Sunday, August 31, 2014

let's talk about taking photographs

At some point, regardless of whether or not you want to submit your work to an exhibition or not, you are going to want to take a photo of your work.  It might be to share it in a blog post, on your facebook page or to send a photo of it in an email to a friend.  You should always strive to take the best photo possible because after all, you spent all that time creating the quilt so don't take a photo that doesn't accurately represent what a beautiful piece of art it is.

But let's approach this from the point of view that you want to submit your quilt to a call for art.  You finish your piece and it's time to take a photo so what's the best way to do that?

First and foremost and I can't stress how important this point is: remember that in the case of a juried submission the photographs of your work are what the jurors are using to determine whether or not your quilt is going to be accepted or not.  The juror is not going to look at the photo and say, "well I think this is a good piece of work but the photo is not great so let me go pop over to the artists website to see if there is a better image of it".  In most cases the juror is not even going to know who the artist who made the work is.  So the photos that you submit need to be the best representation of your work.   There's an excellent blog post here by Kathleen Loomis who is one of this years jurors for the Quilt=Art=Quilt exhibit at the Schweinfurth Art Center talking about her experience with viewing the photographs of work submitted for the show.  She shares some excellent advice and tips about what you can do to improve your chances of being chosen for a show that is juried from digital images.

Do you need to go out and buy an expensive camera to take a decent photo?  Not necessarily.  Many of  the compact point and shoot cameras can take terrific photos if you make sure that you are taking photos at the highest setting the camera will allow.  So before you start taking photos consult your camera’s manual to make sure that you have the camera set to take as large and as high a resolution photo as possible.  Some cameras will let you take smaller lower resolution photos to save space on the cameras memory card.  You might find this information in your camera manual under “image size” or “image resolution”.

Here are some of my own tips:

Find a spot where you can hang your quilt against a neutral background.  This means you don't want to take a photo of your quilt on a bright red, yellow, purple, paisley, checkerboard or any other color or patterned background!  This is also not the time to take your quilt outside and hang it on a fence, over a porch railing or ask someone to stand behind it and hold it up while you take a picture of it.  If you don't have a wall with neutral color paint on it then consider covering your design wall with a clean piece of neutral color wrinkle free fabric stretched taut over it and photographing against that.  

Hang your quilt on the wall making sure that there are no pins, clips or other items you're using to hang the quilt showing.  Take the time to use a level to make sure that your quilt is hanging straight.

Light your quilt evenly across the surface.  This means you don't want to take a photo of your quilt with a swarth of sunshine coming through the pained windows across it.  Natural light is best but sometimes that's not an option and you have to use electric lighting.  This is fine but be aware of the color of the bulbs you use.  Some household bulbs can throw a yellow tint and it will effect the colors in the photo you take.

Here's an example of a quilt that I recently finished hanging on my photo wall:

So at first glance it looks pretty good and ready to photograph but look closely.  See the little spots of brown along the right and left top side edges?  That's the hanging rod sticking out.  Not a huge distraction you might be thinking but you wouldn't see that in a professionally shot photo.

The quilt is also not hanging straight.  This is easily fixed by using a level to straighten it.

This next image shows another thing to avoid when taking an photo of your quilt:

I was obviously not standing in front of the quilt when I took this shot.   You should always take your photos standing directly in front of your quilt.  I use a tripod when I photograph my quilts.  It was an inexpensive investment that really makes a difference in the quality of my photographs.  You'll find the one that I use here.

Take several test shots to check that the lighting is right.  Don't expect that your first photo is the best one.  I always have to take several shots in order to get the lights in the right place.  

Here are some terrific online resources for more information about taking photographs of your quilts:

Holly Knott has an incredibly comprehensive series of articles on her website about taking photographs of quilts:

The Bernina We All Sew blog has a series of posts by Kerby Smith on how to take great photos of quilts:

part 1:
part 2:

There's some helpful information on the Modern Quilt Guild website:

The International Quilt Association has some great tips for quilt photography: 

You'll find my previous posts about digital photography here.


  1. This is a very helpful post on photographing our work! I think you could include it in the newsletter to be sure people see it - even if they forget to check the blog.