Monday, May 26, 2014

My Knitting Photography Studio

Photography has been a hobby of mine for some time. In particular, I have always enjoyed still life photography. I also enjoy providing photographs that communicate information, something which many patterns lack. I have been building my studio for some time and have settled on the following items:

  • Canon EOS 70D - I recently purchased this camera body because it had many of the features I loved from my 7D and provided an articulating live view screen and remote control of the camera via my Iphone. The articulating live view screen allows me to take photographs of myself wearing hats, sweaters and shawls, because I can flip the articulating screen so that I can see it. Coupled with a wireless remote I can compose and take the shot. Since I also have lights which are balanced to a specific color temperature, I need the custom white balance adjustments provided by this camera. There are many other camera features that I use, but these two are most specific to my knitting photography requirements. If you are looking for a camera, the remote and an articulating live view screen which flips completely around are essential.
  • The EFS 18-135mm zoom handles most of my finished knitted object photography. Since I have lights, a tripod and publish most photos for the web, I don't need to use a fancy lens in my studio. I also use this lens for outdoor photography. Its a good all-purpose lens.
  • EFS 60mm macro lens handles detail photography of knitted fabric, yarn skeins, and techniques.
  • My tripod is a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with a Manfrotto pistol grip tripod head. The tripod is sturdy and light weight. I prefer the simplicity of manipulation of a pistol grip. They are not as accurate as other heads, but it works fine for my use.
  • LED color balanced lights on stands. These LED lights are considered "hot" lights. This means that the lights are on all the time, unlike flashes which fire only when the shot is taken. I picked up these lights from amazon. I believe they are considered video lights. The nice thing about these lights is that they are relatively inexpensive, they are color balanced (I can set my camera white balance to the color temperature of the lights), they are cool to the touch and they don't use a lot of energy. I place these lights on inexpensive light stands to which I've added wheels.
  • Background Stand and fabric. A background stand consists of two vertical stands (think music stands without the top piece that holds the music) with a rod that connects the two stands. Typically the stand would hold a roll of background paper on the rod between the two verticals. I drape my fabric over the stand, holding it with clips. I like using microfiber fabric in a light, neutralish color.
  • Small Table - My table is a small portable desk. I place some blocking mats on top of the desk and then drape the fabric from the background stand over the table.
  • Photoshop - My typical manipulation is cropping, with some other manipulations to highlight the object being photographed and correcting color balance. I also sometimes clean up the extraneous hair or speck of dirt. The features I regularly use are: cropping, selection (pretty much all methods, rectangular, lasso, magic), contracting the selection when I need to adjust a portion of the image, clone stamp, blur tool, transformation, smart sharpen, unsharp mask, image size, brightness, contrast, color balance, vibrance, lightness, saturation, etc.
  • Various remotes. I have a wireless remote, a wired remote and a wired foot pedal remote that I had to build. When shooting from a tripod, I always use a remote. I use the wireless remotes when I'm in front of the camera and the foot pedal remote when both of my hands are occupied demonstrating a technique.
  • Full length mirror. I use this for my sock photography. The mirror allows me to get good pictures of my socks on feet.
  • Blocking mats. I place these on my photography table so I can pin out my project when photographing in-process shots. I use the Knitpicks foam mats that link together.
  • Various pins and clips: Tpins, background clamps, binder clips, etc. I use clips and pins to position my knitting and to hold my background fabric in place.
  • Hat blocking form - I picked up this form when a local shop went out of business. I use it for hat photography as well as blocking my hats.
  • Inexpensive dress form - useful for taking pictures of shawls and sweaters.
  • Various boxes, Styrofoam balls, etc. I use these to display or to provide form when taking pictures of various items. For example, a 4-5" Styrofoam ball makes a nice form for photographing a baby hat.
  • Is this an intimidating list? Lets look at the various items again.

  • Camera and Lenses. There are many point and shoot cameras with an articulating screen. There are consumer SLR bodies such as the Canon EOS rebel line which have articulating screens. Many of these cameras have support for wireless and wired remotes. These cameras usually have a timer mode that can be set to give a 10 second delay as an alternative to wired remotes. Most point and shoot cameras have closeup modes. Most SLR zoom lenses have a macro mode. Both can get you closer than standard lenses. All SLRs and most point and shoots can be used on tripods.
  • There are reasonably priced tripods that can handle smaller cameras. I usually travel with a smaller point & shoot camera when I'm flying. I carry a MePhoto Travel tripod with me. This tripod has a built in head and folds up compactly. I wouldn't use it for my big camera, but it works fine for smaller cameras.
  • You can shoot without lights indoors on a bright day or outdoors in the shade. If you want to shoot indoors with lights, you can buy cheap hardware clip on flood lights. These lights are on all the time and can get very hot(temperature). They probably run in the 2700-3000 color temperature range, similar to most indoor incandescent lighting. If your camera doesn't have auto white balance you may find that they make your pictures yellow. Most point and shoots allow adjustment of white balance. Set it for tungsten or indoors and try again. You may need to experiment to get a nice color balance.
  • I buy a couple yards of fabric from the fabric store to act as my background. Don't choose a really dark fabric or a really light fabric. You don't want your background to change your camera's exposure. I tend to choose a light taupe since I also photograph jewelry.

    To hold your fabric find a couple of chairs or ladders and a PVC pipe.

    If you are photographing outside, use a nice shrub, stone wall, or wooden fence as a background. Just be careful that you don't snag your knitting. Try to choose a uniform background that won't distract from your knitting. Your goal is to show off your knitting, not hide it! I have used trellises, stair railings and stucco walls

  • Table and blocking mats; not too hard to figure an alternative here. Just use what you have available to you.
  • There are many alternatives to Photoshop that are less expensive, including Photoshop Elements. You want to be able to crop and adjust color balance and contrast, at a minimum.
  • Most cameras have an available remote. If not, they have a self timer mode.
  • I am lucky enough to have closet doors with full length mirrors. If you don't have one, there are cheap full length wall mirrors available from your local home or discount store.
  • Various pins and clips. You probably already have most of what you will need. If not, office supply and home stores are good sources.
  • I was lucky when I found the hat blocking form. If you don't take pictures of hats on real heads, you can use large Styrofoam balls as forms or pick up a Styrofoam head at a craft store.
  • I bought a cheap dress form from Amazon. I just wanted something to hold the shape of sweaters.
  • I save boxes that have a useful shape. I went to the craft store to pick up some Styrofoam balls. There are many things around the house that can be used to hold shape.
  • Hopefully, this will get the creative juices flowing about how to create your own photography studio setup. I'll be happy to talk about this in more detail, and discuss alternatives to pricey equipment should anyone be interested.

    One final note, if you see pictures of knitwear you like, save them. You can use them as inspiration when photographing your own knitting.


    Prairie Willow can be found on Ravelry at noliegirl. Prairie Willow is an avid knitter and jewelry designer. My jewelry can be found at Prairie Willow Jewelry .

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