I get a lot of questions and compliments about my photography. So I finally decided to write a post about my supplies and photography tips for textile artists.
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Believe it or not, I didn’t start out this way. There was a time when I didn’t trust my own photography skills and so I hired professional help. You may also need to hire professional help until such a time when you’ve developed your own strong photo skills.
Photography Tips for Textile Artists
I’ve always loved the camera. I saw it hanging around my dad’s neck very often as he traveled the world installing and fixing mainframe computers for multinational companies. When he got off an airplane and I hugged him, I’ll feel his camera sticking into my chest. When I was a little girly, my first camera and wristwatch were my most prized tech possessions. However, I never did quite learn how to do much with a camera than to take random family photos.
Fast forward to a few years back when I got into textile arts. I quickly learned that photography is very important. I need great photos to show my work to prospective buyers, for entry into exhibitions, and for running a successful blog.
So, I spent time learning about photography, I took classes and spent money on supplies.
Money spent by textile artists in learning and buying supplies for photography is money well spent.
I can attribute a lot of my success in being able to get my work into exhibitions to having great photos. These days, most calls for entry are based on digital images only. Also, being able to take good photos has helped me write engaging blog posts and create beautiful photo-illustrated e-books for my blog followers.
Photography Tips for Textile Artists: Gear
When I started taking photos of my artwork, I owned a Canon T1i so I just used what I had. Cell phone photography may be okay for posting on the web but not good enough for print or entry into exhibitions. A DSLR is a better option. Recently, I’ve upgraded my camera to a Canon 77D.
My studio is in my basement which means I don’t get much natural light. So, I purchased a set of studio lights with softboxes from Cowboy Studio so that I can control how much light hits my artwork when I’m photographing. The softboxes are necessary to reduce the harshness of the light on your subject. Without them, you are likely to get “hot spots” where the light directly hits your artwork. They also help to reveal the details in your work better.
Next, I got myself a tripod. Currently, I own quite a few actually – some for table tops and others for the floor. Mounting your camera on a tripod eliminates blurriness in your photos which can happen due to your hand shaking in the process of snapping a photo. Sometimes the shaking is so slight you might not notice but it affects the quality of your photos.
My design wall is made of white fleece so it serves as a perfect neutral background for my photos. I also have a large black fabric which I use as a background when my artwork is light-colored. You always want to use a neutral background for photographing your artwork. White, black or grey work well.
Photography Tips for Textile Artists: Shooting
I position my lights at 90 degrees to the tripod that holds my camera. My lights are adjustable, so I adjust the intensity to match the size of my artwork. For example, little pieces don’t need so much light to illuminate them while larger pieces may need more. If you have to use flash, an external (on camera) flash is preferable to the in-built flashlight which comes with your camera.
Make sure to focus your camera on the center of your textile artwork before taking a photo. You always want to fill the frame with your artwork. Clara, what does that mean, you say? Let me explain. When you look into the viewfinder of your camera (that little lens hole), you want your artwork to be almost as big as that space. You don’t want it to be a tiny little thing in the frame.
When I had the Canon T1i, I’d zoom the lens in to get my work to fill the frame. Now I’ve upgraded to a prime lens (a 50mm lens also known as the nifty fifty). A prime lens is a fixed lens. This means you can’t zoom in or out. To get a bigger or smaller image size, I have to move my tripod back and forth. It takes a little getting used to. But prime lenses give better quality photos and a blurry background effect (called bokeh) which is desirable in some types of photography.
Photography Tips for Textile Artists: Editing
Let me just say that it’s not enough to shoot good photos. Learning to edit, will take a ‘meh’ photo to a ‘wow’ photo. I edit almost every photo I use. You can find simple editing tools for adjusting brightness, contrast, and color in any photo editing software. The industry standard for editing photos is Adobe Lightroom or Elements. You can also use Adobe Photoshop or Elements for editing your photos.
At the minimum, edit your photo by adjusting the brightness and contrast levels and cropping out any unnecessary background. Remember that if you’re entering your photos into quilt shows, they typically don’t want you to crop out the edges of your textile artwork. They want to see your edge finisging – binding, facings or oterwise. However, general art shows don’t have that restriction.
Summary of my photo gear.
Here’s a quick summary of my current photo gear.
- Camera: Canon 77 D
- Lenses: 50 mm and 24 mm
- Memory Cards: Several sizes
- Tripods: Bogen, Manfroto, Focus & more
- External Camera Flash: Focus
- Photo Editing Software: Adobe Photoshop
So, there you have it, my photography tips for textile artists. You don’t need to start with a whole lot of gear. Just the basics will do. The 3 main things, I’ll say you need to do are:
- Keep your camera on a tripod centered in front of your piece for shooting.
- Use lighting properly to illuminate the details of your work so that you get the right exposure
- Learn basic editing features to enhance the photos you take
It takes some reading and actual photographing to get good at this. So don’t stop reading and experimenting. For further reading, Holly Knott (who designed my previous website) has a great article on photographing quilts. Also, The Internation Quilt Association has tidbits on photographing your textile work.
If you’re a member of an art organization, it’s likely they will also have some resources on the subject. Find out from them. Finally, every once in a while, re-acquaint yourself with the features of your camera by reading the manual. You’ll be surprised how many things you didn’t know your camera could do. 🙂
If you have any questions I didn’t answer in this post, feel free to ask them. In an effort to be brief, I may have missed some things.
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Also published on Medium.