Taking quality photos in the lab can be a challenge if you don't know how to set up the camera and prepare the subject for display.

Preparing the subjectEdit

While a camera may have many settings, it is impossible to take a high-quality pictures of a subject that is not properly lit and displayed. Note that it may be possible to take a higher-quality picture by disregarding one or more of these rules.


The ideal background for a subject, such as a solvent with dissolved solute, in a vessel such as a test tube, is a white one. However, a grid or lined background provided by notebook paper adds depth to the picture and provides an idea of the refractive index of the subject, as well as the dimensions of the vessel. If the subject contains a light or glowing suspension or precipitate, a black background may be better, as it has higher contrast.

When taking a photo of a solid compound it's best if you put the said compound on a background with a different color, for example if you take a photo of a white powder, such as zinc oxide, it's better to put it on a black or dark colored support, to properly distinguish it from the background. Using a familiar object such as graph paper or a coin is useful to properly show the size of the sample.

Preparing the cameraEdit

Type of cameraEdit

Today, most cell phone cameras will suffice in the production of high-quality photos. Most will shoot them at resolutions higher than 4K, and many have image stabilization, low light shooting, HDR, and macro focus built in.


Good focus is essential for a quality picture. Poorly focused images are not worth keeping or posting to a site. Motion blur should be kept to a minimum by keeping the camera steady with a tripod. If a macro kit or camera option is available, it may be of use for attaining focus at low distances.

Zoomed vs close imagesEdit

There are three ways to zoom images in closely.

  • By using the zoom function on the camera. Only optical zoom should be considered - digital zoom can create numerous artifacts, especially in low lighting.
  • By moving the camera closer to the subject. The main issue with this is that either fisheye effects will distort the picture, or that getting too close will prevent the camera from focusing properly.
  • By cropping the image. With the high-quality cameras available these days, cropping is a more viable option than it was previously.


While many chemical fumes that may be hazardous to people do not affect the camera, acidic or alkali vapors may bleed inside the camera and damage the electronics. If you have a fume hood, keeping the camera outside of it while performing the experiments should be sufficient. If you work outside and the occasional gush of wind may send the fumes in the camera's direction, a simple clear window made of glass or polycarbonate should suffice. Using a sealing bag is also good, but, because it's not as clear as a window, the image quality will suffer. It is also harder to clean.


woelen's guide to photography in the lab

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