How To Take Professional Looking Photos with ZERO Formal Training 

When things get shaken up, new opportunities always arise, and the fallout from this pandemic is no exception to that rule. One thing that influencers are already experts in? Content creation; and it turns out influencers can monetize their platform by stepping up their photography skills.

In this week’s Tip Jar feature, we talk to Michelle Joyner about how she learned how to take high-quality photos without any formal photography training, how she landed her first brand deal, and her tips for landing high-paying brand deals!

Q: How do you make your photographs stand out without using professional photographers?

Let me preface this by saying I have zero formal training in photography, I’ve never received a lesson in photo editing, and I’ve totally winged it over the last few years! I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get noticed on social media. A few key tricks that have helped my photos stand out:

  1. I use a nice camera–a Canon EOS 90D, but not with the basic lens that comes with the camera. I upgraded to a portrait lens and it’s made ALL of the difference. It’s the only lens I use! Having that “bokeh” (or the blur for the out-of-focus parts of the photo) is what makes things look professional. That’s truly my main secret right there!
  2.  I prefer to only shoot with bright natural lighting. I’ve never been a fan of artificial lighting because it seems to alter the colors and sometimes create shadows. Whenever I shoot inside, I try to photograph when the room is well-illuminated by the sun and I keep the overhead/artificial lights in my home turned off.
  3. Instead of using presets, I manually edit my photos in iPhoto and overall make the same lighting adjustments to each photo. The key is—no matter whether you’re using presets or manually editing—just stay consistent in your method so that your photos appear harmonious.
  4.  Photos tend to do better on my page when they’re crisp, bright, and colorful, have my children in it, and have faces looking directly at the camera.


Q: How did you land your first brand deal/sponsorship?

I’ll never forget my first sponsored deal. I had been blogging for 1 year and my IG page had grown within that timeframe to ~13K followers. I was so naïve that I didn’t even realize I could have been negotiating payment before then. That first paid deal literally fell into my lap via DM on Instagram from a popular children’s plate brand. At the end of their pitch to me, they said “Let us know what your rate is for a post.”  That was the moment I realized I had to start negotiating payments with brands. Before that, I was doing a ton of product-exchange-only posts–because I simply didn’t know any better! Since then, I haven’t taken any unpaid deals.

Q: What are your tips for landing high-paying brand collaborations?

My highest-paying deals (those that are in the 4 digits for a single post) are mostly through third-party platforms that connect brands with influencers. So, my recommendation is to sign up for a bunch of those types of platforms where you can apply to different campaigns. If a brand has the budget to pay an agency/third-party platform to find you, then they probably have the budget to pay you well, too.

Take time when you’re creating your pitch in campaign applications. Think of how to be creative and unique in your ideas!

Whether it’s in an application or an email with a brand, don’t be afraid to sell yourself. I have a doctorate in nursing and I’m a pediatric nurse practitioner—so you better believe that I mention that when I’m applying/negotiating for any child-related brand collaborations!

When you’re discussing rates, KNOW YOUR WORTH. I always negotiate—always! And many, many times it’s led to me getting hundreds of dollars more per deal than what I was originally offered. If someone tries to low-ball you, don’t accept. Set your prices and stick to your guns!

Interestingly, although I have a beautiful media kit (aka blogger résumé) that I keep updated, I’ve never once had to show it to land a high-paying brand collaboration. In my experience, it seems media kits are more helpful when I’m the one initiating contact with a brand. To be totally honest, whenever I’ve been the one reaching out to a brand, it hasn’t led to a paid opportunity. If you have the time, though, then it doesn’t hurt to try!

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