Picture Perfect: A Seamstress’ Guide to Photography

You’ve just sewn up an AMAZING new outfit, and you can’t wait to show it off to the world. But, before you stand in front of the bathroom mirror, point your phone towards your reflection, and try to look cute in spite of the shower curtain behind you and forgotten water spots on the mirror, stop and ask yourself: “Is this the best way to showcase my work?” “Is it what I want to represent me on social media?” “Does this picture reflect my skills and show off my talent?” You could say yes, hastily snap the pic, and post it for instant gratification, or you could take a little extra time to bring your photo to the next level.

A bad picture can make even the most beautiful garment look less than attractive. To show off your sewing, you need to make sure your photography is up to par! There’s more to taking a picture than pointing and clicking. You have to think about your lighting, background, position, and many other things. But once you are aware of the right things to look for, it isn’t difficult, and with a little time, it’ll come natural.

I know most seamstresses, sewists, makers, fabric manipulators… are not photography experts, and that is ok.  That’s why I’ve put together a few tips, along with some equipment, to help moms, pattern testers, and anyone else who wants to be able to show off their skills with better pictures.

A picture is worth 1000 words, right? So, let’s say goodbye to that dreaded bathroom selfie, and hello to awesomeness!

Step 1: Equipment

Before you start photographing anything, you have to have the right set-up. Here’s some devices that can easily help you take better photos. 

Cameras

In most cases, your phone will work fine. That’s what I usually use. If your phone camera is terrible or you want to take your pictures to the next level, you might want to invest in a real camera.

These are some of the most affordable, quality options: 

Nikon D3300 DSLR Camera – It focuses well and captures clear photos, doing especially well on portrait shots. There’s also an adapter that makes this compatible for direct sharing over Wifi with your smartphone–super convenient if you are primarily shooting to upload to social media.

Panasonic Lumix FZ80 4K Digital Camera – Lightweight and powerful, this will get the job done. It’s easy for a beginner to use and low-cost for everything it offers.

Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera – This is more expensive, but it will take crisp, professional pictures. If you’re more interested in really getting into photography, this is a great place to start.

Phone Photography Accessories

JOBY GorillaPod Mobile Mini – This awesome little tripod has flexible legs, which means you can put it anywhere–in trees, on an uneven rock, or just standing it up on a table.

Selfie Stick Tripod – Now not only for selfies, this tripod allows you to take stable and professional photos hands-free.

Bluetooth wireless shutter remote – This makes it really easy to take pictures of yourself! Just set up the camera on a tripod or lean it against the wall, and you can click the button to photograph yourself from across the room. If you normally take pictures of yourself, this is a cheap way to quickly improve your shots (only $6!).

Phone photography kit – This includes lenses, a remote, and a tripod all in the same set. You probably won’t need specific lenses, but they might be worth trying out.

**Quick Tip: Some camera apps allow you to use your iPhone earbuds as a remote to click and take pictures with. They have to be the newer kind with the button.**

Lighting tools

ULANZI L1 Pro Mini LED Light Cube – This helps you better illuminate your shot in low lighting, and includes 20 color filters. It’s portable and clips onto your phone or your camera. You can’t beat this for a cheap way to get continuous lighting.

5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector Kit – This kit can be used to diffuse flash or harsh outdoor surrounding lighting for a softer look.

Step 2: Composition

This is the most important category. Buy all the equipment you want, if you don’t know how to frame your shot, it’s still going to look off. 

Some quick tips:

  • Be mindful of the background – Is that a toddlers sock hanging off the bookshelf? I get it, especially when you have kids, finding a clear spot to do anything can be a struggle. But if you have piles of junk and old mail piled on the countertop behind you, the photo won’t look very professional. Make sure it’s clean and clutter free.
  • Make sure the outfit is the focal point – In any picture, you have to decide what you want the main point of interest to be. You frame the shot to draw attention to that subject. If you’re photographing your sewing, make sure the model is the focus (so don’t pick a background with clashing colors or intricate scenery that distracts).
  • If you use props, make sure the outfit is visible. – Props can add a lot of personality to your photo. Just make sure they don’t take away from the actual sewing project! 
Patterns featured from left to right: Dynamite Dolman, lil’ Miss Sundress, lil’ Lady
Patterns featured from left to right: Billie wrap dress, Good ol’ Boy Western shirt

Other things to keep in mind are…

Lighting

Patterns featured from left to right: Badass bralette and cami with flounce & Bonnie

Both dresses and positions in these pictures are cute, but the lighting makes a huge difference!

The first image turned out hard to see because the light was harsh–and because it was casting a weird, speckled shadow on the model’s face through the trees. The second image was taken in the shade so the lighting was softer and more evenly dispersed. 

If you’re shooting outdoors…it’s better to take photos outside in early morning or late evening, right as the sun is setting or coming up. This is called golden hour. Because the sun is lower in the sky, the light is softer. If you have to take your photos mid-day, it’s best to do them in the shade. 

If you’re shooting indoors…make sure you are shooting in a well-lit area. Shooting near a window can help you take advantage of natural light (just don’t stand directly in front of it, that will make it hard to see you!) If you still don’t have enough light, you can look into getting additional lights (check the equipment section above). You’ll also want to play with the angle the light is coming from to avoid unwanted shadows. 

The Rule of Thirds

Patterns featured: Badass bralette and cami

The rule of thirds is a way of positioning the elements in your shot. The idea is to break the shot up into three sections in each direction. Your eyes will naturally be drawn to the place where two lines intersect, which is where you focus the most important part of the image, in this case, the model’s face.

This is a way of taking off-center shots and still maintaining a balanced look. It’s not so much of a “rule” as it is a guideline to keep in mind. 

Leading Lines

Patterns featured : Bombshell Halter top & dress

Leading lines help direct your eye to the most important part of the image. In this picture, the model is at the end of a path–the place you automatically look at first glance. Paths, roads, fences, and rivers are all good places to find leading lines outside, but anything can be one! Just pay attention to how things appear as you look through the viewfinder.

Frame the Subject

In both these pictures, the model is framed by the surrounding objects. In the first, it is the red wood of the playground. In the second, it’s the doorway. This helps draw the attention to her as the subject of the photo. Natural frames can be found anywhere–between trees, under an arch, or beneath a doorway. 

Step 3: Modeling

Patterns featured from left to right: Cherrybomb, Billie, Outlaw Lady
  • Stay flexible – You don’t want the pose to look stiff or artificial (arms straight at the side, knees locked, standing rigid, etc). 
  • Turn slightly away from the camera – Facing the camera head-on usually isn’t the most flattering. Turn away 45 degrees for a slimmer look.
  • Don’t shoot upwards – Shooting with the camera angled upwards isn’t a good idea for photographing people. It adds weight, and you probably won’t like the result. Keep the camera at eye-level or a little higher.
  • Work with the outfit – If you’re wearing a dress, you can pull slightly up the side to show off the skirt. Figure out what makes it look the most flattering on your body type, and do that!
  • Move around – Every time the camera clicks, move a little. Try something different. Each movement makes a different look. It’s better to have 20 shots of varying qualities than 20 bad shots of the same pose. 
  • Take casual photos – It’s not rocket science. Start walking, sit down, lean against a wall–casual poses can make for cute candid shots. It also helps avoid awkward positions. 
Patterns featured from left to right: lil’ Miss Sundress & lil’ Lady

Step 4: Editing

I use Photoshop, but there are plenty of great photo editors that are available completely for free. Pixlr is a good free editor for your computer. Other phone apps like Snapseed or even just Instagram will work great for basic fixes.

Remember not to over edit. You can knock up the exposure to brighten dark shots or slightly crop the side to exclude overly-distracting scenery, but be careful of putting too many filters on or blurring out large portions of background. This can make the image look fake, and we don’t want that! 

Now go and take some pictures!

Learning to take good photos is a process of trial and error. The more you practice, the better your photos will be. Sometimes it takes me 50 tries to get a good shot, but once you have it, you know what to do better next time. 

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More helpful stuff:
The Projector Project: a paperless pattern revolution
Sewing Stuff I Love
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