Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The How-To on How-To's Part I (Photos)

I was recently named "best tutorialer on the web" by my friend Rachelle Rose.  OK, so it's not a REAL award, but dang it, I think I do write tutorials pretty well.  Once I finished patting myself on the back for that major award, I realized something.  If I am so great at writing tutorials, I should probably write one on how to write tutorials.  And so, here we are.

I've decided to turn this into a series, rather than throwing it all at you at once.  This way, I can spend a little more time going through and fleshing out or editing the sections for you, and you get a little more time to focus on each aspect of this how-to how-to.  Here's what you can expect me to cover (I may throw in other stuff as we go):


PART I.  USE PLENTY OF PHOTOS

It doesn't matter whether you're writing about crafts or Photoshop basics, people need to actually see what you are doing.  The trouble with blogs is that the written word often causes misunderstandings - the great thing about blogs is that you can embed pictures!
Tape Transfer tutorial
BONUS: I've had HUNDREDS of hits on my image transfer
tutorial as this photo keeps being "pinned"and "repinned!"
Document your process.  Take photos (or screen shots) of each step, technique and process. If you have trouble identifying at which stage to take each photo, volunteer a friend and teach them how to use/make your product/project and every time you say "and now you..." have them take a photo.   I also like to include a shot of supplies or the setup and a shot of the final piece.

"Tijuana Makeover" from woodburned outline
to finished mixed-media painting
Give a visual timeline.  Consider editing your photos together into a collage to show your process.  I've had great success with Mosaic Maker by BigHugeLabs using the photos I uploaded to my Flickr account, and I've also created my own using photo editing software.  It's pretty easy and it REALLY helps people to see everything at once.

Point out the little things.  Let your inner "John Madden" out - use your editing software to label details.
You may be able to pick out the details clearly, but
someone new to your process may not - help them out
Make use of the photo captions.  Even if you're explaining everything in the text, pop a little something into the caption that will lead them back into the tutorial.

Now that you know how to use the photos in your post, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are taking your photos:
  • make sure your lighting picks up the details you want to show (avoid the temptation to "white out" your photos with overexposure)
  • the area being photographed should be uncluttered (and free of pet hair, etc.)
  • use a solid color background to avoid distractions (and please, don't use your bedspread)
  • leave the artsy-fartsy stuff-on-books pictures for your Etsy listings; they have no place in a tutorial
  • crop your photos and adjust the brightness and contrast, if necessary, but don't give your photos an over-processed look or mess with the depth of field (see above)
  • take more pictures than you think you'll ever need, then take a few more

I hope this series becomes a helpful resource for you all.  

If you have a question about writing tutorials, please post a comment here or in any future installments of this series.

Next time: writing style