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I’ve been intrigued by the power of TikTok for a little while, particularly the popularity of it as a place for top tips. But how good are those tips? And do they actually work? For the sake of science and DIYPhotogaphy, I decided to find out. For 7 days I tried the top photography tips that TikTok had to offer. Here’s how it went.
I’m afraid I must begin with a small confession. I wasn’t completely aware before I started that the algorithm for TikTok works slightly differently than for other social media like Instagram for example. There you will be hit with an ever-changing conveyor belt of reels, on TikTok it’s all done by popularity and what you’ve previously been looking at, so the posts are rather more static and don’t seem to change quite so often. So for the sake of this experiment I used the hashtags #photographytips and #phototips to help get a nice spread between portrait, product and well just plain weird!
Day 1: Cosmetic Product Shot
For the first challenge, I started with a nice easy product shot from Haley Ivers. It involves shooting a cosmetic item, in ice cubes, with water sprayed on it and with some plastic placed around the lens with an elastic band. Easy! Let’s see if it actually looks good. Well, I couldn’t get hold of the same shape ice-cubes that she had. In Spain, we have big chunky cylinders of ice, large enough for the gigantic glasses of sangría that they serve. So that was my first fail. Secondly, just spraying water onto the product just doesn’t work. After all this I was very reluctant to even bother with the plastic, I knew what it would do and it wasn’t really going to help. There was no talk of lighting in this video, which let’s face it, is really part of the magic behind successful product images.
So I decided to see if I could improve the image all by myself, without TikTok’s help. This was a basic 5-minute job. The main changes were using fake ice (using Encapso K), and a mixture of 50% glycerin/50% water for the splashes. I also used one light in a softbox plus a white card. Same lens, same aperture. These images show the comparison between the two, with only minor adjustments in ACR. Obviously, the images could still be vastly improved, but I do think the fake ice and water/glycerin mix look a lot better than the TikTok video recommendations.
Verdict: Basically a fail, but room for lots of improvement.
Day 2: Simple Water Reflection
For those of you that don’t speak Spanish, this one says: “An easy trick to take a photo with a reflection using a puddle of water.” Great, that looks very easy. The instructions tell you to turn your phone upside down so that the lens is very close to the ground. Seems like a current trend at the moment as I have seen many videos with this ‘trick’. So far so good. The problems started when I tried to make a puddle of water. This is a country with frequent drought restrictions and experiencing desertification. The first location I tried was too dusty, the water was immediately sucked up by the thirsty ground resulting in no puddle. On to the next place, trying ceramic tiles this time. There was a puddle finally, but how well did the image work?
Well, I have to say that the result was extremely underwhelming. Perhaps I needed stronger light on my subject, plus my subject was getting increasingly impatient as only a 5-year-old child can, so I managed a few shots on my phone followed by a few on my Canon R mirrorless camera. These were frankly no better. Maybe I was just doing this all wrong. Admittedly I have shot reflections in puddles before with success, but as it is, this tip gets a firm fail from me.
Day 3: Portrait poses for Shy People
Day 3 and I was looking for some people photography. This tip for posing shy people definitely caught my attention. For all the wrong reasons. So many questions here. Firstly, the whole point of portrait photography is that you can actually see somebody’s face! I get it, that there are many camera-shy people out there (myself included), but if you’re going to all the bother of having your photograph taken you might actually want your face in the image. Secondly, camera shy? That shouldn’t even be an issue. In my experience of taking portraits most sane people (who aren’t professional performers or models) actually don’t love having their photo taken. It is the job of the photographer to actually put them at ease enough that they can overcome this shyness and shine in their photos. This feels like a total cop-out to me. But hey, let’s see how they look!
Pose 1: I felt a little off-balance here, and had to lean against the wall to avoid falling over. The hand slightly reminds me of Michael Jackson in his peak years of avoiding the paparazzi, though admittedly it does a decent job of hiding the face if that’s what you’re going for. The leg? I just don’t get it. It doesn’t look natural, it’s not a walking pose, rather more like John Cleese and his Ministry of Silly Walks. Not the most flattering of poses for me either to be honest!
Pose 2: I don’t mind this one actually. It’s quite a gender-neutral pose, and with the right outfit could actually look kind of cool as a filler between a couple of other shots (where you can see the face). It’s again not a particularly natural pose, perhaps with a different type of hat and outfit, it could work better.
Pose 3: Not actually sure where to begin with this one! It’s just sitting on a chair with a book over your face. When would you ever actually do this? Perhaps on a deckchair on the beach if you’ve forgotten your hat and sunglasses and the sun is too bright? That is the only instance I can think of when you might actually sit in this position. Again not particularly flattering for those of us with short limbs.
Verdict: Just plain weird
Day 4: Product Photography Hack
This one actually looked promising. I had misgivings about using the light from the laptop screen and also using a mirror but ‘let’s be open-minded and give it a shot,’ I thought. I found a nice royalty-free ink in water video on a stock site and enlarged it to full screen. I then placed the small hand mirror as instructed on the trackpad part of the laptop, placed the item of jewellery on the mirror, and then closed the laptop to about a 45-degree angle until I could see the reflection of the screen in the mirror. It was looking ok! I was getting excited! Finally, something was working. Or was it?
On seeing the images I noticed multiple reflections in the mirror, which made the image look less than great in my opinion. I asked my colleagues at DIYPhotography for a better explanation than I could give for this phenomenon.
You’re seeing a reflection from the near side of the glass as well as another from the far side. When you look at a mirror, you’re usually looking head on, so the angle of incidence between the first and second reflections is usually much tighter and the difference isn’t that noticeable. And in a mirror, even though they’re coated on the back, the reflection coming from the back is typically much brighter than the reflection coming off the front surface of the glass. – John Aldred, DIYPhotography
John went on to explain about the added complication of the fresnel effect, which basically means that surfaces become more reflective the more parallel they are to your vision. Phew, thanks John! Basically the upshot of this? Don’t photograph objects on glass or mirrors because you will get this multiple reflection effect. Usually when shooting products, if you want a perfect reflection you would use black plexiglass or simply create a faux reflection in Photoshop. So of course I re-shot the image using black plexiglass instead and the multi-reflections disappeared. Much better. I must confess that I did use my smartphone to capture these shots. The left image is on the mirror where you can clearly see the extra reflection, the image on the right was taken using plexiglass. While neither are great images you can see the difference between them.
Verdict: Fail, but kind of works if you use opaque plexiglass
Day 5: Dreamy Photos with Tights
I was heavily sceptical that they would have used this technique to film the movie Atonement, but after a little research, I discovered that I was both right and wrong! I wasn’t aware that lens netting is a thing in cinematography, but it has been used for a long time to create a hazy diffused effect. But, it isn’t done like this TikTok video tells you to. Lens netting is actually done on the reverse end of the lens using a type of tape affectionately known as Snot Tape. I found this little video that shows you exactly how to do it:
The results are quite interesting, particularly when done with black stocking fabric or other types of material. You can see the effect here in this video:
So back to the TikTok tutorial. I can understand why you might want to use this effect for shooting video, or if shooting stills with film, but with a digital camera wouldn’t this effect be somewhat easy to create in Photoshop? Still, undeterred I found an old beige stocking in the back of my sock drawer which I can’t ever remember wearing and fixed it onto the front of the lens using an elastic hairband.
Unfortunately, the hairband restricted the autofocus of my lens so I had to use manual focus, something I rarely do if I can help it with my ‘nifty-fifty‘. Here are the results. The top image is un-stockinged, the bottom one is full stocking. Both images are straight-out-of-camera.
As you can see, the stocking certainly did add a strong diffusion effect, although possibly not in a way that I would actually want. It did have a strong colour cast additionally. Perhaps white netting would avoid this rather than beige. Still, I’m going to be generous with this tip.
Verdict: Nailed it!
Day 6: Dead bug
Just why? I mean, does this image even look good? Still, I had to try it. So there I am on the rooftop terrace of my house, lying on my back trying to hold my camera in one hand and get both legs and the other arm in the air, and get everything in focus. Sorry, nope, I’m not 15 years old anymore, ain’t gonna happen. I could not get my hand and foot on the same focal plane, no matter what. I tried with both my smartphone and my mirrorless camera. Then my stomach muscles gave out. Actually, I’m not even sure I could have done this when I was 15. And anyway, back to my original question, why would you even want to take this image? It definitely enters the ‘even if you could, the question is whether you should’ territory.
Verdict: Just what’s the point?
Day 7: The supermarket Trolley
OK, so what is Generation Z’s obsession with taking photos in supermarkets? Take a look, they are all over TikTok and Instagram. Can we not find better places to hang out and photograph? OK rant over. I thought this one was actually kind of cute and promising. “And hey,” I thought, “I like long exposure images and I have a supermarket nearby! What’s not to like?” Well everything, it turned out.
Cue: me outside the supermarket, still with full Covid-19 measures in place, eyeing up which type of trolley/shopping cart is going to work the best, without looking too suspicious. I only needed to buy a few items, so I would normally go for the small size cart. But alas, that didn’t have the child seat, so there was nowhere to put my phone. I had to opt for the large shopping cart that did have the child seat, but was also about as manoeuvrable as a Sherman tank stuck in a ditch.
Now I had to fill the shopping cart with not too many things that might embarrass me if I posted them on an internationally renowned photography blog. “Milk is safe, juice…Great. Now let’s find an empty aisle free from security guards and shop assistants. Uhoh, it’s a Saturday, no empty aisles.” So there I am, fortunately in my mask, furtively wandering around the aisles of my local supermarket, fiddling with my phone and trying to both avoid people and walk as fast as possible with the phone balanced in the child seat. I’m a bit sad to say that my self-consciousness ultimately got the better of me, and my smartphone was also not up to the job. To get a slow enough shutter speed to show any movement it rendered the image overexposed. If I moved more quickly the phone would fall over. I guess the lights are pretty bright in my local Mercadona, who knew? This one then is a massive fat fail, although in all fairness probably due to my own shortcomings, not the tip itself.
Verdict: Fail, but my own fault
Bonus: Rollerblading as a fake drone
Because I kind of screwed up the supermarket trolley tip I decided to try one extra. I saw this video a few weeks ago when DJI dropped their latest Osmo Mobile 5 gimbal and I was curious to see how it would work. As much as I love DIYPhotography I wasn’t willing to risk breaking my neck for them so I enlisted a rollerblading expert in the form of my friend‘s 9-year-old kid. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much, but as you can see from this footage it actually works! Admittedly the footage was a good bit smoother on less bumpy ground, and this technique does depend heavily on the skating skills of the operator but I was pretty impressed! I don’t know if it simulates a drone feel but it could certainly replace a dolly and moves a lot quicker. Here is some of the experimental footage:
Verdict: Nailed it!
This 7-day experiment was a light-hearted look at what TikTok has to offer for photography tips. It’s a bit of a Wild West in terms of quality, and just like YouTube and Instagram, there is no GateKeeper or quality control. Anything goes, so you must be a little bit discerning if you’re going to try any out for yourself. The other issue that I see is that the demographic is towards the young end, both of viewers and posters. There are some fabulous young photographers out there, and we have featured some of them here on this site many times, so please don’t take this the wrong way. However, their experience at imparting knowledge will be less and, coupled with the number of influencers/photographers with no little to no photography training, it is very hit and miss. My advice: have fun, use it to get some ideas but don’t take it too seriously!