Secrets to Successful Fashion Blogging Part II

Well. It's certainly been a long time coming, hasn't it? When you decide one random night at 9pm to write a blog post about how to make a successful fashion blog, and the next day the post goes viral and gets featured on ELLE.com and blows up on Twitter/Facebook...it can be very intimidating trying to follow it up. I now know how directors of sequel films feel. Enormous pressure, really.

Yes, this is a sequel, but you'll find that it's more targeted, less random as before, and future (cross my fingers) parts will follow this focused format. For Part 2, I have decided to focus on one of the most important aspects of fashion & personal style blogging: the outfit post. Integral to the outfit post, is, of course, photography. So, I apologize if you do not take photos of your outfits for your blog - rest assured there will be many more parts to this series that will pertain to you as well!

One more thing, before we dive in...would you be ever  so kind as to acknowledge the 1 ½ years it has taken me to get to this point, this sequel, and the many, many hours it has taken for me to create this (hopefully helpful) post for you? It would absolutely, without-a-doubt, 100% make my day if you would Like this post, Tweet it to your followers (who no doubt will appreciate the tips as well) and, if you're so inclined, you are absolutely welcome to link to this post within your own blog posts (weekly link roundups, etc). You're the best. Thank you.

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1. Always get better and better.

It should come as no surprise that the first tip (which may be the most important) is to always better yourself--but you're already doing that, since you're reading this, aren't you? I find more and more that with practice, an ever-more-experienced eye, and with the help of my lovable photographer (my fiancé HB) I will edit photos and call to [houston] in the other room, "This is the best one ever!"

If you always strive to better your posts, at the very least, you will not lower your blog's quality - you can only increase it. Use comments and interactions (tweets, likes, etc) as a means of measuring the success of a post. You probably do this already, but make mental notes of the quality of the photography in this outfit post versus the previous, the inclusion of writing or any changes to how you wrote your outfit credits. If you're a visual person like me, write the best things about your most successful outfit post on a stickie note and stick it somewhere on your wall or desk. You should always refer back to these qualities so that you never make a post that hits below the mark you've set for yourself.

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2. Your camera is super important, but your lens even more so.

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70_200mmlens

As much as it pains me to say this, since I believe that you should be able to style a spectacular blog without spending thousands of $$, when it comes to personal style & outfit posts, owning a digital SLR (single-lens-reflex) camera is super important.

It's the type of camera that looks really intimidating, and more importantly, the lenses are interchangeable. I've owned a digital SLR (I'm a through-and-through Canon girl, myself) since 2003, when I started my now-defunct-yet-awardwinning photoblog in college.

Since then, I've upgraded a few times--I now own a Canon 7D which I am hopelessly in love with, and have collected (through saving up and through very generous special occasion gifts) a very good set of lenses.

If you want absolutely the best photos ever, invest in a Canon L-series lens--they're the ones professionals use. I use my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L lens for nearly every single outfit post you'll see on this site. I also use a lovely 60mm f/2.8 USM macro lens which I think takes very lovely outfit photos, but [houston] gripes about it not being a zoom lens, which means he has to bust his tail a little more. :)

Canon versus Nikon questions will get a very biased answer from me: I've always been a Canon gal. I could be considered a traitor, as my Norwegian grandfather as well as my father are Nikon men themselves, and my grandfather even has his own darkroom in his house (old school!).

But I find (as many will) that Canon sensors are warmer than Nikon, whose photos tend to come straight out of the camera a little cooler than Canon images. I find this works best for portraits and human photos, and I'd rather not color-correct every single image painstakingly. Plus, I think the focusing system is light-years better.

But that's just me.

I also don't recommend using the "kit lens" (the lens that sometimes comes with your digital SLR purchase) as they are usually (pardon my french) crap. Buy the body only and spend the money you save on a separate, gorgeous lens.

Links with more information about the Canon EOS 7D, EF 70-200mm f/4 L lens, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, and 50mm f/1.8 lens (a GREAT beginner's lens).

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3. Want beautiful photos? Take them during the Golden Hour.

Ah, a secret by many a portrait/wedding/boudoir photographer. [houston] and I almost always take photos during the Golden Hour, which is the last hour to 30 minutes before the sun sets. Adjust this as needed if your horizon isn't flat (i.e., is obscured by trees, mountains, buildings, etc--you may need to adjust your time earlier for these obstacles).

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The reason it's called the Golden Hour is that the light that hits you when the sun is nearly horizontal is universally flattering. The wavelength is longer thanks to traveling through more atmosphere, and is consequently warmer toned (also universally flattering). The light hits you square on (or nearly square on) which eliminates harsh shadows such as those you would see during midday.

Time your outfit shots to the Golden Hour. You'll thank me later.

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4. Please don't regurgitate things we've all seen before.

Taking a step away from photography for a second, I'd like to make a Public Service Announcement: please don't regurgitate content. Not your own, and not somebody elses. Nothing pains me more than visiting a blog with the same magazine editorial scans I've seen on other blogs that day. Do your research: if you can find it on someone else's blog, and they are in the same niche as you (fashion/style), then you probably shouldn't post it. Your feedback won't be as high as if your content was original, and you probably won't get as many shares. There are exceptions to this rule, however (read below).

The exception to this rule: I think it's absolutely lovely when a blog digs up a fabulous 70s or even 90s editorial from a magazine that is still relevant to this day, or compares a style that is coming back on-trend, for example. I think it's more ingenious and shows that a blogger did their homework. It's original. I love it.

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5. Hey, you: boyfriend. Fiancé. Husband. Friend. Bend your knees.

No, not in prostration. Taking photos from up-high will make a person's face & nose look disproportionately larger than the rest of the body. It has to do with distance. The closest item to the camera will appear largest. So, the feet will look small, and as a result, the person in the photo will look short with a large face. Not really that flattering. Similarly, if the photographer were to lay on the ground and shoot up, the person's thighs/hips would look largest and the face would look the smallest. Also not flattering.

So, have your photographer bend his/her knees slightly so that the camera is pointed level with the person's mid-to-lower torso (about belly-button range). In this case, the person looks symmetric and proportionate all around. Brilliant!

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6. The all-too amazing sun flare can do wonders for your photos.

Here's how to get these:

sun flare shot example
sun flare shot example

Aren't they amazing? Here's how to get them:

  • Switch your camera to Manual or Aperture-Priority mode (I almost universally shoot in Aperture-Priority mode) and set the aperture to as wide as you typically do (usually around f/4 is best)
  • Angle your camera to face the sun, and align your subject so that the person is almost, very nearly, but not quite covering up the sun (of course, they can be far away and the effect will still work, but I tend to like this better since it also accomplishes Tip #7 below)
  • Compensate up for exposure. Since your camera will be letting in the sun's light directly, it will compensate by making your subject just a dark silhouette, unless you are in manual or another semi-manual mode (like aperture-priority). In your camera's settings, dial up the exposure compensation until you can take photos of the subject with them still adequately lit. This will key out (white out) some of the sky a bit, but it is expected. Usually you need to adjust your exposure compensation to make it at least 1, 1 ¹/3, or even 2 exposure brackets higher.
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exp-comp
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7. Use the sun to highlight your hair. This is called a "key light". It's free.

Pretty self-explanatory. Angle yourself, especially during the Golden Hour (above), so that the sun hits on the back of your hair, at an angle. It highlights you and sets you apart from the background, leaving the focus on you and what you're wearing, not the distracting orange traffic cone behind you (true story).

sun highlight key light example
sun highlight key light example
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8. Think: Paris Fashion Week. You (and your outfit) stand apart when you stand apart from other things.

Also self explanatory, but sadly often overlooked. Take in your surroundings before you start shooting. Find a sidewalk, a road, a path, or other element with bland but repeating surroundings--they will act as a natural "frame" to you, the subject.

stand far away from things
stand far away from things

If you stand with your back facing the farthest away object, your background will be that much blurrier (called "bokeh"), which helps you stand apart. A good bokeh, in my opinion, is the be all end all secret to amazing outfit photos. Note, some lenses have better bokeh than others, and usually they are the most expensive (since they have better and more numerous lens elements which contribute to this effect). But even cheapie lenses (the 50mm f/1.8 by Canon is a great example) can achieve this effect marvelously. You'll just have to do your research to find out which ones these are. Troll photography forums and ask them questions to find out their opinions.

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9. Ah, the aperture. The key to the camera that lets in light.

I won't go into the specifics of exactly what an aperture is (you can read this to find out the basics) but I will say that the wider the aperture, the lower the number (f/4 is wider than f/16, for example) and the wider the aperture (or the lower the number) the more light is let in. The more light is let in, the more the camera will focus exclusively on what is in focus, and less on anything else. So, if you want your subject to have blurred backgrounds (and sometimes foregrounds), use a wider aperture (like f/4). If you want the subject and all of its surroundings to be in focus, use a smaller aperture (like f/16). It's confusing, I know, what with the up-down nature of the inverse relationship between diameter and aperture setting, but it gets more intuitive. If [houston] can figure it out, you can too.

For example, the below photo was taken on a point-and-shoot, which used a very narrow (probably f/11 or so) aperture. See how I'm in focus, but so are all the people behind me? Ew. Distracting. Narrow apertures are a pet peeve of mine.

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narrow aperture

And look how much better it looks when your aperture is nice and wide (f/4, again) creating a dreamy backdrop:

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wide aperture

Caveat alert: It is possible to have your aperture too wide. As a rule, I recommend that any aperture wider (lower) than f/3.5 may be a little too wide. Why? Because you could end up with a scenario where your nose is in focus but your eyes are not (that's how narrow the range of focus can be with an aperture that wide, crazy!).

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10. Why go through all this hard work and not show off your photos?

I bring you the last tip of Part 2: maximize your photo size. Your photos should always be the same width as your content's column. For example, my blog layout has always used a content column that is 600px wide. As such, I resize my photos to 600px wide, regardless of the orientation (portrait or landscape). You went through all that hard work to take your photos, why not show them off? I nearly weep tears of sadness when I see beautiful photos on a blog and find them to be 50% of the width of their actual column. Sadness.

Show them off! Be proud! And don't make your photos super huge and then resize them within your blog post editor! That means we download a high-res photo and the browser squeezes it down to size: it not only looks bad, but we'll probably be long gone (hitting the "back" button) before the photo has a chance to load completely. Double sadness.

Please take a moment & be social with this post. xoxo

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this second part to the Secrets to Successful Fashion Blogging series, and please note that there will be much more to come! If you liked this post, please do me the honor of liking & tweeting it out to your followers - they will no doubt appreciate the wisdom (if there's any to be found here, that is). Thank you so much!

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