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magic would be faster

21 January 2007 12,291 views 30 Comments

I’m regularly asked about my photos of my knitting and sewing, so I thought I’d put together a run-down of how I get good quality pictures to best show off my projects without a photo studio.

It’s by no means a professional set up (as you’ll see,) but the result of much trial and error. I put so much time and effort into knitting, why not give it that last touch of love and make a stellar photo? Mother Nature was cooperating and gave me a non-rainy day, so here’s my go at a "How I Take Good Pictures of my Knitting."

The Set Up
I don’t worry about needing a fancy-shmancy digital SLR (my camera is an old Nikon Coolpix and works just fine.) I’ve managed some great shots even with a super cheapo camera; all I need is a stable surface. I’m wobbly at the best of times, so the best money I ever spent was for a teeny tripod
. I found mine at Target for around $15 (they have a cheaper one now too.) It’s small enough that the camera still fits in my purse even with the tripod attached. That’s handy, because it’s holding my broken battery door closed.

I found the best spot to set up is in our backroom.  The windows are huge, but the sun doesn’t shine directly in, resulting in soft, filtered light. I never use the flash, so it’s important to have ample light, but not direct sunlight. I find the shadows from the sunlight are too harsh and I can’t get accurate depictions of colour.

I lean a big piece of white poster board ($0.42, also at Target,) against a chair and tape it secure for a background. The beauty of using painters tape is that it’s removable and doesn’t damage the poster board. If I’m careful, one piece of poster board will last for a year as long as I can store it flat to avoid wrinkling. Using the white background means nobody knows how messy the house is or that fabric scraps are ALL OVER the floor. If I can avoid the cleaning, I will. I also keep a lint roller handy. We live in a house with two cats and no matter how careful I am, there’s cat hair everywhere.

Bring in the Goods
With the white background set up, I bring in the knitting. I fuss around for a while arranging it, making sure I get all the objects in the shot but preserving the white as background. There’s usually some shuffling of positions until I get something that looks right.

Now for the fun part: I take a bazillion pictures from a bazillion different angles, all with the flash off and the macro setting on. It’s worth learning how to find these features on your camera. I can’t change the depth of field with my point-and-shoot, but I have a macro setting (Nikon’s is a flower symbol) and I can turn off the flash (museum settings and custom settings.) When you use a flash with knitting, it can wash out the colours and make everything look like acrylic, which is not ideal. It will pick up every fibre and stray hair and make the yarn look icky, so turn off the flash! Sometimes I’ll stuff some tape in to give dimension or to hold down and hide an errant unwoven end. When I think I have enough photos, I take a couple more for good measure. It’s always better to have too many to choose from than not enough.

I leave the photo shoot set up while downloading the pictures to see how the photos turned out. If I missed an important feature, or I cut off the ends of the needles, I can tromp back in to re-shoot without having to set it up again.

Make it Better
The final step is to tweak the results in Photoshop Elements. I crop, adjust the colours and mess with the levels. Depending on what time of day I shoot, the white background can have a blue-ish cast, so I took a little time to learn about the white setting on my camera as well Photoshop fixes. That’s a tutorial for another time, but I suggest giving the auto-levels and auto-colour correction features a try. It’s amazing the difference they can make. Besides, if I don’t like what comes out, I’m just a ctrl-z away from the original.

The best pictures come when I take time to set up and compose the shot, take more pictures than I think I’ll need and gently nudge things around digitally. I have some photos in my Flickr finished objects set that hopefully speak for themselves.


  • Christine said:

    So to get your sassy foot shots, where you are wearing the socks, do you just stand on the white poster board?

  • Karma said:

    Thanks for the ideas! I get the best photos in the afternoon summer sunlight on my back deck. That makes for poor photos for the rest of the year. hee hee!

  • meg said:

    thanks, caro. great stuff. i have thought about your white backgrounds a lot and i had it all figured out. i told myself i could do the same with some posterboard or i bet that’s what she’s using. i love how neat it turns out every time. i have to take my things outside because the light is really hard to get right in our house.
    love those socks!

  • Chris said:

    Thanks for sharing your “secrets”! That seems quite a bit less labor intensive than a lightbox.

  • kelp! said:

    Very interesting – I totally thought you had a pro-style lightbox all this time!
    I use Picasa to download my photographs, and it has a nifty feature called “Neutral Color Picker”. You click on a point on the image that should be white or grey, and it auto-corrects the bluish cast in the photograph. Very useful!

  • maryse said:

    very cool. thanks for sharing your secrets

  • high-strung said:

    hey caro, great post! i use an old nikon coolpix w/ a broken battery door as well, but i’ve never used the macro setting or a tripod. thanks for the tip! i’d like to know the answer to christine’s question above too about your sock photos. they’re the best!

  • Julia said:

    yea! Well done!(Clapping hands)Your sock looks great. Another tip I like, Using your last picture as an example, i hold a white piece of paper, or another white poster board on the shadowy side, to “bouce” light back in and fill the little shadows. Works like a charm!

  • Sheila said:

    Great Photo tutorial. Great pictures. Good tips. Glad I “blogged” on in tonight.

  • JulieFrick said:

    What a great post. I’ve been blessed with a white laminate tabletop which I almosot always use. The only part I don’t have is Photoshop. Someday…

  • Kaitie Tee said:

    Thanks so much for the tutorial. I’m going to have to try using posterboard for my pics.

  • stinkerbell said:

    ahhh but how do you pick yarn that looks that good in photos… I want to copy those socks :)

  • Cindra said:

    Maybe my photos will improve now that the sun is appearing about every 14th day. Great ideas!

  • Marisol said:

    Thank you so much for posting about this. I learned a lot just now while reading your post.
    I’m a new here and I do enjoy seeing your pictures your WIPs and FOs.

  • kelli said:

    You are too dang smart. Thank you thank you thank you! I really appreciate your help. I think all of our blogs are thanking you too!

  • Amy Mac said:

    This is SO helpful!
    Thank you!

  • Kathie said:

    Thanks very much. You’ve taught me a lot.

  • Jane Ann said:

    Thank you for your generosity in sharing your techniques with us. I too have an older Coolpix that I’ve had for 6 years and am only now getting to know, so I especially appreciate your tips re: the flower and white adjustment (which I’m trying to figure out) settings. Now it’s off to Target’s website!

  • knittymama said:

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been trying without much luck to get better photos. That helps a lot!
    Saw you’re coming to Mpls. You’ll be in knitter heaven here!:-)

  • Kristin said:

    You must have read my mind! I was just going to ask you for some help with picture taking. Thanks!

  • Vicki in Michigan said:

    Gorgeous shot and gorgeous socks! Love that colorway!!!!
    I too always work without a flash. The shadows are just too harsh……
    I’ll have to try your posterboard suggestion. I usually just swipe a section of the wood floor with my hand to shift the dog hair, and call it good enough…..

  • charlotte lyons said:

    That was a perfect tutorial…I have the very same old camera (can’t see a thing in the teensy LCD but love the macro button) and do pretty much the same things. Now have a roll of seamless which is also cheap and good for bigger shots. Glad to see that I am doing it sort of the right way. Lovely work! Thanks!

  • AmyDe said:

    Thank You! I take crappy photos – even when I’m trying. This information helps a great deal and I have that same camera. I borrow my Daddy’s new Nikon D-40 from time to time and it helps, but learning to use mine will help too!

  • finnyknits said:

    OMG – Look at all the fabu stuff you’ve made! I mean, I knew you were fancy and crafty, obviously, but I guess I’d never looked through each project one by one. You, my friend, are one talented mama. Plus, your tutorial is excellent. I, too, have embraced the macro feature on our newest camera (read: the camera that Bubba bought for himself which now lives in my purse) and have shunned the flash from every photo.
    Everything looks beautiful!

  • jody said:

    thanks for sharing! i love the posterboard idea. i’ve been using an old white bedsheet but i often have to deal with wrinkles. the posterboard will store flatter and look better (plus — no laundry!)
    as for the tripod — i got a little one like that for christmas 2 years ago. i had expected a full size tripod but in the end the little guy has gotten a lot of use (photos of small things like you showed here).
    i’m jealous of your windows at floor level with indirect sun. i have to do a bit of work to get indirect light but you’re right — nothing beats it!

  • marjorie said:

    Thank you so much for posting this information. I’m a new blogger (and new digital photographer), and I’ve been having a hard time getting good pictures of my work. And I have a Nikon Coolpix, so you’ve given me confidence that I can actually use that camera to improve my photos. Things were alot different with film SLRs!

  • heidi said:

    Okay so that’s what the tripod my husband bought for the camera is for!? Thanks for the detailed information. Now I can take better pictures of my knitting. Now I need to get DH to show me how to reduce the pictures so they don’t take up so much space! :-)

  • HollyEQQ said:

    Thank you so much. I have been debating this issue for the past month. I love taking pictures at the beach but it has been too windy, to rainy, too crappy or I am too busy to get out there.
    I need to figure out how to take emergency pictures and you just handed it to me….
    I am humbly appreciative and will be practicing tonight.
    I also got a new fancy smancy camera (to me at least) that is just begging for a little TLC. Wonder where I put that dang little book…..

  • dorkyquilts said:

    Thanks so much for this. I didn’t know about the macro setting part–I have a flower setting on my camera, too! I knew it was for close-ups…but I wish they would have said “macro” because I’m not sure what it was doing. Thanks for turning on the little light bulb hovering over my head!!!!

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