Friday, July 25, 2008

Photographing Crafts

(crossposted at BlogHer)

Let's shoot crafts

One of the best things about finding a good craft blog, whether it's someone using yarn, fabric, paper, tin, or plastic, is seeing the photographs of a person's work. When an item is well-photographed, the hand of the creator can be seen in the work. It's almost like touching the product.

However, taking a great photograph is not the easiest thing to do.

Deb Lacativa spent two days trying to photograph her latest work and running into frustration:
Getting good digital images of textiles is a struggle on a good day but throw anything shiny like metallic thread or paint or damask fabric into the mix and be prepared for hair pulling, crude cursing and lots of sweat.

Part of my problem is not being able to decide if I want the digital image of the work to highlight the basic elements of the design - the shapes, colors, lines and energy of each piece, to speak first and loudest, or do I want the textures of the fabric and the textures created by the stitching to have an equal voice.
Like her commentors, I think the piece taken in natural light, highlighting all the stitching she's put into the piece, is the better of the two. What's your opinion.

Reading her post reminded me that Stephanie Barnes (she of Little Birds Handmade and 3191 photoblog fame) once wrote a piece with advice on taking photos of crafts. Her piece of advice #2:
Natural light is your friend! Always use natural light, if at all possible, to take your photos. This means turn your flash off, folks.
Riffing off some of her other advice, here's some of my own suggestions for great shots:

Outdoor light in direct sun might be too harsh. Find a spot with dappled shade, or an indoor area close to a window.

Use or make a tripod. It limits the possible blur of the photograph.

Get even with your subject. If you place a softie on a table to shoot, bend down to the table's height instead of standing above it and shooting at an angle. Square flat pieces can start to look like parallellograms when shot at an angle. (there is a technical term for this, someone tell me? The edges begin to drift off the to horizon point?...)

Take more than one picture. Take pictures from different angles, different sides, if you can different speeds and aperatures. With digital cameras, you have nothign to lose. Then pick the best 2-3, edit them, and publish the very best one or two.

Style your photo. Nobody wants to see yesterday's dirty dishes piled in the sink in the background of your photo. See you can include objects to help "tell the story" of the craft.

Come in close. Some of the best pictures I've seen have been super-close ups. These allow us to see the fineness of the stitching, the detail of the work. They pull us in and make us want to stay there.

Crop. Crop everything out of your photo that isn't perfectly relavent to the subject. Don't be afraid to leave part of the picture go beyond the frame.

Consider building a photo studio. It might be a box you place objects in to get a good bouncy light; or a a stage that consistently lets you fold a nice piece of knitting. To take a good series of "how-to" photos, I built a custom boom (photo above) to attach to my tripod. It allows the camera to hang over the work surface, I do a project as I normally would (well, I try to do it with a little less mess), reach up and snap a photo at regular intervals. It took all of $5, a trip to the hardware store and about half hour of fitting nuts and bolts.

The author of Vikatikkeja understand the challenges of lighting crafts. Living in Finland, she has very dark winters.Ph On January 1st, she wrote:

I haven't blogged much recently, but that doesn't mean that I haven been busy with needles. I've knitted lots of basic socks and mittens for kids and four pairs of Kerttu-socks, and few Minttumaari-scarfs. Here in the north is so little daylight at this time of the year, that photographing crafts is almost impossible.

Normally I read all my blogs through BlogLines, but I have a list of favorite crafters who I make a point of visiting because of their photographs. Yes, BlogLines now pulls in the photos, but it still doesn't feel like the same thing. Who are your favorite craft photographers? And what tips would you share?

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Mondays and Saturdays.

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