Transform your blog or social media with brilliant photos

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: January 10th, 2016 In: Writing & blogging help

If you blog, tweet or Facebook about your garden, you need wonderful images. If you run a business in the gardening world (or any other world), you need great photos for your website or portfolio.

I also teach blogging and handle other people’s social media. The biggest challenge is finding stunning images. A Facebook post with a photo generates up to 104% more comments and 53% more likes than a post without pictures, according to social media specialists Buffer. A tweet with an image gets 35% more re-tweets. And a blog post with images gets 94% more views than one without, according to social media analyst, Jeff Bullas.

Why you need to take pictures yourself…

Traditionally there has been a big divide between writers and artists. But today everyone needs to think visually. And, particularly if you are in a world which is highly visual (gardens, homes, fashion, art, craft…) then you need to create images yourself  or pay someone to create them. Free (or paid-for) stock photography just won’t communicate what you’re about. Reproducing images without paying for them or checking copyright will get you fined large chunks of money faster than you can say ‘but I didn’t know…’ (It is rumoured that Getty Images make more money from fining people who have contravened copyright than from selling pictures). And commissioning a professional photographer is expensive, although it is often an excellent investment.

Sometimes it's worth paying for a professional photographer, especially if it's a portrait of you for business

It really makes a difference to have photographs of yourself taken by professionals – photographer Lisa Valder took this of me last year.

Your first step in creating compelling images is a smart-phone and Instagram. Instagram turned me from someone who could barely use a point-and-shoot camera into what I am embarrassed to call ‘an award-winning photographer.’  The benefit of Instagram is that it offers a wide range of easy-to-apply filters and when you share the photographs, people click ‘like’. It’s confidence-boosting and gives you some feedback.

Using the iPhone for summer garden photography

I took this photo of Kylie O’Brien’s summer garden on my iPhone. It came first in Saxon Holt’s summer gardening competition. Saxon’s website Gardening Gone Wild is a great resource for garden photographers, as are her books on photographing gardens.

The next stage was to stop relying on Instagram’s filters and work with the iPhone’s own editing tools. Also quite easy and effective. Smart-phone cameras are now very high quality, and when used with either Instagram or the phone’s own editing system, you can produce stunning photographs.

Use Instagram to create action photos

In blogging workshops, I emphasise how important images are. I stop the class, take out my phone and get someone who has never used Instagram to take a photo of the class. It takes less than a minute, including choosing the filters and sharing it. It shows everyone how easy it is to ‘think image’. Here is a Women In Journalism workshop, taken by an Instagram first-timer who chose a black and white filter. I like it! When photographing people, ask their permission first.

Camera or phone? Which is best for garden photography?

For garden photography, phone-cameras have a few drawbacks. Depth of field is probably the main one. I found that some of my landscapes turned out disappointingly (unless they were rescued by wonderful natural light). A camera phone doesn’t seem to be able to cope well with a ‘whole garden’ view. And the other disappointment is when you go very close up on a single flower. The depth of field means that the focus is quite evenly distributed around the photograph, rather than tightly focused on a few petals. This close-up work is called ‘macro’ photography.

This winter hydrangea picture was taken with a camera

This is one of the first photos I took with my new Canon Powershot camera- still using Auto, and not really taking advantage of everything the camera has to offer. But the focus is on the petals, while the background recedes.

Winter hydrangea taken with Iphone.

Same view, same hydrangea, same time, taken with an Iphone. The background (especially the hydrangeas behind it) and petals are more equally seen – so there’s less emphasis on the petals. It’s the same picture, but it looks a bit more muddled on the iPhone.

Camera-phones also have a more limited range when working in difficult light than proper cameras. I have taken some wonderful dawn photos with my phone, but so many pictures taken in poor light have proved disappointing, especially in winter.

Camera phones work less well in difficult light

These hyacinths are difficult to photograph – they are white against a white wall, and the light is behind them. This is how they look taken by my Iphone.

Use a camera to take a white-on-white shot or in difficult light

The same hyacinths, photographed on ‘auto’ with my Canon Powershot. The camera deals with the tricky light conditions better and the hyacinths are more distinct.

Above all, I found that I wasn’t progressing. I’d like my garden photos to be better. So I asked Mr Middlesize if my combined Christmas and March birthday present could be a proper camera. He was relieved to be spared two present decisions, and only asked that I do the research myself. I spent about three weeks Googling my way through ‘How to buy the best camera for gardening’ and ‘How to choose a camera.’

There are alot of good cameras out there, and alot of advice on choosing them. Very little is specifically directed towards gardeners. A useful piece from Dave’s Garden tells you not to obsess about pixels (the quality of the camera lens is more important, and a good camera will give you enough pixels). The Jessops site has a good buying guide explaining the different kinds of camera available: compact cameras, bridge cameras, DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Compact cameras are at the starter photographer end and ‘bridge’ cameras are the next step up. They don’t offer the opportunity to change your lenses but they do have built-in variable lenses. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are good for people who want alot of control themselves.

Using a smart-phone for landscape shots

Kylie’s garden today (January) taken with the iPhone. I rather like the moody sky, and think the iPhone has worked well for this landscape.

Using a camera for landscape shots.

The same scene at Kylie’s taken at the same time, with the Canon Powershot. I think it’s a slightly crisper image, but a bit less atmospheric. I think camera and smart-phone are on a par for this shot. The phone a little ahead, maybe, but I am only using the camera on auto, so not making the most of it.

How to choose a camera for garden photography

I started off thinking that I had to understand the issues – ISO, shutter speed, F-stop and so on. I then realised that there are so many good cameras with so many amazing features that it’s impossible for first-time buyer to choose. Instead, I made a list of what I needed in a camera and asked people who knew. For garden photography, you need to be able to do macro (close-up) photography, landscape and you also have challenges with movement (plants moving in a breeze) and photographing in low-light conditions, such as at dawn and sunset. I also wanted to be able to share directly from the camera, so wanted wi-fi(more of that later). And I wanted to be able to make reasonable video, too.

Find out more

Do you really need to buy a camera? Or could your smart-phone do it all?

Write a brief, then ask an expert…

Once I’d realised that I didn’t have the expertise to choose the best camera from the buying guides, I asked a friend, leading food photographer, John Lawrence-Jones, what he recommended. He said that it was helpful to have a clear brief, so my time spent doing preliminary research hadn’t been wasted. He also asked for my budget, which – in camera terms – was middle-sized (naturally). That’s in the hundreds of pounds rather than the thousands. John recommended two cameras, one of which was the Canon Powershot G Mark 2. He also suggested I ring Wex Photographic with the same brief and see what they recommended. Wex Photographic also recommended the Canon Powershot G Mark 2 (along with two other cameras). It’s a bridge camera.

So far I have managed to work out how to use the camera on ‘auto’ mode, and, as you can see, I think it’s better than the iPhone for some shots. But to get the full benefit, I’ll need lessons (so cost those in). You also need a camera bag, tripod and memory card, so add those costs too. The wi-fi has been difficult – even my techno-savvy 25 year old daughter was unable to work out how to do it.

You need to learn how to use the camera in order to get full value from it.

Hm…I’ll never work out to use that wi-fi on the camera. Photo by Richard Torble, who advised me not even to try.

So I asked headshot photographer Richard Torble how to use the wi-fi on the camera. He said that it was so complicated to go into your phone, change the settings, go back into the camera, click through various setttings (stay awake at the back there…). ‘I never use the wi-fi facility. I buy a card reader, take the memory card out of the camera, put it into the card reader, then upload the photos to my phone. Then I can share or email them from there,’ he says. So add ‘card reader’ to your shopping list and delete ‘wi-fi’ from the brief.

In the end, all the experts say: ‘Your best camera is always the one you have on you.’ However brilliant your camera is at low-level lighting shots, it won’t help your blog if it’s in a drawer at home. So I’m looking forward to improving my photography, but the phone will always be a major part of my blogging strategy. Which do you find better for your blog, website or social media? Do share your tips below or on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page. And do share this using the buttons below. Thank you!

Book a ‘How to blog’ workshop on May 4th, 6.30-8.30pm in Faversham, Kent here now.

6 Comments

  • Mark Willis says:

    When I started my blog (2010) I realised immediately that pictures are vital if I am to adequately tell the story of gardening and food! Some people said that readers would dislike having loads of photos to “wind through”, but I think that the photos are the main attraction. A few years ago it was not necessarily a good idea to include lots of photos because download speeds were poor, but these days most people have access to high-speed broadband.

    • You’re so right – when I started the Middlesized Garden load speeds were still an issue but my web designer set a standard for pix, so that if I did use pictures that would slow down the site, then the site automatically re-sizes them. I also transfer all photos from my mobile on ‘Large’ picture size rather than ‘actual size’. If I need pix for any print media, I have to go back and find the original on my phone and re-send it at ‘actual size’, but really that’s all very little bother. Research has shown that the ideal balance between words and pix on a blog is about 170 words per picture, but I must confess to just putting in a picture if I think it will help people enjoy the post. Or not using a picture because it either won’t add anything or I don’t have one. Thanks for commenting.

  • Ian Wright says:

    Great article but I may be wrong but I think you’re talking about the G1X mkii Powershot which isn’t a Bridge camera. I have one of these and the macro control is excellent. Another option is to go secondhand, unfortunately mine died recently but you can pick up a Powershot G12 2nd hand fairly reasonably. This is an example https://flic.kr/p/nchQPh of what I got with my G12 a couple of years ago. I have been taking a photo a day for over 5 years now and the G12, G1x mkii and G16 have been my staple cameras.

    • Thank you – I will check my facts because you’re right – it wasn’t Wex Photographic who told me it was a bridge camera, but someone else, and they may not have been right. So glad you like the G1X mk2 – I am hoping to ‘get out of auto’ this week ahead, which should be where I notice the difference.

  • John says:

    I’d add three little extras to the “get” list:

    1) an extra memory card – keep it in the camera case for emergencies. We’ve all taken the card out to transfer a photo and forgotten to put the card back in the camera!
    2) an extra battery – again, keep in the camera case, preferably charged. Nothing is worse than seeing the perfect shot and finding the battery’s flat.
    3) A tripod. Doesn’t have to be a massive thing; one of those little 3″ types that (you guessed it) will fit in a camera case or pocket could be a lifesaver if you want to take a close up and your hand isn’t steady enough. The little tripods only cost a few pounds – mine was in a Christmas cracker a couple of years ago!

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