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Beginning photography for Sewists

There's really no such thing as good and bad photography. Photography is an art, just like sewing.

You know that feeling when you sew something amazing and you want to show the world right now, this very minute, but it's 2am and you're wearing sweat pants under the formal gown you just sewed? No? Just me?

How about when you sew something beautiful but the photos of it don't do it justice? That one I really think we've all had, right?

This post is the result of feedback asking for some basic photography tips and is meant to throw out some ideas that are attainable for the casual sewist photographer to better be able to capture their makes and help us see what they see!

Especially with the #ALDbingo event coming up, we're excited to see lots of makes shared in the ALD Facebook group!



From an artistic perspective, lighting conveys a mood in your photos.

From a practical perspective, lighting makes your photos easier to see.

Indoor lighting is easier to control, but outdoor lighting is easier to attain.

The best times to take photos is as the sun is coming up or going down. "Golden hour" is the term for the hour before sunset when the sun is low enough to still light your photos but not cast shadows.

Lakeisha shared that she got to the park too early this day and had to wait almost an hour for the sun to go down far enough - this photo was worth it though! Beautiful!

The presence of shadows can be really distracting in photos and often is what give you a gut reaction of it looking like a professional photo or not. If you need to take photos during the middle of the day, find a place with full shade.

When looking for shade look for full shade and avoid trees that allow light rays through. This could actually make it worse because you might get a sunspot directly on you. You'll have a bright reflection that washes out this portion of the image.

In this photo I had light coming through the trees and it landed on my chest, washing out the tank top underneath. I tried deepening the contrast on the photos but that area will still be bleached.

You want lighting that isn't hitting you from top down or casting distracting shadows whether outdoor or indoor. Most of us use outdoor because it's easier to find an uncluttered background and lighting other than ceiling lighting which casts a lot of shadows, like when the sun is directly above. But if you have a way to be near an open window or use umbrella lights, indoor shots can be even better than outdoor. Wendy's athletic photos are so engaging from this last round! Her background is uncluttered, no shadows and bright lighting!


There's plenty to read on the internet about framing and golden ratios. For the purposes of sewing, it helps to center what you want us to see. And remember, most of us are looking at this on our cell phones.

If centering doesn't convey the message, or your model won't cooperate, try taking a couple of photos for context. Posting one photo of the larger scene and another so we can focus on the detail you're showing off conveys the message too.

Uncluttered backgrounds

You'd be surprised how little space you need to make the background look clean. Avoid "stuff" - it distracts from your make.

Jan, Emily, Shakita and Kelle and used a fence to declutter the background!

Choose a background that color compliments

I'm really bummed about how my Winston photos turned out - I didn't realize I was the same color as my background. I for sure could have chosen something that didn't camouflage. Fortunately I learned from this before it was time for Mason!

The Don'ts

Don't buy a fancy camera unless you want one. You don't need one to capture your makes. In fact, when I upgraded cameras, I actually got worse because I didn't know how to use my new one and it was waaay frustrating! I'm still learning!

Jody took this photo with her phone on portrait mode.

Jan took this one using a point and shoot style Nikon Coolpix L820

Don't be intimidated!

Sonia and Gwen both have the Nikon 5000 series with prime lenses (fixed-zoom) and know how to use them! It's not uncommon for sewing to lead into photography as a secondary hobby! (They're also both using remotes and you can't even tell!)

These are beautiful photos and we love looking at them, and in my case, asking them how I can get better with mine! But if your goal is just to share your sewing make, your photos don't have to look like a professional magazine photoshoot.


I took lessons from a professional photographer when I first got my camera. Luckily it only cost me dinner because he's a coworker! He told me that the goal is not to have to do any post-processing, that my photos should come off the camera looking exactly how I want them.

I still like to tweak my photos a bit, but getting them well lit from the get go makes it go faster for sure!

By post-processing I mean, cropping, adjusting colors, etc. You don't need fancy software or a paid subscription to lightroom to do this with either. Gwen uses GIMP which is a free program that works like Adobe Photoshop. It has a bit of a learning curve and I never had the patience for it. Maybe Gwen will make us some videos someday!

Jan recommends which has free tools available without the subscription. I like this option a lot because it works inside an app or browser.

I used the free software "photos for windows 10" up until the last couple of months when I got a paid program. When you double click your photos, it's what your computer defaults to opening with. Click edit to get to the tools.

Then go into the crop option.

Notice that when you're in the edit mode there's options for standard sizes and it shows you a grid to help you center your make.

I recommend using the standard ratios. Here I'm using square so that I won't have to crop for posting to Instagram. It also helps Facebook display your images as you intend without awkward zooming if you use a standard ratio. If you're giving images to someone to make a collage for example, this is really important because your images will fit better in a standard frame.

Also be careful not to crop too much. The image quality reduces as you crop and it can get blurry.

You can adjust colors by opening the Color and Light accordion menus in the Adjust screen.

As strike off sewists, we try to tweak to get the colors accurate and not go further. Otherwise the fabric might look totally different when you receive it and you'd be annoyed, rightfully so!

Advanced Techniques

If the "Rules" for photography you accept are:

  • Center your model

  • Take photos in even lighting, during golden hour with no visible light beams or shadows.

  • Have as empty of backgrounds as possible.

  • Take clear, in focus photos.

Then the "advanced" techniques are simply breaking those rules!

This is why photography is an art and cannot be judged. "Tips for good photography" should really be rephrased to "ideas to help the photographer convey their message".

Sunspots - you can use sunspots to highlight aspects of the subject. When not controlled the sunspots can distract or bleach out the subject. Applied consciously they give more interest to the photo.

This is one of my favorite ALD photos of all time, taken by Jess!

Intentional blur - Bokeh

Bokeh is named for the photographer who popularized the technique. Use as low of aperture as possible (also known as depth of field, this widens the lens to capture more image and condense it into the frame, causing blur. It helps to have your model far away from the camera and zoom in on them. Conversely you can use a very high aperture to blur in front of the subject rather than behind. You'll need a camera that allows you to adjust your F-stop (aperture) in order to apply this method. Some phones can do this with portrait mode too.

Here's an example where Brandi has focused on the subject but blurred the house next door that is behind the model. This makes the subject "pop" a little more and it's easier to focus on what she's showing us.

An unrelated note on Shutter Speed

If you have the option to adjust shutter speed you can slow it down to add more light into the frame. This will hold the lens open longer while you take a photo. The downside of a slow shutter speed is that movement happening while the shutter is open can cause blur. This is used intentionally a lot on natural water to give the illusion the water is moving.

This is another "oops" of mine. I had my shutter speed very slow trying to gain more light since it was fall and I needed to get to work before the sun could come up more. But it was also windy and my hair blew causing this sort of odd halo effect.

Shutter speed can be really important if you're taking photos of children or spots. Turn it up as fast as you can for those action shots!

Another boo-boo from me. My camera wasn't prepared for my jump shot. I was using a timer and jumping at the exact moment it takes a photo took plenty of tries! But you can see I should have turned up my shutter speed because my shoes are a bit blurry.

Wrapping it up

Deliver your message - it does not have to be complex.

Cell phone photos of your make taken against an uncluttered background in even lighting will help us see what you see so we can really enjoy what you made!

Credit: Sarah K.

Credit: Emily

Credit: Steffani

A note on watermarks - I recommend watermarking your images! There's lots of free apps for all sorts of phones that will do this. It offers a buffer of protection against someone borrowing your image without your permission.

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