Better Project Photos: Backgrounds for Detail Shots

In my previous post, I shared some great ideas for improving your project portraits by choosing backgrounds that really make your finished object shine.  If you haven’t read it, click here — it’s amazing what a difference the right background can make!

Take Better Project Photos - Backgrounds for Detail Shots

But you want to take some detail shots too right?  Because sometimes the things that make our project just amazing are in the details — the intricate stitchwork, the seam that you sewed so beautifully, the subtle stitch-by-stitch colour changes in the yarn.  For those shots, you need to get your camera in close to your project and, to really show the details off to their best, the background you choose will make a huge difference.

We started the portrait-photo post with a pet peeve of mine (Don’t Stand in Front of that Bush!) and we’re starting this one with a pet peeve too — one I see all over Ravelry and that always gives me the sads…

Don’t Shoot on that Blocking Mat!

I know your project looks amazing when you finally get it blocked out and all the stitchwork opens up.  I know you’re excited (and you should be!) and you just want to grab your camera and take photos now.  Or maybe you don’t want to actually model it yourself (and that’s ok) but, please, put your camera down.  To me, taking pictures on a blocking mat is a little like getting all dressed up for a family photo — you in your best outfit, your hair fabulous, you’re looking amazing — and then… wearing your house-slippers in the photo.

It’s the same with a blocking mat — that dull surface and the hundreds of pins are a total mood-killer for your photos.  And the thing is, your stitchwork is going to look just as gorgeous once it’s dried and off the mat — even more gorgeous in fact, because you can lift it up and let the stitches really shine in the light and the breeze.  So go ahead and love your project while it’s blocking, but wait to take the photos until you unpin it and set its beauty free!

Choose a Simple Background

Just as we discussed with project portraits, your eye gets confused about where to look when the background is cluttered or complicated — whereas a simple background will make your project really pop.


Sept 2014 Mini-Skein Colourways


And here’s some great news: the simplest background is super easy and super cheap!  So yesterday, I grabbed a bundle of the SpaceCadet’s September Mini-Skeins and, literally 30 seconds, I had a “studio” set up and snapped these images.

Don’t they look great?  Clean, crisp, and professional.  Want to see what the “studio” looked like?  Ok, here ya go!…

How to Create Professional Studio Shots

It’s a piece of 75¢ posterboard propped up against a wall outside.  That’s it!  The sun provides amazing light, the posterboard keeps the picture clean and uncluttered, and by propping it up (instead of laying it flat), it creates a never-ending backdrop.  Can you believe you can get such beautiful photos with something so simple and cheap?  Try it — you’ll be amazed at the results!

And remember, this set-up is for your detail shots, so you’re not trying to fit your entire project spread out on the posterboard — it probably won’t be big enough for that.  But if you use it when focus in on your lace edging, the collar, your beautiful seams, your stitches will pop and your project will look amazing!

Now, to take it up a level, let the smaller space encourage you to get creative with the way you display your work.  Try folding your sweater up neatly as if it were on a shelf and take some snaps like that.  Or instead of laying a scarf out flat, go for an accordion-fold to emphasise the colour progression.  There are so many possibilities!

 Try a Different Colour to Make Your Project Pop

Neutral is nice but sometimes white doesn’t do your project full justice.  Just like we saw that darker backgrounds can work wonders for your project portraits, sometimes a background of a contrasting colour can make your project really pop.  Working in a light coloured yarn?  Try posterboard in black or gray so the stitches stand out.  Warm colours jump off of purple or olive green.  Cool colours can look amazing against dark spice shades.  The best way to find out?  Experiment!  Grab your project and hold it against different colours to see what works.  And be bold — the best combinations can be quite surprising!

Try a Different Colour

Here I grabbed those same gradient Mini-Skeins and set them against a gray background.  Do you see how much the colours of the bottom row jump out of the gray rather than the white?  It’s an optical illusion — the colours are the same — but the contrast makes all the difference.

And do you want to see what this background actually was?  I didn’t have any gray posterboard to hand, so I just popped them onto an old storage tub that was sitting in the grass!  Sure, you can see a few scuff marks and imperfections, but the finished image looks really good, don’t you think?

How to Create Professional Studio Shots2

Try a Little Texture — But Just a Little

Texture is another great option for enhancing detail shots, but it’s a wee bit tricky.  Remember that a busy background confuses the eye and can detract focus from your project, so choose carefully.  The best textures are subtle — not too detailed and fairly mono-chromatic.

Take Better Project Photos - Try Some Subtle Texture

For this image, I just crumpled up a piece of tissue paper and then spread it out on top of my white posterboard.  The overall effect is still very neutral, but the tissue gives a little bit of subtle texture that adds interest without taking away from the main object.

Carefully Combine Colour And Texture

A carefully chosen combination of texture and colour together can create a wonderful effect too.  Nature can provide these in abundance but, again, the emphasis is on carefully chosen.  A project plonked down in some grass or stretched across a bush* will be competing for your eye’s attention with a hundred individual blades of grass or tiny leaves, and the effect will mostly be disappointing.

*Augh! That bush again!

Instead, go for a background where the texture is simple and the colour is complimentary to the project.   Here, I set the Multicolour Mini-Skein bundle (top) on a large, flat rock in my garden, and I just love how it brings out the sublime ocean colours of the blue skeins — and yet makes the pink skein sing out loud.  Then I set the Gradient Mini-Skein bundle (bottom) against the wood of my back porch. It’s true the texture in the grain is more pronounced, but it’s dark enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the yarn and the golds look just amazing against it, don’t you think?

Combine Colour and Texture Carefully


Get Creative!

Ok, so now you have some great tricks up your sleeve, it’s time to get a little creative.  The next time you’re on Ravelry, look past the projects and notice the backgrounds.  Which ones work and which ones don’t?  When you see a project picture that really jumps right out at you, take a moment to note the setting (I’m going to bet it’s not a blocking mat!).  Is it plain?  A little textured?  An unusual colour?

And start looking at your surroundings and seeing new possibilities.  Would your weathered wooden cutting board look good as a backdrop?  How about the floor tiles in the hallway?  Dianne always photographs her SpaceCadet stash against the pattern of her SpaceCadet project bag — and it looks both awesome and amazingly on-theme!  And Jade made the super-funky choice of photographing her project on a tyre.  I love that kind of creative thinking!

Backgroundes by Jade & Dianne

And just to get your creative juices flowing, let’s try this:  Come on over to the SpaceCadet group and share your favourite close-up project photograph (click here).  It can be one that you took awhile ago or a new one inspired by these tips.

Share with us why you like the background, or what you would do to change it.  And then…   tell me your best guess at what the background is for the photograph below.  And I’ll give the first person to guess correctly free shipping  on their next SpaceCadet order.  Sound good?  So get snapping — I can’t wait to see your photos!

Addicted to Mini-Skeins - Yeah, Join the Club


Taking Better Project Photos: Backgrounds for Project Portraits

The SpaceCadet's Guide to Taking Better Project Photos

In my job, I take  a lot of photos — a lot — and I have to tell you that when I first started dyeing, I didn’t realise how critical photography would be.  But in an internet-based business where you can’t reach into the computer to smoosh each skein in your own hands or see the samples in person, it’s the photography that has to fill in the gap.

And the good news is that I’ve found I really enjoy taking photos!  While I would never call myself a photographer, I’ve certainly learned a lot in the last few years that helps me to make a pattern sample or skein look its very best.  Sometimes the most simple changes can take a photo from “nice enough” to really spectacular.  And since I know we all take photos of our finished objects — maybe not for a website or an ad as I do, but certainly for our project pages on Ravelry — I thought I’d share some what I’ve learned in a series of posts over the next few weeks.  Are you ready for better photos of your beautiful finished projects?  Photos that really capture all the work and creativity you put into them?  Great — here we go!

The Importance of the Background in Project Portrait Photos

When you’ve been working for weeks — maybe months — on a gorgeous new sweater or shawl or some other garment, the best way to show it off is to wear it.  Whether you think through your photoshoot carefully ahead of time or just grab some snaps on your cellphone at knit night, there’s a simple thing you can do to really improve the final result: get the background right.

Don’t Stand in Front of that Bush!

Now, I have to tell you that I have a BIG pet peeve here: I hate the standing-in-front-of-a-bush photo.  Everybody does it, whether it’s for finished object photos or family photos or whatever, and I know it seems like a good idea at the time but, everytime I see it, my toes curl.  Bushes are perfectly nice, but they rarely make good photography backgrounds because they are just too busy.  And the busier or more patterned the background, the harder it is for your eye to know where to look.  All those hundreds of little leaves?  They’re completing for your viewer’s attention.  And very often the result of a standing-in-front-of-a-bush photoshoot is that your beautiful project kind of just blends into the background.

The SpaceCadet's Guide to Taking Better Project Photos - Don't Stand in Front of That Bush 1a

Here, look at the examples above.  These are a few photos that my assistant Jade and I took today — nothing fancy, just grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots in the fading evening light, just the way you might at knit night.  In the photo on top, I had her stand right in front of a bush so the leaves are in focus.  See how the shawl really kind of disappears?  In the middle image, I changed things so the bush was more out of focus, and the impact is obvious.  And in the last shot, I really de-focused the bush — now your eyes are not distracted by those leaves at all, and all you see is smiling face and that gorgeous shawl (the Sick Day Shawl by Kate Atherley, which I knit in SpaceCadet Ceres yarn).

Big difference, isn’t it?  Ok, so there’s step number 1: don’t stand in front of that bush!

Step Away from the Background

Even if you don’t choose a bush as your background (go you!), unless you’re standing in front of a professional photography backdrop, there may still to be small details that will draw your viewer’s eye away from your finished object.  Notches in wood, nicks in plaster, or the pattern of a brick wall all compete for attention.  Fortunately, there’s an incredibly simple solution: step away from the background.  By stepping forward a few paces and setting your camera for a more shallow depth of field, you will blur that background a bit  — and that is enough to draw the attention back to your intended subject.

Look at these photos below.  In the one on top, the brick wall is a much simpler background than that bush she was in front of before, but it still really competes for your eye’s attention.  In the image in the middle, I had Jade step forward about 5 paces, without changing anything else — see how she stands out more?  And in the last image, I lowered the f-stop to blur the background more.  Scroll up and compare it to the top image…  wow, that’s quite a difference!  Now she (and her lovely shawl) stand out a lot more, and your eye can easily tell what it’s supposed to be looking at.

The SpaceCadet's Guide to Taking Better Project Photos - Step Away from the Background 1

What is depth of field? It’s simply how deep an area of the image the camera is going keep in focus.  The shallower the depth of field, the more the background will be blurred (and maybe the foreground too).  How you achieve this depends on your camera.  You’ll get the best results with a SLR, which allows you lower the f-stop to get a more blurred background — set it to aperture mode and play around a bit.    With a point-and-shoot, you can get good results by setting your camera to portrait mode — look for the symbol of a head/face on your camera’s settings.  And if you’re shooting with a smartphone, make sure the person taking the picture touches the screen to tell it the focus is on you (or your project) rather than the background.  The combination of stepping away from the the background along with these quick setting changes will go a long way to making your project photos really pop.

Whenever Possible, Go for a Plain Background

The need for all of the adjustments I’ve mentioned above can be lessened if you go for a plain background.  The simpler it is, the less your eye will wander from the object you want to focus on — your gorgeous project.  Here Jade is sitting in front of a very simple background — it’s not perfectly plain white, but there is nothing to distract you from the stunning shawl she’s wearing (it’s Eyeblink by Heidi Alander, which Jade knit in SpaceCadet Maia yarn)

The SpaceCadet's Guide to Taking Better Project Photos - Choose a Plain Background 1

Try a Dark Background

Most of the backgrounds people choose are either busy or light (or both).  Busy is a problem, light is not, but sometimes a dark background can do really wonderful things for your project.  Setting your project against a dark colour creates an amazing sense of intimacy that draws you right into the photo.  So even though it might not be the first option you gravitate towards, don’t be afraid to try a darker background.  Have a look at the way these projects pop…

The SpaceCadet's Guide to Taking Better Project Photos - Try a Dark Background 1

The first picture is Melissa Jean’s Dublin Tee in SpaceCadet Lyra yarn, and the photo was taken in full sun but against a black barn door — really beautiful.  The second is Lindsey Stephens’s Drift Ice Shawl in SpaceCadet Oriana yarn, shot against a dark olive wall in the SpaceCadet studio.  And the last image is the Quaker Yarn Stretcher by Susan Ashcroft, knit in SpaceCadet Ester yarn and photographed in… are you ready?… in my complete disaster of a garage!  Jade was squeezed between old cans of paint and a broken television — but the light was just right and the background was so beautifully dark that the image becomes all about the gorgeous colour in the shawl.

So, you see?  The simplest steps can make a huge impact on how your project stands out in your photos.  Are you inspired to try some yourself?  Grab your camera and do it!  Then please,  post your photos on Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #BetterProjectPhotos so I can find them.  Or click here to share them on Ravelry.  I can’t wait to see them!

This post is the first in a series on better project photography. Want to make sure you don’t miss any? Click here and get on the SpaceCadet mailing list!