Simple Tips for Great Project Photos




About: I like sewing and crafts,and trying new things. I'm vegetarian and always looking for new recipes. My cat's name is Mirko and likes to be in the centre of things, so you will see him in several of my instr...

Not everyone has access to expensive cameras or image editing software, this doesn't mean you can't have great project photos.  I've put together a few simple tips on how to improve your photos without having to buy new equiptment or software.

When I first set out to make this step-by-step my intention was to focus on photo editing, but as I was working on it I felt it important to add some tips about taking photos as well.  The photo editing examples I will be showing are using GIMP 2, which is free to download.  There are also free online photo editing programs available to use too such as FotoFlexer or Pixlr.

(By the way if you are wondering who this little character is, his name is Amigurumi Guy and the crochet pattern can be found at Lion Brand Yarns).

Step 1: Rotate

It's no fun looking at a picture sideways, it puts a lot of strain on your neck. Photos can easily be rotated in an image editing program. 

  • Click on Image
  • Click on Transform
  • Select Rotate 90° clockwise or counter-clockwise
  • Save
You don't even need an photo editing program to do this. 
  • Simply open the image in Windows Photo Viewer (this program comes with Windows and is usually the default image viewer)
  • Click on one of the arrows either rotate clockwise or counter clockwise .
  • The file saves automatically in this orientation.

Step 2: Crop

A cluttered work area can be a bit distracting.  By simply cropping the image you can focus in on what you want to show.
  • In Gimp, click on the Crop Tool  (or in other photo editing programs)
  • Draw a rectangle around the area you want to keep.
  • Double click within the rectangle and the area outside of the image is deleted.
  • Save
For Instructables' step-by-step or photos square images work better.  This is particularly important for the Intro photo, if they are not square part of the image will appear cut off in the thumbnail.

Step 3: Brightness and Contrast

Having dark images makes it difficult to see details in photos. Tweaking the brightness and contrast of an image can make it look so much better.  Brightness and contrast are usually adjusted together, if you adjust the brightness alone the image appears flat (see image 3).  By adjusting the contrast you can give an image more depth.
  • In GIMP click on Colors
  • Then click on Brightness-Contrast...
  • A small window opens with two slider bars the top one adjusts the Brightness and the bottom for Contrast
  • Adjust the levels to your liking.  Make sure it is bright enough to see details clearly.
  • Save

Step 4: White Balance

Not only the does the lighting you use effect the brightness of a photo it also effects the white balance. This can determine how true the colours in a photo are. In the first photo, the top left image is taken with natural light coming through the window earlier in the day (before noon) the one on the top left is also natural light but later in the afternoon.  The bottom left is at night with the room lights on (compact fluorescent lights) and the bottom right is at night with the lights on and the camera flash.  As you can see the colours vary considerably, the CFLs give a reddish cast to the image whereas natural lighting is bluer.  The camera flash casts shadows and caused glare on shiny objects.

Most cameras try to automatically accommodate the lighting but if you are not happy with the results you can adjust the white balance setting yourself depending on the lighting you use (you may need to look it up in the manual to find it).  They settings usually have the following symbols:
  •   Sunlight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent lighting
  • Fluorescent lighting
You can also adjust the white balance in the photo editor:
  • In GIMP , click on Colors, then click Levels...
  • Click on Auto, this should automatically adjust the color balance
If you are still not happy with it you can also adjust the color levels manually:
  • Click on Colors, then click Color Balance...
  • Move the sliders to adjust the color levels

Step 5: Macro Setting

Find this button on your camera.  You will be glad you did!

This button turns on the macro setting on your camera so that you can take close up photos.  As you can see from the examples above, the first photo is with the macro setting on and the second with the macro off both taken the same distance away from the subject.  The third photo is with the macro setting on but the camera is too close to the subject, be aware the limitations of your camera, you can only get so close to the subject (check the camera manual or test the distance yourself) .

Step 6: Tripod/monopod

If you have an unsteady hand or you are trying to take a picture with long exposure a tripod or monopod is really helpful.  I would recommend this for any low light photography.  If you don't have a tripod or monopod you can rest the camera on several books and adjust the height as needed.

Step 7: White Background

A white background gives a photo a polished, professional look.  This effect can be achieved quite easily, as you can see from the example above, I just used a piece of white computer paper and cropped the image.  You can use white poster board or fabric as a backdrop, there are several examples of DIY photography sweeps here at Instructables.
If you want to lighten the white background further you can use the pick white point tool in GIMP. 
  • To use, click on Colors, then click Levels...
  • Click on the pick white point color picker .
  • Then click on the whitest point on the image.
  • Click OK, this will lighten the background. 
  • You can go further and remove the shadows as well using the blend tool (I didn't do this on my image).

Step 8: Other Tips: Embedding Video

If you make something that wiggles, jiggles, blinks, flashes, wobbles, flies, swims, explodes etc. a video is the best way to show this. There are some free video editing software you can get to make videos for example Windows Movie Maker (which comes with Windows XP) or can be downloaded if you have a newer Windows OS, also Youtube has an online one available.  Instructables does not host videos on the site so you will have to post it somewhere else (Youtube, Vimeo, etc) and then you can embed it into your instructable.

How to embed video
  • Post your video on a video host site (for my example I used Youtube)
  • Make sure the video is public
  • Click on share
  • Click on embed
  • Some html code will appear in a box highlight and copy the code
  • In your instructable (step-by-step) editor, click on the embed video icon
  • A small window will open up, paste the code in here
  • Click OK

Step 9: Other Tips

Take a lot of photos
If you know that you will be posting your project here or on your blog take lots of photos of every step.  This will give a choice of pictures to use for documentation.

Intro photo
The first photo of the Intro step is the most important photo..  This is the image that appears in the thumbnail and what everyone will see when they are browsing Instructables.  Pick a photo that best shows what your making or doing.  Take your time to get the best shot, also remember to crop the image into a square if you can so that it doesn't get cut off.

Borrow a camera
Generally speaking web cams and cell phone cameras don't take great photos.  If you don't have your own camera see if you can borrow one from a friend or family member, perhaps they can take the pictures and collaborate with you on the project. Perhaps they will see how much fun this is and become a member and start posting their own step-by-steps.  It can't hurt to ask...

Animated Gifs
Putting together a few images into an animated Gif rather than using a video can be another way to demonstrate your project.  You can use GIMP to make these.



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    25 Discussions


    Nice, some good tips especially about brightness/contrast & rotating images.
    I hope plenty of people follow them.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is such a clever idea! I always love your Instructables.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    cute idea to use your lil pal. Nicely done "ible", we can only hope people USE it !

    1 reply
    Phil BKryptonite

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Soft indirect lighting is a good choice for many of the things we want to show in our Instructables. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, taking photos near a large window with a northern exposure or within the shadow area on the north side of a building works quite well. The one caution is to avoid patches of bright sunlight in the background. Use the southern side of the building or a window with a southern exposure in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, many who photograph products like automobiles or make photos of landscapes love the golden time defined by the first 30 minutes after the sun goes down. Even soft indirect light has some directional qualities. Camera position or a large white reflector nearby can minimize shadows. Indirect light may also be less intense, which means making the camera steady by bracing oneself or by using a tripod, etc. for a sharp picture from a longer exposure. If I try holding the camera in my hand, I take three deep breaths and press the shutter while exhaling. This is a technique used by military snipers to get a steady shot from their rifles.

    ChrysNPhil B

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Good advice, I'm sure you can turn these tips into an Instructable. The contest runs until Sept 19 so there is still time.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction


    I need all the lighting tips I can get, I'm a little dim in the photography department!

    Phil BKryptonite

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I am hardly expert at photography, but, it has been a personal interest for a long time. We had a photography club in high school. In the early days, my attention was on equipment. Later I realized making photos is not about equipment, but about understanding and manipulating light before the shutter is pressed. That means someone who understands light will make good photos with even a poor camera while someone who does not understand light will seldom make a good photo with even the best camera. Ansel Adams was a master at manipulating light in photography, and he is worth studying. Fortunately, modern digital cameras make better results easier. Still, anyone who understands some basics about the way light behaves will make better photographs. Also, soft indirect light is very flattering to most subjects, and you do not need to wait for an overcast day. The shadow side of a building works well for providing soft light. You can also make softer light by bouncing it off of a neutral surface rather than pointing it directly at the subject. At the same time, indirect light usually also means lower contrast so that photos can look flat. And, indirect light for color photos can also mean the color shifts toward the colder blue/gray part of the spectrum.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm using Gimp since years, but did not know it can be used to correct the white balance. Thanks!

    (And a patch for promoting quality free software.)

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Well done, ChrysN! It's obvious that you take great care and pride in all you do...thanks for sharing.

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Congratulations for this useful instructable. I like most of your projects and your pictures are always good.
    As pointed out by Phil B, lighting is crucial for this type of photos, which are often taken indoor. The internal flash of compact cameras usually flatten the image or “burn” the close objects . In addition to stabilize the camera, a tripod allows exploiting the softer but lower lighting from windows or lamps. In addition, if you need to monitor consecutive steps the tripod keeps the camera in the same point of view.

    For the software. The GIMP is a very good, almost professional, package. I use it but I have to admit that the interface is not user friendly for beginners. Most of the image editing that you suggest can be more easily done by simple image viewers, as IrfanView or FastStone Image Viewer. In particular, FastStone has a very good cropping tool, that works without quality loss. With both programmes lossless image rotation can be applied to the original JPG file. Once you have selected and edited your final images to be published, you may want to resize (or reduce) the resolution to make the images lighter to load in web pages. IrfanView can process multiple images in batch to bring them to the target resolution and automatically save with a new name.