Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sewing Photography Tips


If you are a seamstress who wants to boost your profile on social media, you need good content--and you also need pretty content. Today we are going to talk about how to take good photos that do your sewing talents justice. And don't worry, we're going to do it the economical way!

First, my personal background. I started photographing my sewing projects almost ten years ago. While I am still constantly learning more about photography, I will say that my pictures have come a long way. In this article I am going to share with you many of the tricks I've learned about photography in general, and photographing sewing projects and costumes in particular. Some of what I've learned has come from trial and error, other bits are tips from friends, and plenty of the info comes from many hours spent reading other photography tip blogs. Indeed, I would particularly like to highlight this Sewing Photography post by Tilly and the Buttons, as it served as a significant jumping off point for many of my photographic advancements.


Why Good Photos?
I'll admit, there are plenty of times when I just want to race through a project. Taking any photos, much less good ones, definitely slows me down. So I don't blame you if this feels overwhelming to you. However, if you want to grow your presence on social media, either for personal or business reasons, taking good photos is an essential step.

Why?

Think about the blogs and Instagram accounts you follow. What draws you to them? The content. Probably you really enjoy the well-written advice...but what initially caught your eye? The headlines? Maybe, if you were doing a google search. But if you're scrolling on Instagram, or clicking through many links at once, it is the eye-catching photo that grabbed your attention. And even if you found an article because you were searching specific keywords, would you stick around for a tutorial with badly lit, sparse photos? Maybe, if it was the only one you found. But if there was another competing blog with better photos (and more of them), you'd probably prefer that one, right?

Let's face it, there are millions of people to follow on social media. Hundreds, if not thousands of them, are in your sphere of interest. You can't follow them all! So you follow the 'best' ones. And in our very visual world, particularly in the entirely visual medium of sewing, a great photo is an essential part of snagging the descriptor of 'best.'

So, whether you are photographing your work to snap commissions, or sharing tutorials to up your follower count, you need amazing photos. Let's talk about how to get them.

The Camera

The good news? You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get a good camera for most sewing photography purposes. There are many point-and-shoot options in a variety of price ranges out there, but honestly your best bet is probably to go with a good camera phone.

The advantages of a camera phone:

  • Instant abilities to upload online
  • Great, free apps for photo editing
  • Dual purpose--you get a phone & camera at a price tag that is hard to beat by buying both separately, and usually bundled into a monthly phone plan.
  • Light, portable, quick to turn on.
  • Increasingly better point-and-shoot capabilities, designed to create good-looking photos online
Yes, higher quality cameras can create beautiful images. A good DSLR with the right lens and lighting kit is still going to capture the most beautiful images--in the hands of a professional. And if you're a professional, you don't need this part of the blog post! (scroll down to the sewing specific tips). If you're not a professional, it will take a lot of time and study to get your money's worth out of an upper end camera. Which is fine if you are serious about photography as a hobby! But if all you want is to get good sewing photos for your blog or Instagram, skip the expensive camera and invest in a good camera phone.

But it does have to be a good camera phone. You cannot get a cheap phone with a correspondingly cheap camera and expect to get good images. You need some power and some decent Megapixels.

Technology changes so quickly, that even if I were an expert, any specific recommendations I could give here would quickly become outdated. The good news is that a good camera is an increasingly important feature for many phone buyers and has become a major selling point for phone designs.

What I will say is this: I got a $100 Windows phone back in 2013. It was my first decent camera phone and I loved being able to take pictures with my phone. However I quickly became depressed by the limited capabilities. When I bought my next phone, I specifically looked for one with a good camera in my price range. I got the Nokia Lumia 1020 and was impressed with the capabilities of the camera.
Left: 2015 Nokia Lumia 1020, Right, 2013 Nokia Lumia older model

 However, less than a year later, my husband switched to using Project Fi (by google) as his mobile carrier and the Nexus phone he got through that took amazing photos. I was drooling. So when my phone broke, I barely hesitated in also making the switch. The Nexus 6 I have now takes such gorgeous images that I still freak out a little over them...and can only imagine what capabilities my next phone will have! And the cool thing is that I only have a Nexus 6. The new Google Pixel is supposed to have an even better camera, but I decided not to spring for that and I am still very happy with the camera quality. So the moral of the story is that you shouldn't get a bottom line phone, but technology has already advanced to the point where you don't have to get the very top of the line either to get good photos.

2017, Nexus 6p, raw photo with no color edits. The quality here is high enough
that I can increase the brightness on this photo substantially without noticing a
decrease in final quality. It is amazing.

Disclaimer: I do have an actual camera, carefully selected by a photographer friend for my requirements and budget, to shoot the photos for my upcoming sewing book project. If you are shooting photos that will be printed and sold, you still, as of Fall 2017, probably need more than a camera phone. Yet that line is becoming more and more blurred all the time.

Illuminate!

If the biggest photography mistake I see seamstresses making is having a low quality camera, the second biggest is a tie between poor lighting and poor display. Let's tackle lighting first.

Pixelz has a great write-up here with plenty of graphics on how to light apparel photography and I highly recommend checking out the full article. However, the basics are these: use multiple sources of lighting, and make sure as many of them as possible are natural. Also, don't let any bright windows or lamps 'blow out' part of your photo and darken the garment you are trying to display!

"Use Natural Light" is a phrase you are going to see repeated over and over again when reading advice on photographing your sewing. Here's where a high quality camera and lighting kit have an edge, they can make dark interior spaces shine. However, on your budget, you probably can't do that. So to get the very best shot of your work, you need to use slightly difused natural lighting. Don't set your garment directly in bright sunlight, use a difuser (a sheet between two poles works) or use a spot with indirect light. Then, make sure you have a couple of other sources of light to add depth and eliminate backshadow.

Problems: Shot at night with poor lighting. Yellowed and lack of contrast. Also, ugly rug!

Better: Shot in the day. Rug still is ugly, but less so in natural lighting.
Backshadow behind collar is amateur, but this photo is still a step up
from the previous one.

This is hard. So many times my sewing room was in a dark room, or I wanted to photograph a step or a garment late a night or on a cloudy day. I always regretted it. Interior lights, even full spectrum ones, will give off a golden hue. You can correct this to some extent with editing tricks, but it just does not look as good as taking the photo in good, natural lighting. Because good photography was important to me, we created a sewing space for me that has windows on three sides--and I still need back-up lighting to properly light some shots. Lighting is fussy. I won't say I've got the hang of it as I feel I am still learning, but I've come quite a long ways!

Presentation

Remember what I said about poor display? Yep, we're talking about that now.

Quilts, doll clothes, curtains, cushions--most home sewing projects are easy to capture in their natural environment. Just make sure that you photograph them against a non-cluttered background of complementary and gently contrasting colors.

Human clothing, however...that's more complex. So we're going to dive into detail on that one.

If you are very, very lucky, your costume commissions were sent off to a client who did a good photography session and both sent you some of the photos and gave you permission to share them on your own social media. If you haven't managed this before, remember to mention to all future clients that you love to see photos, and then make sure to secure permission to reuse them (for demonstrative purposes, not for selling prints or anything). When you do use the photos, do your best to get the details to credit the cosplayer and photographer as they prefer.

However, even though this is the ideal way to secure gorgeous photos of your finished creation, you still need to get good photos at home. Sometimes you may want in progress shots, or maybe you wish to photograph something you made for yourself, but don't feel comfortable modeling it.  Plus, you should always photograph your commissions well, in case you never get good photos back from your clients. You will want these both for record-keeping and advertising purposes.

So? How do you compose a good photo of your costumes or clothing?

If you have the good fortune to have a photographer in your life who is willing to come over and take photos of you wearing any costumes that fit you, huzzah! Go for that! I have been blessed with family and friends over the years who have provided me with many lovely photos of my creations. I also have a sister who has graciously modeled many pieces for me. We take as many photos as possible outside, against backdrops that fit the costume but do not distract from it. Lucky Lucille has a really nice post on how to pose for these sorts of shots, and how to help those photographing you know what angles to use.

I love this photo, but it is an older work. Nowadays both I and the photographer would aim for a background that was less busy, or at least more blurred out. 

You can also set up a tripod with a timer. This is more difficult and time consuming, as you have to check focus and such and make sure that you are getting the photos you want. However, a garment will always look best when photographed on an actual person. It is worth doing a selfie shoot with a camera timer to photograph the finished garment. Pick a plain background with a color that accentuates but does not distract from your ensemble.

Hang a length of fabric over a bookshelf or pin it to the ceiling to create a custom backdrop. Note, lighting is imperfect here. Backshadow problems.

Ensure good lighting. Pose. Flash. Repeat. Check camera settings. Adjust as necessary. Continue on. You may need to take anywhere from 10-50 photos just to get that winning shot, but the more you practice any photography method, the better you will get and the less time it will take.

Working with a dressform makes for less striking final photos, but it is a good deal simpler and more controlled. It is especially ideal for taking photos of your garment while still under construction.

For this, you need an adjustable dressform that you can set to the measurements of your client. Because these forms are often not very pretty, it is worth making some knit covers from old t-shirts or sheets to slip over the dressform before putting the costume on. You can have a variety of colors available so that your dressform, your backdrop, and your costume work together in harmony.

(It is tempting to go with a white or black background. Simple, right? But I've learned the hard way that both colors are difficult to photograph correctly and nearly always require some specific work in the editing suite.)

Whether working with a dressform or a live model, capture as many angles, poses, and close-up details as possible.

Close-up shots seem to be somewhat intuitive for many seamstresses. I see lighting and quality problems, but not as many composition issues. The biggest problem many of you may encounter is simply taking enough photos of all the steps (when doing a tutorial) or capturing enough detail shots of the finished garment. Sew Not Perfect has a good post on which details to capture. If you are hoping to write a tutorial (and tutorials are amazing at generating clicks for your business!) you will need to capture as many photos as possible. Better to have too many, than realize you missed an important step!

While shooting a tutorial, be mindful of clutter in the background. Although you can always crop and edit a good deal, it will save you the most time simply to sweep aside those tools or vacuum up those scraps on the carpet before shooting. This is most difficult, but also most important when shooting shots that reveal more of the garment. A tidy sewing room is next to impossible to maintain while in the midst of a project, but keep this in mind when seriously photographing a tutorial.
DONT! Look at that clutter! And the yellowed interior lighting! *hides in shame* Moving
this dressform closer to a window before shooting, or draping a sheet over that bookshelf
would have created a more visually appealing shot. Plus, it is all mildly out of focus.

Do! Beautiful natural lighting, a background that harmonizes with the garment. 

When shooting, be mindful of both the full garment (front, side and back), and any special details. I like to shoot full body shots & 3/4th or 1/2 shots from all angles, as well as capturing embellishments, closures, and basically any area that required extra technique.

For an example of an extensively photographed garment, check out this post for my Padme Wedding Gown Recreation. The background here is not the best, but it is dark enough to work okay.

Digital Editing

You have your beautifully framed, lit and extensive shots! Unfortunately, you're not quite done...time to edit!

Why edit? Most photos these days are at least brightened and cropped. You know how super bright photos are all the rage these days? Well, it's because digital cameras and digital editing mean that most folks can get those amazing brightly lit results just by adjusting their photo slightly.

 I often find that in addition to brightening my shots slightly, I also need to adjust the contrast, and sometimes tweak the 'warmth' to remove a yellow hue from interior shots (even when well lit). The good news is that there are plenty of great editing apps that you can get for your phone...for FREE! I use Aviary.

Remember, less is more! Tweak your photos just a bit, and see how they look on your media platform. Pushing the contrast too far will cause your photo to loose detail and look amateur, as will stretching the limits on other controls. Photos will often look brighter on instagram than they do on Facebook, and a photo can look great on your phone but grainy and dark on the computer, so you'll need compare and find the happy medium that works for you!

Share!

Your final step will be sharing your photo on your social media accounts! Ideally you'll have a blog post to link back to, although beware, links do not hotlink in instagram (although they may do in instagram skins like 6tag). Best to post "link in profile" and share the link in your profile because that will hotlink for people to easily navigate and see your work.

If you are building an audience on instagram or twitter, make sure to use good hashtags. See what hashtags other posters in your field use, and browse those hashtags to see if your work fits in. You'll quickly learn which gain you the most likes! Cast your net broad enough to get seen by interested people, but don't use tags that have nothing to do with your project, that'll get you blocked by annoyed searchers!

Hashtags are not as necessary on Facebook. Do be careful about how you share on there. If you have a page for your brand, it will NOT be seen by your followers at the same percentage that your personal profile page gains views. Facebook algorithms are geared more and more toward paying clients. It is worth having a business/brand page, but do share the link from that page over on your personal profile as well for optimal viewership. But be careful, don't drive away all your friends if the majority of them are not interested in your sewing hobby! Also beware of oversatuation, it's okay to tag people who might be interested in your post, but don't tag the same people all the time, and don't share to their timeline unless it is a really specific link that you know they will appreciate. The people who are truly interested in your work will 'like' your posts and thus see them regularly on their timeline.

Go forth and experiment!

You're probably not going to start getting gorgeous shots right off the bat. That's okay. Experiment. Be flexible. Try new things! Share your photographic journey, and don't forget to tag @seamstressconfessions on instagram so I can see your work!

Have a question about this post? Send me a line at seamstressconfessions [at] gmail [dot] com. My health problems can cause a delay in response, so thanks in advance for your patience!

Did you enjoy this post?You may enjoy the following:
Belle Blue Dress (OUAT) - Part 1
Captain America - Part 1
2-Hour Jedi Robes - Part 1
Princess Merida - Part 1
Steampunk Pirate (Renaissance) - Part 1 

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Welcome to the discussion! Please note that due to chronic illness, I am no longer taking commissions of any kind.

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