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Studio Photography | Cheat Sheet

A few years ago, I decided that I was tired of having dark, blurry Instagram photos and I wanted to level-up my photography skills. I started working with my iPhone 4 and slowly progressed to where I am today. I don’t claim to be a professional, but I do think my photography skills have improved a LOT and I’ve picked up some useful tricks along the way. Even though I'm more interested in product photography and photo styling than portrait photography, the general principles are the same, so I thought I would share what I know.

Lighting

Note: I prefer a soft, natural light look (I would also say I prefer cooler colors over warmer colors) so if that's not your style, go ahead and skip this part.
  • If you don’t have natural light, put your camera away and do something else. Seriously. It’s really not possible to get a good photo when it’s high noon or really dark or overcast. 
  • Shoot with your subject facing the window for more even light.
  • If you’re shooting something on the floor, place it closer to the window.
  • If you’re shooting something on a table, place it farther away from the window so you avoid the harsh direct light.
  • Avoid using different light sources. When using natural light, turn off the lights in the room.
Photography is my favorite way to document my love of beauty and design.

Camera Settings

Shooting in manual is the only way to get great photos. After you’ve figured out what f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO mean, the next step is understanding the hierarchy of those settings.
  • Aperture/f-stop is the most important setting (I never change my aperture from 1.8 because I really like that soft focus).
  • Shutter speed is the next most important setting. To make sure your photos are sharp, never shoot below 1/125. Annie, my photography mentor, never shoots below 1/250, but if I don’t have great light (which I never do), I’ll go as low as 1/125.
  • ISO is the last setting you should adjust. I keep my ISO at 100 because my camera images get really grainy at higher ISOs, but nicer cameras can look good anywhere from 100 to 800.
  • If you can’t avoid using a high ISO, put the picture in B&W and go for an “editorial” type shot.
  • Always shoot in RAW and export in JPG. RAW allows you to capture more detail (for me that means light) and gives you more elements to edit.
  • If you’re shooting outside and it’s too bright, bump up your shutter speed instead of your aperture so you don’t lose your soft focus. If you can, lower your ISO.

Styling

You can generally use the same settings for portrait photography and product photography.
  • Always put things closer together than you think they should be.
  • People should always be touching.
  • Never cut people off at the edge of their limb. Cut them off in the middle of the limb and your eye will fill in the rest.
  • Follow the rule of thirds. This was a rule I didn’t understand for a long time (even though I had it explained to me a million times). This is the secret: Have the focus of your photo only cross at ONE point on the grid. That makes a big difference in where your eye ends up.
  • Any well-composed photo should have three things: Color, pattern, and texture. If you include those 3 elements, you’ll always have a great photo. (I'm going to write another article about how to use the principle of color-pattern-texture to level-up everything in your life!)

I still have a lot to learn about photography, but having a list of tips always makes me feel better! I'm excited to see how my pictures improve as I practice taking more photos and learn more about using my camera.


Rebecca
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