How to Shoot Tutorial Standard Photos

This guide will walk you through some of the suggested methods and best practices for taking photographs that will be inserted into your tutorials. To have the best chance of your submission being accepted, follow these guidelines closely.

Obviously, special rules apply for photography-related tutorials, which will utilize a variety of styles and techniques.

General Style Guidelines

  • Tuts+ product tutorials should have photos that are vibrant, clean and well composed.
  • When possible, use a solid color background. White is preferred in most cases, but may not work well if the subject is also white.
  • If you don't have a plain white working surface, place a large piece of plain white cardboard or poster board on top of your working surface. Try to avoid using fabric, but if you must, make sure that it is completely smooth with no wrinkles. We will not accept photos taken on wrinkled fabric.
  • Do not add text, graphics or captions to any images, apart from those provided for you.
  • Carefully read through our guidelines on saving and naming image files.

"Supplies" Imagery

  • When appropriate, start with a photo that shows all of the supplies the reader will need to complete the tutorial.
  • Arrange supplies neatly on a solid-colored background
  • When possible, take the "supplies" photo from directly above.
supplies supplies

"Steps" Imagery

  • Take one or more photos of each step to clearly illustrate the process.
  • When possible, show each step as an action. Use a timer or another photographer so we can see your hands at work. When necessary, show the end result of the step without your hands as well.
drawing pressing

Final Product Images

  • For the final result, you can step away from the white background and use a more natural environment.
  • This is where you should shoot your product in context. For example, if you've made a bracelet, show it on your arm, or if you've made an embroidery hoop, get a shot of it hanging on the wall.
  • Etsy has a great guide on styling these types of shoots.
  • Take several shots from different angles so you can really show off the end result.
rabbit lifestyle image rabbit lifestyle image

Use Natural Lighting, Not Flash

Unless used by an experienced professional, camera flashes often result in harsh, unnatural light. Here's a comparison of a photo that uses a flash, vs. one that uses natural light.

Shooting with flash or other harsh lighting can make photos look unnatural and unprofessional.

Shoot By a Window During the Day

If you shoot in a dark room, whether you're flashing or simply adding lights to the scene, you're likely to end up with a photo that looks more like the one on the left than the one on the right. The best way to achieve soft, natural light is to take your photos during the day, never at night.

Find a bright room with lots of indirect window light and take your photos near the window with your subjects facing the light. Take care not to block the light while taking the photo.

natural light photo
A good example of a craft photo that uses natural light

In the photo above, the subject is well lit, but the shadows are nice and soft. You can achieve a similar effect shooting outside, but in open shade where the light is being filtered. Try shooting under the roof in an open patio area and make sure there's no direct sunlight, which can create harsh shadows and odd color casts.

Watch Your Depth of Field

Always pay close attention to your depth of field when taking photographs for your tutorial. In any cases where a photo features multiple items, all of which need to be seen by the viewer in crisp focus, a shallow depth of field isn't appropriate.

A shallow depth of field is often inappropriate for photos with multiple objects

As you can see here, the text on the bottles becomes unreadable when the photo is taken at 2.8. Decreasing the size of the aperture increases your depth of field and results in a crisper image overall.

This is not to say that a shallow depth of field can never be used. For instance, if you're showing the final result of the tutorial in a realistic environment.

DOF
Shallow depth of field can make an attractive end product, but make sure important items are in focus.

The key here is to not get carried away. Any "final result" image should make it clear what is being created in the tutorial. All important parts should be in crisp focus. Tutorials that do not meet these requirements will be rejected.Achieving Proper Exposure

Before you submit any photos, take a close look and compare them to the results in this guide. Are they exceptionally dark or exceptionally bright? Both underexposed and overexposed photos represent a problem. Here are three examples of the same photo taken at different exposures:

The first image is too dark and the last image is too bright

It's easy to see that the first image is too dark, but you may instinctively think that the last image is just fine or perhaps even better than the previous image. Here's a closer look that showcases the problem with overexposed images.

too bright
The image is so bright that significant detail is lost. Notice how the ends of the needle blend with the background.

As you can see, any detail that was once present in the brighter portions of the image has been blown out. The goal is to make your images nice and bright while avoiding this type of detail clipping.

Let Your Camera Help

If you're shooting with a modern digital SLR, you should see something like the image below when you look through the viewfinder. This "Exposure Level Indicator" (ELI) represents your camera's best guess regarding the proper exposure for the current scene. If the ELI is right of center, the image will be overexposed. If it is left of center, the image will be underexposed. If it is right in the middle, the image will (hopefully) be properly exposed.

ELI
A centered ELI indicates a properly exposed image

Remember that your camera isn't as smart as you'd like it to be and can often be wrong. Your eyes are your best tool for judging exposure. Line up the ELI to start, then adjust the exposure as you see fit, both in-camera and through brightening/darkening in the post-processing stage.

Helpful Tutorials on Exposure

For more helpful information on exposure, read through the tutorials below. They'll walk you through metering in the camera and how to use another key exposure tool: the histogram.

White Balance

White balance is critical to achieving natural looking photos. Make sure that you watch your skin tones closely and adjust your white balance so that the resulting image looks pleasing.

Paying close attention to white balance will greatly improve the quality of your images.

Cameras differ in their ability and mechanism for adjusting white balance. Please consult the owner's manual for your specific model.

Adjusting White Balance After the Shot

If your white balance was off when you took the photo, you can improve it using software. For best results, set your camera to shoot in RAW. This allows you much greater freedom to adjust the white balance in a post-processing workflow. By contrast, adjusting the white balance of a JPG can be difficult and produce sub-par results.When Models Are Used

When your tutorial requires images featuring a model, the easiest and best solution is to shoot outside in open shade like you'd find under a large tree. Avoid direct sunlight altogether, which causes unsightly shadows, harsh contrast and squinty subjects.

When to Shoot

If you have a choice, always shoot during the first or last hour of sunlight on a given day. This is referred to by photographers as "Golden Hour" and represents the best quality light you'll see all day. Generally, there will be plenty of nice, warm light, but the sun will be hidden enough that shade is abundant.

Shoot Into The Shade

The following photos were taken on the same day, with the same equipment, in the same shady location. The only change was the direction the model was facing. On the left, the model was turned so that her background was sunny. This results in a blown out background that makes her look dark and underexposed. On the right, both the model and her background were in open shade with nice, filtered light.

Make sure your subject is evenly lit and shoot into the shade, not out of it.

As you can see, the result is much better if you not only stand your model in the shade, but shoot into the shade as well so that the background isn't overexposed. Keep in mind that the "bright subject" here refers to the lighting only. The same setup is recommended for subjects with darker skin.

Depth of Field

When you're shooting with a model, a shallow depth of field can have a big impact on the perceived quality of the image. Consider the following:

depth of field example
Similar photos, taken with different aperture settings

The first shot was taken at f/10, meaning the size of the aperture was fairly small. The result is that the background items are fairly discernible. They're not in focus, but they're close. By contrast, the second image was taken at f/2.8, so the aperture was wide open. This blurs the background nicely and forces the viewer to focus in on the subject rather than being distracted by other items in the photo.

When shooting with a shallow depth of field, focus on your subject's eyes and make sure that everything important is in focus. Also, the more people you add to the image, the more difficult it becomes to use a shallow DOF, decrease the size of your aperture until everyone is in focus.

Keep It Simple

The Tuts+ photography style is natural and realistic. When you're shooting and editing, always remember to keep it simple. Don't try to make your images look more interesting by tilting them at odd angles or applying any sort of specialized effects (retro, grunge, over-saturation, etc.).

keep it simple
Avoid camera tilting or creative photo effects

This applies to all tutorial images, not just those that feature a model. Resist the temptation to add effects to your final result images to make them "more interesting."

Show the End Result

With most tutorials, you want your photos to highlight the end result, not the model. For instance, a tutorial for a scarf might have an end result like the following, which doesn't even show the model's face. Use discretion and decide what is best for your specific tutorial.

scarf
Highlight the end result above all else.

Post-Processing

To achieve desirable results, it is often necessary to process your photos in a digital photo editing workflow. Always keep editing to a minimum and remember that less is more. You should limit your post-processing endeavors to brightness/exposure adjustments, white balance tweaking, minor sharpening actions and cropping.

Desktop Software

There are lots of photo editing application choices that work well for every budget. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are the two preferred choices but there are other acceptable choices as well.

Free Online Tools

As an alternative to desktop software, there are a few free web applications, which you access through your browser, that can get the job done. We recommend that you try Photoshop Express first, but Pixlr and PicMonkey are also good options.

Troubleshooting

Here you'll find some common photography problems and learn how to address them so that your photos are in line with the Tuts+ quality standards.

My Photos Are Too Blurry

A blurry photo can be the result of several problems. Unfortunately, none of these problems can or should be fixed in post-processing. If your photos are blurry, you'll have to take them again.

blurry photos
Sharpening won't repair a blurry image

Here are some potential causes for your blurry images:

Slow Shutter Speed — As a general rule of thumb for shooting when you're holding the camera, try to keep your shutter speed around 1/focal length or faster. So if your camera is zoomed in to 200mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/200. Keep in mind that, regardless of focal length, anything below a shutter speed of 1/100 will be tricky to pull off without motion blur from camera shake.

For this reason, it is recommended that you use a tripod whenever possible. If you're shooting with a tripod, and don't have any people, hands or moving objects in your image, then your shutter speed can be set as slow as you need it to be to achieve proper exposure.

Bottom line: invest in a tripod. Your images will be sharper and the difficulty of hitting the right exposure will decrease dramatically.

Out of Focus — Most modern cameras use auto-focus, which can sometimes achieve unintended results. Make sure you're focusing on the most important part of the image. Snap a couple of pictures of each step just to be sure you get it right.

Shallow Depth of Field — If you're confident that you're focusing on the right portion, but still can't get everything you want to be in focus, try decreasing the size of your aperture to increase the depth of field. So if you're shooting at f/3.5, try shooting at f/8.

Not a Macro Lens — If you position the camera too close to your subject, it may not focus properly. Most lenses are not made for taking macro photographs. Try taking a step back and taking the photo again.

Not every lens is made to take photos of tiny details
Not every lens is made to take photos of tiny details

My Photos Are Too Grainy

Increasing the ISO setting on your camera brightens your images, but at a cost. Every time you increase your ISO, the color noise present in the image can increase as well. If you go too high, the result will be a grainy, unusable photo.

ISO
The higher the ISO, the more color noise your photos will have

Different cameras have different ISO ratings. Higher end models like the Canon 5D Mark III can shoot at a fairly high ISO before color noise becomes a problem, lower end models will likely start showing noise at around ISO 800.

Always check your images for color noise and adjust your ISO accordingly. Again, shooting with a tripod allows you to overcome these issues. With a tripod, you can achieve crisp, clean images with a low ISO and a slow shutter speed.

My Photos Are Too Dark or Too Bright

If your photos are extremely overexposed or underexposed, software can't save them. However, if the problems are minor, they can be greatly improved with a little post-processing effort.

In your given photo editing application, you're looking for either a brightness or exposure adjustment. In Photoshop Express, simply click on the "Exposure" menu item on the left. This will cause a series of small thumbnails to appear over your image. Each of these represents a step up or down from your original exposure.

Adjusting Exposure in Photoshop Express
Adjusting Exposure in Photoshop Express

Simply hover over each thumbnail to see a preview of the result it will have on your image. Once you find the one that looks the best, click to apply it, then save and download your final image.

My Photos Are Too Warm or Too Cool

If there is a warm or cool color cast over your image, you'll need to adjust your white balance. As mentioned previously, this can be done in JPG, but is best when performed in a RAW editing workflow.

In Lightroom and Aperture, the White Balance sliders are pretty straightforward. Grab the temperature slider and move it left or right until the result improves.

Adjusting White Balance in Lightroom
Adjusting White Balance in Lightroom

In DarkTable, the free Lightroom alternative, the White Balance settings are slightly more complicated. Try tweaking the "temperature in" and "temperature out" sliders and leaving the rest.

Adjusting White Balance in Lightroom
Adjusting White Balance in DarkTable