There’s nothing more normal than walking down the street and seeing someone taking a photo of their shoes. Everybody does it! It is, in many ways, what makes us human.
Or, possibly, people think it’s slightly weird but don’t do anything about it! It’s definitely one of those two.
Whatever the truth: just keep on doing it! It’s bizarrely fun—especially as you take more and more shots and the photos begin to get better and better—and the legitimate joy photos of your shoes and boots brings to thousands upon thousands of people is worth the odd glance. Without question.
We got our Instagram-maestro friends @thedenimdentist, @bigdudeindenim, and @marshal_rigma to chime in on their tips, tricks, and processes for taking fantastic boot and shoe photos. Because with the Patina Thunderdome coming up—which requires photos of every pair’s progress throughout the competition—we thought it was high time to get it all down in an article.
Dig in and get snappin’.
Jeff aka @thedenimdentist: Depth of Field + Diffused Lighting
Hot Hot Tip #1: Pay close attention to aperture/depth of field
Utilizing larger apertures (aka a lower-numbered f-stop setting) can create razor thin depth of fields that can really set apart the subject (your boots) from the background—but use with caution. Bokeh (fancyword for background blur) may be beautiful, but don’t value blur at the expense of getting your subject in focus.
For instance, this photo above was taken at an aperture of f/1.2. As you can see, the bokeh is very strong, which really sets the boots apart. However, as the depth of field here is so thin, only a very small portion of the front boot is actually in focus. If you look closely, only some of the side stitching is in focus, the laces are clearly not, and the back boot is completely blurred.
In comparison, the above photo was taken at f/2.8. Nearly the entire front boot is in focus, with the exception of a little bit of the laces.
Lastly, this third photo was taken at f/5.0. Pretty much the entire front boot is clear and in focus, and much more of the back boot can be made out.
Hot Hot Tip #2: Nothing beats a beautiful overcast day when it comes to lighting
Clouds are nature’s light diffuser, and allow for evenly lit photos to best capture all the details of a boot (or anything! Do people take pictures of other things?) without losing details in the highlights or shadows. (This doesn’t mean it is impossible to take a great photo in direct sunlight. I find it’s just a little more difficult.)
If cloud cover is not an option, shade can also work. However, it’s best to try and avoid having too much bright direct sunlight in the background, as it’ll usually cause your subject to be underexposed (aka, too dark).
Below we’ve got direct sunlight, vs the photos taken in shadow above.
Michael aka @bigdudeindenim: How to Get the Best Photos Possible With a Smartphone
Because while fancy cameras are nice and take fantastic shots, most of us already have one in our pocket.
Hot Hot Tip #3: Even Light is Key—And How to Get It
While the camera sensors in mobile phones are amazing nowadays, they are still quite small. The camera sensor within is also small and thusly works best with plenty of light. But you want that light to be soft and diffuse for better details.
As the dentist I wish was my dentist mentioned above, overcast days are a natural diffuser. You can also utilize a curtain or sheet to help soften window or natural light when it’s overly bright and contrasty.
You can also consider using “flags”: items to both block and absorb light in order to avoid bright highlights or light spill. What you don’t want is loss of detail in your photo. Dark areas with no detail and/or bright highlights with no detail are not conducive to good photography generally speaking.
Hot Hot Tip #4: Utilize the best camera setting for the shot
Detail shots are going to work best with the standard camera mode. More artistic shots might work better in portrait mode. One of the coolest things about my iPhone 12 Pro is the 1x portrait mode; I use it for almost all my static photos. Conversely a zoom setting that doesn’t crop into the image area is ideal for close-up shots when details need to be isolated.
Hot Hot Tip #5: Background Isn’t Everything (the Boots are), But it’s Definitely Something
This applies to all photos no matter what camera. Find a nice clean spot/background to take the photos. While it can be tempting to put a bunch of cool random stuff in the background, you do not want any clutter or overly distracting elements. Keep your photo space clean and minimal in order to highlight the boots themselves and their beautiful patina.
Hot Hot Tip #6 Specifically for the Patina Thunderdome: No Matter the Camera, Shoot JPEG
Since editing of photos is not allowed in the Dome, shooting in RAW will net you no better results and in actuality will make your photos look worse than if you just shot in jpeg. This is because a jpeg is a RAW file for which the camera software has adjusted contrast, color, and white balance in order to give a better result than an unedited RAW file. So skip the fancy file settings on your phone (or camera) and just shoot away in basic jpeg.
Marshal Rigma, aka…@marshal_rigma: Continued iPhone Shooting Education
Hot Hot Tip #7: Angles, Poses, and Timers
A good angle shot can make even the most dullest/awkward of poses look dramatic. Flip your phone to the side or even upside down. Consider angling it to create a more interesting shot.
Even though the Thunderdome will require off-foot shots of your boots, I think it’s worth mentioning how to get great ON-foot shots as well. First off, be sure to use the timer—I always like to set mine on 10 seconds to give me time to set up and play around a bit before it goes click.
So now the question becomes, do I need a tripod? Absolutely not. (Unless you want! But they actually can make it tough given that your boots are…on the ground.) Just find basically anything to lean your phone on. A wall or, or a shoebox…anything. Just watch out for getting dirt in there if you’re on a hike…
Ben aka @stitchdown
My Only Hot Hot Tip These Photo Savants Haven’t Covered: Take a Ton of Shots
I look forward to the day when I’m a decent enough photographer to just set up and know exactly what’s going to happen with each shot. That day is not today. So for now, I take a ton of photos. And basically every time, some of them come out good enough!
Continuously switching between different angles, focus points, aperture settings, lighting, placement, and everything else can change so much when shooting footwear. Whether shooting indoors our out, your light can vary even second to second. So keep shooting! Some boots look absolutely beautiful from some angles, but don’t properly reveal their true selves from others. So move your camera/phone a tiny bit, over and over, and keep shooting! Sometimes you want that background blur, sometimes you don’t: vary the aperture setting and keep shooting! This goes for pretty much everything you have control over.
And then try to remember, hard as it may be, what you did for next time. Eventually it’ll all start happening much more naturally.
Ok Fine I Have One Other Bonus Semi-Hot Tip: You Can Adjust Aperture on iPhone Portrait Mode After You Shoot
You probably already know this! I learned this semi-hidden feature from my buddy Matt @shibooee way back, and have passed it along to plenty of others. So let’s do it again.
If you successfully capture a portrait mode photo on an X-model or later iPhone (not a given even when shooting in that mode; you have to be at the proper distance from the boot-subject), if you go into “edit” and then click the aperture number on the top left, you can adjust the depth of field incredibly easily, after the fact.
How in the world do they accomplish this? I certainly have no idea! And the witchcraft Apple deploys certainly isn’t exactly the same as shooting one photo at one aperture on a DSLR or mirrorless camera (which I use in addition to my phone, a lightweight yet powerful Fuji X-T30 that I very highly recommend), and then shooting the same exact photo on a higher or lower aperture. And if you push it too far, the background separation begins to look like a glitch in the Matrix.
So be careful! But often cranking it to about f/2.0 or slightly higher/lower can really make your footwear stand out. Which is the whole idea.