Spilling The Tea on my Best-Kept Influencer Photography Secrets
Whether you want tips for Instagram photos or blog photos, as a professional or influencer I want to pass on my knowledge in honor of the years of work gone into creating my own style as I transition out of a career that has done so much for me.
Note: if any photo jargon gets a little too much just feel free to do your own research via Google or YouTube.
THE BASICS / What they don’t tell you in school
Even as a photography minor I didn’t learn a lot of these things, it’s also my way of teaching basics in an easy to digest way for people who are really not that technical.
HOW TO SHOOT MANUAL ON a DSLR
Seems advanced but it’s not that hard. 1st start with your ISO:
100-2500+ = 100: Brightest sunniest day, 2,500+: Indoor ambient lighting.
Once you set your ISO, I like to set aperture based on how much BLUR I want in the background:
1.2-22 Aperture: 1.2 = only an eye is in focus within a portrait, 22: what I call similar to iPhone, it gets EVERYTHING in focus, typically used for landscape photography.
I cannot believe I didn’t learn about this in school. Lighting. is. everything. Best times to shoot are simple: 1-2hrs after sunrise or 1-2hrs before sunset. Mid-day offers the WORST lighting possible. You can get away with shooting late morning or early afternoon if you pick the right shady spots, and even 3-4 hours before sunset you can play with softer direct/harsh light in a light/shadow play sort of way. I always shoot bloggers within 1.5hrs of sunset.
ALSO! Lighting is seasonal and regional. NYC light is determined by the season. Winter lends cool blue light no matter what, and California has dreamy warm light all year long (from what I’m told). NYC Summer light is so warm and gives subjects a sun kissed glow. Also in Summer you have natural reflectors, primarily bright sunlight bouncing off the sidewalk that can act as a reflector on your client’s skin, pure magic.
EXPOSURE (i.e. how bright or dark the photo is)
It sets the mood and also determines how your photos will look edited. The best edited photos and easiest to edit are well exposed photos. On the Mark IV I find it’s the one notch up from the dead center when looking at your light meter inside the viewfinder, but in technical terms I "shoot for the highlights." Some people like the over exposed airy fairy bright look, it’s not my thing but if you love it go for it! Some people like super moody, which I play with sometimes but rarely for bloggers where you under expose by at least 1 full stop when shooting in hard direct sun.
Sets the feel and what you want People to focus on in the shot. If it’s a food shot, having more blur could mean your focus is more on your peach topping on your oatmeal as opposed to the whole shot in focus. It’s what makes photography truly special. Some lenses suck at lower apertures, the best lenses I use are Canon L (luxury line) you can honestly do 1.2 or 1.4 and get that focus point SHARP. But keep your lenses maintained yearly for optical function.
I used to do a lot of food shots and didn’t know why I had a bit of motion blur on some point of the image. Then my friend Dave told me he never goes below 125 shutter speed. I was previously playing around with 80+ so no wonder! Once I adopted that principle my shots were consistently more sharp. In some instances you need a higher shutter speed (moving objects + people, etc..).
Focus: Always make sure it’s in focus!! Tell your shooter in advance it’s super important and you may need to take a lot to get it right. I shoot 4-5 rounds per scene with my clients because you never know.
Exposure: On an iPhone tap and if it’s too dark slide the sun icon up, or vice versa if it’s too bright. On a camera shoot Auto or if Manual get the light meter to read dead center or a notch toward the + side.
Angle: ALWAYS SHOOT LOW!!! practice those squats. Especially if your partner is shooting and is taller than you, there’s nothing worse than looking short and stumpy for no reason at all. Have them squat if needed, I do it all the time for my client and even I forget sometimes. It lengthens and leans.
IPHONE: For my own shots it’s easier to just take them mostly on my iphone, I always set up the shot and then have Anthony take a ton. If I’m walking I have him hold down on the shutter which takes a succession of shots which I can then choose from afterwards. I try to move a lot, smile no smile etc.. to get a lot of variety. I tend to go for full body shots and usually have Anthony come closer so I’m not too tiny in the shot. iPhone quality isn’t the best so if you’re not close enough in frame you can’t really crop too much after the fact. I find iPhone lighting to be pretty good in most lighting conditions other than backlit (when the sun is behind you). If that’s ever the case mostly around sunset, using the flash helps. Also a new tip I just discovered: when shooting LIVE mode, you can actually go back and select which photo from that 3 second frame you want to keep, just in case you had blinked etc.. or you want the perfect moment of hair flip. Bear in mind the shot might not be as sharp but it's good enough if you want that perfect moment.
DSLR: When shooting fashion bloggers I always use my Canon 5D Mark IV, the more professional the camera the higher Megapixel you’re likely to have, and with a full-frame sensor you’ll get the best quality image. When shooting for Instagram on my DSLR I use mostly a 35mm lens to get the most negative space to account for a possible square crop:
Settings: Bloggers, like models move FAST. When they’re swinging side you want to capture as much detail as possible with as little motion blur as possible. For ex they’re moving their head, arms or legs slightly. For this setting I typically shoot on whichever ISO suits the lighting situation (100-1600), aperture (key) is always at LEAST 3.2. If it’s a little lower lighting I’ll go up to 4.0-5.6. My shutter speed would be also ideally around 200. If they’re walking, my shutter speed is MINIMUM 500 with an aperture of around 4.0-5.6. That’s the speed that freezes all human action (if you were capturing your dog for instance it’d have to be a lot higher since they move faster). When walking I also put my camera on Burst shooting mode, I call it Paparazzi mode because it drills out a succession of rapid photos to capture those in between moments (There are only about 2 different moments within walking shots I find flattering on women).
Lenses: 35mm or 50mm. 35mm preferred for clients who prefer square crop as it provides ample negative space. But in some cases like detail shots, the 50mm is necessarily for an editorial look.
Same tips as above, I just always ask clients what type of shots they require, usually a mix of full body, 3/4, details etc.. I show them what I’m shooting so they can see how clothes are draping etc.. I shoot detail shots on 5.6 because it’s so important and I have gotten feedback other photographers don’t get this right that you need to get these super crisp. Don’t rely on your viewfinder, ZOOM in make sure it’s in focus!!!
I’ll also use aperture 1.4/2.0 if I want to mess with ‘dreamy’ ‘tumblr’ style shots where it’s like a subtle hair flick or shot from behind with streetlights in the background. For these shots I think focus doesn’t matter as much, it’s about the feel. I am a very technical photographer and the creative side is about 20% of what I shoot. After doing photography for over 10yrs I have naturally melded both sides of my brain so I literally can shoot without thinking about it.
Lenses: 35mm, 50mm, 85mm+
Up to your preferences of course but I typically use the 50mm and 85mm. Sometimes I’ll do both and ask my clients which they prefer. I have some clients who prefer the 50mm and vice versa. For super blurred zoomed in editorial fashion looks, the 70-200mm is a beast but it’s like an arm workout and it’s not something I’d practically lug around. It also requires more space but the beauty is you could be in time square and the background is pure cream. No distractions around.
HOW to EDIT PHOTOS
Apps: VSCO, Facetune 2
VSCO: If it’s a blogger shot that is already edited in LR using my custom VSCO presets, I’ll airdrop the photo to my iPhone and add the filter I use for all my instagram shots (it’s a VSCO app custom preset, best feature ever) so it’s all cohesive in my feed. I encourage my clients to do this as well so my photos match their feeds (I only require no filters for their blog shots as it’s not necessary, instead I edit to match the feel of their existing recent blog photos while using my style.). Vsco is so unique so just pick a filter you like, I honestly don’t like a lot of their toggles it feels too extreme but I mostly adjust a tiny bit of exposure if needed, some contrast, sometimes grain, temperature on the cool side, etc.. I never sharpen because sharpening should happen within the Instagram editing suite.
Facetune2: I love this for making your subject pop and details pop. I will sometimes do the full enchilada like skin smoothing, whitening teeth and eyes, etc…but I use it often more for aesthetic like whitening and making the background more B+W, using the detail too to bring out their outfit details, etc… have fun with it! I never alter my clients like morphing their body or anything that feels inauthentic. To me the whitening tool is more of a spot brightening exposure tool than anything else.
It’s also fun to try something new, like playing around with the Kira Kira app or the automatic camera app everyone l
Software: Photo Mechanic, Adobe Lightroom (monthly subscription)
Photo mechanic is a culling software, you can cull really fast as opposed to in Lightroom. In LR I use VSCO presets that were free a couple of years ago and it’s a custom one I made based on that. I adjust everrrrything like exposure, contrast, white balance, sharpness, etc… add some smoothing through noise reduction, will spot retouch any noise in the photo like garbage or too much gum on the sidewalk.. or signs.. I also do spot color enhancing, it’s my favorite secret. If my client is wearing red I will increase the red saturation level, it really make the photo pop. I also love that for food photos (where I learned the trick originally).
For Travel Photos I typically shoot more landscapes with a 35mm and typically higher aperture like 5.6
5D Mark IV (amazing continuous focus video and wifi feature sold me), so amazing in low light I can go up to 6400+ ISO with a beautiful film like grain, no ugly grain:
SONY mirrorless DSLRs and pocket cameras: The ones I suggest to all my clients who want to take their own shots in the meantime. Love how they render skin tone, they are cheap, around $500 compared to professional cameras that are nearly as much as a Chanel handbag haha. There are other companies who do mirrorless like Olympus that do an amazing job as well I personally haven’t used them but it’s always worth a test. Love that these cameras also tend to have a flip up screen perfect for selfies.
To determine cameras do a hashtag search on the app, so #sonya6000 will give you a visual of what to expect for that type of camera.
I also love theses camera because you can just shoot auto, even your boyfriend/husband can’t mess it up hahaha:
A lot of my photo tips recently have come from YouTube videos, colleagues or just experimentation. I also used John Greengo’s Creative Live course the basic one that is absolutely amazing and is what I should have learned in school. He taught my the shutter speed trick of 500 for moving people.
I really hope this helps!
SAMPLE IMAGES / DETAILS + PHILOSOPHY
I feel like my OG photo mentor Jasmine Star for including these but I found them helpful when I first started to get a feel for the what and why since I’m a visual learner. And hopefully it’ll help you spot which type of camera, lenses and settings you want to build upon!
Location: TriBeCa, NY
Aperture: 4.0 / Shutter Speed: 1/125 / ISO: 400
Location: Times Square, NY / Aperture: 4.0 / Shutter Speed: 320 / ISO: 1000
Location: Washington Mews / Aperture: 2.8 / Shutter Speed: 500 / ISO: 100
Location: TriBeCa / Aperture: 3.2 / Shutter Speed: 250 / ISO: 160
Location: Hudson River Park / Aperture: 3.2 / Shutter Speed: 250 / ISO: 500