Showing your quilts – Getting the best picture

Part three of a four part series about entering quilt shows, the jurying and judging process. This series is based on my experiences at quilt shows and classes I’ve taken about the quilt judging process.

Next to good workmanship and striking design, it’s a great picture that will help your work get noticed and accepted to the quilt show. When you’re ready to take that picture, there are a couple of different ways to go depending on your time, budget and interests. First, consider hiring a professional. Professional photographers know how to get a great picture, with true color and balanced lighting, and they have the right equipment to get the job done. However, do look for someone who specializes in art photography as opposed to portraiture or nature scenes, as there is a huge difference in technique, setup and lighting. Be sure to ask for digitals of the photos, so that you can use them as you wish later as well.

If you choose to use a professional photographer, be sure that you relay your deadline to them…

If you choose to use a professional photographer, be sure that you relay your deadline to them, and that they understand it’s importance. There is nothing more frustrating than getting the quilt done, and missing the entry deadline because of a photography problem. You might decide to take the photos yourself to prevent this kind of mishap, and have complete control over the output and rights to the photos of your work.

Taking the photographs yourself can be costly in terms of initial setup and time spent learning. At a minimum, you’ll need a 5 megapixel camera, a tripod, a quilt stand and some good portable lighting. A temporary studio area is also a must, so look for a large empty space where you can control the lighting. I used to use my basement room, because it’s fairly long so I could get the camera far enough away from the quilt and at one time it was nearly empty. I could close the outside window shades and all the doors, and control the lighting completely, so it was perfect. I’ve also borrowed rooms in community centers for the day when I had bigger quilts that required correspondingly larger spaces for photography.

You can take photos outside for good natural lighting, however waiting for the perfect non-windy, slightly overcast or not too bright day could cause you to miss that deadline as well. I’ve taken photos for shows outside, and had it come to near disaster from even the slightest breeze as the quilt stand topples into the grass! If you can stand the quilt against the side of the house, or a garage door that faces the right direction, it might work better, or even hang the quilt on the house or garage door directly. That natural light is wonderful for quilt pictures, if you live in a place where your climate and workspace cooperates!

If you’re like me, and the environment doesn’t support those outside pictures on demand, try to buy or borrow some good photo flood lighting. I purchased full spectrum lighting, so that there’s less problem getting the colors right in the photo. When you’re setting up for the photoshoot, be sure there are no hands and feet in the pictures (that’s what the quilt stand is for!) and nothing but the quilt in the photo (no plants, chairs, or accessories). Quilt shows want to see the quilt, not your ficus tree!

Position the camera so that it’s in the very middle of the quilt, centered from top to bottom and side to side, to prevent “keystoning” where the quilt edges look angled, and the whole thing looks crooked. Frame the quilt in the viewfinder of the camera so that you can see all the edges but as little background as possible. Learn to use the white balance function on the camera if you have one; I’ve found this to be the “magic wand” of color correction.

Once I have everything set up, I take a gazillion pictures it seems, with all different settings so that I have lots to choose from when I’m done. It’s really hard to see if you’re getting the right picture in that little screen on the camera, so I periodically stop and download the pics to the PC and check them out. I try to take notes as to what settings work best, but I also find that each quilt is different depending on it’s relative lightness or darkness and the fabrics used, and the contrast level of the piece, so I’m still always taking lots of pics to get the right one.

When it’s time to submit the photos to the show, be sure to check the submission requirements so that you send your photos in the right format. Some shows these days only accept digital images on disk or via email. Digital images can be cropped (to remove distracting background around the quilt), but sometimes there is no color correction or any other editing of the photos allowed, and they can tell!

If a show requires slides, you can send the digital images over the internet to have slides made and sent back to you. Shop around for a service that doesn’t require you to place a minimum order of a huge number of slides, since it’s likely you’ll only need a half-dozen or so of each image. If you can find a local service that makes slides from digitals, even better, but it’s been my experience (and remember where I live) that it’s cheaper on the internet. There are services out there that cater to artists, as well. If the show requires actual photos, you can usually have those printed locally, usually pretty cheaply and quickly. Note that a matte finish photo paper shows more details of the quilt. Be sure to note the size requirements of the show with regard to the photos.

In part four, I’ll talk about the application process, shipping, and judging at the show. See previous parts of this series:

Part One: Showing your quilts – Why do it?

Part Two: Showing your quilts – Where to enter

2 thoughts on “Showing your quilts – Getting the best picture

  1. Just found your blog and fell in love with it. I know this is an old post but just wanted to make a comment about this thread for those that might, like me, come later to read the archives.

    In another part of your blog you made some comments about copyright as it relates to quilt patterns. There may also be an issue regarding professionally taken pictures of your quilts.

    In this thread you noted: “Be sure to ask for digitals of the photos, so that you can use them as you wish later as well.”

    I started a quilt four years ago where I needed to photo-transfer head shots of my family for the block centers. At that time, I only had the kind of photo transfer paper that required you to copy your photo on a color copier machine and then iron it on to the fabric. For my kids’ pictures, I had planned to use the pictures they had taken in school.

    Back then, my local copy shop (a Staples store) did not have self-serve color copiers so I needed to have the store clerk copy the photos on to the transfer paper for me. However, the clerk told me that they could not reproduce the photos for me on their machines because “as professionally taken pictures they are considered copyrighted by the photographer”!

    So I would think that the same applies with photos of your quilts taken by a photographer. You may not have the option to do with the digital copies “as you wish”, but may actually have to ask/define/get/pay for the photographer’s permission to use the photos as well as give the photographer credit just like you do when you submit a quilt made from a published quilt design or pattern for a contest, publication, website or sale. Copyright may not be an issue if you only plan to use the pictures for personal use such as a screensaver on your computer or to put them in your own quilt journal.

    I hope others who have had experience with this can add their comments/knowledge on this.

    BTW, I did finish my quilt two years later after I learned that you could print on fabric with a computer printer, prepare your own fabric with Bubble Jet Set and bought and learned to use a digital camera (which I did not own at the time) so I could take better pictures of my own so I could really use them “as I wish”!


  2. Hi Vivian,

    Yes, you’re quite right that the rights to pictures of your quilts may not belong to you. All I can say is to check with the photographer before they shoot the pictures to make sure you can use the pictures as you wish, or if there are any special conditions or credit that must be given if you do.

    Frankly, if a photographer wouldn’t let me use pictures of my own quilt, giving proper credit to them for taking the picture, I wouldn’t give them my business. And yes, learning to take your own pictures is the perfect way around it all!

    Glad you finished that quilt. I started one with photos years ago as well, and it’s still in progress…

    Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad you like it here!


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