Taking Good Setup Photos

It is a good idea to include setup photos in your lab report.

Years ago, we didn’t carry cameras around in our pockets, but today we do. During your lab experiment, pull out your phone and take a few pictures of your setup.  

Overall Setup Photo

Try to get at least one photograph that includes the entire setup.  This one may be difficult to do.  Sometimes equipment is tall and skinny, making it hard to get in one shot. Do your best.

If the photo includes a lot of space that isn’t used in the experiment, go ahead and crop it down to the important parts. The photo below is a screenshot from my editing program paint.net (https://getpaint.net). The original picture contains a lot of extra space. You can see the outline of the area that I’m about to crop down to the important parts of the setup.

Setup photo of an oscillation experiment with cropping in place.


After you take the long shots of the equipment, move closer and take pictures of individual components of the experimental setup, especially if the piece is complicated. Try a few angles if needed.

In the next two photos, I show two views of a refraction experiment. You can see the overhead view of the three pins, acrylic block, and the paper used in the first photo. In the second, I took a closeup demonstrating the alignment of the pins as seen through the block. Note that you can’t see the pins behind the first pin in the closeup when looking through the block. You can see that they aren’t really aligned in actual position if you look above the block.

Overhead view of a refraction experiment.
Overhead view of a refraction experiment
Closeup side view of a refraction experiment.
Closeup view showing alignment of pins.

Be careful of focusing for closeup photos. If you are too close, the camera may not be able to focus well. It may be easier to move back a little bit, then crop the photo.

Multi-part Labs

If your lab has multiple parts with different setups, you should take multiple photos.  Take at least one per setup. You want your reader to understand the differences between different parts of the experiment.

Virtual Lab Setup Photos

Some of the labs in my classes involve complicated equipment.  For in-class students, this equipment might require longer to set up, adjust, and tear down than it does to take the data. Remotes students, would pay through the nose for this equipment to do a quick experiment.

My colleagues and I have made videos describing the setup and monitoring the collection of data for these labs.  For these labs, you can take a screenshot of the video and use it as your setup photo. When you use a screenshot, you should cite the video being used.

How many pictures should I include?

Your lab report should have at least one picture for each unique part of the lab experiment. You don’t have to include a full album, but make sure to have enough photos so that readers can understand the experiment.

Getting your Photos from Phone to Computer

If you use a cloud photo service like Google Photos or Amazon Photos, you can log into those services to retrieve your photos. Be aware that it might take a few minutes for the photos to transfer from your phone to the service. Once the photo is there, download it to your computer. Then insert it into your report.

If you don’t have a service or can’t log in on a school computer, you can email yourself the photo from your phone.

General Tips for Setup Photos


Use the flash if necessary.  You want your equipment to be visible in the photo.  Do be careful on closeups, though.  Sometimes the flash will reflect back off of a shiny surface and make the equipment hard to see. Some camera apps give you the option to turn on the flash as a steady flashlight. This can be helpful in many situations.


Take time to focus when taking your setup photos. Most phone-based cameras will auto-focus, but you may need to adjust this.  For example, your phone might focus on the wall behind the setup.  Tap the part of the image you want to have focused.

Hold your camera steady while taking pictures. Keep your elbows and arms close to your body. It might be helpful to lean on something like the table or a meter stick. Moving during the experiment might cause the photo to be blurry. 

Camera Settings

For lab reports, you don’t need ultra-high definition (4K) photos. You don’t want your final lab report to be too large. Set your camera to a lower resolution for the lab photos. Don’t forget to set it back to your preferred settings after the lab.

Be Aware of the Background.

If you or your partner ends up in the picture, that isn’t terrible. Try to be careful, though, of capturing other students in your photos. Sometimes the layout of the room makes this difficult. Avoid photos that might be considered “creepy”.

If you are publishing the experiment beyond your professor’s lab report, make sure no one other than you or your partner is in the picture.

Review your Photos before Leaving the Lab

Take a moment to review your pictures before tearing down the experiment. If possible, do this on a computer screen rather than your phone. The larger screen will help you catch slightly blurry photos. 

Be sure to share your photos with your lab partner.