17 June 2014

Photographing Your Sewing Projects


More and more of us are sharing photos of what we’ve made online. Maybe you write a blog, or are active on Instagram or Pinterest. Maybe you occasionally submit pictures to a sewing group on Flickr, a contest on a website or a sewing social on Twitter. However you choose to go about it, taking and publishing photos of the things you’ve made is a great way of not only documenting your progress but also keeping you motivated to make stuff. Plus, by adding to the online pool of sewing eye candy, you’re inspiring other people to get creative too!

Today I thought I’d share some hints and tips on taking photos of your homemade clothes. Now, first off, a disclaimer. I don’t consider myself a particularly good photographer from a technical point of view. I love my camera (a Panasonic Lumix), but it's pretty much always set to the auto function. My brain begins to snooze at the mention of ISO levels and aperture f-stops. Yet despite my embarrassing lack of technical photography skills, I do feel that the photos I’ve published of my makes have improved over the years I’ve been blogging as I’ve picked up or worked out certain – simple, non-techy – tricks. So if you haven’t read your camera manual either (zzz…), these tips are for you. The kind of habits that anyone can put into practice that will make a world of difference to the photos you take of your sewing projects.


1) Choose your background

The background that you choose – or create – for your photos is super important to ensure that the star of the show – your finished garment – is showcased in its full glory. Busy or messy backgrounds can distract the viewer from what you really want them to look at – your lovely homemade outfit.

I like to photograph my makes against a plain wall. Sometimes it’s white, occasionally it’s slate grey, and a lot of the time it’s a gorgeous teal colour that complements the fabric and makes the finished photo pop.

Now, you may be thinking, “But I don’t have a massive house with a huge blank wall!” Nor do I. I live in a flat that’s full of stuff. That teal wall? It’s in my kitchen, usually with a table in front of it and pictures hanging on the wall. When I take my blog photos, I move everything out of the way to create a nice blank canvas. I also remove any little distractions, such as wires in the corner of the frame, which can draw the eye away from the garment.

It really is worth the effort of tidying up to ensure that the viewer is looking at your gorgeous homemade dress rather than the pile of washing in the corner.


2) Make the most of natural light

Lighting can make the world of difference to a photograph, but you don’t need to invest in a load of fancy kit. Harness the natural light of the sun to make your photos look gorgeous. Whether you’re photographing indoors or outdoors, get to know the times of day when there is enough light to take a decent shot but not so much that it creates harsh shadows.

I photograph the vast majority of my makes indoors and know that the best time to take pictures in my home is mid-morning. Yep, it’s a bit inconvenient if I’ve finished sewing in the afternoon or evening and am desperate to write up a blog post straight away, but it’s definitely worth the wait to get decent light.

Sometimes I’ll use bulldog clips to hang a length of white cotton fabric over the window to soften harsh shadows. If I’m taking an “in progress” shot of my sewing on the table, or focusing on a small detail, I prop up larges piece of white card around the subject of the photo and hold another one against my body to bounce light into the area I want to shoot. This is a tip I learned from the designer who took the step photos in my book.

In the illustration above you can see that my office has dark walls and glaring light, yet the white card trick will make the finished photo (of what's on the table) look just the right amount of bright and lovely. Easy to do, and I can see an immediate difference in the quality of the image.


3) Strike a pose

This is the bit that makes a lot of people feel awkward – modelling your garments. Me too. But just find what works for you and get into it.

Embarrassed to have someone else take your photo? Get a tripod and take your own with your camera on self-timer – that’s what I do. Feel awkward? Put some music on that suits the mood you want in your photos and have a little disco. Music will animate your facial expressions! Don’t know how to pose? Play around with different positions and go with whatever makes you feel comfortable. You could also try holding a prop, such as a book or bunch of flowers, if that makes you feel more… erm… useful?!

If you reeeeally hate having your photo taken, you can always just hang the garment on the wall or on a dress form. Personally I think these kinds of shots can look really cute.


4) Decide the shape and size

Where do you plan to share your photos? The answer to this question should inform what shape to make them.

If you’re posting to your blog, you may choose to shoot mostly landscape format photos, or a combination of portrait and landscape. If you’re sharing pictures on Instagram, they will be cropped to a square shape so think about that when you choose how to frame the image. Twitter tends to crop photos somewhere around the middle when they show up in a feed, so I like to use landscape or square images here.

As for Pinterest, the optimum platform for sharing gorgeous pictures of your homemade clothes IMHO, portrait photos work best. Pinterest displays photos at a fixed width but any length, so landscape pictures will get lost in the ocean of images. If you really want your picture to stand out, make it loooong.

The size that you store your pictures in is also something to think about. If you write a blog, keeping your photos a consistent width can make your site look more professional. Large enough that you can see the details of a garment properly, but not so large a file size that they take forever to load. If you’re only sharing on Twitter, Instagram etc, smaller photos are fine – as long as you can clearly see the garment. If you’re hoping to get some press attention, it’s worth storing some high res versions of your best shots so they can be printed upon request.


5) Finishing touches

Before you publish your beautiful photos, it’s worth taking a few minutes to tweak them in an editing programme. I’m not advocating airbrushing your body here, but there’s no harm in retouching anything that looks out of place or distracting.

For example, remember I said I take the pictures down from the kitchen wall before I take my photos? The nails that the pictures usually hang from get left behind, so I take a couple of seconds to retouch these random blobs out of the image, along with any random smudges on the walls (I’m not the only person with random smudges on my walls, am I?).

You can also use an editing programme to brighten your photos, adjust the colours or even add text. I use a combination of iPhoto and Photoshop Elements, which is a cheap-and-simple version of Photoshop for people like me who wouldn’t know how to get the most out of the whole (more expensive) programme. You could also try using a free online site such as PicMonkey for collages and adding text, although I find that it compromises the quality of the image.

I've promised myself that this Summer I will finally finish the Craftsy photography class that I'm half way through (which is great, by the way) and maybe even take a face-to-face photography workshop or one-to-one (any recommendations?). But, let's face it, I probably won't get round to reading my camera manual anytime soon. In the meantime, these tricks are helping me out and I hope you find them useful too.

Do you have non-techy photography tips of your own to share?

40 comments:

  1. This is a great help - I have just started my blog and had no idea where to start with photo's. Thank you!!

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  2. Great posts I think the only other thing I try to remember is to this mini mental checklist: Take some full length shots, some close shots, some shots of the back, some shots of the key details or things you're proud of. And TAKE LOTS. I never fail to have 19 shots of me with my eyes closed and really need that 20th photo.

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    1. Same! Whyyyy are my eyes always closed? :-/

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  3. Great post! I never knew about Photoshop Elements. I've been wanting to buy Photoshop for ages but can't justify the cost - Elements looks great and a lot more purse-friendly. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. You're welcome! I only found out about PS Elements relatively recently too - and so glad I have.

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  4. I've struggled with taking pictures of my makes where I don't look like a crazy person. My boyfriend takes the photos for me, so we try and plan out the shots I want in advance, as well as choosing an interesting location which suits the clothes and distracts from whatever face I'm pulling. Our first attempt - Brigitte and Margot, no less - http://laurasaurus.net/2014/06/12/love-at-first-stitch-brigitte-and-margot/ - went quite well. Also, if in doubt, add a cat.

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    1. Wow, great pics! Just wish I had a cat...

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  5. Great idea for a post - there are loads of us non-techies! I use Pixlr Express to edit a bit and add borders or text if I want - it's really easy to use.

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  6. I love the skirt in your photo's, could you tell me is that from your book Love at First Stitch. I'm in the process of making the Delphine skirt but love the style of this one.

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    1. Thank you! It's the Picnic Blanket Skirt - free tutorial here.

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  7. @Naomi Holt : it's not from the book, but Tilly made a tutorial on how to make this skirt 2 years ago, you can find it here : http://www.tillyandthebuttons.com/p/picnic-blanket-skirt.html (and incidentally, just a few weeks before she posted pictures of this skirt, I had also made myself one, using this tutorial and lobster print fabric!)

    @ Tilly : great post! I must be the worst photographer ever (I mostly use my cellphone) but with these tips, even people who don't own a super snazzy camera will feel capable of taking better pictures!

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  8. Fantastic post - I am finding that setting up my photos to make the most of my makes can be really difficult, partly because I pull the strangest faces when in front of the camera! This is where lots of photos help :) I am very lucky to have a copy of Photoshop (albeit a couple of years old) and have found it really useful. My favourite adjustment is the Exposure menu as adjusting these fields can really help bring out an outfit whilst toning down a busy background.

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  9. Great post with lots of info for someone like me who likes to play first and read her manual sometime down the very long road.

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  10. For re-touching, I really like Ribbet. It's online and free, and I almost ALWAYS use their auto-fix feature to make my photos 10x better. They also have a bunch of options that you can play around with if you're feeling adventurous or skilled, but I like the quick and easy way the best. :)

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  11. Thanks Tilly! I am taking the Craftsy Basic DSLR class too, and working hard to create better images for my blog. It is a process for sure, but I can see great progress in my own work, and hope to continue improving. I sure have a long ways to go!! ;-)

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  12. Great post, thanks Tilly! Another couple of options for photo editing are Microsoft Office Picture Editor (comes with Office and very easy to use) or if you want something more advanced there's GIMP (free open source editor with similar features to Photoshop).
    I recently started a blog but not finding it easy getting good photos of myself wearing my makes - eyes closed, strange expression etc, will have to try putting on music! :)

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  13. After much lurking and avoiding of technology, I have finally started a blog to document my sewing hobby and have been finding the photo part a little bit tricky. So, a very timely post for me, and a relief to hear that you also use the automatic button on your camera. I too get stuck after the words ISO level and aperture. I will definitely try to use some of these techniques to improve my next set of photos.

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  14. Hi Tilly,
    what a great blog!!!!! I love it!!!!
    have a nice evening!!!
    Anette

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  15. Is it bad that my ideas for re-decorating my dinning room include a blank wall (no furniture or pictures) just for blog photos?!

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    1. Don't tell my boyfriend, but I've got plans for a yellow wall for the same reason ;)

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  16. Great tips! One tip that I would add is to take LOTS of photos (way, way more than you think you will need). I usually only get one photo I like out of every 5-10 shots, so if you can find a way to have your camera take multiple shots on a timer, it really speeds things up. I also use Gimp to edit my photos. It's quite similar to Photoshop, but completely free. I don't do that much - just edit the levels and compress the photo so it doesn't take so long to upload onto my blog.

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  17. Great tutorial! I just put "my closet" on my diyblog http://mar10creatief.blogspot.nl , but I wasn't sure about the pictures... Now I'm gonna try again... Thanks

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  18. Thanks, this is a great post. I've just started a blog and am keen to share some sewing projects but i'm painfully camera shy! I'm going to start with some 'hanger' shots and work up to it- these tips might give me a bit more confidence though.

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  19. Great post Tilly. Now I don't feel so bad about leaving my nice camera on automatic. It really is hard to find a good spot in the house light and clutter-wise.

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  20. Omg fantastic post Tilly, I am just beginning to blog and am awfulllll at taking pics so this gave me some great pointers. Thanks! :)

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  21. There's always the option of taking photos out-of-doors too. As long as it's not too bright out = shadows in the wrong places. Overcast days are actually good, maybe with a little fill-in flash.

    If you are doing the indoor wall type of photo, remember to stand away from the wall ! Otherwise you end up with shadows of yourself on the wall behind you.

    Great post Tilly. I learned a few things too, like GIMP. Thanks.

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  22. Thanks for the tips, I definitely need to sort the lighting out on my photos.

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  23. This is super helpful, thank you! I'm definitely going to try the white card tip, I feel like my blog photos have improved a lot over the years but they can always be better! I photograph my smaller items on a white Ikea Lack table, it's super easy to take to pieces for storage and the white background really makes my pictures pop!

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  24. It's great to have these tips. For some reason, I find that my indoor shots are better than outside. Go figure??

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  25. Such a useful post Tilly. You have such an eye for design and intinctively know how to make everything look great.

    I have been using my phone for my blog, but have persuaded family members to help me with a real picture from time to time.

    I have been suprised how different colours look in different light conditions (eg from deep purple to bright blue) and your tips on using white card and gauzy curtains are very helpful.

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  26. Nice helpful post. I especially like the tip about using a tripod. Whilst I'm not afraid of the odd pose I do find it hard to ask people to take photos of me doing so.
    http://daisycreatesinsussex.blogspot.co.uk/

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  27. Great tips Tilly! It's certainly given me something to think about when taking my photos. I can't believe that lovely teal background you use is actually in your flat. I was convinced looking at your pics you must go to a studio!

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  28. What a brilliant post, I'm struggling with photography for my blog, but will try out some of these ideas. I do love your teal wall!

    www.calascrafts.blogspot.com

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  29. This is fab and has definitely got me thinking about my own photos.
    www.stepherella.co.uk

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  30. What if you are sewing for small children all you have is a sewing mannequin to display your items then how do you take the photo?

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  31. This is extremely helpful for a newbie like me! Cant wait to start working in backgrounds :)

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