Blog Photography for the Photographically Challenged. Speaker: Jenn Hethcoat.

Our first afternoon session today is Blog Photography for the Photographically Challenged with Jenn Hethcoat. Since my photography skills consist of pretty much consist of “Can Instagram make this picture I took on my phone look better?” – this is one of the sessions I’ve been really looking forward to.

“If you’re a photographer, you can leave.” Laughter. Jenn wants to help the people who always come up and ask her questions. This presentation is like her frequently asked questions session.

Blog Photography for the Photographically Challenged. Speaker: Jenn Hethcoat.

Good photography is not about the type of equipment you have. It’s about light and focus and vision. And if you don’t know how to use the equipment you have, getting something more complicated is only going to make the problem worse.

Light is the essence of photography.

Without light, you have no pictures.

Natural light vs. artificial light. Given the opportunity, always opt for natural light. (We’ll come back to that when you can’t.) Ambient light is better than direct light. Diffused light or light coming from a different direction makes for a better picture because direct light can wash out your subject.

Shade often produces better light when you’re outside. Do not shoot into the sun, because you’ll either get backlighting or silhouette. Unless you want a silhouette, then go for it. You can use a flash when you’re in the sun to avoid these problems. (I know my smartphone camera has a Backlit setting that will make sure the flash goes off.)

Take a day to walk through your house in the morning and afternoon, and take notes to find out where the light comes in, what the colors of the walls are, and which locations have the best light at each time of day. Do the same at night to find the best artificial light sources in your house.

Use what you have to make your photos interesting.

Extend your vision about what you’re shooting. Look at your surroundings. Jenn is relating a story about some homemade biscuits she tried to shoot a while back. She put the biscuits in a basket and set up her shot…and the picture came out completely yellow and awful. If she were to go back and shoot the biscuits again, she would split one open, put a frozen pat of butter on it (so it didn’t melt while shooting), and maybe put a jar of jelly in the background for some great composition.

She has another photo of a necklace that says “My hero wears combat boots.” She took the picture for a friend with the necklace held up to what she describes as the ugliest green elephant planter you’ve ever seen. But when taken close up, only the texture of the planter is visible, and it makes for a really nice contrast with the shiny necklace. Texture makes your photos much more interesting, and there are many items in your house that can be used.

Keep your photo size consistent.

Pick a size that works for your theme and stick with it. Jenn uses a width of 450 for all of her pictures. (I’ve been using 500.)

Give your photos a color boost.

You can use photo editing tools to make your colors pop. Some cameras have an automatic image boost. PicMonkey also has this option. I use Paint Shop Pro, and they have a One Step Photo Fix. If you know what you’re doing, you can tweak specific settings like clarity, brightness/contrast, etc. But don’t mess with these things unless you know what you’re doing.

Sharpen your photos for Facebook.

If you’re putting photos on Facebook, you want to sharpen your photos, because it really dulls them down. There’s a tool called Unsharp Mask you can use to do this. She uses 95 dpi with a maximum width of 750.

Make your images pop off of the screen.

Jenn finds borders tacky, except for a thin black border. You can use Dark Edges in PicMonkey to make your pictures pop on your blog, especially if you have a white background.

Gratuitous Cute Kid Pic Example!

Glare is a common problem. Reflections are frustrating. Adjust your angle based on your light source. Pay attention to everything that’s in your frame before you shoot. You don’t want a shiny table in the background, and you don’t want to cut the feet off. Hang up a sheer curtain or use tissue paper on the windows to diffuse the light. Keep clutter out of the background. A piece of black felt cut to fit around your lens (79 cents at the craft store) can block out the reflection of your camera that can show up in your kids’ eyes and elsewhere.

When taking pictures of people, don’t shoot up at them. That is never a flattering angle. Shoot down at them. If someone is taking a picture of you, you want to make sure you are looking up at them. (Tilt your face accordingly.)

Time is not on your side?

Food photography especially can be problematic because shooting dinner photos happens after you run out of natural light. Jenn will set an extra plate and take the photo after dinner, especially for foods like lasagna that look better when they’re cold, because then they are mushy and running all over the place. You can make yourself a lightbox, too, to avoid shadows and other lighting issues.


Bokeh is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, esp. as rendered by a particular lens. It can look really cool. With a point and shoot camera, you can do this by moving your subject farther away from the background. There is a quick and dirty way to do this on Instagram in either a circle or a horizontal line. (I apologize for leaving the DLSR terminology out of this explanation because it’s all nonsense to me, and I don’t want to get it wrong.)

Focus mode

If you can’t get your pictures to focus properly, it’s probably because you aren’t keeping your camera steady. Stabilize your camera or use a tripod. With a smartphone camera, you’re not going to want to wave it around trying to get a good picture. Keep it still before you snap the shot. If you have a DSLR…

Single Servo AF (AF-S): Focus is locked if the shutter release button is kept pressed halfway down after the camera focuses.

Continuous Servo AF (AF-C): Camera will continue to focus after the shutter release is pressed halfway down until the take the picture. This is good for objects in motion.

Read your manuals.

No matter what type of camera you have, read your manuals. They will give you examples. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you now, it will eventually make sense to you. It will help you think more when you take your pictures.

Preset scene modes on point and shoot cameras

Your point and shoot camera, even on your smartphone, will generally have different scene modes that will automatically change all of the settings that you would otherwise have to tweak for yourself on a DSLR. Play around with it so you know how each of the setting works.

White balance

If you’re getting pictures that are a funny color, it could be that your white balance is “off.” White balance is the color of your light. You want to choose your camera’s automatic white balance setting unless you are really aware of your surroundings and you know what you’re doing.

Don’t use your phone for all your blog pictures.

The quality is not the same. You can tell. Unless that’s what you’re looking for… Oh Jenn, now I have to buy a real camera? (The Panasonic LUMIX has been suggested as a great point and shoot camera that isn’t super expensive. I popped an affiliate link in there so you can browse the latest models.)

Christina Gleason (976 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a writer, editor, and disability advocate. I'm a multiply disabled autistic lady doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and casual gaming. I hate vegetables. I cannot reliably speak, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or messaging instead.

By Christina Gleason

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a writer, editor, and disability advocate. I'm a multiply disabled autistic lady doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and casual gaming. I hate vegetables. I cannot reliably speak, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or messaging instead.

3 thoughts on “Blog Photography for the Photographically Challenged – #TypeACon 2013 Liveblog”
  1. Fantastic recap! Thank you so much. You are doing a great job at the TypeACon. 🙂

    I have seen this error before and it has to do with your back end on commentluv
    It appears that you are offline or another error occured contacting the API url, have you set it to use www or missed the www off the api url?? check the technical settings and add or remove www from the api url.

  2. Thanks for sharing these Type A posts. This one was really helpful and makes me excited about some the stuff I’m going to have the opportunity to learn in 2014. I saw your comment on the Type A Facebook page and wanted a glimpse at some the stuff I can expect to learn about when I attend. I’ve learned so much just by reading your notes here! It makes me feel good about my investment in the conference. 🙂

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