Photography Basics for Social Media

Nothing quite sells a good social media post better than a well-taken photo. But most of the time it's not in the budget to get a fancy camera with all those different lenses and flashbulbs. And then take a whole course on how to use the thing? Forget about it. That's time and money. Fortunately, nowadays we have better cameras on our phones than most pros had in the early 2000s. I personally have a Google Pixel 3 XL which is pretty widely regarded as having one of the best smartphone cameras on the market. But you could also go with an iPhone X or higher or any of the other higher-end Android phones. If you already have one of these, then you're golden.

Now, since you're working with a smartphone camera, you don't have to worry about most normal photography basics like aperture or f-stop or depth of field... the software will take care of most of that for you. But there are a couple of things that a camera and its software just can't do. And that's what I'm here to tell you about.
Source: Toronto Corporate Photos


This is something that most people don't really think about until it's pointed out to them. The highlights shining off of someone's skin, the flash of color in a great product shot, the way a shadow gives an illusion of depth, it all comes down to good lighting. And you're not gonna get that from a camera flash alone.

A basic lighting setup consists of a backlight, a fill light, and a key light. A backlight sits behind and above the subject to give it a defined outline, the fill light brightens up the shadows on the subject, and the key light gives the subject some highlights to make the image pop. A lot of the time you can substitute a fill light with something white and/or reflective to bounce the backlight onto the front. (You can get a good reflector on Amazon.) Also one of these lights can often come from a natural source: the sun. Now there would normally be a whole conversation about "color temperature" and white light vs warm light, but for our purposes, it's best to just shoot in white light (the sun and most LED lights provides that very well) and if you need to change that, you can do so in an editing app. Just make sure that whatever light you use, it's labeled "white" or "natural" and never bounce off of a gold or other colored surface.
Here's how to set up studio lighting.
If you're setting up your own little in-house studio, then, by all means, get all of these lights, set them up on stands, position everything accordingly, but in my experience, most photography happens out in the world. Out there, you're going to have to take into consideration the lighting of whatever place you happen to find yourself in. In these situations, you're likely going to use the ambient light as a backlight and a lot of the time it's probably going to be warm light. That's okay, but still go with white light for highlights. Get a small, portable white LED light and hold it off to the side while you get the picture. In the end, the idea is to use light to clearly define your subject apart from the rest of the picture using highlights and shadows. If you're depending on just a flash to cover that, all your pictures are going to be an amalgam of muddy, flat light.
Most camera apps have rule of thirds
guidelines you can turn on in the settings.


The placement of your subject within the photograph can make a big difference in how said photograph makes the viewer feel about the subject. Take a look at a picture and consider how your eye moves around it, what it sees first and how that directs your eye to the next thing. Use your zoom to take away any distracting elements on the edges of the picture. Try using odd numbers of subjects in a photograph (for whatever reason, people prefer that subconsciously). Photograph composition could be an entire college course, but the one thing you really have to know for our purposes is the rule of thirds.

Divide the picture into three parts across and three parts down creating nine boxes total. There should be major focal points at each intersection of those division lines or each box should contain a single cohesive structure. For example, if there's just a person and a blank background, you could have the person fill up the three boxes on the left, run along the left division line, or stand directly in the middle to fill up the middle three boxes.

Many times when the picture is being taken for social media there's going to be text placed over the picture. The rule of thirds is something good to keep in mind if you're wondering where to put a blank spot in composition. It usually looks best if the blank spot fills up four consecutive boxes.
I was really excited about buying this mortar and pestle.
The top-down angle makes for a great pic, too!
Lastly, if you've got a product to shoot, consider shooting it from directly overhead onto an interesting, clean table or countertop surface such as stone or stained wood. You can lay it down to show its front if you have to, and you can place various props around the subject that emphasize the kind of lifestyle that the product represents. The theory is that when a person finds a product on a shelf and takes an interest in it, they take it off the shelf and hold it about stomach height, looking down at it to give it further consideration. But in practice, I think it really just looks cooler.
Never underestimate a good vignette.


There are tons of apps out there that will help you with editing. Hell, Instagram has a whole collection of filters that can take your white-light picture and turn it into a warm or retro-looking piece of art. But there are a few things you might want to know before you randomly select a filter to slap on your pic.

If you pay attention to the periphery of your vision, you'll note that things get a little less defined there. Because of this phenomenon, we tend to think of pictures with a dark vignette around the edges to be more interesting. It doesn't have to be anything dramatic, just a subtle hint of a shadow and your picture already looks gram-worthy.

Cropping can go a long way toward fixing any composition mistakes you may have made. Not to mention, you're going to need to change the image size for each different social platform. If you've got an app for that, chances are it'll help you out, but if you're using Photoshop, well... I can help you out. I've copied all my saved presets for social media images here. You're going to want to search for the file "New Doc Sizes.json," open it in a notepad app, and copy the info from my file onto the end of your file. Then, voila, you've got the correct social media image sizes to choose from when you open a new Photoshop file.

Don't be afraid to tilt your image a little within the crop to give it a bit of a Dutch angle. It's an easy way to turn an ordinary image into something pretty interesting and eye-catching.

That's it

These are just a few tips in a subject that it takes most people years to master. But, hopefully, if you keep these tips in mind and just keep at it, your photos will become one of the reasons your followers keep coming back! Now that you know all the tips, find The Green Asterisk on social media (there are links below) and show us your pics!