There are more how-to posts on the horizon in conjunction with the Top-Down Knitalong (how to knit an inset pocket, a folded hem, all sorts of neckbands … among the contenders). But I also get a lot of questions about photography — specifically how to take better knitting and FO photos — and since this year’s panelists happen to be superstars at it, I thought this would be a great chance to talk about it. So I’ve asked Brandi, Jess and Jen (who has a degree in the subject!) to share their 3 top tips that anyone can do to improve their photos, and I’m adding mine to the mix as well.
I feel like we, as a knitting community, deserve a huge pat on the back. When I was first on Instagram and Ravelry five years ago looking for knits and knitters, the photos were a long way from what you find these days. In many of them, you couldn’t even make out what it was a picture of! Smartphone cameras have improved tremendously, for one thing, but I also think a lot of us have discovered that part of the joy of knitting (and the knitting community) is sharing our work, and in discovering the joy of documenting things well, we’ve gotten a lot better at it! I know not every knitter (or sewer) cares about photos at all — which is obviously totally fine — but for those who do find it fun and interesting and are always on the lookout for ways to improve, here’s our advice. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap. ;)
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KAREN TEMPLER (see @karentempler)
All I own is an iPhone, so every Instagram, blog, Ravelry and product photo I take is shot on my phone. The editing apps have gotten so good I don’t do much in Photoshop anymore. These days, I really like A Color Story (largely because it has an actual curves tool, hallelujah!) and always start there. If I use any of the filters, it’s usually either just Everyday, or a combination of Summer Day and Film Camera — and definitely dialed way down — but I always use the tools to adjust brightness and warmth and such (see below). If it’s a photo for the blog or shop, I might do a tiny bit more color correction in Photoshop.
1) Focus. If you’re using a smartphone, wipe off your lense first — I promise there are fingerprints on it. Then focus or tap the screen so the camera is focusing on the right part of the image.
2) Side light. Make sure the light is actually falling on whatever you’re shooting, rather than your subject being backlit or in the shadows. And if at all possible, use side light not overhead light. If you’re taking pictures indoors, use the light coming in through a window. If shooting outdoors, do it in the morning or evening, when the sun is softer and lower in the sky. (If for some reason you have to shoot under an overhead/artificial light, make sure it’s not creating a big glare or hotspot in your photo, and adjust the color balance as noted below, to compensate for the yellowness of the light.)
3) Take 60 seconds to edit. By which I mean, take multiple photos/angles and see which is best. But also iPhone photos tend to be a little grey overall and a bit on the warm (yellow) side for my liking. So — whether you’re using the camera app’s built-in editing tools or IG’s tools or an editing app — at bare minimum, adjust sharpness, brightness and warmth. Playing around with even just those three sliders (or the curves tool in A Color Story) can mean a world of difference in your photos being clearer and brighter and the whites being whiter.
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BRANDI HARPER (see @purlBknit)
I use a Nikon D3100 that came with a 2-lens kit purchased from Costco and a Manfrotto 190 tripod. For self-portraiture, I use a camera remote snagged from Amazon. I always shoot on automatic mode and do my editing in Photoshop or iPhoto. I never use filters.
1) Lighting. All hail the sun! I only shoot in natural light, mostly right beside a window. When the sun is blazing, I use a white paper shade from Home Depot to filter and diffuse the light and decrease the appearance of harsh shadows. No flash ever. Rainy, cloudy days create amazingly moody photos with shades of grey; these images are my favorite!
2) Editing. I do all my editing on Photoshop CS6 keeping it really simple with the following: crop, brightness/contrast, sharpness, resize. Retouching I do in iPhoto since the tool is super user-friendly.
3) Composition and perspective. I love birds-eye view. You have to shoot right above the scene you want to photograph. When it comes to organizing tools and props, I aim for things organized neatly using right angles, no stacking, and space between every element. To this day, the best thing I ever did to improve a photo is to try and try again.
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JEN BEEMAN (see @jen_beeman)
For Instagram photos, I use my iPhone SE and edit in the Lightroom app and VSCO. For finished project photos, I use a Canon 6D with EF 24-105mm f/4L lens shooting RAW, and edit in Lightroom and Photoshop (if needed).
1) Lighting & Color Balance. I prefer natural light, always — bonus points if it’s directional because that will enable you to get really good highlights and shadows. These add depth and interest to your photos and will also really highlight the textures and stitch patterns of your knitting beautifully. I always correct the white balance and curves in the Lightroom App. This will help remove any color cast your photo might have (especially helpful if you can’t use natural light) and bring out depth in your photos. I prefer Lightroom because it syncs with my desktop version of Lightroom and because the white balance tool is really really good.
2) Composition. When photographing knitting I usually shoot from the top down or straight on. This is just personal preference because I like to remove any background noise or clutter so that the yarn or project is front and center. If you’re shooting across an object you have a background full of random information competing with the subject of your photo. I photograph a lot of projects on my front porch, but I crop out the scraggly bush to the side and shoot top down to avoid showcasing a street full of cars, since neither of those enhance the visual or add to the story of my knitting in any way. Also, like any self- respecting photo major, I take multiple shots of any photo ;)
3) Consistency. I try not to get too caught up in the consistency of my feed — if I take that too seriously I get stressed out, and that is not the point of Instagram! I prefer clean, natural, well- lit photos so I use a few filters in VSCO that enhance that look, but I always scale back the filter opacity to 50% or less. Sticking to the same few filters does add somewhat of a common thread to my photos and keeps my feed relatively cohesive.
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JESS SCHREIBSTEIN (see @thekitchenwitch)
I use iPhone about 99% of the time for my Instagram photos, but always take a photo with a Pentax K5 IIs for my finished garments. I find that the DSLR can get much better focus on stitch definition and color variation than an iPhone – obvious, but easy to dismiss. When formatting phone photos, I use VSCO, filter A6, then dial back the contrast. I used to have more fade on my photos, but got tired of that look – I prefer something that’s more saturated and true-to-life now. For DSLR photos, I use a combo of iPhoto and Pixelmator (a poor woman’s version of Photoshop).
1) Natural, indirect light. If there are any overhead lights, I turn them all off. They can add a weird yellowing or washed-out look to a final photo.
2. Focus on the knitting. I try to keep the photo focused on the object, the stitch pattern, or the yarn, and minimize any clutter in the shot unless it’s directly contextual or enhances the photo in some way.
3. Consistent look and feel. I like to think of my photos, especially on Instagram, as a constant and evolving series. I try not to get too caught up in “branding,” per se, because I feel like you can lose a lot of spontaneity and playfulness in photos that way. A visual voice will come through naturally, but it’s helpful to try to strike a similar color palette and tone in your approach so your photos all feel related as part of a cohesive story.
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Of course, the most important thing is to be yourself — to figure out how to have that come through in your photos. When it comes to props (or not), angles, and the look of your images and your feed, the best thing is to try stuff and see what you like. Once you get comfortable taking and editing photos on the most basic levels, you’ll find more freedom to play around and discover a style and look that works for you.
Please feel free to share your favorite tips in the comments — I know I, for one, always have more to learn!
PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: WIP of the Week No.2 (and Elsewhere)