Photographing your work – part 1

Suzie Blackman
Saturday, 21 February 2009

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We knitters like to photograph our creations for lots of reasons; to share on blogs, to keep a record and of course to self-publish patterns. Photographing garments is tricky as the techniques involved fall somewhere between fashion, product and portrait photography. These are studio-based disciplines, and not suited to the point-and-shoot ethos.

Studio photography is all about planning and preparation, and by applying a few simple principles everyone can improve their results. Remember that you’re a knitter, you’ve got the two most important qualities in photography: patience and creativity!

I first got serious about photography when I took an evening class while studying for my A-levels. I loved it, and over the next few years I spent many hours in darkrooms.  I used my own photography for the basis of much of my graphic design work. Although I wouldn’t call myself a professional photographer, I’ve often done paid photography work as part of other creative projects. These days, I’m probably taking more pictures of my knitting projects than anything else, so I thought I’d share with you some of my experience.

In this post I’ll cover some camera basics and tips for setting up your shoot.

Big vs small

Big vs small – no contest!

Choosing a camera

If you’re lucky enough to be choosing a new camera, then you should seriously consider a digital SLR. This is not me being snobby about compact cameras – the quality of the lens is the most important factor in determining image quality, and a big lens is always better than a tiny lens. A DSLR is obviously a big investment, but if you’re a self-publishing designer, remember that you’re selling patterns based on your photos.

Whatever type of camera you’re looking for, visit and and make the most of their comprehensive reviews and knowledgeable forum users.

If a DSLR is not for you, fear not! With a bit of work you can get good results from a compact. For the rest of this post I’ll assume that you’re using a compact digital camera, but the same tips are relevant to novice DSLR users.

Setting up your camera

Always set your camera to store images at the highest quality (low compression, large size). If you have a ‘RAW’ mode, use it! This will give you much more flexibility when you come to post-processing (adjusting brightness, sharpening etc.), and will help to capture stitch detail in your garments. The down-side is that you will be able to store fewer photos on your camera.

Read the manual! And keep it to hand. I will describe how to use the manual settings on your camera to make sure you get the best out of it.

Setting the scene

It may sound obvious, but you’re trying to draw attention to the knitwear, so choose a backdrop that’s not going to detract. Plain walls (take down any pictures) or floor-length curtains are good if you’re indoors. Outdoors, wide open spaces and secluded hideaways can work equally well, but small gardens may have more detail than you want. Avoid anywhere that looks rough around the edges as this will distract, unless it’s edgy urban decay that you’re going for! Wherever you choose, make sure you have enough space to move about and try different angles.

Choose your angle

If you look through fashion magazines, you’ll never see a model photographed from a downwards angle. Unless your subject is a hat, don’t look down on the wearer, this is an unflattering perspective and gives the impression of a snapshot. Get down to the level of your subject (in this case the garment, rather than the wearer’s face) and shoot from there. This will help draw attention to the garment and give you a professional looking composition.


Strong side-lighting ruins the shot

Strong side-lighting ruins the shot

If you’re outside, make sure that your lighting is nice and even. Shade can work well, but place your subject in dappled shade and you’ll find it fighting with the detail of your garment. Most photographers will tell you to avoid the harsh light of the middle of the day, but I often find the side-lighting long shadows cast when the sun is low in the sky problematic for capturing the texture of knitwear, so you may need to experiment and find out what works for your work and your camera.

Adjusting the white balance for artificial lighting

Adjusting the white balance for artificial lighting

Indoors, try to make the most of natural light sources – these will give you the most realistic colour and flattering complexions. Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to use a space with artificial lighting. You should be able to select the type of lighting you’re using in your camera’s white balance settings, this will help you get natural looking colours.  Avoid spaces with a mix of different types of lighting (daylight, tungsten, fluorescent), it makes colour correction near impossible!

In the part 2 I’ll look at exposure, zoom, flash and close-ups. I’ll talk about how to address some common problems using the manual settings on your camera and low-cost equipment.

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  1. mooncalf says:

    Ooh excellent. I’ve been waiting for this post since you mentioned it on my blog last week. Looking forward to part 2!

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