I seriously can’t believe I’m writing this blog post and providing you all with TIPS. Why? Because up to about 6 months ago, I was the person seeking out tips and sweating buckets about every quilt photoshoot. I would stress out about providing companies with photos of finished items for look books and promotional materials, because even though I knew what I wanted my pictures to look like, they always seemed to fall short of the mark.
If you’re nodding along right now and feeling much the same as I was, then keep reading for all the tips and tricks to better quilt photography. I utilize ALL of these, but even trying out one or two will improve your product photography. I love taking pictures now and look forward to quilt photoshoots!
1. Lighting, Lighting, Lighting:
Good, natural light is crucial for good photography, right? Well, sort-of. I get the best results when I shoot in natural light, but living in Wisconsin where the sun hides for half the year, natural light is not always the easiest thing to come by.
GOOD: If shooting indoors, try shooting near a window with good natural light. Use a foam board or light reflector to minimize shadows and brighten up your set-up.
BETTER: Last winter, tired of the dark, dreary, snow-filled days, I caved and bought a set of photography lights. This set, actually. I researched them extensively to find one that wasn’t going to break the bank but also wouldn’t break after a single use. I have been extremely pleased with them. I recommend the 3-light system as quilts are big and one light simply isn’t enough. This lighting system, although an initial investment, has allowed me to shoot flat-lays of quilts in my house thus saving on photographer fees. So, it definitely has paid for itself by now!
BEST: Shooting outdoors, out of direct sunlight. Try a shaded spot in the yard, or your porch. Avoid direct sunlight if possible as it casts harsh shadows on images. Also try shooting at “magic hour”, one hour before the sun sets. You’ll get that soft, glowy, dreamy light photographers are always chasing. I find overcast days to be great days for outdoor product photography. There’s tons of natural light without the crazy shadows.
The camera you use will make a difference in the quality of your photos. Although smart phones have come a long way, and you can take decent pictures for the ‘gram with them, the lower number of megapixels per photo mean that when you blow them up to use on a blog, you’re more limited with what you can do with them. You’re less able to crop them or expand their size.
GOOD: A smartphone does the trick, and if that’s what you got, use it! I recommend a tripod for stabilization.
BETTER: A point-and-shoot camera will shoot a higher quality image that you can then edit and use however you want.
BEST: A dSLR is an investment, but will give you the clearest images and the most possibilities for your photos. The greatest benefit of a dSLR and the thing that literally changed my photography has been to learn to shoot in manual mode (Dramatic? Maybe. But, it is so true). When shooting in manual mode, you control the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO, thus telling the camera how much light to take in and how. My house gets very limited natural light and I’ve taken pictures that I haven’t had to edit AT ALL by shooting in manual mode. Want to learn? Here’s a great resource to get you started.
My favorite thing about my dSLR is that because the photos are so huge, I’m able to take a shot from father away, crop out what I don’t want, and still end up with a high-resolution photo. dSLRs tend to go on sale in the summer when new models come out and around Black Friday, so if you’re in the market, I recommend waiting and watching the prices. You can get a lower-end dSLR for around $500. This is the one I have and I love it.
So you took a photo, now you just post it, right? Wrong! I subject all my photos to a little bit of enhancement in the form of editing. When editing a photo, you get to play with the brightness, highlights, shadows, vibrancy, and other features of your photo. So if your initial picture feels a bit dark to you, you can brighten it! If you accidentally got something in the frame that you don’t want, you can remove it! There’s lots of programs out there that allow you to do editing, but there’s also some great phone applications, and my favorite ones are FREE! For a long time I did most of my photo editing on my phone, and it worked just fine. Just remember to turn your screen brightness all the way up when editing photos.
Photo as shot, cropped
Background and clips removed
My favorite photo editing apps are Photoshop Express, Lightroom, and Photoshop Fix. These three apps will be able to do for you most of what you might need, from brightening a picture to removing an unwanted object. And bonus! They’re all free and very user friendly!
If you need to add text to a photo, I really like Canva. It has a ton of templates to choose from and allows you to add banners and text to make your photos pop. It is available on your phone or computer.
If you’re editing photos on a computer, of course the first thing you probably think of is Photoshop. Photoshop can be an investment over time, due to the monthly subscription costs. I’ve been using Pixelmator Pro on my iMac for the past month and I’m amazed by what it can do. (And at a $40 one-time cost, it is much more affordable than Photoshop).
4. Backgrounds and props:
Think about your backgrounds. If your quilt has a lot of interesting things going on, consider a white brick background or something else similarly neutral. I try to match the feeling I want to evoke about my quilt with the background and props I use. Edgy and modern? I look for a place with a lot of sharp edges. Nature-inspired quilt? Try shooting in a field or forest. Playful? Try a mural. Be careful, however, that your background doesn’t end up taking away from your quilt. Try shooting in multiple locations and see what you like.
Decide what is the intention of the photo and use that as a jumping off point for how you style your photo.
If you’re taking pictures to sell the finished item, make sure to keep the focus on the item itself and avoid any wonky filters. People don’t want any surprises when the item shows up at their door! You can style the quilt or product, but keep backgrounds neutral and keep the focus on your product. Consider taking different kinds of pictures to sell the product. Etsy does a great job of showcasing the different elements to consider for product photography.
If you’re taking pictures to promote your new pattern or to showcase the quilt, you can get more creative with background and props. Finding fun, crazy, hidden locations is one of my favorite parts of taking quilt photos.
If you’re taking pictures before gifting a quilt, consider getting the recipients in the photo, or style your shoot around what they love.
In all three cases, be aware that if you have a busy background, the quilt can end up competing against your background. The same thing goes for props. Indoor plants can add greenery, while rustic ladders can add charm. I recommend 1-3 large items to compliment your quilt. If you add too many small props, the set can end up feeling crowded and messy.
Photo as shot, using a sheer curtain for a white background
After! Using the mug as a fun prop for a fabric pull
5. Don’t forget the details
Detail shots give you the opportunity to highlight some of the best features of your quilts. Shots of hand-quilting, your logo, fussy-cut details, and matching points are just some of the things to consider!
6. Practice, practice, practice!
The key to improving at anything is to practice. Try photographing in different locations in your house at different times of the day and see what works best for your house. Try different backgrounds, indoors and outdoors, and see what you like best. When I’m on Instagram or someone’s blog and I see a photo that I like, I ask myself what it is about that photo that I find appealing. Is it the angle at which it was shot? The way they styled the photo? I save these tips so I can try it myself later. I’m constantly working on my photography skills!
What do you want to learn about quilt photography? Ask me below!
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