Saturday 2 November 2013

How To Write a Craft Tutorial for Your Blog: Photos & Illustrations, part one

My series of posts on writing craft tutorials for your blog continues today with some tips on taking and editing photos. I've split this topic into two blog posts as there's lots to talk about!

How Many Photos?

As well as step-by-step instructions, your tutorial needs some photos. You need some nice photos of the finished project - to show everyone how the finished result turns out and to provide an appealing photo that will catch peoples attention if your project is added to a Pinterest board or featured on a blog.

Photos from my blog, on Pinterest

You also need step by step pictures to show how the project is made. Some tutorials are quick and simple and only need a few clear instructions and some photos of the finished project, but if your project has more than a couple of steps I'd recommend taking some step-by-step photos if you can. I have to admit that I have been lazy in the past and not bothered with step by step pics but if you can make the effort it's definitely worth it!

Tutorials with step by step photos are much easier to follow, and can also be enjoyed by people who don't speak the same language as you - even if Google Translate slightly garbles your instructions, your international readers will still be able to follow the steps. Step by step photos can also make your job as a writer easier as it's much easier to write instructions that accompany a photo than writing text-only instructions and the photos you take will also serve as a good reference for you when you write up your notes. I think it's also much better to end up with some photos you end up not including than it is to realise you missed out a step or that you're struggling to describe it without being able to refer to an accompanying photo

You can take photos for the step-by-step pics, or draw illustrations... or use a mix of both. Sometimes an illustration can be much clearer than a photo, especially when it comes to things like showing a line of black stitching on some black fabric. They can also be great if you've made something that's tricky to photograph or when you've made something in the past and now want to share a how-to for it but don't want to re-make the project itself. (I'll talk about illustrations in more detail later).

Taking The Photos.

I am not at all an expert on photography and don't use any fancy equipment to take my photos - I've got an ordinary, inexpensive digital camera and don't use a lightbox or a tripod or anything like that. For years I actually took all the photos for my blog and online shop with a super cheap digital camera that I bought to be a temporary replacement when my previous camera stopped working the day before a photoshoot! While my photos aren't the best in the world, I think they do the job pretty well.

I take most of my photos on the windowsill in my studio. If I'm photographing something small I usually use a pile of white copier paper as the backdrop. For larger items I have a huge bit of card and a selection of white and pale coloured sheets of paper the same size (if I'm making a project that involves lots of white, I try to use a coloured backdrop). I prop the card up on the windowsill (with my choice of paper on top) and hold up the other side with the back of my office chair. Classy set up, huh? :)

Where I take photos

I then stand on my tip toes or on a little step/stool so I can photograph the project from above. I sometimes curve one side of the large sheet of paper (the edge nearest to me) upwards so it reflects a bit of light back towards the windowsill, or I curve one side upwards so I can photograph items that don't lay flat on the paper.

Your photo "studio" doesn't have to be anything like mine, but I've shared mine to show you how you can take decent photos without a lot of space or fancy equipment.

If you want some more detailed advice for improving your photos, head to Google and search for something like "how to take better product photos" or "how to improve your product photos" - even if you never want to sell anything online, the tips in these kinds of articles will apply to tutorial photos as well as product pics. But since this is a how to guide, here are my three photo taking tips...

1) Use natural light - try and take your photos in good light (near a window is great) but not in direct sunlight (you don't want strong shadows) and turn off your camera's flash. Taking photos gets a bit trickier in the winter months as you can have very dark days and, of course, it gets darker earlier. There are lots of tutorials available online for making DIY light boxes and using daylight bulbs but so far I have managed without one... although in the winter I sometimes have a very late lunch because I need to finish taking my photos while the light is still good!

2) Use the macro setting on your camera - on most cameras this is a button with a picture of a little flower. Remember that you can edit your photos if needed, so if you're making something small and there's lots of empty space around it you can crop that out later. Also make sure to check that there aren't any specks of dust or other small marks that will suddenly look huge in a close-up photo (it is super annoying when you only spot this afterwards!).

3) Custom set the white balance - your camera's manual should tell you how to do this. On my current camera, I have to use it in "program" mode rather than on automatic in order to be able to adjust the white balance, but I leave all the other settings on auto so the camera is still easy to use. Custom setting the white balance will help the colours of your project come out true, and will make sure that white backgrounds don't end up looking blue-ish or yellow-ish. You may need to adjust the white balance several times during a photoshoot as the light changes. Also make sure you're not wearing a colour that will reflect on what you're photographing and affect the colours - for example, swap that bright red sweater for a black one!

Here's an example of how adjusting the white balance can improve a photo. The first photo shows the "before" and the second (which shows the true colours of the felt much better) is the "after".

This violets brooch is a design I used to sell in my shop

Taking Step-By-Step Photos.

First up (if you want to) take a photo of your materials. I don't often do this, but when I'm writing felt tutorials I often include a photo of all the cut out pieces that make up the project.

Pieces ready to sew a raincloud brooch

Then work through the steps of your project, taking a photo (or a few photos from slightly different angles) of each step. You'll also be making notes as you go through this project (see the previous post on taking notes).

Your note-taking will help you decide how best to photograph each step - is there a detail that you need to show? or would it be best to show an overview of the whole piece? For example, in this first photo you can see the whip stitches being used (a closer-in photo would have shown this even more clearly)...

 ... and in the second you can see how the whole project looks at this point.

Adding elastic to a felt crown

Sometimes I take both kinds of shot and decide later which is the most helpful image to include... or I just include them both! This is one of the great things about writing tutorials for blogs instead of books or magazines - you can include as many photos as you need as there's no space limit.

You can take action shots for each step - showing how the project looks as you're part-way through the step.

Example #1. In this photo the sewing is half-finished and the needle is roughly in the correct position for the next stitch.

Sewing on a brooch clasp

Example #2. In this photo, two of the hearts have already been stuck in place and you can see how I've cut and positioned the double-sided tape ready for the final heart to be added.

Sticking embellishments on a gift tag

Or you can take a photo that shows the reader what the project will look like when they have completed the current step.

Adding wings to a felt owl

For simple how tos, often just a couple of photos are needed. This photo from a card tutorial has the glue in shot (so you can see the pieces have been stuck in place with craft glue) and I've not yet erased the pencil writing (so you can see how it's a good idea to write the text in pencil first).  

Making an owl-themed Valentine

For this snowflake gift-wrapping tutorial I just took a photo of the wrapped parcels...

... and then the same parcels but with the paper snowflakes glued on. Simple!

You may want to include materials and tools in the shot as well as the project itself - e.g. the reel of thread you're using, the scissors you just used to cut out some pieces of felt, or the reel of tape you just tore a strip from:

Adding washi tape to a gift tag

You can include your hands in the photos if you want to but for most steps you probably won't need to do this. Hands can end up looking a bit weird in step by step pics and can get in the way of the piece you're making (especially if it's small) and if you don't have a tripod or a friend to help you it can be quite difficult to get a good shot (it is very tricky to take a steady photo with one hand while crafting with the other!) 

Sewing the felt owl together

If you do include your hands in shot, make sure you've moisturised and that your nails look neat - it's amazing how gross dry skin or scruffy nails can look in close-up!

Next time: Photos & Illustrations, part two.


C said...

Thanks for the great photo tips. I'll be checking my camera manual about how to adjust the white balance. :)

Bugs and Fishes said...

I'm glad you found them helpful, Xenia! :)

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Very helpful post, I didn't know about adjusting the white balance either! This is a wonderful series, and I'm really looking forward to the next installments :)

bairozan said...

This is such a great summary of how to write a good tutorial! I sometimes make step-by-step descriptions of the process and I just realized I never posted the list of materials or tools! Will have to make a note :)

Bugs and Fishes said...

Thanks guys! I really must get the rest of this series written up and published - I have been distracted by other stuff, including writing tutorials! :)