This article is a guest post by Melanie Deardorff
Are you always on the hunt for great images for your healthy living blog or social media accounts? Is it a challenge to find the perfect public-domain image at the perfect price (er … free)? I’m always on the hunt for great photos, and I know from talking with other health coaches and wellness pros that finding images takes up a significant amount of their time, too. And many of us are concerned about making sure we don’t break any copyright laws by grabbing an image that isn’t available to use.
One way we can eliminate these worries is to shoot our own photos for our blogs and social media posts. If you’re a novice behind the camera like me, it’s rather intimidating to think you can take great photos. But there are things you can do to grow your skills, like taking a class (Click Love Grow’s Photography Enthusiast course – I loved it*) or asking a pro for advice.
I’m fortunate because I know one pro very well. My cousin, Marly McMillen Beelman, is a healthy living blogger at the vegan-centric site, Namely Marly, and she shoots dozens of photos each week for her blog and social media accounts, including Namely Marly on Instagram.
I sprung the idea of interviewing her for this blog when Marly was at my house this week, and she kindly obliged.
Melanie: Marly, your food photos are pretty amazing.
Marly: Thanks! They started out pretty rough. I didn’t like them at all, but I took the time to learn how to use a camera and proper lighting and spent time studying other photos I liked. I went to a couple of workshops on photography. And now I like what I do a lot better, yet I’m still trying to grow.
Does it cost a lot to get the right equipment for shooting your own photos?
That’s a tough question for me, because I was lucky to inherit my photographer husband’s hand-me-downs, and I have access to his lenses, which can be pretty expensive. You could buy a nice DSLR camera for a few hundred dollars or use your iPhone or Android, but you have to know how to use them. Start with the basics – one device and then really learn it the best you can before you purchase more equipment.
What about lighting or other equipment?
I mostly use natural light – that’s typical for food photography. You have to know how to use it – inside or outside – and whether you want things back-lit or side-lit. Usually, you’re not going to want light coming from behind you, and you never want to take a shot outside at high noon. The best time for nature photography is the golden hour – right before sunset when everything just glows. It’s beautiful then, because the sun is dancing around.
Do you recommend any courses, blogs or books for learning about photography, Marly?
Digital Photography School has many free resources. And the book Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin is great. I also benefit from learning from my husband, Shawn (see photos from Shawn Beelman’s blog).
There’s a lot of photography-snatching online. How do you protect yours?
I watermark my photos with my blog name, but that doesn’t fully protect them. I think if you’re putting yourself out there online, stuff is going to get stolen. You have to decide where you want to put your energy. Do you want to be the police running after every person who steals – or do you want to focus on creating new content? But sometimes you have to go after the person with, “That’ my shot and you can’t use it.” But I pick my battles.
Tell us about your process for getting photos for your recipes.
I often shoot two photos for my posts – one landscape and one portrait, because portrait does well on Pinterest and it also gives you a different view of the food. And styling the food, as well as preparing it, is a big part of my process. I spend a lot of time setting the plate – like with my Butterfinger Dream Bars, which I’m still developing. It’s not just about putting the food on the plate, it’s what side is the best angle? Which side has the best chocolate drips? Should I stack the bars three high?
For inspiration, I set up secret Pinterest boards where I can pin photos I want to refer back to. Let’s say I have something I’m making, like dark chocolate syrup over soy ice cream. I think it would look good in a dark and moody shot, so I go to my Pinterest board to find other shots like that. I don’t want to copy anyone, but I do get inspired by similar photos – there might be a prop that I like or a certain level of shadows in the photo. This gets my ideas started and then I look at my set of props and say, “Now what am I going use with this shot?”
You’re also are on Instagram, and I see a mix of food and outdoor photos there.
In addition to taking food photos with my Nikon D300, I also take a few photos with my iPhone so I can share them on Instagram. I also do a lot of nature photography when I’m out and about.
Do you use hashtags on Instagram?
Just a few
For the text and graphics you add to your photos – are you a Canva or PicMonkey fan?
PicMonkey. You can see a lot of what I do with PicMonkey on my food photography Pinterest board.
Any words of encouragement for health coaches and wellness pros who want to start using more original photographs online?
I think photography is best when it’s telling a story – so sometimes it’s not just food on a plate or an egg you find in a nest in the woods. It’s what is the story of what you’re photographing? Does it have another thing with it, like a cup of coffee next to a scone (the story: this is my breakfast today) or the flattened grass by the egg that shows the momma bird is not far – all of this tells a story.
Think about the ways you can represent your day – and I would suggest occasionally taking pictures throughout the day and things that don’t make it to Instagram or Facebook. And you could save those photos and organize them for future use. I saw someone had a “Keep off the grass” sign that I shot, because I thought that could be a good blog post title someday. I also saw a restaurant with two doors with directions for the staff to follow – one arrow said yes and the other said no. You’ll often find uses later for images like these.
Also – just keep at it. Try to take photos every day, because that’s how you learn. Practice is the key to everything.
Thanks, Marly, for letting me squeeze an interview into our afternoon – and also for giving me a chance to try one of the recipes you’ll post in the future, Vegan Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies. Tasty!
Melanie Deardorff is a veteran marketer whose focus has been digital and social media marketing since 2009. Based in the U.S. Midwest but transitioning to more of a digital nomad (work from wherever) lifestyle, Melanie partners with companies of all sizes and industries, including nonprofits. A special passion of hers is helping small companies, including health and wellness-focused businesses, stand out and be authentic online.