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How to Create Great Photos and Graphics: Tips, Tools, and Apps

Updated on November 18, 2014

You Don’t Need to Be a Pro to Have Great Photos


We Recommend Using Original Photos

One of the best things you can do to improve the quality of a Hub is to fill it with original photos. When faced with a choice of using your own, less-than-perfect photos or high quality public domain, purchased, or Creative Commons photos, we recommend choosing your own work.

Benefits of Using Original Photos

Embellishing your Hubs with images you have created yourself:

  • Adds credibility to your work: If you took the images of whatever process, event, or thing you’re describing, your readers are more likely to realize that you know what you’re writing about.
  • Puts a personality behind your writing: Many online articles lack a personal touch, which makes it harder to engage with the work or believe that there’s any real meat to it. When readers see that you’ve used your own images in a Hub, they will also remember that there is a person behind the writing, and that you really care about the subject.
  • Adds useful information: Many people choose to use others’ more professional-looking images instead of their own because they don’t think their photos are as attractive, but by sharing real images, you can make recipes and how-tos more instructive. If you’re writing a recipe on making apple pie, readers won’t care if your photos are messy, they just want to be able to see a demonstration of your techniques with peeling apples and creating attractive woven crusts out of pie dough.
  • Shows readers exactly what you’re writing about: This is especially important when it comes to recipes and DIY guides. Your readers don’t want to see a glossy magazine photo of approximately what you’re guiding them to create. They want to see exactly what will result from following your instructions.

The Basics

After searching around online for photography advice, you may feel overwhelmed with information on cameras, obscure settings, and advanced techniques. You do not have to be aware of all the intricate nuances of photography to create amazing, professional-looking photos. In fact, by making just a handful of small tweaks with lighting, framing, and focus, you can make leaps and bounds with your photography.



Lighting is often the most distinct difference between a dismal photo and a stunning masterpiece. It can make food look either nauseating or delicious. It can make a person look 32 or 52. It can make a collector’s item look like a piece of junk or a priceless treasure.

Most people don’t think about lighting at all, but a small handful of heuristics can add just the perfect shimmer to your subjects. Let’s shine light on three minor adjustments:

  • Turn off your camera’s automatic flash: Whenever possible, avoid using your camera’s flash. Most photographers, if not using special external flashes, have their camera’s flash settings off. To compensate for darker settings, adjust your camera settings, find out how to apply more light to your subject (e.g. by turning on a lamp or posing people behind a street light that illuminates them), and/or use a tripod to reduce blur.

With diffusely-scattered light behind him, the subject is difficult to see. Try to shoot subjects with light shining from the front- not behind.
With diffusely-scattered light behind him, the subject is difficult to see. Try to shoot subjects with light shining from the front- not behind. | Source
  • Avoid back-lit subjects: Before you take a photo of something, ask yourself: Where is the light coming from? You want to make sure that light is shining onto your subject, not behind it. If you photograph something with the sun, a lamp, or a screen behind it that is not adequately lit from the front, it will look like a silhouette. If you notice that a subject is backlit, one quick fix is to reposition yourself so that you are standing on the other side of your subject with that pesky light source behind you and illuminating that which you would like to shoot.
  • Avoid shadows and stark contrast: While our eyes are capable of discerning between very bright and very dark objects (e.g. a shot taken during noon on a sunny day in which the subject is partially concealed under an awning), cameras typically meter off of one point or zone, and can be overwhelmed by brightness. Unless you take multiple shots of the same subject with different aperture and shutter speed settings and fuse them together in Photoshop, you won’t be able to adequately reveal all the subjects in a shot with high contrasts. To keep things simple, try to take photos in which the light is more or less even (overcast days, sunrises, and sunsets are great for this).
  • Be aware of the color temperature of light: Ever wonder why photos of you on convention floors and grocery stores look so unflattering while photos of you in restaurants and homes can look so good? It all comes down to light temperature. Many fluorescent lights have a cold temperature that doesn’t look great with human subjects, while many incandescent bulbs cast a warmer, more flattering glow. Be aware of the type of light you’re working with—be it the sun or neon signs—and make the most of it. When shooting food, for example, you should try to use natural light, and if shooting at night, you might want to turn on lamps with warmer light instead of working with an overhead fluorescent light (this will make the food look more appetizing).

Notice the different color temperatures associated with each lightbulb
Notice the different color temperatures associated with each lightbulb | Source


One of the easiest ways to spot a complete amateur photographer is to look at the framing of his or her photographs. One of the most common mistakes inexperienced photographers make is to cut off feet. It’s an honest mistake, to be sure—they’re so focused on their subjects’ faces that they put them in the middle of the frame—completely missing the fact that 50% of the photo is uninteresting sky, and the subjects’ feet, as well as a lot of interesting landscape, are lopped off.

By framing images more intentionally, photographers can add a lot of professional polish—not to mention visual value—to their work. Here are two simple precautions to take:

  • Leave a margin around all sides: Before snapping a photograph, check to make sure that there is a buffer area around the entire subject, feet included! You can always crop an image, but you can never add missing information back!
  • Zoom in: Margins are not always mandatory, especially if you want to highlight a particular detail of a subject. Don’t be afraid to take closeups, of half a face, a flower petal, or just part of a delicious slice of cake. Before taking a photo, just ask yourself: Does revealing the whole subject make for the most interesting shot, or would showing only part of it create a more attractive and alluring image? If you’re shooting photos for a DIY Hub, you’ll probably want to reveal the entire subject (unless you’re highlighting a particular detail), but you’ll find that in many other cases, small hints of a complete subject are more interesting than the whole enchilada.

Don't be afraid to get in close sometimes, but also be mindful about the things you cut out.
Don't be afraid to get in close sometimes, but also be mindful about the things you cut out.


Focus quite frequently distinguishes professional from amateur photos. To avoid blurry photos, avoid shooting things in low light with unsteady hands. If you don’t have a tripod, consider utilizing table tops, or steadying your arm against buildings or other solid objects when you are photographing subjects in a dimly-lit environment.

Of course, blur isn’t always a bad thing. Images with a shallow depth of field (which have an in-focus subject in the foreground and a blurry background) more closely reflect the way our eyes see things in the real world, and can add a nice layer of realism to photos. It is easiest to adjust focus using SLR and DSLR cameras, but there are also things you can do to achieve that fun, blurry background look with smartphone photos.

  • If you have a DSLR - Adjust your aperture so that it is as low as possible given the amount of light you’re working with (you will need to increase your shutter speed if you’re working with manual settings, but you can also just set your camera in aperture preference mode so that shutter speed is adjusted automatically).
  • If you have a DSLR or point-and-shoot digital camera - Choose the macro setting (often shown with a flower icon).
  • If you have a smartphone - consider apps such as Instagram which enable you to selectively blur different parts of an image.


Free Online Photo Improvement Tools

Should you want to improve your photos after shooting them, there is no need to shell out cash for special software. One of the most popular free Photoshop-like software options is GIMP, which can be downloaded and used offline.

There are also countless websites that offer browser-based editing tools offering everything from simple app-like experiences to advanced photo editing interfaces.

Pixlr offers simple, intermediate, and advanced free online photo editing tools that are very easy to use. As an added bonus, Pixlr has both iPhone and Android apps.

Using FotoFlexer, you can easily edit images imported not only from your computer, but from Photobucket, Myspace, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and other common photo sharing sites. FotoFlexer’s tools make it easy to add text overlays to images, making them extra Pinterest-friendly. offers several single-trick tools should you want to make one quick fix to a photo (such as retouching a portrait, improving the color in a photo, or adding a fun filter). Photos can be easily imported from the site via URLs, Facebook, and your computer.


Free Online Graphic and Infographic Creation Tools

Don’t have a photo? No worries. There is also a myriad of online tools that will help you create useful and attractive images from scratch.'s venn diagram template's venn diagram template | Source

Create an Infographic for Your Hub

Infographics can play a huge role in a Hub going viral. The following sites can help you build your own:

  • Piktochart: This site offers several free infographic themes that are easy to use (adding assets to an infographic is as simple as dragging and dropping them from a sidebar).
  • The canvas is also quite straightforward; simply drag a theme onto your blank canvas and add icons, numbers, and photos as desired (or just start from scratch).
  • This popular infographic-creation site enables you to create cool graphics starting with simple templates, such as the venn diagram template shown to the right.

Create Text-Based Images for Your Hub

Should you prefer to create simpler images that are less data-driven, the following resources may prove to be helpful:

  • Pinstamatic: This site offers photo editing functions, you can also use it to create cool images comprised of text, dates, and locations.
  • Quozio: This is the perfect resource for creating beautiful images using quotes.
  • Recite: Another excellent tool for displaying quotes or words, Recite offers fun shapes and more graphically-varied options than Quozio.


Free Photo Editing Apps

Given that we commonly use our phones to take photos, we might as well edit those photos on our phones as well.

One could probably fill a dictionary with information about all of the photo editing apps available.

Here are some of the most popular free options:

  • Instagram: One of the most well-known photo editing apps (with a robust community of its own), Instagram enables you to apply various filters and contrast/blur effects to your images.
  • Aviary’s photo editor: The perks of this app include its great interface (existing photos on your phone’s camera roll can be selected directly from the opening interface) and various photo editing options (including all the basics, plus stamps, captions, and more).
  • Pic Stitch: (for iPhones only) Powered by Aviary, this app enables you to stitch several photos together and add background textures
  • BeFunky: A nice feature of BeFunky’s effects feature involves an ability to adjust elements like saturation and exposure by swiping a finger along the actual image. The app also offers text overlay and frame options.
  • Color Effects: This iPhone and Android app enables you to highlight one specific point of color in an image.

Aviary's photo editing app interface
Aviary's photo editing app interface

A Note on Attributing Your Work

When you publish images along with your Hub, it is implied that you maintain copyright to those images. You do not have to attribute the photos to yourself to protect them.

Some Hubbers choose to place their name below their photos with a notice of copyright, or a note of whatever sort of copyright they wish to apply to their work (see our guide to using others' photos and images legally for an overview of the different licenses, such as Creative Commons or Public Domain licenses, you might consider applying to your work).

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