I want to start this out by saying I by no means feel that I am good enough to be teaching quilt photography. I have no REAL knowledge. But I keep getting asked to, so I thought I’d take this time and tell you how I take my pictures. If you are a photographer you may cringe reading this. For the record, I’m not telling you how to take photos. I’m telling you how I take MY photos.
I like the pictures I take. They could be better, I know. But I really feel they are good enough, especially for a chicky without any skills. I’m always trying to get better and that’s all I can really do for now. I have a DSLR, but I’ve yet to learn to use it. Are you cringing again? Do you know where I’m going with this?
Confession: I take all of my pictures, ALL of them, on my cell phone.
Light – You can read any photographer’s blog and they are all basically telling you the exact same thing. You need light. Light is everything. That’s why you see most of my pictures being taken outside. I live in a house built in the 1980s. The windows are too small. My studio is in the basement and there’s no windows in it, so I have to create light, but it’s never as good as natural light.
The light seems pretty obvious, but for years I took sub par pictures of my quilts just because I wasn’t thinking too much about it. Slow down and think about it when you are taking pictures.
Background – This is something else that as it happens, really matters. It’s also something I didn’t use to think about. I spent a lot of time looking at the photographs of quilts that I liked and jotting down the things that made me like them. The background kept coming up.
- I’m using an Iphone 7+ for all of my pictures
- I use a tripod when I want to be in my pictures or take a picture of my hands at work
- I have a phone mount on the tripod (only necessary if you are using your phone to take pictures).
- In my studio I have LED lights to help create a natural light setting. You may have LED flashlights (we did) that can also take the place of these lights, so you don’t have to buy them.
- I also use two apps that I have found to be invaluable for me: Color Story and Snapseed (both are free)
- I also will use things around my house to be in my pictures such as: plants, threads, scissors, antique finds, lace, pillows, anything you can think of as a prob that might make your picture pretty. I have a large bowl that stores all my small things sitting in my studio that might be cute to throw in a picture.
The White Wall
My sweet friend, Linda, who was the latest to reach out to me about writing this post mentioned something that I had noticed and struggled with. Most “good” quilt pictures are taken against a white wall. Yes! The elusive white wall!! Where the heck are they getting those white walls with perfect sunlight? I don’t have white walls. Let me rephrase, I don’t have a SINGLE white wall in or around my house. Upstairs of my house all the walls are painted a very pale icy blue. I wanted my house to be airy, but still not be white. I regret that now. I wish they were white. But even if they were, how would I get the quilt to stay on the wall. I sure am not going to sew one of these quilt hanger thingies on the back of all my quilts, and I’m not putting a bunch of holes in my walls either.
I say this to you because I finally had to just accept that I don’t have any white walls, and I’m not going to have any for the foreseeable future. I also had to get creative and just decide that I’m not going to have minimal quilt pictures like you see in the magazines and some of the bigger designers. I have to accept for now I just need to focus on what I can do. For me, that is more LIFESTYLE shots. Which as it happens, is a place I feel I do better anyway.
That’s why you see me setting up my pictures to look cozy and make you want to just climb right up under that quilt and take a nap. There’s usually a cup of tea steaming on a table beside the quilt. Some pictures you may even see my lunch plate in the shot. Real life is messy, I’m not going for perfection. It does help that my front porch swing is usually always styled the way you see above. I basically just brought out my quilt and those pillows. Everything else was already there (except my tea, of course).
Work with what you have to work with. Look around you and find what you think is beautiful. Maybe you live in a beautiful area, maybe there are mountains, rivers, or meadows, seek those places out. Or find a place at your house where the sun isn’t beaming down, create a homey feel with a few props, keep trying until you find a look that you like.
My Biggest Secret
I hesitated to tell you this. I don’t want you to be disappointed with the tools you have or feel the need to go run out and buy yourself an Iphone 7+. But this phone is a couple of years old, so maybe you have it too or maybe you have something pretty comparable or newer that also has the feature I’m about to go into detail about and maybe you just haven’t explored all that it offers. If you have a DSLR, you are way ahead of me on this point.
The Iphone 7+ and newer versions have this feature on the camera called “portrait” setting. This setting is the single most helpful thing I’ve ever came across while taking a picture.
You have to be within 8 feet of your subject to use the feature and there has to be plenty of light, but it blurs everything in the background or foreground for you once you focus (just tap on the screen) on your subject. It also makes everything in your picture POP. It’s how I capture so much detail in my pictures.
Here’s a perfect example above. Notice the the middle of the picture, the quilt is the only thing in focus. The very bottom of the picture (the foreground) is out of focus. The very top of the picture (the background) is out of focus. Your eyes are drawn into the delicious quilty goodness right there in the middle.
I try to achieve this for all of my photographs.
If you are experiencing flatness in your pictures and can’t figure out how to make that go away, I don’t have any tips on that. I “cheat” you see, with the portrait setting on the iphone. It does the work for me. If you have a DSLR camera, you can achieve this as well, but I’d suggest visiting a photographer’s blog to find the tips for getting the same look.
Play with your camera that you have. Test all the “tools” that it features out and take the time to learn what you can get it to do.
Most of this stuff I just kept trying at until I got what I wanted.
Here’s a list of different shots to take when you want to photograph your completed quilts or quilts in progress.
- the full shot – I take almost all of my full shots on my design wall in my studio or outside on my house. On the outside of my house I hang the quilt up with curtain hangers and nails.
- the detail shots – Take lots of these from lots of different angles. You don’t even have to move your quilt to do this. Just move yourself around.
- a lifestyle shot – These are pictures with the quilts in use like on a bed or a sofa. In my case, my front porch swing. Take multiples of these.
- the block shot – This is just a picture of a quilt block laid down on a pretty surface. I use wooden tables, boards, pretty papers or anything like that to lay my block on. I will also add “stuff” around it like thread, scissors or anything you can think of really. Get creative!
- the sewing machine shot – If you have a nice table for your sewing machine and your sewing the day away, stop and take a picture. Lots of times the quilt is naturally draped around all pretty like. Just open your eyes and see the beauty that’s around you (that sounds cliche, but it’s real, you just have to look). Sewing rooms are very pretty places, even the messy ones.
- take some horizontal and take some vertical. I try to have a mix of both.
Emily Dennis has a great post on the different quilt shots here. She also shows how she does some of those “white wall” shots.
Editing Your Pictures
This is a must. Stop thinking you can’t. You got this and you can do it all from your phone. Like me!
If you are not taking pictures with your phone, you can still edit them on your phone. Just transfer them over.
Color Story First – I start with the A Color Story app like I mentioned above. This is a filter app. Choose a filter that you like. I’ve chosen to go very “light” with the filter as I don’t want my pictures to look so edited. I want them looking natural and I want them to all look similar and in my own style. For that reason, I use the exact same filter settings for all of the pictures.
Snapseed – After I’ve added the filter to my picture, I save it then reopen it in the Snapseed app. Here are the settings I play with in the “tools” tab:
- Details – This will adjust how sharp your picture is. This is probably the most important step to me when editing. It makes pictures look crisp. I take all of my pictures up to level 20.
- Rotate – I only rotate when it’s needed, but if you didn’t hold your camera perfectly straight, this is very helpful for doing slight adjusting.
- Crop – I only sometimes use this, but if you’ve got a background that’s not completely perfect, this will come in handy cutting some of that out.
- Tune Image – This is the main thing right here. I play with the brightness, usually going somewhere between 25-45. I play with the contrast, which I usually keep in the 20s. I play with the ambiance, this will give your picture some “sunset” looking color or plays with the shadows a bit. I don’t see exactly what it does, but if my picture is too bright, then it’s very helpful. I usually keep it between 5-20. I play with the highlights, this also brightens your picture, but it a natural kind of way and more softly. I adjust this between 5-15.
- Perspective – I play with this when my camera wasn’t level such as when it was a bit at a tilt. It’s a tricky setting though, so be careful as it might cut off some of your picture.
- Selective – I only use this when part of my picture is too bright and some of it is too dark. I want them to look cohesive. This is the most difficult and I have definitely not mastered it.
- Brush – If there is something yucky l use this setting. Such as when I’m wearing black pants and forgot to get the big fuzz ball off or the wall has an ugly smudge. This can take that off of there. I haven’t mastered this as I rarely use it.
This sounds like a lot of work and it is. I do this for each and every one of my pictures. Once you get used to it it’s starts to feel natural and you get better about knowing exactly what to adjust each setting to. Just go and play with it is my biggest suggestion. Playing is learning!
- My biggest tip is to look and see and play. I enjoy taking pictures of my quilts and I put a bunch of effort into it. I make a big mess, dragging props in and out and it takes time to clean it all up when I’m done. I’ve accepted this as just part of it.
- Your “pretties” (the things around you) will add interest to your pictures. Use them!
- Stand on a chair and point your camera down flat and take a picture of what you are doing right in the middle of your progress.
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself in awkward positions. You may have to lay, crawl or climb to get what you want.
- Start noticing what it is about a picture that you like and remember this for when you take a picture.
- I have a tip board on photography for myself here.
- I also have a quilt photography board here that I use for inspiration when I’m clueless about what to do.
- Michele Bartholomew has a quilter’s guide to Instagram here when you sign up for her newsletter. Scroll to the very bottom of her web page. It’s inspiring and helpful! I highly recommend it.
- Here are a few people in the quilting world who I think have amazing photography: Emily Dennis, Sharon Holland, Giucy Giuce, Alison Glass, and there’s so many more that I’m forgetting just now.
Thanks so much for reading this! If you have more insights or questions put them in the comment section.