Monday, April 27, 2015

The 3 steps to create amazing stock photos for free - Plus 11 Bonus tips to make your photos pop with wow

Learn how to add great photos to your blog posts
Step 1: Take a photo with your phone

Step 2: Crop it and adjust the color

Step 3: Add your logo and text

Easy. Right? Not so much. Here are 11 tips to actually make great stock photos.

A great picture will make your blog posts standout. Finding high quality stock photos that I can afford is a 3 hour chore that I don’t have time to do. I make my own blog photos instead in 10 minutes with an iPhone and Pixelmator.

When you are making art always remember that good enough is perfect. If you have trouble with perfectionism then I have some tips just for you.

Tips to overcome photography perfectionism:

If your pictures are never good enough to share then the best practice to overcome your resistance is to start sharing photos before they are perfect.

Start using Instagram

Use Instagram to practice editing and sharing your photos
Take at least 10 pictures everyday for the next 10 days. For each picture crop it and choose a filter that you like, then add a bunch of hashtags. On Instagram the more you add hashtags the more people will see your photo. Add at least a dozen hashtags, then publish your picture.

Do this for 10 days. For each of the pictures you share take notes on how the colors, filters, subject, and hashtags work together to increase the number of likes you get. I shared 87 photos before I figured out a combination of subject, filter, and hashtags that attracted likes.

Now for the tips I promised

Rule of Thirds

Crop your photos so the subject is in the left or right third of the picture

First written down by John Thomas Smith in 1797, the rule of thirds is a method for cropping a picture to give it more interest and beauty. For blog posts the rule of thirds also makes space for adding text to images. The rule is simple and if you use the Instagram camera it’s easy to do.

On the Instagram camera there is a button that looks like a hashtag. It’s not a hashtag and if you press it it shows guidelines on the camera’s viewing window. These guidelines show each section of the rule of thirds.

When you take your photos make sure the subject is centered near one vertical line and that their is boring space near the opposite vertical line. The boring side of the picture is where you can add text or your website logo.

Colors or Shadows

Adjust the shadows in Black&White or Sepia toned photos

Focus on adjusting the colors first and worry less about the shadows

When I’m editing my photos I choose to either make the colors vibrant or the shadows defined. In other words if the colors aren’t stunning enough, I make the picture black and white and adjust it till the shadows are compelling. If the picture has great color then I adjust the colors till they really pop and don’t worry too much about the contrast. This method creates good enough results and I don’t spend more than ten minutes editing a picture.

Triangular Composition

Arrange your photos so the focus points create a triangle

Art history is full of examples of the triangular composition. The idea is to have three interesting features on your photo. When you look at the photo your eye will drift between the three anchors of interest. Combine this method with the rule of thirds and you will have amazing photos even if the subject isn’t that stunning on its own.

To achieve the triangular composition, I start with a photo that has been cropped to the rule of thirds. Then when I place the text on the photo I position it so it creates a triangular composition. If there is only one point of interest on the photo then I add two different text fonts to finish the triangle. If there are two points of interest then I position the text to complete the trio.

Leave Room to Breath

Crop your photos with room for adding your text and logos
Blog photos need plenty of space around the subject for text and margins. When you take your photos try to take them so that there is plenty of boring space around your subject. Later when you edit the photos you can crop them so they are ready for text.

Don’t worry about resolution too much. A blog photo should be between 500 pixels wide and 2048 pixels wide. A typical iPhone 5s picture is nearly 3,264 pixels wide, so you have room to crop your photos later. When you take your photos make sure your subject is near the left or right third with plenty of space around the margins.

Follow the Eyes

Arrange your text so the people in your photo are looking towards it

Leadpages did a study on the effectiveness of pictures for email signup forms. They found that the most effective picture is an attractive woman who is looking towards the email signup box. If you use pictures of people, position their gaze towards the text or logo you add.

Follow Gravity

Place heavy and dark items near the bottom of your photos

Our minds are wired to expect things to fall. When you take your pictures keep in mind that we expect objects that aren’t supported to fall. Most pictures use darker, more solid colors near the bottom of the photo and lighter colors near the top. This illusion is what our eyes expect.

When you begin to understand how pictures portray gravity then you can play around with using gravity in your pictures to lead your viewer’s gaze towards the text or subject you want them to look at.

Stunning is How You Crop It

This photo is cropped so the subject is in the center

This photo is cropped so the subject is in the left third

A stunning photo is created during editing. A boring photo can be made to pop just by cropping it according to the rule of thirds. When you crop your photos keep in mind the direction of the people’s gaze, the gravity near the bottom of the photo and the triangular composition.

A Few Good Fonts

Two fonts are used to create more excitement

When you add text to your images be sure to choose fonts that are in your style. (Here’s a hint your style is not Comic Sans.) There are thousands of fonts to choose from. Take an afternoon and find three fonts you admire and bookmark them. Whenever you add text to your photos choose one or two of those fonts. If you always use the same fonts then you will save yourself loads of time and create a brand recognizable arrangement.

Opacity Adds Interest

The text boxes in this photo are fully opaque

The text boxes in this photo are slightly transparent

When you add text and logos to your photos consider adjusting the opacity. Text that has a slightly see through look can give your photo that professional shine. When you adjust the opacity you let some of your photo influence the color of the text or logo. This naturally brings union to the composition without doing a lot of color adjustments.

The Squint Test

A good photo is still interesting even when it is fuzzy or small

I have to give credit to my high school art teacher for this one, when you think your photo is perfect take a moment to squint at it. Close your eyelids until you see blurry then look at your photo. This will give you an idea of how your photo will look when it is shrunk down to someone’s twitter feed.

While you squint at your photo, notice what features are the most prominent. Look for the triangular composition and the rule of thirds. The photo should look good even if it’s blurry. The squint test is great for helping you see where the major points of interest are on your photo.

No Idea, Go To Nature

If you can't find a good photo, use a picture of a tree leaf

I find that no matter what the subject is of my blog post I can always use a nature photo. If you are stuck on what photo to use, then take some pictures of tree leaves. A well cropped photo of a tree leaf with your logo and text always works with any blog post.

Practice. Yes. I already said this.

Practice. There I said it again because this is the most important tip. Practice taking photos, cropping photos and sharing photos. No shortcuts or quick wins for this step. Start taking photos and sharing your art on Instagram for the world to see and like.