6 Tips to Taking Your Own Knitwear Photos
One of my favorite things about working in Knitscene is the photo shoots, but taking my own finished garment photos is tricky!
I don't know about you, but the minute I finish putting together a knitted sweater, I want to show it off right then! Sometimes even before it's finished blocking (and I take blocking very seriously). I live on my own and I'm a smidgen controlling about photography (it's been a hobby of mine for a while), so I usually prefer to take my own project photos. It's great when I can get someone to help me with photography, but usually I'm too impatient and want those photos right now.
There are definitely pros to having someone else take your picture—especially if you have a friend or family member who's a professional—but it's also really, really easy to take good pictures of yourself modeling the sweater you knit.
First, let's look at our gear. As I mentioned, photography is a hobby of mine, so I do have quite a bit of photography gear. Two tripods, two lenses (a 24 f/2.8 and a 50 mm f/1.8 for my fellow photo nerds), and a remote timer.
If you have access to camera equipment, awesome! If you don't, so what? I've also been able to grab great photos using these tools: my smartphone and a binder clip.
For the purpose of this post, the following photos were all taking using just my iPhone, my hands, or the binder clip. Your life will be made easier by a smartphone app that allows for a delayed shutter release (meaning you can hit the button and the camera will snap a second or two later, so you can step away) or an app such as CamMe (free for iOS on both the iPhone and iPad). (One drawback to CamMe is that the photo resolution isn't that great if you're not in direct lighting, so keep that in mind; there are so many other apps out there though, I'd love to hear any recommendations in the comments.)
Step 1: Find Your Light
Lighting is the most important thing in photography. It can evoke certain moods, highlight (or disguise) certain features, and showcase your hard work knitting that sweater. Lighting can also be the easiest or trickiest thing about taking your own photos.
In general, I recommend going outside. Specifically I recommend going outside just as the sun's rising because the light is absolutely gorgeous then and makes everything and everyone look great, but I get the crazy looks when I suggest this (but really, if I'm taking pictures of myself outside, I get up stupidly early to do it). If you go outside at another time of day, when the sun is more overhead, try to find a slightly shady area, or if you time it right, wait for an overcast day (as Louisa and I did in this post). Harsh overhead light creates unflattering shadows on your face and your body—basically the opposite of what you want.
When it's too warm outside to fathom putting on a wool sweater, I take my photos indoors. I have a bare wall in my bedroom and my window gets a good amount of light when I open the blinds. I used this technique to photograph my Nevelson Lace Pullover (photo above). To illustrate how much light can shift, I took four photos, basically just spinning around in my room.
You can see how the light shifts just by changing the relationship between the camera and the light source (my bedroom window). The backlit photo has the softest lighting but it also blows out the background, kind of making me look like I'm glowing. I generally photograph myself with the light coming from the right, as it's easiest to set up the equipment that way, but it's nice to know what the options would be like.
Notice how I turn my head toward the window in the photos with the light coming from the side. This is a matter of personal preference—turning your face away from the light and getting those shadows can be really dramatic—but I generally recommend turning toward the light, as your body will naturally want to follow and all those amazing stitches you knit will look their best.
Take a few minutes throughout your day and test out the lighting at different times of day in your space with your phone. Maybe you have gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows that get their best light in the evening, or maybe you have a great contrast color wall you want to use as your background but the only way to do that is to shoot at 10 in the morning with the light coming from one direction. You won't know your favorite option until you try different ones, but the beauty of digital photography is that you can totally screw around and figure out what you like best—just delete everything you don't like!
Step 2: Find Your Set-Up
Because I have a tripod, I go pretty much wherever. It gets a little trickier to with my phone and binder clip trick, but with enough books or other stackable objects, I can make it work anywhere. I used my dresser, a jewelry box, and a hope box for my example photos.
Try to get your camera as close to eye-level as possible. I don't really know anyone who likes photos of them taken from below. It's just generally not a flattering angle, though a professional photographer can probably make it work. In these photos, I moved the camera up by about 6" the first time and another 4" the second time, and you can see what a difference 10" of vertical space can make. Plus, as the camera moves, I instinctively move my eye-line, which helps me stand up straighter, which makes for a more flattering photo in general.
Step 3: Find Your Backdrop
It's easy to forget, but the background is really important to photography. As I said, I mostly shoot against a plain white wall when I'm in my house; outside, I look for simple walls with interesting but not too busy patterning (bricks, wood slats, etc.).
On the left, you see how the image looks with my bedroom door open; in the middle, the door is closed; and on the right, you see how just shifting slightly to my right (your left), I not only hid the door but also the air-conditioning grate that was sticking out of my head (and also exposed my overburdened bookshelves—seriously, go plain walls when possible). When you feel like you've got your lighting and your camera set up just right, take a good hard look at the background to see if there's anything you can do to keep the focus on you and your sweater.
To recap (or the Too Long, Didn't Read version):
1. Find the best light source possible. Outside is usually better but inside can work just as well.
2. Test the lighting from different angles to find your favorite. Also test at different times of day.
3. Elevate your camera lens to be as close to eye-level with you as possible. A tripod obviously works well (and you can get tripod mounts for smart phones, such as Glif) but anything you can stack securely will work.
4. Use a binder clip as an impromptu tripod for a smart phone—make sure it's big enough to grasp the phone, and try to avoid clamping directly on the screen as much as possible.
5. Pay attention to your background! Closing a door or just shifting your stance slightly can make a world of difference.
6. Take a ton of photos! I've been taking my own photos for a while now, but I will easily take about 40 pictures every time— sometimes photos that look good in the camera don't look as good on the computer, and vice versa, so it's best to have as many options as possible. And just delete whatever you don't like!
When you've gotten the photos you want to share, you can use a wide variety of free online photo editing software to make the perfect finishing touches.. Gale Zucker, knitting photographer extraordinaire, is hosting a web seminar on How to Use Easy Free Online Software to Improve Your Image next Wednesday, October 22. The seminar starts at 1 pm Eastern time, but you can watch it whenever you want! For a sample of Gale's photography seminars, you can watch her Basic Photography Skills for Knitters webinar OnDemand right now.
I like to use PicMonkey to add text and make the collages in this post, but Gale's photo editing web seminar will have so much more information on tweaking the lighting and creating your own signature look for your knitwear photography—especially helpful for those designers out there who want to make their photos stand out!