How I take project photos

One thing the popular craft, design, and sewing blogs all have in common is good photos and I know that’s probably the first thing that draws most of us to a website.  But don’t have the best camera (more on that in a minute) and I’ll be the first to admit my photos don’t always live up to my own expectations. Especially when winter hits here in Michigan and I post dark, grainy photos of my creations that look like they were taken in a cave. Which they pretty much were since the sun doesn’t make it up to this latitude for about four months and I begin to feel like a deep-sea creature with no eyes.  And can I say, I appreciate the fact that if you guys even notice, at least you have the good manners not to mention it.

So I have a few photo tricks.  This is one of them:

For taking pictures of smaller things like kids’ clothes or purses, I use a piece of 20″x30″ foam core poster board for my photo background (you can usually get a piece for about $1 at most craft stores). I think having a plain background is half the battle.  For larger garments I put two side-by-side and edit out the line in the middle.

I prop the board up next to a window or open door to get as much natural light as possible.  If it’s a rainy or dark day, I wait until nicer weather comes along.  I prefer not use flash much because it makes the object look overexposed and often distorts the color.

And then I take about ten pictures.  After editing the best one a little in iPhoto (cropping, brightening, sharpening, upping the exposure), here’s what I end up with:

Fall jumper for Clementine

(By the way, if you didn’t see that post about the green jumper, it’s here)

And now a few words about my camera. UPDATED (8/12): I no longer use this powershot camera; I bit the bullet and bought a DSLR last summer)

The often annoying but overall pretty nice Powershot S5 IS

I don’t happen to own a DSLR camera like many of my online blogger comrades; in fact I’m currently using a point-and-shoot (Canon Powershot S5 IS) if you must know.  While I don’t want to necessarily recommend this camera, it does do a good job (nice zoom, great pictures outdoors) and I am generally happy with the results. However, I will say that there is one feature especially that drive me completely bazonk. It has this annoying habit of expelling the lens cap whenever I am not physically holding it on. When I set it on a table, the lens cap falls off.  When it’s hanging around my neck, the lens cap falls off.  And you can forget about taking it out of a purse or bag; the lens cap is. always. off. So…if you can stand having to repeatedly put the lens cap back on over and over and over, this is the camera for you, haha!  Mr Rae assures me that there is a new DSLR coming out soon that sounds pretty great so I am holding off for that. I’ll let you know what happens with that.

Anyway, I hope this post was helpful. Sometimes it’s just nice to see what other people are doing behind-the-scenes.

41 thoughts on “How I take project photos

  1. My pics lately have been making me cringe. This is definitely something I need to work on if I ever want my readersip to grow. My camera has been out of action so I've been using my phones camera for the pics.

  2. That is a very good idea. I work full time so my only time to take great photos is either the weekend or when I have a day off which is rarely. Like this weekend, I wanted to take photos of an ongoing quilt I am making but I had visitors on both days. I only managed to take photos of the completed toddler quilts since the owners (my nieces) are already at the house.

    I owned a Canon G10. I love the shape and everything but the one thing I want is that I cannot manually focus by turning the lens. Yes, there are new models of Canon just out. I got the email from them but it may be different since it caters for my country/region.

  3. I've been thinking about buying a piece of foam core board for pictures!

    Ugh. I know what you mean about pictures in Michigan in the winter. Half the year I go bonkers trying to get a decent picture!

  4. Funny! Until a week ago the Canon Powershot S3is was my only camera. No annoying lenscap issues…it has some sort of string to keep it attached. But I love it…such a versatile girl! Now I've added a Canon EOS T2i to the family…new love!

    Thanks for sharing your tips! I know what you mean about winter sun…where I live in AK we get NO direct sun between Nov and Feb. Ugh!15

  5. Foam core board….why didn't I thin of that?! Thanks for sharing your tip!! And I agree, you don't need a DSLR camera to take great pics. I was just looking through some of my old pics the other day taken with a regular digital and many of them came out just as well or better then what I take with my DSLR. It's lighting and subject!

  6. When I used to sell clothing online I did the same thing for smaller items. I also bought a few of those wooden knob doll heads that are flat on the bottom and painted them with polka dots and sprayed with varnish so they were a bit shiny (they looked like the porcelain knobs) then glued the knob onto the foam core board. That way I could use a cute hanger and it would look like a white wall with a knob/hook. As long as there was something to lean the foam core against you could have your item hanging up but get it real close to the natural light from the window.

  7. I always find myself dragging stuff over to my windows because a lot of my apartment is so dark! And Canon cameras are wonderful, even if you don't have a DSLR.

  8. Great idea! I am already feeling the photo-ruining haze here in Chicago, too. It's impossible to take a picture indoors!

  9. I agree with you about photos, but mine never turn out, though I position myself near a window and try to use a plain background as much as possible. Though maybe your tip about a poster board would be better than a plain bedspread.

    And I have to use flash or the photos are blurry. My camera just sucks that bad.

    Hopefully my pics will get better once I inherit my hubby's DSLR. He's got a new one and I can't wait to get my hands on his old one!

    Any other tips you can give would be appreciated.

  10. Rae! What a relief to know that I'm not the only person in the world to be plagued with Bad Winter Lighting Photos. There is NOWHERE in our house where the lighting is even uniform for photos. So it's either I stand in the freezing January snow to get outdoor lighting, or I produce Cave Photos, lit (if at all) from one direction so that half of it is dim, and the other half dark. Lovely.

    We've had our Nikon D40 for a long time and the husband (whose camera it is) is also waiting for the new replacement for it. He says it is not the camera that makes the picture, but the photographer. I'll say that's true for him, but for me, if not for the camera, none of my photos would turn out. Here's a site he regularly reads because of all its great reviews on the newest cameras:

    P.S. I use one of those cheap white fleece blankets from Ikea for my backdrop. I drape the background (like masking tape it to a wall and drape the bottom half on the floor) if I want 3D type shots. Husband's idea, after he saw my hideous photos with colorful children's sandtoys in the background, along with the neighbors' walls and lawnmower. He's told me to buy myself some proper background fabric but I can't bring myself to buy fabric and then not cut it up and sew something. It's worked out well, that fleece blanket, too, like your foam board.

  11. I have used the white foam board before as well, that is a great tip! Like you, I love beautiful photos, but do not own a DSLR camera. I have a Kodak point and shoot and while I can get decent pictures with it, I really want a new camera! Hoping maybe I can talk dh into it when our income tax money comes in. I don't need a fancy one, just an entry level Canon Rebel will do : D

  12. Ahhh I totally agree with you about the lens cap! I have the previous version of your camera and the lens cap drives me crazy. I've also managed to smear the lens a ridiculous amount of time. I also relate to feeling like a sea creature in a dark cave in the winter. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Anyway, great tips- especially the one about waiting for a better day. I'm so impatient sometimes!

  13. How timely!
    I just wrote a post today about my lack of light when taking pictures.
    I can already sence that we have less light – how will it be in December!

  14. hey I was just thinking: did she take that green jumper picture on her kitchen table, because that is one seriously clean table.
    and then I felt ashamed of my housekeeping. no more! thanks for the tips. I'm off to get some poster board.

  15. Ah, thanks for the tip of the poster board. My photos have been horrid lately because my design wall (ie batting pinned to the wall) is in my windowless tiny sewing room. My goal is to make something portable I can bring up into the house where I have lots of natural light. Although in AK it's going to be going away soon too.

    My husband has been lusting after a new camera that seems super awesome. It's an Olympus. (I just checked our bookmarks and it's the E-PL1 12.3 MP Digital Camera.) It's got a lot of the benefits of an DSLR, but in a smaller size. I think Panasonic is also coming out with something similar. Something to look at! Unless you're stuck on Canon or Nikon, both of which are great.

  16. This is a fabulous post. I struggle with picture-taking so much and our house is also a cave, even in summer. Thanks for the great tips!

  17. Thanks for sharing your foam core photo tip. I am always trying to find a place to shoot inside on those wintery days, and never thougth of that before. It's a great idea!

  18. Uh oh… don't look at my What I Wore Wed. posts then… I have not figured out how to make the photos sharp when it is on a self timer and I have to focus the lens without a person there to stand in for me. It bugs me every time I put those posts together. Any tips?

  19. Thanks for the tip. I feel like my pictures struggle sometimes…. and i am always looking for ways to make them look more professional.

  20. Thanks, that was really helpful.. I always have trouble taking photos of the kids clothes I make.. will try the plasterboard!

  21. Great post Rae! I just upgraded from a lower-end Canon Powershot to the Canon Rebel T1i and I love it!! I use a foam coar board too, but the tri-fold kind (like the kind you'd use for the science fair)……works great for big and small items. Love iphoto too 😉

    I'm in Chicago, so I know what you mean about the winter. I'm so dreading not being able to photograph things for my etsy shop outside….I guess I could, but I might freeze to death!!

    Hope you're having a great one,

  22. I have the S5IS, too. I thought it was pretty great until I saw the photos from my SIL's Nikon D90. Eek. Hers are SO sharp and make mine look horrid in comparison.

    I do love the macro, though. Great for my food shots. And I'm mourning the loss of sunlight for my dinner photos. (I have a Lowel Ego for when it gets really dark, but that probably wouldn't help for clothing shots. Unless you had two…)

  23. Thanks for this post! With fall upon us and winter approaching I've already been struggling with the lack of bright natural light waaay up here in Canada. I think this poster board tip will do the trick!

  24. I am SO on the same page with you today! I visited my sister on Monday, and took pics of her beautiful new baby boy…. with my S5IS.
    I kind of wish, I'd have waited or spent a little more and bought the dslr. My aunt has a nice one, a few years old. I think it's an olympus. I just love the instant shooting, and quality.
    Definitely let us know what camera you're looking at.
    Have you seen the camera comparison website?

  25. I also use a white foam board! 🙂 Only mine has big creases from Oscar stepping on it and stains from his sippy cup, which I then have to edit out. Hmm…time for a new one.

  26. Thanks for the "Behind the scenes" tips. I just started a blog and am now realizing that most of my quilt pics are not very good. They are dark, blurry, crap-o-la. My camera is not super fancy, but if Rae can do it-I can do it! or at least try… 🙂

  27. Taking photos is the worst part for me! My house is horribly lit and my model is hopelessly uncooperative. Thanks for the tips!

  28. This is so nice. I feel like I need "An insider's guide to successful blogging"….because I'm just getting started and I have noone to guide me. My blog absolutely is the worst!

    Any ideas where to get help? I really appreciate your help with the photos.

    I need help building my title banner. :S Seriously, do I hire someone? I am totally a novice, and this is a hobby, not a job for me.

    Anyway thanks for listening. 🙂 You have a BEAUTIFUL site. Cheers!


  29. Rae- I have a BFA in Photography, and you are spot on! Another trick to those rainy days in Michigan, ( I am in upstate NY) is… use a tripod. Let your camera take as long as it wants to get the right lighting. With the tripod it won't be blurry and the color will be better! HOpe that helps!

    If you have questions, let me know I would be happy to help!

  30. I have the S3 canon and love it also. same problem with the lens cap. should have had one that twists on. linda gerig in West Michigan

  31. Thank you! Just added "foam core board" to my shopping list for tomorrow! I've been reading tips for improving my photos and have started using them, but I couldn't figure out how to get natual light photos and a neutral background. DUH! I'm a Michigander too, and I could only think of one room with good lighting and a nice background, but now I can take the background to the light!

  32. Love your blog and creations!
    Next time you pass a camera store (Ritz comes to mind) pick up a lens cap keeper. It's a little leash that will keep the cap attached to the camera. Handy two dollar investment. Can't solve the popping off problem, however.

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