Photographing Your Work
Taking good photographs of your work requires a little knowledge, a decent camera, patience, and lots of practice.
I have several rules for digital photography that make the work easier, and result in better pictures.
Preserve Your Originals
Never alter the original image. When you download images from your camera, save the images exactly as they were shot. When editing images, any changes should be done to a copy, never the original.
Photograph Everything You Make
Even if all you have is a point-and-shoot camera, never send work out until you've taken photographs of it. If the item is sold, having a visual record of your previous work can be invaluable for both your artistic growth and building a portfolio. Even if the work is going to a show where you expect to get it back, things sometimes happen…
Emphasize Your Work
The work should be at least 75% of the image and nothing should compete with your piece for attention.
Putting your woven vessel in front of a bamboo fence might seem like an interesting photograph, but what are you trying to show off? The vessel or the fence?
Nestling the vessel among some plants is pretty in terms of color contrast, but you've hidden its base from view. And again, the plants are distracting.
|No fences, rocky outcroppings, cute kittens, balls of yarn, or knick–knacks.
Your artwork should be the focus of attention.
Fill up the slide/image with your artwork and keep the background simple and unobtrusive.
A point and shoot camera, while great for taking pictures at the beach, isn’t the best choice for photographing your work for professional purposes, such as applying to a juried show, selling on etsy, or submitting work to an online magazine.
Consider getting an SLR (single-lens reflex) digital camera that has manual settings and macro capability for taking close-up images. (Look for the little tulip symbol. )
Resolution is measured in dots (or pixels) per inch.
This should be an easy concept for handweavers to understand. The same thing applies to cloth: the finer the yarn, the more threads fit into an inch
So a higher resolution (more dots) means more image information. The more information, the clearer the image and the bigger the file size. Images that will be printed should be shot at 300 dots per inch (dpi) or higher.
Online images can't be displayed at a higher resolution than 72 or 96 dpi because of the limitations of computer monitors. If you're going to post the image on your website or send it to a client via email, you should reduce the image's resolution to 72 dpi. This makes the file size smaller for a quicker download.
Note: Reducing resolution should be your final step in image editing because when the image is saved at a lower resolution, the editing program discards image information which can never be regained. (This is also why you never edit your original image files. Always make a copy first.)
The two most common digital-image formats are JPEG and TIFF (the file-name extensions are .jpg and .tif). JPEG images use a compression system that produces acceptable image quality while keeping the file size small. The problem is, every time you save the image, it is re-compressed, which results in a gradual loss of image quality. TIFF files use a lossless compression method, and maintain full image quality.
When I take pictures of my work, I always shoot at the highest setting my camera allows, and I shoot in TIFF format. The other option is to shoot in Camera RAW format, and convert it to a TIFF or JPEG later. Camera RAW saves the image data exactly as it was captured by the digital camera and is uncompressed, which provides the greatest amount of image information (and the largest file size.)
How Your Camera Works
Think of the lens on your camera as your eye. When you are in a dark room, the pupils of your eye dilate. When you are in bright light, your pupils contract. Your pupil is analogous to the aperture of a camera lens. How big or small the camera's aperture opens depends on the F-stop setting.
The bigger the F-stop number (F-16) the smaller the lens opening. This means that less light gets in, and more of the image is in focus.
(Note: The physics behind this is that when you open the aperture a small amount, the light comes in parallel, or at a very small angle, to the horizon which causes the focal point to be near infinity.)
Imagine a handwoven blanket hanging over a fence post, with sheep in the background. Photographed using an F-stop of F-16, the sheep will be in focus as well as the blanket and the fence. If you want the sheep out of focus, switch to a smaller F-stop like F-8. (By the way, what the heck are something as distracting as sheep doing in the background of your picture?)
On a bright sunny day, using a small F-stop (a big aperture opening) isn’t a great idea unless you also speed up how quick the lens aperture opens and closes. If you let in too much light, the picture will be overexposed.
So how do you use a small F-stop on a sunny day? Let's look at aperture speed.
Speed and Aperture
Close your eyes. Now open and close them again. You can do this fast or slow. A camera's aperture speed works just like your eyelids. It opens (either fast or slow) and lets in light.
Speed and aperture work together to determine how much light reaches your camera's photosensor. If you open the aperture wide for a long time, a lot of light gets in. If you open the aperture a tiny bit for a 1/250th of a second, a lot less light gets in.
Speed and aperture are linked proportionately. Each change in aperture means a change in the speed. To let in the same amount of light, if you make the lens opening smaller by one F-stop, you have to let in more light by keeping the aperture open longer, by halving the speed.
One thing to keep in mind is that if the object you are photographing is moving, and your aperture is open for a long time, the photograph will show that movement.
For example, if you are photographing a handwoven skirt on a dancer in motion, at 1/500th of a second the swirling skirt will be frozen in time, with its weave and details visible. At 1/15th of a second, all you will see is a blur of color.
Motion is also a factor if you are holding your camera in your hands to take photographs. Even slight movements from your breathing can make the difference between a shot that is tack sharp and one that is blurred.
Always use a tripod.
A remote shutter release is also a good idea, otherwise your finger can shake the camera when you press the shutter button. Remote shutter releases come in both wired and wireless versions for most modern SLR cameras.
I use image-editing software to:
- Reduce the resolution of an image for online display
- Save the image in a different file format
- Crop the image to emphasize a particular element
- Adjust the image's lighting
- Improve or replace distracting backgrounds
Adobe Photoshop® Elements is the program I use to edit my digital photographs. It's the consumer version of Adobe Photoshop®. Having tried both, I find that everything I need is availiable in Adobe Photoshop® Elements, and the consumer version is less expensive and easier to use.
Cropping is a wonderful way of showing your work to its best advantage. By tightly cropping to your work, you can remove distracting background elements from the picture and make your work the focus.
Adjusting Light Levels
Probably the most helpful tool in Adobe Photoshop® Elements is the lighting histogram. Opening the Levels dialog box (by pressing CTRL+L) causes a small black mountain range to appear. You can adjust the shadows and highlights by sliding the little arrows underneath the histogram towards the base of the mountain.
By experimenting, you can subtly bring up the whites and darks of an image.
(Note: be careful of reflections when photographing shiny surfaces! See the photographer's image in the spoon?)
You may be asking why there's cutlery in the picture above, when the textile is supposed to be front and center? In this instance, the prop provides scale and helps you immediately understand that the woven items are placemats.
|A professional photo backdrop is a wonderful thing. My favorite is the Flotone Graduated Backdrop, in Thunder Gray, which gives the photograph a very polished look.|
Fixing Backgrounds in Photoshop
One of the joys of Adobe Photoshop® Elements is the ability to simulate a professional graduated background. Use the Magic Wand tool to select the background. The background will now have marching ants around it.
Use the Gradient tool to fill in the selected area. Deselect the background, and now—instead of a wrinkled sheet—you have the look of a professional graduated background.
Lighting is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Daylight is usually between 5000K and 6500K. This is considered "daylight balanced" or "true color."
Light with a lower temperature than 5000K appears warm, with a reddish cast. Standard incandescent light bulbs are 3800K. This is why photographs taken inside with normal room lighting often have an orange glow.
To compensate for different lighting situations, most digital cameras have a white balance feature. Using the white balance, you can tell the camera that you are shooting under incandescent or flourescent lighting and it will adjust the colors in the photograph to simulate daylight-balanced lighting.
So if the goal is to mimic sunlight, shouldn't we shoot outside?
Direct sunlight can cause the picture to be overexposed and washed out. And sometimes you end up with distracting shadows in the picture.
What you want is bright diffuse light, that is as close to daylight in color as possible. You can shoot outdoors on a cloudy day or in the early morning.
Or you can also create this type of lighting indoors. In my home studio, I use professional strobe lights with diffusing umbrellas. (See picture at the top of this article.)
If you are just starting out with photography and not ready for that kind of investment, you can create diffuse, daylight-balanced light by shining OTT-Lites® or GE Reveal® Bulbs through a plastic box .
A garment is one of the hardest things to photograph. How do you show its shape without hiring a model? Even if you have the budget for a model, they can be distracting and compete with the work.
If you use a model, never have the model look at the camera. This engages the viewer, and they look at the model first and your work second.
For example: in which of these pictures are you focusing on the jacket?
(Note: Notice that the model is wearing gloves, so her hands blend into the background and do not distract your eyes from the jacket.)
Another way to keep the model from competing with your work is to crop the image tight to the garment and eliminate the model's head from the picture.
A less-expensive option than using a model is to shoot the garment on a coat hanger and erase the hanger in Adobe Photoshop® Elements, or to cover a dress form to match the background, and shoot the garment on the dress form, stuffing arms and posing them to look like a person.
I can’t guarantee your shawls will sell on etsy, or that you'll get into that juried show. But having great photographs will present your work in its best possible light (pun intended.)
Don’t be afraid to experiment. The great thing about digital photography is that once you make the investment in the camera and image-editing software, you can shoot a hundred images and it won’t cost you any more than if you shot one.
Back-up your files. I back up to an external hard drive and occasionally also burn CDs. If a computer virus or malfunction takes out my computer, I'll still have all my images.
If you are entering an juried exhibit that requires slides, there are companies, like Slides.com, that will convert high resolution TIFF files into slides.
There are many books available on digital photography. Two that are especially good are:
- Photographing Arts, Crafts, and Collectibles by Steve Meltzer
- The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby
Daryl Lancaster received her BA in Fine Arts in 1977 from Montclair State University. She was a production weaver for ten years, selling her work through various craft markets and galleries in the Northeast. Daryl has been sewing for more than forty years, and teaches garment construction and related topics to weavers and other fiber enthusiasts across North America. A breast cancer survivor, she uses her work as a vehicle to express who she is and the path that she has traveled. Daryl lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two teenage children.
Model: Brianna Lancaster
Fiber art and photography: Daryl Lancaster