Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Take Better Quilt Photos-Light!

Hello, quilters!

I’m back to talk about taking photos.  You can read my first post here.

Today I am going to talk about light!

Photography literally means “drawing with light.”  It is really important to know at least a little bit about light in order to use that light to make great photos.

Several years ago, I was with a photographer friend of mine.  She was taking photos of my husband and me before a date, and she said, “Meet me by the playground…there’s beautiful light over there.”  I remember thinking, “huh?”.  I had been over by the playground many times and never noticed the beautiful light she referenced.    However, she had a trained eye.  She was able to notice beautiful light and use it for her art. (Much like experienced quilters can throw a seemingly uncoordinated set of fabric together and make a beautiful quilt.)

Training your eye to recognize beautiful light and use it to make beautiful photos takes time.  Today, we’re gong to keep it super practical and talk about the quantity of light.  I’ll help you find the best times/places to get the right amount of light to take a photo.

To take a photo, we need light, and to take a photo we like, we need a good amount of light.  Our cameras come with a light source…the flash.  But, I almost never use the flash.  It’s harsh light and only moves in one direction.  It makes for an unflattering photo.

 She's scared of the flash!

If we aren’t going to use the flash as the light source, we need to find the light.  I try my best to use natural light sources.  Natural light comes from the sun!

I avoid artificial light sources because they can result in some color issues.  Have you ever noticed a yellow or orangish color cast created by a typical light bulb?  This color cast results because a lightbulb has a warm color temperature.  This creates problems in the resulting color in the photos.  This is especially a problem with quilts as getting the correct color in your photos is of utmost importance!  (There are ways to deal with sources that have wonky color temperature and I dig deep into this topic in my workshop.)

The camera does its best to read color temperature on the scene and make adjustments.  However, I find that the camera doesn't do so well when we are under an artificial light source.

In the photo on the left below, I placed the quilt under a lamp.  Notice the orangish color cast.  The photo on the right was taken near a window.  I think the colors are much more accurate!

The lesson: use natural light whenever possible.

When thinking about natural light, we want to explore using that light both indoors and outside.

First, inside.

The biggest issue when taking photos inside is there just isn’t enough light.  Don’t try taking a photo of a quilt late at night and expect it to come out great…it just won’t happen.  Without enough light, our photos look grainy, dark (duh) and have low contrast.  After you’ve worked so hard to create a beautiful quilt, you just don’t want that!

Inside, you’ll need to use windows!

Before you actually start taking photos inside, do a “where” and “when” study in your own home.  On a sunny day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, I want you to do a light study.  Walk into each room of your home.  Open the blinds and the shades.  Let in as much light as possible.  You can even open doors if you want.  What room in your house has the most light shining in?  What time of day do you get the most light?  Write this down.  Then, whenever you plan to take photos, take your quilts to the right space at the right time.

You can see in this photo below that my mom used the windows in her (old) sewing room to illuminate the blocks on the board.  In the first photo, you can see there's a nice window with a lot of light coming in.

The photo of the blocks looks great because there is a good amount of natural light illuminating them.

In my own home, I plan any photos in the back playroom of my house in the afternoon.  I just get a good amount of light coming in the windows.  In the summer, I sometimes have to go upstairs to get the best light as my house is surrounded by trees.  I have to get above the trees to get enough light shining in my windows.

Once you have discovered your spot, be sure to get close to that light source.  You won’t have much luck if you stand on the other side of the room from your windows.  And shoot with the windows behind you.  You want the light to illuminate on your quilt, or whatever you are shooting. 

Early on in my photographic learning, I understood the concept of using windows and doors but didn’t quite get that the light had to be shining on the subject. (Don’t make fun of my hair.)

Put the light source (window) behind you.  Be careful not to block the light with your body, and allow it to illuminate your subject.

Inside….look for light coming from windows and let that light illuminate your subject.

We can also go outside!

It can be a great idea to take your quilt or other sewing projects outside to photograph.  Outside, there is often an abundance of light.  However, outside, we often have a different problem…TOO MUCH light.  On a sunny day, the light coming from the sun is hard light, meaning it creates harsh shadows.  We don’t want to see your quilt covered in harsh shadows!

Lots of photographers prefer to shoot on a day with a little cloud cover.  The cloud cover diffuses the light, making it softer and easier to shoot with.  However, with too much cloud cover, I find photos lack contrast and the “pop” that comes with a good amount of light.

On a sunny day, take your quilt into the shade.  Photographers look for something called “open shade.”  Open shade refers to the spot just inside of the sun/shade line.  In this spot, the light is diffused and softer, but there’s still plenty of light to illuminate our subject.

I took this series of pictures of my little guy to show you what I mean by open shade.  (This works well with people, too!).  Notice in the first photo, there are harsh shadows on his neck and the light is shining in his eyes?

In the second photo, I moved him into the shade, but close to the sun/shade line.  Now his face is nicely illuminated and the light is even across his face.

In the next couple of photos, my mom took the quilts outside but was sure to put them in the shade where the light was nice and even.

Be careful to avoid dappled light.  Dappled light occurs when light shines through something like a tree and there’s both shadows and light.  If you look at the ground, you can notice dappled light.

See the shadows from the tree below?  If you tried to photograph a quilt here, the shadows would show up on your quilt, too.

In summary, hunt for light.   Try and use natural light whenever possible, but make sure you have enough!

I’ll be back on Friday to share a “cool trick” in relation to something called “depth of field.”  It will help you get that blurry background. 

In the mean time, you can find me on my website, Facebook, Instagram, or you can sign up for my newsletter. 

P.S.  The beginner's photography workshop I teach is all online and starts in just a few weeks.  If you want to know more about using your DSLR and making great photos of your family, you can sign up here.  I'm offering $10 off for all quilters.  Use the code "quilt" at checkout to receive this discount.  Registration ends April 11.


  1. Good information. I'm so excited about the workshop! :)

  2. that top quilt is stunning! I have something similar that was gifted to me and I cherish it. Thank you for sharing your tips, Cindy!
    Amanda (westwood acres)

  3. I found this very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to explain it all so clearly.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!