time editing, and keep my pictures crisp and clear.  I still use Picasa 95% of the time to edit my photos, and you can read all about my affection for this free software here.

swirl snip

I’m no expert, and often you’ll see far less than perfect pictures around here, but I do keep experimenting every day.  My philosophy with photography is the same as in life.  When you open yourself up to learning new things, and take the time to do the research, when you don’t expect instant gratification, but rather seek to develop your skills over time, you can teach yourself just about anything.  I encourage you to do the same! 

Soon I’ll share more photography tips from some of my favorite bloggers and some favorite photography sites I love that may help you improve along with me!  Until then, happy shooting!



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