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STQ home Cameras Lighting Shooting Closeups Wrongs Resources


Why digital?

We're going to assume that you have a digital camera, or a smartphone with a good camera built in. Most of the tips we offer will work equally well with a film camera, but for photographing quilts they have many drawbacks: cost, time delay, difficulty of editing photos, and more. Today's digital cameras give you 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 Affinity Photo. No more 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, taking advantage of its enhanced control over your images ... then use a service bureau to convert your digital image files into slides.

Phone or camera?

If you have a good smartphone, such as any recent iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy model, you can use that to photograph your quilts. These phones' cameras do have some limitations compared to traditional cameras: they lack zoom lenses (digital zoom is to be avoided, as it makes pictures look grainy), and the built-in software may not give you control over things like exposure, white balance, and shutter speed. It's worth digging into the manual, though to see whether there are "hidden" features that you can put to use.

If you have an iPhone, the $6 utility Halide will give you much better control. We don't have Android phones, but depending upon your phone, its built-in camera app may give you some manual control over exposure, white balance and so on. And there are lots of third-party Android camera apps out there. If you know of a good one that allows manual adjustments, let us know.

If you'd prefer a digital camera, but you don't have one and are wondering what kind to get, you have plenty of choices. Fortunately, you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a digital SLR to take good quilt photos. Here are some basic tips for choosing a camera: look for one from a well-known maker that has at least 10 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.

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. See our "Gallery of Wrongs" for examples.

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.

"But my smartphone has no tripod socket!"

No problem. There are plenty of inexpensive phone-to-tripod adapters on the market. One of the best is the under-$30 Glif, but you can find cheaper models for as little as fifteen bucks.


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