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Hello!

If you’re reading this, first of all, thank you so much for stopping by. I know the Internet is a noisy, crowded place in “normal” times, but it has felt even more so in the recent weeks. Understandably so: we’re stuck at home, some of us with little to no work to do, so we’re trying to find ways of generating a little bit more income to pay our bills and/or doing our best to stay connected. It’s been heartwarming to see such a strong sense of community emerge amidst all the fear and the uncertainty, but it has also felt like a bit of a sensory overload at times, and I’ve been reluctant to add to the noise.

So what I am doing here, then? Well… the truth is, I like to help.

It’s at the core of who I am, and something I try to keep in mind when I’m working. I don’t see photography as just taking pretty pictures to post online — to me it’s a way of helping artists and creatives on their journey, helping them reach more people who might want to listen to what they have to say. And so, in times where we can’t get together to take photos or film music videos together, I would still like to help.
This post is for you if you’d like to take better photos. If you’d like to film yourself at home and make your videos stand out more. If you’d like your grid to look just a tiny little bit tidier, or your stories to be more engaging. Mostly, it’s for you if you’d like to learn something different, try out new tools and have fun. I think we all need to have a little bit of fun these days… So if you’re up for all that, let’s dive in. 🙂

I’m going to start with a little assumption here: if you are on Instagram and use it regularly, whether to share personal photos with your friends and family, to promote your business, or simply to get inspired or check up on your loved ones… chances are you enjoy looking at pictures? If your answer is yes, then good news: you absolutely, positively have the potential to take great photos! And the great thing is, you don’t have to own an expensive camera or collect lighting gear and lenses… your phone will do just fine. Especially phones nowadays.

1. Light

Photography is first and foremost about light and composition. I’d say it’s mostly about light, though, because the more light there is to play with, the easier your life will be, the crisper your photos will look and the less grainy they will be. Grain is cool, but only if you want it there. There’s a video made by Joe Edelman that I love and highly recommend watching. If you fancy watching it in full click the link above — it’s only 4 minutes long. I’ll link to the best bit below:

Did this make sense? Watch as the light travels around the egg: how the shape of the egg changes, how the shadow moves around and the background changes colour. In the second example, the light moves from front to back, starting at the camera and traveling over the top of the egg towards the background.

I find this video incredibly useful when trying to explain how light can shape a subject and change the mood of a photo entirely: place your subject directly facing a window on a cloudy day and the shadows will be minimal, the light gently highlighting their features. Then ask them to turn so the window is to their side and it’ll create stronger shadows and add contrast for a more dramatic effect. Windows are a great source of light because… well, there’s a giant ball of gas burning 93 million miles away from us, and with a window you can always tell where the light is coming from and where it’s going. Besides, on an overcast day, the clouds act as a giant diffuser which makes the light soft and more flattering than harsh sunlight.

So next time you want to film yourself performing a song, or take a selfie… Look for the light. Head to that window and move around until you like what you see, or switch a floor light on. And once you’ve found the light, don’t be scared to tell your camera how to deal with it. With most phone cameras, you can choose to lower the exposure if the photo looks like it’ll be too bright, or bump it up a notch if it’s too dark. I like my photos to be on the darker side so I tend to underexpose a little and bring it back up in my edits, but that’s up to you!

2. Composition

Getting sharp, well-exposed photos is important, but composition is also essential. The way you position the different elements in the frame greatly helps with creating visually pleasing images. There are lots of rules about composition, and like most rules, they’re meant to be broken… but the most famous one is called the rule of thirds.

You might have noticed the grid on the screenshots I posted above, which breaks the image into 9 parts. This is the basic principle of the rule of thirds: you place points of interests on the intersections or along the lines so that your framing becomes more balanced. This is helpful for landscapes, where you can position the horizon along one of those lines, but also for portraits, where you can position one eye on one of the intersections and draw the viewer in more efficiently. You can turn the grid on in your camera settings and experiment with it. Again, this rule isn’t a “must-do”… but next time you take your phone out to snap a photo, instead of simply pointing it directly at your subject, try moving your phone around a little and placing your subject off-centre.

Extra Tips

  • Clean your lens. Seriously. Clean. Your. Lens. Your phone goes everywhere with you, in your bag, in your pocket, on your kitchen counter while you’re cooking… it’s gross. Clean your lens. And your screen.
  • Set your focus. Autofocus is great, but sometimes it doesn’t focus where we’d like it to. Tap on your screen to set your focus, and long press to lock it.
  • Rotate your phone. Landscape shots are cool too, much easier to crop, and they include more of the scene.
  • Zoom with your feet. In other words… Don’t stand exactly where you noticed a photo opportunity: try to move around, get closer, step back, and see if it looks better from another angle.

And finally, like I said earlier… if you enjoy looking at photos, try looking at them a little bit harder. Why do you like a particular shot? Is it the colours? The subject? The light? The composition? All of the above? Once you start being able to vocalise what you find aesthetically pleasing in a picture, you’ll become more aware of how to take photos that you like, too.

Apps

Now that we’ve very broadly, very succinctly talked about taking better photos… let’s talk about some apps that I love using and that can make the process of creating content more fun and engaging.

— Filmm

Filmm is a video editing app and huge favourite of mine at the moment. In fact, I challenged myself to snap one quick video a day in March (kind of like the “One Second a Day” app) and I edited and stitched them all together in Filmm. I also made a little teaser for Hannah Woof’s latest single ‘Self Care’ by importing the single artwork into the app and putting music to it.

I find it super intuitive to use yet super powerful: you can add effects and filters to your videos, crop them, add flares and light leaks or go for more of a retro, VHS look if that’s your vibe, add transitions between your clips, add your own music, and use advanced editing tools such as curves to tweak your footage. It’s free to download, although they do offer a subscription at £5.99/month, or you can buy single grading/effects packs in their store too. The free version exports your videos with a watermark, which you can remove if you purchase a pack. My husband recently downloaded the app so that he can make his own little music teasers for his Instagram page, and he too finds it great to use.

— Afterlight & A Color Story

Before Lightroom Mobile became a thing and made it possible for me to use my own Lightroom presets on my phone, Afterlight was my go-to photo editing app. It’s loaded with great looking filters and also enables you to create your own, has some powerful editing tools (curves, exposure, split toning…), some really cool effects and overlays, all packed in a very user-friendly interface.

Alternatively, A Color Story is also a great app for editing your photos. While I never really got into it myself, it’s made by some of the people behind Filmm and I know a bunch of photographers who swear by it. While Afterlight’s filters are a little on the dark side, A Color Story’s are brighter and more colourful, and perhaps trendier, so it really depends on what sort of vibe you’re into!

— Template

When it comes to making Instagram Stories look pretty, you’ve probably heard of Unfold… Well, let me introduce you to Template. This app doesn’t just make your stories look good, it also comes with templates for your grid, either for standalone posts or for multi-image posts with seamless, swiping templates. Each ‘theme’ includes several pages so you’ve got quite a lot of variety in there. You can customise backgrounds, fonts, and even use brushes to draw directly on your screen. I downloaded it mainly for the seamless templates but I’ve been finding the story templates quite cool to use, too! (How many times can I say ‘template’ in one paragraph?!)

— Preview

Preview isn’t exactly an app to make your photos look great, although it does come with some editing tools: it’s mostly made to help you plan and schedule what you post to Instagram. You know those Instagram accounts that look annoyingly perfect and harmonious, with great colour schemes, where nothing looks out of place? That’s the secret… it’s all carefully planned.

Preview links to your Instagram account and loads your existing photos. You can then upload new photos and move them around until you’re happy with how it all looks. Example: you can choose to post your photos in 3, or alternate black and white and colour photos… Here’s a great blog post they wrote to give some inspiration and help you get the idea.

You can also add captions and hashtags to your photos, create hashtag sets so you don’t have to type everything out manually every time, and schedule posting directly from Preview to Instagram. I don’t tend to schedule posts because I like my hashtags to be in the comments instead of the main caption, so it’s better for me to post manually, and I don’t have a really specific structure to my feed either… but Preview does help me plan content ahead so colours don’t clash. And knowing I always have something ready to post if I want to just allows me to carry on with other things.

— Pixaloop

I don’t use Pixaloop much, but when I do, I always have fun with it. It basically enables you to animate your images with various effects, such as steam coming out of a mug, water from a waterfall, or clouds in the sky… I recently did a few cinemagraphs as promo for a single release — two of them were made in Adobe Premiere, but the last one was made in Pixaloop and it ended up being my favourite!

That’s it for now… I hope this was clear enough and will help you make your own content at home for the time being! This ended up being longer than I first planned, but there is so much more I could say… So I’ll very likely write a follow-up with ideas for things you could shoot at home and a bunch of Instagram tips you might not have heard of.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, either on Instagram or in the comments below — if you have any questions or can think of anything I haven’t covered here that would be helpful to you, please let me know!

Speak soon,
Em x

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