Ask CRAFT: Photographing Your Projects

Craft & Design Photography & Video

If you have a question for Ask CRAFT, shoot me an email at, or drop us a note on Twitter! We’d love to answer your crafty questions on any topic: technique, projects, crafty culture, or anything else! Each week the answers are here; include your name, where you’re from, and your website or blog if you have one!

Michelle Hiskey writes in asking:

I love the photos on Craftzine. Even if i have no intention of making the craft, i appreciate the photo styling and details. can you supply tips on how these photos are made?

It’s true that having great photos will make your project more likely to get attention on our site. Here’s my advice.

Know your equipment

You don’t have to have an expensive camera to take great photos. A simple point-and-shoot digital camera with at least a 3 megapixel resolution will serve you well for almost all applications. You can really go crazy spending money on cameras, but don’t spend a lot before you learn a lot, to make sure you’re getting what you want and not just an expensive paperweight. Once you’ve got your camera, read the manual. Lost it? Look it up on the manufacturer’s website. It’s imperative that you know how to operate your camera including setting the white balance and any manual exposure settings you camera may have. Oh, and get a tripod, even one of those small desk ones (I recommend the Gorillapod or ModoPocket).

Lighting, lighting, lighting!

Lighting is the absolute most important aspect of photography. Photograph near a bright window, or invest in a few hardware store clamp lights and play with their arrangement around your photo area. You can build your own softbox to diffuse them, even, and a light box, too. Look through your camera’s viewfinder at your subject and try to minimize glare and strange shadows by positioning lights above, below, in front, and behind your object.

Setting the scene

Professional photographers often use a seamless backdrop (fabric or paper) draped from the wall out to the floor/table, as it eliminates the line where the horizontal surface of the table/floor meets the wall. You can do this at home with a piece of fabric (iron it, please!) or some solid-color wrapping paper on a roll (Ikea has it for cheap, natch). You may choose to photograph your project in a more natural setting, in which case you should think about props and background scenery. If it’s a food project, make sure your kitchen counter is clean! You get the idea, look at your photo as if you’re seeing it for the first time, and check for what might catch the viewer’s eye (both positively and negatively).

photoshoplevelsbefore.png photoshoplevelsafter.png

Software touchups

If you’re going to learn only one Photoshop technique, let it be Levels. Available under Image > Adjustments > Levels, it’s great for making your photo really pop by making the lights lighter and the darks darker. Don’t be afraid of the histogram in the window that pops up, it will soon be your best friend. It’s showing you the distribution of lights and darks in your image. I like to drag the outer sliders just a bit towards the center of the histogram. Leave the “preview” box checked to see what your modified image will look like. This small tweak can make a good photo great. Avoid cheesy watermarks or other image manipulations. Keep it classy!


Get your photos out there! Put them on Picasa Web or Flickr, and add them to the CRAFT Flickr pool! Use them on your blog, make an Instructable, go crazy (and have fun)! If you can’t get enough photography projects, check out Photojojo. Got photo tips for us? Share them in the comments.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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