Note from Laura: This is the first in a limited series of blog posts about quilt photography. Ever since I joined Instagram a couple of years ago, people ask me all the time about my quilt photography. Some of you may not know that almost all of my quilt photography is done by my talented partner Mitch! After finishing grad school in 2012, Mitch started exploring photography as a hobby, mostly taking pictures of our dog and family. Back when I spent most of my craft hours on hand sewing, one day he offered to take a picture of a cross stitch I made for a friend. The photo was amazing and made me realize his photography style allowed me to share my work in exactly the way I wanted to, with a clean simple background that allowed people to focus on the work and that helped the colors really pop. Mitch's photography became an important part of my creative process - design, make, photograph, share. Today is the 11th anniversary of our first date! And since Mitch loves quilts and quilters too, he has graciously decided to help teach other quilters how he photographs my work. Enjoy!
Every once in a while, Laura comes home and says, "Hey, did you see that somebody said they liked the photography on my Instagram?" After several times responding with some version of, "Aw, shucks," she mentioned that one of the questions she gets most frequently is: How do you get those perfectly white backgrounds in your photographs?
It turns out, this is surprisingly easy! You don't even need a fancy camera or expensive software - you can do it with a smartphone camera and plenty of light.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
You can use either a DSLR (a professional-quality digital camera) or an iPhone/Android/similar smart phone. The main advantage of a DSLR is that its large sensor and lens allow a LOT of light in, so it performs much better in low-light conditions than a phone camera. All the pictures in this post were taken with a Canon t2i DSLR with the kit lens or an iPhone 6s.
- DSLR Lighting: Get an external flash that allows you to point the flash away from the object you're shooting. I use this one which costs around $70. Point the flash at the ceiling instead of at the object you're photographing - bouncing the flash off a large, light surface evens out the light and minimizes shadows.
- Phone Camera Lighting: Use a couple of work lamps or other bright lights. You will need brighter and/or more lights than you think.
- Option Three: Daylight! Photograph small objects next to an open window or large objects outside. Avoid direct sunlight though - shade or a cloudy day will help prevent harsh shadows from disrupting your shot.
PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE OR APP
- DSLR Software: Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop are great, but they do cost around $10 a month. There are free alternatives like GIMP or Pixlr.
- Phone App: You have a lot of options! I like Snapseed or Adobe's Lightroom app, both of which are free for iOS. There are plenty of others out there too, and even Apple's native Photos app does a pretty decent job.
White poster board or foam core, available for a few bucks anywhere you can get school supplies, is essential. For large quilts, a white sheet bigger than the quilt works.
TAKING THE PICTURE
Rigid foam core makes an idea backdrop for small, flat objects like mini-quilts or pillows.
For objects that you want to shoot from the side instead of top-down, take a piece of poster board and bend it gently from a table or floor up onto a wall. Fasten it in place with painter's tape and use small weights on the bottom if needed to hold the poster in place. The soft bend allows you to get a perfectly white background with no horizon lines.
For large quilts, use a white sheet that's bigger than the quilt. It would have made getting a white background a lot easier in the shot below:
EDITING YOUR PHOTO
Chances are your picture will not be perfect straight out of the camera - that's ok! I edit 99.9% of my shots after I take them.
First, crop the image so you can only see your object and the poster board. At this point, your background probably won't be perfectly white.
To get the background brightened, you have several options. Photoshop and most desktop apps have a feature called "Curves," which allows you to adjust what color values appear as "pure white" and "pure black" and how they vary in between. Adjust the white point so it coincides with the brightest color in your image (the white arrow in the bottom of the picture below). If you want to learn more about editing using "Curves," check out this tutorial.
If your app doesn't have a "Curves" feature, it may have sliders that allow you to adjust the brightness levels of various color ranges in your image ("Blacks," "Shadows," "Highlights," "Whites") or the entire color range (called "Exposure"). Below is a picture of the Lightroom iOS app. All the editing in the pictures in this post was done with Lightroom. The app is free, and it's better than the standard Photos app that stores pictures on your iPhone because the Photos app does not allow you adjust the "Whites" value. Slide the "Whites" and "Exposure" values up until the background is completely white. (NOTE FROM LAURA: If you're heading to QuiltCon later this month, the Lightroom iOS app will help make all your show photos look amazing!)
If you still can't get the background white or didn't use a white backdrop in the first place, you can painstakingly edit it out in Photoshop, but that's an entirely separate post. The pictures below are an example of editing out a background in Photoshop:
Once the background is perfectly white, you can continue to adjust the image until you're satisfied - the most helpful adjustments at this point will be the exposure and the saturation.
As you can see in the final (Instagram ready) images below, you can achieve similar results with a fancy DSLR or a simple phone camera!
Note from Laura: Thanks for reading Mitch's first quilt photography post! Isn't he great? You can follow him and marvel at his amazing drawings on Instagram @man.of.action. Mitch will be back in March with an entire post dedicated to lighting, elaborating on some of what he wrote about here. Let us know in the comments if you have specific quilt photography questions he can answer in a future post!