How I Make Effective Project Photos in Four Simple Steps


I enjoy capturing moments. Whether it's through writing on my blog or another platform, taking photos, or saving tokens, I love to preserve experiences. As a blogger, student, and adamant memory-saver, taking and editing clean photos that I can use across multiple projects and to display on my wall remains a priority of mine.

Why are taking these photos so important?

Simply put, good photos are fun to take, fun to organize, and incredibly versatile. I've used the same sets of photos for multiple purposes:
  • blog post headers
  • Pinterest graphics
  • room decor
  • school presentations
  • an Instagram theme
  • easy gifts

The possibilities truly are endless. After receiving some requests on Twitter, I've compiled this master post of how I take and edit my photos, and use them to create effective graphics that spice up my projects and brighten my room.

1. Cook up a [brain]storm

First, you have to generate ideas. Especially after multiple shoots, sometimes thinking of new arrangements or photo ideas can be difficult. If you're in need of some inspiration, here are a couple places to look:
Social media
With photos galore, Pinterest and Instagram are easy sources of inspiration. Seeing how other creators use props and backgrounds can spark original concepts of your own.
Your immediate surroundings
I can't tell you how many times I've had random photo ideas from objects in my room. Many of my most popular images I conceived after looking at my book covers.
Photo challenges
When my ideas are running dry, I often look to photo challenge prompts for inspiration. They can provide new insight and a great opportunity to meet other creators and promote your projects. Last summer, for example, I participated in #julywithcj.

For me, generating ideas can take a form as specific as jotting down an outline in my notebook or as casual as imagining the layout or purpose of the picture before I take it-- sometimes, ideas emerge spontaneously, and you'll need to run with them when you can. 
Don't worry, this doesn't have to be extremely formal! Whatever form of preparation works for you, acknowledging your picture's purpose in some way before snapping the picture can be beneficial. I would group project picture-planning in three major categories:
1. Formal preparation
Some days, if I have an idea while out of the house, I'll grab an index card and write it out or type out bullets on my phone. 
2. Informal preparation
On other days, I might be in the middle of a shoot when I have a new idea. For example, I randomly grasped the concept of shrinking myself to hold up a book on my bookshelf while taking photos of my shelf. Still, I took a moment to ponder the different pictures I would need to take to execute the photo.

Similarly, while taking a layout photo of my desk or study notes, I might not plan meticulously, but I am at least aware of what props, like a certain book or my laptop, I want in my photos.
3. Spur of the moment
These pictures are typically travel photos or pictures with friends that, while unplanned in the moment, can double as website graphics or project photos. All of my pictures from my recent trip to Disney fall into this category. 

2. Capture some moments

Once you've formulated some ideas, you can start the fun part: snapping photos! Of course, different photos will require different set-ups.

As a high school student, I am always seeking ways to create the best products while spending as little as possible. Anywhere can become a clean background for a project picture! A couple background ideas I frequent:
  • #1: my room. I love decorating my walls, so I didn't have to set up anything I didn't already have. Here, I also have access to bookshelves, a blue blanket, and a desk.
  • my notes: I take them for class anyway. They're great for studying and double as photo backgrounds when I'm finished with them!
  • white poster-board: Need a clean white background for a layout photo? You can find cheap, white poster-board at the dollar store!
Get creative: anything can become a great background for your projects!

I'm lucky that my mom has a DSLR camera I often borrow for these pictures. While such a device is preferable, it isn't necessary to take valuable photos! Before I used her camera, I used a cell phone and a cheaper digital camera-- a method I suspect I'll have to start using again once I start college. I took all of the photos from my Disney trip on a digital camera, and I still feature them in blog posts and project graphics.

If you take or have any video, taking screenshots of moments from your video footage by using the "print screen" button on your keyboard can offer some cool shots. Here's a picture I captured through screenshot from a video I took over the summer:

Since some have inquired: to take pictures of myself, I have to set the camera's self timer on a tripod (also cheap from the PX) and run back and forth until I capture just the right image.

3. Discover the magic in digital editing

Next? The magic happens: editing. Experimenting with different colors can shape photo themes.

For the initial edits, I typically use two apps: Afterlight and Superimpose.

I bought both in middle school while attempting to replicate an eye edit, but their capabilities have assisted me well beyond those days.

I use Afterlight for general edits. I like to target brightness, saturation, and exposure to give my blog cover photos a touch unique to my account that match my website's colors. My already blue room makes highlighting colors seem natural.

For personal or other project photos, I like to toy with fade in addition to those other aspects. I encourage you to play around with different settings and find a theme that works for you.

I can't afford Photoshop, so Superimpose's basic erasing and layering abilities fulfill my current needs for small overlays or editing I may need. I'll erase backgrounds or add overlays in Superimpose first, then import to Afterlight for brightness.

To create titles and headers for blog posts or cover images, I often use the free website Canva. Canva provides a host of free templates, so adding a professional touch can be as simple as dragging-and-dropping.

For more freedom, you can also start from a blank file and layer your own images and text, as I did in the image above. 

When I want to use a font not available through Canva, I use Microsoft PowerPoint. To some, that may come as a surprise, but PowerPoint allows users to change the opacity of images, layer images, and in some cases, erase backgrounds, plus match a great variety of fonts: everything I need for a Pinterest graphic or project presentation slide. 

Some alternative editing programs include VSCOCam, Photoshop, PicMonkey, Adobe Lightroom, Pixlr, GIMP, and Photo Editor by Aviary. Find what works best for you!

4. Upload and enjoy

I love the feelings of simultaneous nervousness and excitement I experience before presenting a product I've invested myself in.

Use these steps to capture your best moments! How do you like to edit your pictures?


  1. Some awesome tips! I definitely want to float...or something. Maybe even fly.. OOH

  2. Awww definitely love your flying-while-reading picture! And it surprises me that you didn't use Photoshop for that. Haha. I love to use VSCOcam for photo editing :)

    1. Thank you! VSCOcam is a great alternative and I'm glad you've found what works for you!

  3. Oh man, I'm definitely envious of your photos. I don't think I have the patience to do so much for bookstagram xD BUT GIRL, KEEP DOING THIS because I will keep appreciating how gorgeous it all is :)

    Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

  4. What a great post! I hadn't heard of AfterLight. Something I might have to look into. Granted, your photos are far more involved with mine, so mine don't require such extensive editing!! :D Thanks so much for sharing all of this.

  5. good tips, does spice up the boring book cover only scene

  6. You are an inspiration! I love taking photos for Bookstagram and I definitely needed these tips... I'll look into those apps... and I didn't even know about water marking!

    Emily @ Reader Rising

    1. Thank you Emily, I'm glad you found my post helpful! :)

  7. This is amazing! Thank you for sharing your steps! I find it hard to found the right combination of brightness and exposure while editing... I'll definitely check out the apps :)

  8. This is so great, thank you! I don't have Photoshop either (really should invest in it one of these days) so I love that you can still make awesome photos like these.

  9. Thanks for all of the great tips! That floating picture is great, haha.

  10. I'm so jealous of people with an artistic eye. I just don't have one, unfortunately.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. Aw Nicole! Don't worry about having an artistic eye. Different people lend themselves to different styles and outlets of art, and ability can certainly be developed over time :)

  11. OMG that book is going to squish you!!!! Look out!!!! XD <3

    1. ahhh I know! I was holding it up with all my might!

  12. 've had photoshop for a while but I've never used it to actually, well photoshop a photo (which is kinda what it's for lol whoops), you've reminded me that I need to look for some tutorials on that...

    1. I definitely recommend you explore photoshop, Kai! Best of luck!

  13. Some pretty good tips in there! I need to keep those in mind, I only recently starting using more than my phone camera to take images, so I am still learning a lot.

    1. I'm glad you found them helpful, Susanne! I'm learning a lot as I go, too, but I think that's part of what makes it fun:)