Photography Tips From A Shitty Photographer

I am a shitty photographer. For real. Twenty years doing artsy things on a professional level, and oh my god how am I not better at this? Recently (um, obvs because of this blog) I’ve actually been paying more attention to what I’m doing and what works well, so as to minimize my own frustration and the amount of time I have to spend editing pics (which I actually *am* good at, but it’s time-consuming as hell). Forthwith, a few things that’ve helped me get consistently better photos of stuff (and of myself) without a shit ton of work :

  • Use Less light. Yeah, it’s counterintuitive. But bright light sources shining directly on your subject will often just give you glare and hotspots and make your camera freak out trying to balance everything. In my bathroom, I have four lights over the long sink/vanity area, and two others on the ceiling. The best shots of my face/makeup I get in there = turn on the vanity lights ONLY, and then stand as far away from them as I can, with the light coming from my side instead of straight-on. (Just don’t actually turn your back to the primary light source — backlighting is usually bad.)
Taken standing right in front of vanity, all lights blazing.
Taken standing 4-5 feet away, light coming in at an angle.
Left : with all lights on. Right : with vanity lights *off* = less harsh, less glare-y, no hot spots. It’s got more and stronger shadows since I’ve got light coming from fewer directions, but this image will be a lot easier to edit (brighten, adjust tone, etc).
  • WHICH CAMERA? If you’re using your phone’s camera (like I do), remember that the “normal” camera generally shoots at a much higher resolution/better quality than the front-facing “selfie-cam.” A reasonably functional workaround : use the “normal” camera, held in your dominant hand, and with your other hand hold up a mirror a few inches further out, so that you can see in the mirror what’s on your phone’s screen. Obvs this eliminates the option of doing any kind of pose involving one of  your hands, or holding up an item next to your face, but at least it allows you to frame a shot pretty nicely without trying to do it blind. Try it out — take a regular-cam and a self-cam shot with the same framing in the same spot, then compare the resolution and file sizes.


  • MACRO LENS, omg. Just using the “macro” function on your camera app will, in most cases (or at least on my phone) get you a zoomed-in pic with no appreciable increase in clarity or resolution. I’ve had a clip-on macro lens for AGES (it’s absolutely a necessity for nail-polish pics) but I just the other day went “oh duh, I can use this on my face.” Close-up shot of lipstick or eye makeup? MACRO LENS. I’ve got this one (10x magnification), which is a whopping $15.99 at Amazon, and I’ve been really happy with it. (There’re a ton available there, many with really good reviews!   And there’s also Magniband!)
Shot using normal lens, zoomed in.
Shot using macro lens.
  • COLOR ADJUSTING A lot of times shooting in yellowish (“warm white” bulbs) lighting will make photos look WAY oversaturated and also unrealistically warm. Sometimes the “Cast” (iPhone photo editor) or “Temperature” (Mac Preview editor) slider that moves between blue and yellow is enough to settle it down to something like normal. If not, try opening your image in Pixlr or another online image editor and adjusting the levels or tone curves. I can usually bring a Crazy Bright Yellowy pic back to normal by selecting the individual curves, pulling Blue up a bit, and Red and Green down a bit, and then going into the Hue Saturation Lightness adjuster, turn the saturation down a little, and the lightness up a little.

    Also highly recommended : Snapseed (by Google, free in the iOS and Android app stores!) has a lot of those controls as well, including adjustment for individual RGB curves. It’s a LOT more complex than the native editors you’re probably used to, but once you poke around in a little it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. This is a great option if you need more robust editing for phone pics, and don’t want to pass the files to your computer, edit, and pass them back to your phone.

Taken in super yellow light (warm white CFL/LED). Left: original. Middle: Cast/temperature adjusted strongly toward blue, which just results in a greenish cast. Right: Curves adjusted with blue up very slightly, red and green down.
How ’bout you? Any favorite tips or tricks for getting decent makeup shots with your phone? Share! (We all know I could use the help…)