How to Photograph a Tutorial | Blogging Basics 101

*The following article was previously published on Allenaim Photography.  Did you miss it the first time? Don't miss it this go around!!  It's a goodie!

Are you bursting with DIY ideas or recipes you just HAVE to share with your bloggy friends?  You should absolutely get on the ball and write a quick tutorial then!  I'm going to outline a few simple shots that will give you a basic tutorial below.  Enjoy!

 1. Start with your inspiration.  It could be a link to someone's site where you saw the idea or recipe first.  It could be a photo of a single ingredient that inspired you or a BEFORE photo of your kitchen before its big remodel.  It gives readers a frame of reference and an idea of where you are going so they can decide if they want to keep reading!  In this case, it is a peek at the page of a cookbook.

I used an open aperture to blur out some of the words and also photographed a tiny section of the page to make sure I wasn't coming anywhere near breaking copyright rules.  I just want to give the reader a taste (figuratively) of where this whole thing came from.    

Most important:  DON'T take a picture of entire recipe or section of text!! ...and DON'T steal a photo off a website! 

2. Show off your ingredients.  Sometimes I just show the ingredients in a still life like this:

3.  Other times I like to mix it up with a little action:

If you are wondering how on Earth to photo food in motion, it is not as complex as you might think.  First, make sure you have enough light so that your shutter can snap fairly quickly.  If it can't use flash or move to another location close to a window with natural light.  Your readers won't necessarily care if you show them your ingredients in your kitchen or on a sofa table as long as you are giving them easy instruction and beautiful photos of the process.

Secondly, you get your focus set.   In this case, I held my arm in the air towards the camera, leaned over and focused the camera on the still shot.  Just press your shutter halfway down and make sure the little red dot or box focuses on the subject you want to highlight.  Then, start the motion SLOWLY (in this case pouring the flour) and press the shutter all the way down.  Do it at least 3 times.  Check your work.  If you are happy, move on.  If not, try, try again!  By all means, if it isn't working out, take a still photograph and move on.  There will be other action to capture :)

Are you wondering how to insert yourself into photographs like this?  Surely my arm is not that long to hold the camera while I'm cooking this far away, right?  You're right.  I am usually holding the camera taking self portraits while I'm pouring or stirring, but sometimes the action is a little bit too difficult to complete with a camera in your arm.  I was afraid I might spill these eggs and the bowl of flour on the floor if I wasn't careful, so this was a self timer shot.  They aren't as difficult as you might think.  The instruction might vary depending on the type of camera you have, but the instructions should be similar.  My example is from a Nikon D5000.

1.  Press the info button on the top of your camera. 
2.  Press the info button on the BACK of your camera (mine is towards the bottom on the left).
3.  Move your cursor up and down the list of options until you see "release mode".
4.  I select the "20 seconds" self timer option. 
5.  Focus your camera on your subject (by pressing the shutter halfway down).
6.  Press the shutter all the way down and get into place.  You have 20 seconds.  There should be a light flashing on the front of your camera.  It will flash several times and then hold for 1-2 seconds.  That is your cue that the camera is about to take the photo.  Start doing whatever action you want to illustrate.  Do it a bit more slowly than you naturally would to give the camera the best chance of being able to focus on your action.  A little blur is ok to show movement.  Too much blur will ruin the shot.

4.  Change it up a little by going back to a still if you have something important to illustrate.  I wanted to show what the dough looks like when it starts to clump and needs to be hand kneaded.

Then go back to your action.  It's all a little bit like a dance.  There should be ups and downs, fast moments and moments that you stop and really look.  You want your reader to feel like they are in the kitchen with you.  Most importantly, you want to try to NOT confuse your reader.  This is the hardest part of tutorials and the best reason to include photos in your tutorial.  Even if a photo seems ridiculous (people KNOW what eggs look like, right???), take it anyway.  Sometimes a picture can explain away questions you wouldn't have even thought of (will a glass bowl work for this step??).  Your readers are going to be a mix of more and less experienced than you.  Your goal is to make sure that you are giving clear instructions to those less experienced so that they can be successful, while giving the more experienced a new interesting take on something they already know. 

Sometimes focus is off.  Notice in the first photo of this series, the focus was on my shirt sleeve.  In this last photo, the focus is on the faucet.  That is ok with me once in awhile.  I could close my aperture more to get more in focus, but then I would catch ugly things in the background, so the blur is worth it to me.  As long as the photo is illustrating the motion AND is pleasing to the eye, I am ok if the focus is not exactly where I want it.  You might be a bit more perfectionista when it comes to tutorials.   

5.  One of the most important things is to get a photo of the final product 
Sometimes, I forget all about this and we eat the food before remembering to take an AFTER photo.  Oops!!  Your reader definitely wants to see the end result, so make sure you give them a photo like this:

Now, contrary to the above statement,  if you are wondering why I am showing you a photo of RAW pasta dough, well, that's simple.  It did NOT work out well.  I wasn't able to roll the dough thinly enough by hand and the end product was not so great.  Therefore, you are getting a tutorial on how to write a tutorial instead of a tutorial on how to make basic pasta dough.  If you are curious, the process took about an hour (including a 30 minute wait time) and about 20 minutes of kneading and rolling by hand.  It was not fun, but my arm muscles did get a workout.   If I had a pasta attachment, it might be worth it.  It is NOT worth it this way.  The $1 box of spaghetti tastes much better.

Don't even get me started on the ravioli...

...which leads me to my last step...

6. Be Honest.  If something tastes great, rave about it.  If it comes out awful and took forever and was not worth it (see above!) , be honest and tell them!!  Alternatively, just don't share the tutorial.  If you teach people to make bad things, they won't trust you.  So be honest in your critiques and go on and on and on and on about the things that DO work out!  If you are interested in things that DID work, check out my FOODIES page in the NEST!

Want to join along sharing your failures and successes?  
Join the PINFAIL and PINTASTIC boards!


Since many of you have asked for more gear recommendations, here goes!

1.                           2.                                3.

Want the best camera ever?  Sorry -- I can't help you.  I CAN however tell you what got ME started!
I started out on a D40 (camera 3), currently shoot with a D7000 (camera 2) and recommend the D3000 (camera 1).
Whatever you do, save your money you had set aside for that Nikon Coolpix or Canon Powershot and buy a used DSLR.  Trust me.

...oh and PS -- these tips work JUST as well for a manual camera as they do for digital cameras...


Hi Amy!

Great and precious informations!
Wonderful shots!

Which is or are the focal lenses that you have used for this shots?

Amy Renea said…
HI Mary! Most are shot with a Nikon 50mm 11.8, but some of the wider angle shots are with a 18-55mm.
Hello Amy, what a fabulously written post! I wish I could come even close to what you can do with a camera. Girl, you amaze me!!!
Carrie said…
Fantastic tips, can you believe I never thought of doing an action shot before?! Thanks for the how-to AND beautiful photos.
I needed this!! I just post finished recipes because I can't seem to get the action, in between shots to look decent. Thanks!!
This is gorgeous photography, I don't think I would care what your were making =)

Thanks for all the great tips!!
Ginger Walls said…
Great post! Thanks for all the tips!

Student Mommy said…
And to make it worse you use a shutter! I use a smart phone... Action shots happen by accident.

Your blog is lovely and I wish I was as creative with a camera - you've captured every step and made it look so appealing and easy.

In from SITS.
Carolyn Y said…
Saw this on SITS and had to check it out. Thanks for the tips. I got a new camera and am learning it now. I didn't even think about action shots and the timer!
I think I confuse my friends when i just have to photograph my dinner before eating it... :-) Great tips, thanks for sharing.
JennAtFFP said…
I always wondered how everyone snapped those pics with themselves in the shot! Thanks!!!
I think being honest is the most important thing I can do for my readers. Because my integrity is on the line.

And people coming back to me for more recipe advice is on the line.
Amy Renea said…
You've nailed it Susan -- trick them once - shame on you, trick them twice, shame on them -- and chances are they won't be tricked twice :)