How to improve your knitting and FO photos

How to improve your knitting and FO photos

There are more how-to posts on the horizon in conjunction with the Top-Down Knitalong (how to knit an inset pocket, a folded hem, all sorts of neckbands … among the contenders). But I also get a lot of questions about photography — specifically how to take better knitting and FO photos — and since this year’s panelists happen to be superstars at it, I thought this would be a great chance to talk about it. So I’ve asked Brandi, Jess and Jen (who has a degree in the subject!) to share their 3 top tips that anyone can do to improve their photos, and I’m adding mine to the mix as well.

I feel like we, as a knitting community, deserve a huge pat on the back. When I was first on Instagram and Ravelry five years ago looking for knits and knitters, the photos were a long way from what you find these days. In many of them, you couldn’t even make out what it was a picture of! Smartphone cameras have improved tremendously, for one thing, but I also think a lot of us have discovered that part of the joy of knitting (and the knitting community) is sharing our work, and in discovering the joy of documenting things well, we’ve gotten a lot better at it! I know not every knitter (or sewer) cares about photos at all — which is obviously totally fine — but for those who do find it fun and interesting and are always on the lookout for ways to improve, here’s our advice. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap. ;)

. . . . .

KAREN TEMPLER (see @karentempler)
All I own is an iPhone, so every Instagram, blog, Ravelry and product photo I take is shot on my phone. The editing apps have gotten so good I don’t do much in Photoshop anymore. These days, I really like A Color Story (largely because it has an actual curves tool, hallelujah!) and always start there. If I use any of the filters, it’s usually either just Everyday, or a combination of Summer Day and Film Camera — and definitely dialed way down — but I always use the tools to adjust brightness and warmth and such (see below). If it’s a photo for the blog or shop, I might do a tiny bit more color correction in Photoshop. 

1) Focus. If you’re using a smartphone, wipe off your lense first — I promise there are fingerprints on it. Then focus or tap the screen so the camera is focusing on the right part of the image.

2) Side light. Make sure the light is actually falling on whatever you’re shooting, rather than your subject being backlit or in the shadows. And if at all possible, use side light not overhead light. If you’re taking pictures indoors, use the light coming in through a window. If shooting outdoors, do it in the morning or evening, when the sun is softer and lower in the sky. (If for some reason you have to shoot under an overhead/artificial light, make sure it’s not creating a big glare or hotspot in your photo, and adjust the color balance as noted below, to compensate for the yellowness of the light.)

3) Take 60 seconds to edit. By which I mean, take multiple photos/angles and see which is best. But also iPhone photos tend to be a little grey overall and a bit on the warm (yellow) side for my liking. So — whether you’re using the camera app’s built-in editing tools or IG’s tools or an editing app — at bare minimum, adjust sharpness, brightness and warmth. Playing around with even just those three sliders (or the curves tool in A Color Story) can mean a world of difference in your photos being clearer and brighter and the whites being whiter.

. . . . .

How to improve your knitting and FO photos

BRANDI HARPER (see @purlBknit)
I use a Nikon D3100 that came with a 2-lens kit purchased from Costco and a Manfrotto 190 tripod. For self-portraiture, I use a camera remote snagged from Amazon. I always shoot on automatic mode and do my editing in Photoshop or iPhoto. I never use filters.

1) Lighting. All hail the sun! I only shoot in natural light, mostly right beside a window. When the sun is blazing, I use a white paper shade from Home Depot to filter and diffuse the light and decrease the appearance of harsh shadows. No flash ever. Rainy, cloudy days create amazingly moody photos with shades of grey; these images are my favorite!

2) Editing. I do all my editing on Photoshop CS6 keeping it really simple with the following: crop, brightness/contrast, sharpness, resize. Retouching I do in iPhoto since the tool is super user-friendly.

3) Composition and perspective. I love birds-eye view. You have to shoot right above the scene you want to photograph. When it comes to organizing tools and props, I aim for things organized neatly using right angles, no stacking, and space between every element. To this day, the best thing I ever did to improve a photo is to try and try again.

. . . . .

How to improve your knitting and FO photos

JEN BEEMAN (see @jen_beeman)
For Instagram photos, I use my iPhone SE and edit in the Lightroom app and VSCO. For finished project photos, I use a Canon 6D with EF 24-105mm f/4L lens shooting RAW, and edit in Lightroom and Photoshop (if needed).

1) Lighting & Color Balance. I prefer natural light, always — bonus points if it’s directional because that will enable you to get really good highlights and shadows. These add depth and interest to your photos and will also really highlight the textures and stitch patterns of your knitting beautifully. I always correct the white balance and curves in the Lightroom App. This will help remove any color cast your photo might have (especially helpful if you can’t use natural light) and bring out depth in your photos. I prefer Lightroom because it syncs with my desktop version of Lightroom and because the white balance tool is really really good.

2) Composition. When photographing knitting I usually shoot from the top down or straight on. This is just personal preference because I like to remove any background noise or clutter so that the yarn or project is front and center. If you’re shooting across an object you have a background full of random information competing with the subject of your photo. I photograph a lot of projects on my front porch, but I crop out the scraggly bush to the side and shoot top down to avoid showcasing a street full of cars, since neither of those enhance the visual or add to the story of my knitting in any way. Also, like any self- respecting photo major, I take multiple shots of any photo ;)

3) Consistency. I try not to get too caught up in the consistency of my feed — if I take that too seriously I get stressed out, and that is not the point of Instagram! I prefer clean, natural, well- lit photos so I use a few filters in VSCO that enhance that look, but I always scale back the filter opacity to 50% or less. Sticking to the same few filters does add somewhat of a common thread to my photos and keeps my feed relatively cohesive.

. . . . .

JESS SCHREIBSTEIN (see @thekitchenwitch)
I use iPhone about 99% of the time for my Instagram photos, but always take a photo with a Pentax K5 IIs for my finished garments. I find that the DSLR can get much better focus on stitch definition and color variation than an iPhone – obvious, but easy to dismiss. When formatting phone photos, I use VSCO, filter A6, then dial back the contrast. I used to have more fade on my photos, but got tired of that look – I prefer something that’s more saturated and true-to-life now. For DSLR photos, I use a combo of iPhoto and Pixelmator (a poor woman’s version of Photoshop).

1) Natural, indirect light. If there are any overhead lights, I turn them all off. They can add a weird yellowing or washed-out look to a final photo.

2. Focus on the knitting. I try to keep the photo focused on the object, the stitch pattern, or the yarn, and minimize any clutter in the shot unless it’s directly contextual or enhances the photo in some way.

3. Consistent look and feel. I like to think of my photos, especially on Instagram, as a constant and evolving series. I try not to get too caught up in “branding,” per se, because I feel like you can lose a lot of spontaneity and playfulness in photos that way. A visual voice will come through naturally, but it’s helpful to try to strike a similar color palette and tone in your approach so your photos all feel related as part of a cohesive story.

. . . . .

Of course, the most important thing is to be yourself — to figure out how to have that come through in your photos. When it comes to props (or not), angles, and the look of your images and your feed, the best thing is to try stuff and see what you like. Once you get comfortable taking and editing photos on the most basic levels, you’ll find more freedom to play around and discover a style and look that works for you.

Please feel free to share your favorite tips in the comments — I know I, for one, always have more to learn!


PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: WIP of the Week No.2 (and Elsewhere)

44 thoughts on “How to improve your knitting and FO photos

  1. I have a tiny tip to add: sliding glass doors are also great sources of light that I think a lot of people might not think of. Porch overhangs often partially block the direct sunlight and work great to diffuse the light.

  2. Nice tips here! I understand natural light is a must, but I found it difficult to catch a great light while working 9 to 6! During summer, I will wake up early for a shoot at my projects, but fall & winter are always a problem. I will wait for the weekend, but at the sacrifice of losing the day-to-day spontaneity. Any more tips on how to still have fun with artificial light for the traditional worker like me?

    • Is it really hard the light is dim and low. Like Brandi says, you can try to embrace it and make a moody photo, but I usually just wait for the next time the sun is out. Sometimes (like if you’re a daily blogger, like me) you just have to work with what you’ve got. Unfortunately, no being a trained photographer, I have no idea how to work with (or simulate) studio lighting.

    • Most cameras have a setting for white balance. This allows you to tell the camera what your light source is. (Fluorescent, bright day light, cloudy light etc.) The camera will then adjust to the light source, keeping your photos from having a strange colour cast to them.

      If your camera does not have this setting, you can also adjust the light balance post production using software editing. As the article points out, adjust the colour balance, sharpness, and warmth. There is an array of free photo editing software available which can be used to make the photos look look look as if they were shot in optimal light. (Having a Apple laptop, I alternate between Preview, Photos and Photoshop.)

      Just make sure that you have enough light when shooting, or else none of the above listed techniques will work well!

  3. Great post! Loved the tips and hints on using iPhone cameras and apps that go with it.

  4. Photography + knitting = everything I love! Great post and it is fun to see everyone’s tips. My students are working on composition this week and one thing that I love to get them to consider all the time is the use of negative space. Especially for FOs where you want to showcase the entire shape of the garment!

  5. Very helpful! Thank you. I was just writing about photography woes myself. It’s nice to see sensible advice stated so clearly.

  6. How do most of these great photos look like a solid white backdrop? Maybe just buy a large foamcore sheet to place knits?
    I also love the accessories added-ex; pinecones, coffee mugs, vintage spools, etc.

    • I have a smooth white table I use sometimes, and also a big piece of white posterboard I sometimes put on the dining table near the window (in cases where white is preferable to the wood of the table itself). But lately I’ve been loving the white bedspread in the guest room, right next to a window with a rice-paper blind on it, which goods good afternoon light.

  7. Great tips! Thinking I should experiment with a new filter/adjustments app, and also wipe my lens more often (obviously a photo pro over here). Just wanted to add that I appreciated Kathy Cadigan’s insight on the Woolful podcast a few weeks ago in the new segment that I can’t remember the name of… She talked about how she shoots both scenery and overall knitwear shape while moving in to capture details:

  8. idc I like the extra details!!!! I like seeing your work bag and notions and cup of coffee and maybe some gems or foliage or whatever.

    • I’m into people doing whatever feels like themselves and conveys how their world looks to them!

      I often include the tools and yarn involved in the project, especially if it’s a flat FO. I think it helps convey that it’s a photo of a sweater I knitted, not just a photo of a sweater. Know what I mean?

    • Jen here- when I was talking about removing clutter I just meant things like random piles of bills, remotes, chewed up cat toys, things that don’t provide helpful visual info or help to set the mood of the photo, not that people shouldn’t artfully arrange extra items to add to their photo. My knitting bag and tools feature prominently in a lot of my photos…I just try to move things like I mentioned above out of frame.

  9. Great tips. Over the weekend I took some truly terrible photos of my Fringe KAL which is red. My camera does not like red. I used a tripod, used natural light and tried both indoor and outdoor shots of the project. The red flares and it is hard to get focused shots with any detail. This does not happen with other colours. Would appreciate any tips your panel has.

    • It’s the same if you try to shoot a black sweater on a white surface — it’s just too much constrast for the phone camera and freaks it out. I suggest laying on a lower-constrast background of some kind.

    • Most digital cameras don’t like red unfortunately, large amounts of it can be difficult for digital sensors to process. If you’re shooting on a camera where you can override the auto settings or if you have a DSLR try using a grey card or color card to set your white balance and under exposing your photo slightly. That can help a bit.

  10. thanks so much Karen for this tips, it’s really helpful , I hope you talk about carved back , I want to make my sweater longer in back with short rows shave so it will have be a little curve ( not to much ) I keep searching but I have no idea how to do it, can you share a post talking about it or explain it in your net post , thanks again for all you help

    • I’m not qualified to offer advice on that. What I would do is look at some patterns that have the shape you’re after and adapt their techniques.

    • Hello Fatma,
      If you are making your sweater bottom up, cast on the required number of stitches for the back, for example, let say 100 stitches. Also, let’s say you want to make a plain stockinette fabric, with rolled hem – simplest way. Ribbed hem with a curved back can be a little tricky.

      So, cast on 100 stitches, work 2-4 rows in garter stitch. Then mark the middle of your back (place marker with 50 sts each side), and mark some number of stitches either side of that (e.g. 15 stitches each way). Then knit to the 2nd marker, wrap and turn, purl to the first marker, wrap and turn. Knit to the 2nd marker, then work a few more stitches, (e.g. 10), wrap and turn, purl to the first marker, purl 10 more stitches, wrap and turn and keep going. When you get to the end of your rows, right near the selvage stitches, continue working your back from there as usual.

      The curvature will depend on 1. how many stitches you leave between your markers in the first place (in example above – 30 stitches total); and 2. how many stitches you work between wrap-and-turn (in the example – 10 stitches each way). The less stitches you leave / work, the curvier and deeper your back is going to be.

      So for a small curve, you might only work 6-8 short rows in total.

      That’s all there is to it.

      If you are working top-down, reverse instructions. You will be working ‘inwards’ with the short rows, and then work 2 rows, picking up all your wrapped stitches.

      Also, I would recommend NOT using the usual wrap-and-turn method with stockinette, because it will leave obvious lines across your columns of stitches. There are many other methods out there.

      If you want patterns – Wake by Brooklyn Tweed is a good example of rolled curved hem, a top-down Antler is another, and I’m sure there are ideas in the Drops Design pile!

      • Thanks so much for your help, this Information is really helpful, just in time for another sweater. Thanks 😍 😍

  11. thanks so much Karen for this tips, it’s really helpful , I hope you talk about carved back , I want to make my sweater longer in back with short rows shave so it will have be a little curve ( not to much ) , like this carve ( ) I keep searching but I have no idea how to do it, can you share a post talking about it or explain it in your net post , thanks again for all you help

  12. I’m a photographer, and here are some lighting tips that might help those natural-light-challenged folks out there:

    -Most phone cameras have a narrow dynamic range–the spectrum of bright to dark that the sensor can still preserve detail–so shoot your darks on a darker background and your lights on a lighter background. A medium gray background will work well with both and give your camera a good mark for exposure and white balance (even better than a white background despite the semantics). (To lucette’s comment above, red is also hard for most digital sensors…underexposing a bit can help that.)

    -If you find yourself without natural light, you’ve probably already discovered the color casts that different lights and bulbs give off. Try to stick to one light or multiple lights with the (exact) same bulb so that half your work isn’t orangey and the other half greenish. Even if you have to correct the color, it is preferable to correct only one color. If there’s a lampshade involved, it should be white.

    -If you have limited natural light, hold up a piece of white foam core opposite the window to bounce the light back and fill in some of the shadows. You can do this with that lamp in the above scenario too.

    -If that lamp you are using is directional (like a desk lamp), you’ll probably notice that there is a big burning bright center in the photos that fades to dark in the photos when you point it right at your object. You can use an overhead light for a more even spread or point a directional light toward your (white or neutral, definitely not lime green) wall or ceiling, this will bounce the light back and be much more even. You can even use that bit of white foam core, point the light at that and angle it back to your work.

  13. Fabulous tips! I too have only an iPhone to work with need all the help I can get and am always looking for ways to make my WIP and FO pics look more pro. I checked out the A Color Story and VSCO apps – so awesome! Thanks for this great post!

  14. These are good tips. I literally don’t post pics of my finished projects because they always turn out HORRIBLE!

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  16. Great tips! It has been so fascinating for me, actually participating in this KAL and not just silently haunting your blog and photos and knitting in my own little fortress of solitude :) I guess this is the grand modern knitting bee — and it is a thrill and a joy to share in the WIPs as we go. I’ve long been admiring the photography of knit (and food and children and sheep) on instagram. I’m still a total sucker for the cool, moody, saturated rockstar thing that instragram filters and things like hipstamatic can instantly give an average shot. But clarity and light and good composition can let the knits sing (as in the shots of the sweater clad dressforms today). There’s a preciousness to this genre of photographer, that I’m both drawn to and repelled by…. you know? Sorry to go on and on. What I mean is THANKS for the tips and community and conversation!!!

  17. Fabulous tips. I’ve been trying my best to employ them, though I haven’t taken many pictures this week. When I get the tubular bind-off done on my neckband, I’ll be taking more, I’m sure.

    If you didn’t notice on instagram (still learning how to wield it!), I’ve written a little blurb on my blog about this week’s progress, and my musings in general on this KAL process. It’s introspective, and history-minded, so hopefully interesting and not dull!

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  19. You know you’re a knitter when the thing you miss the most from your previous flat is the veranda and large windows letting you get the most out of the daylight for pictures of your projects. Now it’s shadows, shadows everywhere.

  20. I feel kind of stupid for asking but what does FO stand for? I love this blog, by the way. I just recently discovered it while searching for top down sweater how-to’s.

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