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How to Take Better Tutorial Photos with Framing and Cropping
Here's my contribution to our blog hop this week!
As I mentioned yesterday, good photography is increasingly becoming very important to building an online presence. Look at all the big aggregation blogs in the craft community. They share projects from all over, and what do those projects generally have in common? Well-lit, in-focus, well-styled photos.
Good tutorial photography isn't all that hard if you know a few simple tricks. Look at the bottom of this post for links to my fellow blog-hoppers' secrets (they'll appear there throughout the week). And today, I want to share the magic of framing and cropping.
When you're communicating the steps of a project, it's a good idea to think about the amount of information that's needed in each photo. Each of your step-by-step images has something specific to say, and if you hone in on what that is, it becomes much clearer how to best frame and crop your image. Let's look at some basic ideas…
What detail is most imporant in your step?
Let's start with a simple example, above. The upper photo has a fair amount of unimportant information in it: part of my light box, a large chunk of the shirt I'm working on. But what am I actually trying to communicate in this step? I'm outlining a reverse applique with an embroidered back stitch – the back stitch is the important detail. So what if I cropped out the extraneous stuff and focused right in on that tiny operation? The lower photo makes it much clearer, don't you think? (See the video below, by the way, for more on how to crop photos.)
What size are the most important details of the step?
Every tutorial step is different: sometimes you're making a large project, and sometimes it's a tiny one. So, what kind of framing makes the most sense for the step you're shooting?
In the upper photo here, I'm showing a step of a larger project. To communicate how to do this paper fold around this box, I need to show most of the box, my hand guiding the paper, all of the paper with its folds in progress, and some tape to represent that I'll be taping these folds. So I needed to make a wider angle shot to communicate all these things, and I had to find a way to create enough uncluttered space to show all this information. (I did it with sheets of good old posterboard!)
In the lower photo, on the other hand, I'm wrapping a strand of wire around a pipe cleaner – tiny! To make it at all clear what I did with that wire, I had to frame in really, really tightly, and then I cropped the image even more tightly. So I had to work with my camera focus, so it was sharp enough for all this tightness. (I placed my camera on a stack of books to stabilize it.)
When are tools appropriate in your shot?
While we make tutorials, of course, we always have our various tools nearby: scissors, needles and thread, pliers, etc. The question is, when do these tools help a step shot, and when do they hinder it?
I'm always forgetting to move my tools out of my step shots, and have had to do many a retake as a result. See the upper image there, where I left my scissors in the shot? They aren't important to the operation I'm trying to communicate here, which is taking a stitch across the back of this button I'm making. And unfortunately, those scissors are placed so that they can't be cropped completely out. See how much better the retake communicates?
…But for some shots, it might be helpful to have a tool nearby to make it clear that it's necessary for performing the step. Then it's just a matter of placing the tool so there's a suggestion of it, but it doesn't get in the way of clear communication.
Here's a pair of photos where I was trying to communicate the step of opening and adding a jump ring. See how my pliers get in the way of communication in the upper photo? In the lower photo, I moved them a little to the side. Now they're present, but the ring takes center stage.
Hands or no hands?
Some tutorial-makers like to frame their hands in step shots and some don't. I think hands matter most in crafts like knitting or crochet, where beginners might need to see how you hold your hands in order to learn your project. But there are many, many projects, like the one pictured above, where you can get the same information across with or without hands.
I include hands in most of my tutorial shots, because I like the "human presence" of them. But sometimes, they're also a necessary piece of information – as in the shot above, where I'm using my hand to steady a turnip as I hollow it out. Sometimes, the placement of your hands is a safety factor in a project. And sometimes hands just get in the way of communication. Think about what your photo needs to say, and what role your hands play in saying it.
How to Crop (in most photo-editing tools):
This short video walks you through the basics of how cropping tools work. I shot it in iPhoto, but Picasa, Photoshop, most free online photo tools (like iPiccy) and most mobile device photo apps use the same operations.
Did you learn something useful here? Pop over to my fellow hoppers' blogs for more!