The second part of Peter's helpful series, teaching us to get the most out of photographing our work. Text and Photographs copyright Peter Dean.
This section deals with common mistakes when photographing patchwork purely to show the work...... in other words pictures of flat pieces. It does not deal with the so called styled pictures, many very good examples of which can be seen in Popular Patchwork magazine.
First you must decide what purpose your photograph serves.
As an example, the following picture is not a good flat photograph [the patchwork is
not flat, the fingers obscure part of the work and the background is totally
distracting]... but it is terrific for proud parents/grandparents to show the family and
friends what 5-year-old Ruby can do!
Having decided you want to show your work without distractions, let's look at
the more common faults, and how to avoid them.
The first thing, without which the rest is irrelevant, iron your work. It may sound obvious
but believe me, it is very often forgotten. The second most common problem is incorrect colour temperature, which we dealt with in the first article, Photographing Patchwork - Colour Balance
The next most common pitfalls are listed below.
- Not laying the item really flat. Wherever possible place your work flat rather than hang it, and smooth all parts particularly the edges.
- Hanging it without regard to stretching all points, so that it sags or deforms. Or
if outside, letting it blow in the breeze.
- Not taking it square on so that you have perspective.
- Getting too close, so that all sides bulge because the camera displays all lines
going away from it with perspective. The further away you can get from your
item the more parallel the sides will appear.
- Having hot spots. This is where the light reflects back to the camera. Particularly
common with flash or bright sunlight photographs.
- Cutting away the background using a rectangular cutter in your
If you don't have a programme (or don't know how to use it) that selects the
edge of your work (rarely perfectly straight) then place your (smaller) work on
a white background. If you have to hang your work try to put it in front of a
Examples with an attempt to correct and, where relevant, a description of
how to overcome the problem without resorting to a professional studio are
- Not properly ironed, and then not really flat. Although taken within minutes of each other both the colour temperature and light strength varied. I said previously, "it's frustrating!".
- The three pictures below show the importance of correct hanging because, as
you can see, if it is not correctly hung even the most expert (photo) cutting
will not correct it:
The first picture is the original, the second cut using a rectangular cut
programme and in the final one the quilt is (photo) cut exactly along each edge.
But no matter how skilled you are at (photo) cutting out, the final result is not
So how do you hang it square?
First make sure the hanging rod (if you use one) is straight and horizontal.
There are several way to straighten out the quilt the rest of the quilt. Before we
had an indoor studio, we attached thin black cord to each of the bottom corners
then tied the cord to bricks (one for each cord) .... by tensioning the cord we
were able to pull the corners square. This worked even in light winds.
With all but the largest quilts we now attach them directly onto a vertical
surface using two-sided adhesive tape sometimes taking the initial load with
pins through the corners and into the wall. We find the adhesive tape if
strategically placed allows you to correct some non-straight sewing.
Note If you photograph outside it is usually better to do it on cloudy days ...
sunlight has a nasty habit of reflecting and causing bright spots. But it does
highlight the stitching if coming at an oblique angle. Again you need to choose
what you want to show.
- Perspective. Very useful for special effect but not good to show your work.
At this point, I want to use a picture by Ros of a block sent by Brenda and
compare it with one without perspective. I chose the one from Ros for two
reasons, the first being that it is very well focussed, the colour rendering is
accurate, and the cutting is inside the block which allows you to cheat if only
cutting rectangles. Full marks for all these points. The second reason is that I
had one of my own to use for comparison. As you see from the picture on the
left it was not taken from vertically above the centre of the block and the
effect of perspective is clearly seen, in addition it is not taken parallel to the
horizontal giving a false horizon.
The picture on the right is mine taken from vertically above a measured
point the centre.
- Too close: I havent got a good example of this but if you get too close to a large quilt, even though you can get it all in focus, the quilt appears wider at the middle than the edges. If this happens on your photographs just move back.
- Hotspots clear to see on your own work. Move the work and or the camera till
- Rectangular (photo) cutting. If you can't do anything else, cheat! Cut inside
One last point. If you get addicted to the photographic tricks ... then try this
exercise with one of your quilts:
Just for the record. The quilt picture was taken in my lounge (left hand picture), the hedge and Budda are in Seoul, Korea, and taken by Janet, who designed the quilt. The sky was over Sydney, Australia with a shot of the harbour bridge in the