Photographing Your Needlework

First you need to have a camera. The type of camera you get will depend on what your goal is. So ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to photograph my work – scrapbook, journal, submission for an article/event, or for a cover of a pattern I am selling.
  • Will there be close up shots of the piece or displayed at a distance?
  • How much do I want to spend on a camera and set up?
  • Will this camera be used for more than photographing my work?
  • How often will I use it?
  • Where will I use it—home, office, on the road?

With your answers in mind, let’s look at digital cameras and some helpful terminology.

Types of Cameras

The point and shoot type is the most common digital camera. These cameras require little set up and the owner’s manual is usually smaller than the camera! Within this type of camera there is a wide array of choices regarding zoom, pixels, and pre-set macros such as close-up, fireworks, museum, etc. There are more advanced point and shoot types that are larger, have more features, and have higher resolution sensors.

The digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR) allow you so see through the lens not through the viewfinder. They have interchangeable lenses and look like a 35mm camera from our past. Just like the point and shoot types, there is a wide variety of options and prices to choose from. The owner’s manual is usually larger.

No matter which type you get, this is one time it really is smart to read the owner’s manual from cover to cover before using the camera. You won’t believe how smart your camera can be if you only let it!

Terms to Learn

Dpi means "dots per inch" but is often used to mean "Pixels per inch" or ppi. Dpi is the correct term for printer resolution and will be shown as a resolution "formula" like 1200 x 800 dpi.

Pixel – this actually stands for "picture elements", which are small sections of color that when viewed together creates an image, much like a mosaic is created by little tiles.

Megapixel is a million pixels. That’s a lot of little tiles of colors! The more pixels there are, the higher the image resolution.

Resolution is technically the number of pixels in the width of the photo multiplied by the number of pixels in the height of the photo. The key to remember is that the higher the resolution, the more pixels there are to work with. The size of your photo file is higher, but you have a better photo if you start to crop the image. This is a very confusing topic, so to learn more about resolution and to see some examples, go to this website by Vivid Light Photography.

Digital zoom vs Optical zoom – These are not the same thing! Optical zoom is the physical zooming capability. The lens actually moves in and out. On digital cameras there is usually a button with a W and a T on it. W stands for wide-angle which reduces the size of your object. T stands for telephoto which magnifies your object. The actual picture changes size and shape and gives you a clearer image. Digital zoom takes the image you see and crops it, then magnifies the cropped image. The technical name for this is interpolation. Depending on how large you are trying to make the cropped image, you may get a blurred image.

  • .gif, .jpg, .tif, .png – These are common file extensions used when storing video images.
  • .gif stands for Graphic Interchange Format and is a standard file format for online and Web applications. It is limited to 256 colors in the RBG (Red Blue Green) color gamut.
  • .jpg stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and it can be used in a wide array of web and print applications. It will support RBG and CMYK(Cyan Magenta Yellow Black) color gamuts.
  • .png stands for Portable Network Graphic and is a pixel based image for Web images.
  • .tif stands for Tagged Image File Format and is the preferred format for desktop publishing. It supports 5 color settings, RBG. CMYK, Grayscale, Lab and Indexed color.

ISO speed – This stands for International Standards Organization and is used for measuring the speed of film. Film comes in ratings of 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. The speed refers to how fast the film responds to light. For example, for pictures taken on a bright day could use an ISO 100 speed while an evening sunset picture would require an ISO 800 speed. I (Debi) remember buying specific speeds of film when I had my 35 mm. I was surprised to learn that my digital camera also has ISO settings. The range for the DSLR camera usually includes 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600. Read your camera manual to see how your camera handles ISO.

Upload vs download – I always get these confused! In general, upload usually refers to the process of putting data onto the web. Download is when you retrieve data from the web to your computer. There is actually a third term, sideload, which is data shared between systems in a local network.

How to Take a Good Picture of your Work

I interviewed Ryan when writing this article. In addition to her talents as a designer, stitcher, and web guru, she is a hobbyist photographer creating under the name halftone.tv (facebook.com/televised).

Ryan did the photography for the new 2012 Award Winning Hardanger Embroidery book and created the beautiful covers. Roz will let you know more about the book and when it will be available to order in an upcoming newsletter.

Here is a summary of the tips and tricks she gave me during our interview.

Make sure you have a good lighting source! Natural light is the best but it is not always possible to use natural light. If you have a static light source, like a lamp with shade, position the shade so that the light isn’t hitting the item directly. If it is not possible to position the shade, you can drape a piece of cheese cloth over the shade to help diffuse the light. HOWEVER, don’t leave the cloth on for long because your light source could be very hot and might start a fire.

The automatic flash on a camera is the worst possible way to illuminate your subject. Be sure to get a camera with a manual adjust so you can be in control. One way you can tone down a camera flash is to cut out a small piece of plastic from a milk carton and attach it over your camera’s flash.

How you set your display up is critical. Remember that the emphasis should be on your piece and not on the surroundings. Don’t clutter up the picture with floral and knick-knacks especially that overlap into the design area. These items tend to pull your eyes away from your piece.

Close-up photography takes a camera with a good macro. If you know you are going to be taking a lot of close shots, then take the time to experiment with several cameras at the store before you buy one. I (Debi) love to take close ups of flowers, snowflakes, and other small items. So, I really tested out the up-close feature. Here is an example of a the close up setting on two different point and shoot cameras. The only thing I did to them when I uploaded the photos to PhotoShop was to adjust the size to 3" wide and 300 resolution. At 10" there didn’t appear to be much difference, however, at 5" I was unable to take a photograph that was not blurred with one of the cameras.

The first two were taken about 5" above the Floral Scissors (305-234-0001).

These two photos were taken about 10" above the Antique Creamer and Sugar Mat – Hardanger Kit (K2161).

Blurred images are frustrating. Many times you don’t realize your image is blurred until you upload it to your computer. My camera has an indicator on it that shows if it thinks it is a good image (green hand), mediocre image (yellow hand) or bad image (red hand). I always retake the images that are yellow or red. That’s a great thing about a digital camera – the pictures can be deleted or don’t have to be printed! I also recommend taking several shots while you have everything set up….again, digital cameras are wonderful for this because you can delete the images you don’t want to keep or print. It is much faster to delete a few images than have to set your studio up to redo a blurred photo. Using a tripod helps eliminate blurred images, but it is not always possible to use a tripod. One technique that works is to take a breath and blow it out completely and then snap the picture. Remember to breathe again!

It is hard to take pictures of items with a glass front. Here is a photo of Ryan’s Blackwork project from the 2011 Stitcher’s Retreat. She has it mounted in an antique frame with a rounded glass. You can see the reflection of the lights and window. You can see parts of me taking the picture if you look real close.

Some things you can do is use a blackout curtain and turn off the fluorescent lights. Create a gentle light source with lamps that face towards the room, not the print. You might be able to get a great photo if you went outside on a cloudless day. You will be amazed at how well clouds will reflect in your glass!

Picture distortion happens when you don’t take the photo straight on. This is especially noticeable for framed items. The frame should be at camera level and looking straight at the frame. Here are some examples of what happens when you take the photo with the camera at an angle to the object, the camera below the object, or the camera at the same length and straight on. This is Peony (4878D) by Nora Corbett.

Color distortion happens because of your lighting source. Incandescent light will add yellow saturation to your photos. It can often be fixed by your photo editing software.

White Balance is a term you sometimes hear regarding the type of lighting source you have. Many cameras have these settings already done for you such as Cloudy, Snow, Sunlight, Fluorescent and even Flash. This auto balance feature works best when there is at least one white or nearly white object in the photo.

Your piece will appear different depending on the background. If your piece is a wall hanging, then hang it on a neutral colored wall. Putting a dark color behind your piece will highlight your piece because of the contrast. Here are the same items with the same lighting and camera. These are Rectangular Treasure Boxes with free Hardanger pattern in Black (7468B) and Ivory (7468C).

Resolutions are important. You should read the manual for your camera and set your camera up for the resolution you want. Many times people put their settings lower so they can get more photos on their card, but they sacrifice photo quality in the long run. It is much better to purchase a couple cards instead.

If you are doing a lot of photography, it might be useful to purchase a small studio set up. Ryan and I are responsible for creating the images you see on the web and in our print catalogs. Nordic Needle bought this neat photo studio that came with the two lights, camera tripod, photo box in white and 3 backdrops.

Additional tips and thoughts…

You can refer back to the Documenting your Needlework for tips on documentation and journals. (October 25, 2010)

If you are submitting artwork for a particular event or group, be sure to check with them for their requirements. For example, the EGA has guidelines for submitting photographs.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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