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Shoot That Quilt!

Digital photography for textile artists

by Andy Baird and Holly Knott

Your latest quilt is finally finished! It's a stunning design, and you really feel great about it. Now all you have to do is photograph it, so you can enter it in the Houston quilt show. Thinking about that, suddenly you don't feel so great ... because somehow your quilts never look as good in your photos as in real life. In fact, you've wondered whether maybe that's why your last quilt wasn't accepted. You know some quilters who hire professionals to shoot photos of their work, but the prices are way out of your budget. So what can you do?

Well, for starters you can learn to spot the common mistakes that people make when photographing quilts. And then you can learn to avoid them when taking your own photos—without spending an arm and a leg on either professional help or fancy photo equipment. Are you game?

A bad photo

What's wrong with this picture?

Remember the old picture puzzlers that asked that question? Well, try this one: how many things can you find wrong with the photo at right? (Answers are at the bottom of the page.) If you spotted half a dozen errors, consider yourself an expert. If not ... well, read on.

Truth is, we've seen all too many pictures of beautiful quilts that were marred by one or more of the mistakes shown here, from distracting backgrounds to color casts. Oh, we know that you would never make all the mistakes shown in this one photo ... but wouldn't you be interested in learning how other people could avoid them? Good, we thought you might!

What we'll tell you in this website

Our aim is simple: we'll show you how you can take topnotch photos of your quilts and other textile art, using a modestly-priced digital camera and a few inexpensive extras, most of which you can pick up at local stores. Let's be specific: with a $120 camera and about eighty bucks worth of materials, plus what you'll learn in these pages, you should be able to take accurate, appealing photos of your work ... photos that will show off your quilts to best advantage in show entries and gallery submissions, or on your own website. We'll also tell you about common photographic mistakes and show you some simple tricks to avoid them.

What we won't tell you

No website can cover everything, and we want to state our limitations up front. So here's what you won't find in these pages:

  • Advice for professionals  These folks know who they are: the ones with the digital SLRs and the big collections of Nikon or Canon lenses, the studio strobes and umbrellas...the ones who casually throw around jargon like "diffraction-limited." We're not talking to them. In this website we're addressing ordinary folks who may know more about fabrics than they do about photography, who have decent point-and-shoot cameras and need to be able to make their artwork look good. Our motto here is "cheap and simple."
  • Photoshop lessons  We certainly appreciate what a good image manipulation program like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements can do to improve digital photos. We think everyone needs a program of this kind; for quilters we recommend Photoshop Elements for its unbeatable combination of low price, powerful features and ease of use. But we aren't going to try to teach you how to use an image manipulation program—instead, we want to focus on taking the pictures. If you want to learn more about your photo software, we suggest you start with Dennis Curtin's free online book "A Short Course in Digital Photography Workflow," a great introduction to what you can do to make your digital images look better. Here in this website, our goal is to help you make those photos look good in the first place.
  • What camera to buy  If you don't already have a digital camera, and you're looking for advice on what to buy ... well, on our Cameras page we'll give you some very general tips, but we're not going to try to explain the hundreds of models on the market. Instead, we'll send you off to read another of Dennis Curtin's online books, "Guide to Digital Cameras," which gives far better advice than we can.

Getting started

OK, now that you know what to expect and what not to expect, let's turn to the Cameras page, and we'll begin. Next

About the authors

Andy is a writer, artist and web designer with more than thirty years of experience as a professional photographer. He's published many articles on computer graphics, as well as a book, The Macintosh Dictionary. You can explore Andy's other interests at his website index.

Holly is an art quilter whose work is exhibited in galleries and juried shows nationally. She has more than twenty years of experience in fine art, graphic design and photography, designed computer software interfaces for a major testing organization for more than 17 years, and now creates websites for artists and small businesses. She has also written for Quilting Arts magazine, and is the author of Quilted Garden Delights (C&T Publishing).

Answers: The photo is underexposed; it has a bluish color cast; it's tilted; the quilt doesn't appear as a rectangle; the quilter's hands are showing ... and so are the garage wall and woodpile behind her!

STQ home Cameras Lighting Shooting Closeups Wrongs Resources