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Why digital?

Using a digital camera to photograph your artwork provides you with instant feedback—you'll know right away whether you got the exposure right. With digital images, you can also control the results by fixing color, brightness, and even sharpness, to a degree, in an image editing software package, such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. No more film!

Would you ever not want to go digital? Well, if you needed to print poster-sized images of your work, you might want to shoot film ... unless you had a high-end digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera that could handle the needed resolution. But the images from today's inexpensive 6- to 8-megapixel digital cameras yield excellent prints at 16" x 20" or larger, so it's not likely you'll ever need to resort to film.

What if the show you're entering requires slides? Not many do these days, but even in this case, your best bet is to shoot digital anyway, taking advantage of its enhanced control over your images ... then use a service bureau to convert your digital image files into slides.


Another huge advantage of digital cameras, of course, is that there are no film or developing costs. You can shoot to your heart's content. Here's a rough comparison of costs.

35mm slide film

Slide film—approximately $3.00/roll for 24 exposures ... but 24 exposures don't equal 24 perfect shots. You might only get five or six good images from that roll, so you shoot three rolls just to be sure you'll get 15 good shots. That's $9.00 for film.

Shipping—if you had to order the film online, add at least $5.00 for shipping.

Slide film processing—approximately $8.00 to develop one roll of 24 exposures, or $24.00 for our scenario.

Already you're up to $38.00 just for 15 slides that may or may not turn out well.

Digital images

With digital, there's no cost for film, and no shipping of film required. If the show or gallery accepts digital image files as submissions, you're all set! Even if they don't, sending your .tif or .jpg files to an online service bureau who will turn them into 35mm slides costs approximately $2.00–$5.00 per slide, depending on turnaround time. Let's assume you don't have to rush your order, so we'll use the $2.00 figure here for comparison purposes. 15 slides created this way will cost you $30.00 or a bit less, because many places also charge a bit less for additional slides made from the same image. There's also no loss of quality in these "duplicate" images, because they're not really duplicates of a slide or negative; they're just additional copies of the .tif or .jpg file that you sent them. Add on the cost of shipping, and you're almost up to the cost for 35mm slides—but at least you know what they'll look like!

Cameras galore!

What kind of camera?

Maybe you don't have a digital camera yet, and are wondering what kind to get. The profusion of models on the market certainly makes it hard to know how to choose! We've seen cameras selling for anywhere from $14 to $1,400. Well, you can probably guess that the $14 camera isn't going to do the job, and $1,400 is way more than you're willing to spend. Great—that narrows it down to only about a hundred or so models! What's a quilter to do?

Well, here's what we're going to do: give you some very basic tips, and then send you off to a website where you can read more. The tips: look for a camera from a well-known maker that has at least 5 megapixels of resolution and a 3x optical (not digital) zoom lens. Manual controls are a plus, but not essential. You can get a camera that meets those criteria for $120 or less, and with any camera that does, you can't go too far wrong.

But of course you'll be doing more than photographing quilts with your camera. Depending on whether you want to photograph your spouse's stamp collection, exotic wildlife or your children, your best choices in cameras will differ. Fortunately, there's a great way to find out more: Dennis Curtin's excellent (and free!) online "Guide to Digital Cameras" was written especially for people who aren't photography experts and aren't sure how to decide on a camera. Dennis writes in a friendly, informal manner, making his subject matter easy to understand. We recommend all his books!

Steady, now...

tripod A good camera is essential, of course, but just as important is a tripod. We're going to make a flat statement here: if you don't have one, get one. Why? Because without a tripod, you'll waste your time taking photos that are...

  • off-center
  • motion-blurred
  • tilted

... and have a host of other problems.

But don't worry—it doesn't have to be a fancy, expensive tripod! Most digital cameras are lightweight, so they don't require the kind of heavy-duty bracing that big "professional" 35mm or digital SLRs do. The authors get along just fine with tripods that cost only $20-$30. Try Walmart, Target, or Amazon for inexpensive models (like this one) that will do the job just fine without busting your budget.

The only kind of tripod we don't recommend is the ultracompact type, usually about six inches long collapsed, with legs made of thin, telescoping metal tubing in five or six sections—like a radio antenna. Those are just too flimsy and wobbly to bother with. Get an inexpensive three-section tripod like the one shown here.


Our next page talks about the most important part of photographing quilts: how to light your artwork to best advantage. Next

STQ home Cameras Lighting Shooting Closeups Wrongs Resources