Photographing Your Quilt Joseph Pitcher

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1 WEB EXTRA! Photographing Your Quilt Joseph Pitcher GOOD ART photography of any kind has its obstacles. Many artists do not have the funds to employ professionals to shoot their work, so it becomes necessary for them to learn to do it themselves. Ideally, the image they take should be truly representative of the artwork as it looks in life; achieving this can be tricky, particularly for the amateur photographer. The quilt artist faces a very unique set of challenges when attempting to capture accurate images of their work; standard dimensions are often not used for fiber art and quilts in particular can be very large, requiring lots of space in order to execute the wide angle shot required to photograph the entire piece. In this article, we will explore techniques to specifically help quilters take optimum photographs of their work. instant feedback is invaluable in adjusting your techniques as you go. Although I would not advocate overuse of photo-editing software (such as Photoshop), at least with digital images you have the option to apply subtle corrections. One of the main advantages of taking digital images for an artist on a budget is how much less expensive it is in the long run; there are no film or developing costs, so there is no restriction on how many images you shoot. Which Camera? The range of digital cameras available can be overwhelming, but here are some tips to narrow down the search: tech talk What Equipment Do I Need? Cameras: Why Go Digital? The real question should be Why not go digital? To begin with, put aside any concerns about quality. Nowadays, the sharpness of digital images has become so good (due to vast improvements in resolution) that they turn out at least equal to, and often better than those created using film. But here are a few more reasons that digital is definitely the way to go when photographing quilts. Digital cameras allow you to do on-thespot evaluations of your images; it will be clear instantly if the exposure is right, whether the camera is at the correct angle, and if the white balance is giving you a true representation of your quilt. This Go for a mid-range camera. Something that costs $15 is not going to cut it, but you do not need to break the bank either. It is entirely possible to get great quality images with a $120 camera. Stick with tried and tested equipment. Good reputations are earned, and with companies like Canon, Nikon, and Olympus you are pretty much guaranteed a quality product. Look for a camera with at least 5 mega pixels of resolution; anything less than this will not give you the results you want. The device should also have a 3 optical zoom lens; this feature allows you to enlarge an object by physically extending the lens. i

2 1. Side view: Ensure the camera is aligned with the center of the quilt both vertically and horizontally. 2. If your artwork is tilted, tilt the camera to exactly the same angle and ensure it is aligned with the center of the quilt. 1 To Tripod or Not to Tripod? Almost as important as a good camera is a means of steadying it and setting it to exactly the right height and angle; this is particularly important when photographing quilts. Why? The design and stitching of a quilt can often be very intricate and any motion blurring will compromise the detail of the image. And if the camera is not tilted at the same angle as the quilt and centered in relation to it, it will result in keystoning (more about this later). The easiest solution is to invest in a tripod. It does not need to be expensive. Most cameras are very lightweight and do not need heavy-duty support. A quick online search will reveal hundreds of options for three-section tripods, some as inexpensive as $20. Light the Lights One of the main culprits for ruining images of quilts is lighting, and without the luxury of expensive equipment, the task of lighting your art for photography can seem daunting. The good news is that it is possible to create true-to-life images of your quilts with just a little bit of know-how and without excessive cost. Aim for bright, soft lighting, as anything too harsh and direct can cast shadows, create reflections and shift the color of your art. So how is this achieved? It is entirely possible to get great photos using natural light from a large window, or even by taking your quilt outside and using a quilt stand. The trouble with this approach is the unpredictability of natural light; any extremes of weather (too bright or too dull) can play havoc with lighting balance. The white balance function on your camera will do its best to correct this, but if you want a guaranteed outcome, I suggest you invest in the following: Purchase a couple of sturdy clamp-on reflector lamps; these are readily available in most hardware stores at a reasonable price. 2 Use high-powered daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs to shoot your work; 30 watt 5000K bulbs are best. It may be difficult to find these in a local store so it is a good idea to order them online and have a few spares on hand in case of breakages. Your lamps will need to be attached to something in order to set them to the correct height; light-stands can be purchased very inexpensively online. ii Machine Quilting UNLIMITED January/February 2016

3 How to photograph a quilt: Set-up Ideally, your quilt should be hung on a clean, white background so that it is absolutely vertical. You can use a wall in your studio or home of course, but if this is not an option, how about buying a piece of foam insulation board and covering it in felt or muslin, then attaching your quilt with pins? If you are using artificial light as I suggest, make sure that no natural light is being let into the room; this way you will avoid mixed lighting complications. Using your tripod, make sure the camera is exactly centered (horizontally and vertically) in relation to the quilt. (Photo 1) If your mounted quilt is not exactly vertical to the floor, adjust the angle of the camera so it matches the angle of the tilted quilt. (Photo 2) In terms of distance, you should be able to fill the camera s viewfinder with the quilt when the zoom lens is close to its middle range. Zooming in or out to extremes will compromise the quality of the outcome. In worst case scenarios, using a wide angle will cause a type of image distortion known as barrelling. The two lamps should be on either side of the camera and set to the same height as the camera (vertically at the center of the quilt). (Photo 3) The quilt should be framed by just a little of the plain background in your camera s view finder. (Photo 4) Note: Summer Flowers, Daren Redman, has been used in Photos 4 8 for demonstration purposes. Taking the Shot Use a microfiber cloth to clean the lens of your camera and remove any dirt or dust. Take a number of shots varying your camera s white balance settings until you hit upon the one that best replicates the colors in your quilt. Although most cameras now have an automatic sensor designed to best approximate the proper white balance, it is often inaccurate so do not rely on it. Also be aware that many cameras LCD screens misrepresent the actual image, so take a few shots (playing around with white balance) and transfer them to a computer so you can view them on a calibrated screen before making a decision. 3. Top view. 3 4 iii

4 Keystoning. 6. Barreling. Always use the self-timer on the camera. Even when using a tripod, the tiniest wobble as you press the shutter can blur your photo. Any movement is a no-no! Set a medium aperture to ensure the sharpest image quality. Most consumer cameras work best at around f/5.6. Consult your camera s instruction booklet for information on how to make these adjustments. What Can Go Wrong? Keystoning If the quilt does not appear rectangular in the image (the vertical lines move towards convergence), the position of the camera has either been set too low or too high (it is not centered in relation to the quilt) or you have not angled the camera to match the angle of the quilt. (Photo 5) Barrelling If the quilt looks like it is wrapped around a barrel (lines that should be straight are bulging), the camera s zoom lens has probably been set too wide; try shooting from further away instead. (Photo 6) Poor White Balance If the colors are inaccurate (especially if the entire image has a yellowy tinge), the white balance settings probably need to be reset. (Photo 7) Hotspots If the lighting of the piece looks uneven in the image, you may be suffering from mixed lighting (a combination of natural and artificial light) or your lamps may be too close to the artwork. Aim for an evenly lit photo, remembering that the camera will see things that the naked eye does not. iv Machine Quilting UNLIMITED January/February 2016

5 7 8 A Word of Warning Never use your camera s flash function as an alternative to proper lighting; it will undoubtedly cause a sharp glare and uneven distribution of light across the piece. 7. Poor white balance. 8. Hotspots. And beware of Photoshop; over-using sharpening tools in photo-editing software can make your images appear unreal. It is much better to get your focusing right when taking the initial shot. Try following these tips and the essential steps of photographing your quilt will be easier and produce better results. MQU v

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