Improve your knitting photos
Turns out, knitting a sweater that looks amazing is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT skill from photographing that sweater.
And taking good photos? It's not something we simply go online and look up, and then proceed to do perfectly. It's not snaking a drain. It's a skill, not a technique. But if you think that you'd enjoy seeing how you can improve over time, it's vastly rewarding.
I see a lot of struggle photos out there. It’s okay. Not everything has to be perfect and not everything has to be ready for the ‘Gram. It’s enough to share your joy!
AND, I know that when I first started photographing my knits, I was unhappy with my results. I just wanted to feel like my knits looked as good on screen as they did in person.
So yeah, it’s okay not to give a hoot about how others feel about your photos - and it’s also okay to want to pursue a new skill!
Photography is a skill that we improve over time.
If you scroll back to the beginning of my grid, you'll see this photo. This was the pattern photo for my first pattern. Like THE photo, the front page one, the best one I had for it.
This photo does a lot of crimes. It's a late-night photo, lit from above with a standard bulb, I'm wearing a gross hoodie, and my background is busy and distracting. I'm sharing this because even though I very much still consider myself a novice photographer, I've improved a lot.
Over the last three years, I’ve been working hard to level up my skills. Most of what I know about photographing knits comes from four resources - Hello Gavriella’s flat lay class, a posing workshop Elizabeth Margaret custom-designed for my test groups, a workshop I took with Lauren Rad from A Bee in the Bonnet, and Sara Tasker’s book and podcast Hashtag Authentic. If you find the following extremely basic tips helpful, I encourage you to check out the makers I learned from! So, yeah, I’m out of my lane a bit. And I’m still building my own skills! So how about I share exactly what worked for me when I first started upgrading my photo skills? These are not tips that pro photographers would give you. Some of them are technically bad advice! But look, the point is for our results to begin to be good enough that we find our practice fun and satisfying. So yeah, take the cheats. Play.
Take your knitting photos in natural light
We humans look best in real light. The ideal natural light is overcast and warm. In the winter, I like the light around 3 pm, before it starts to turn blue.
Exercise 1: Take photos of yourself in a window on each side of your house. Which do you like best? Your face should be facing the sun.
Exercise 2: Now that you’ve picked a window, take a weekend afternoon and take one or two photos every 15 minutes or so. How do the photos change over time?
This photo is taken in midafternoon near a window that gets medium light. I'm turned 90 degrees from the light, so that half my face is in shadow, which is technically bad lighting but which creates an interesting photo because there's a lot of contrast and the eye really wants to focus on the shoulder of the sweater.
Depth of field
Oooh, a technical term! Depth of field is a fancy way of saying ‘get a blurry background.’ If you’ve admired photos where the subject is crisp and in focus and the background is softly blurred, that’s the result of a shallow depth of field.
This matters for your knitting because many of us have sub-ideal places to take photos. We want our photos to be of us, not of the whole park with the kids playing in the background or the outlets on our walls or a certain stack of laundry that has yet to put itself away.
In photo one, I'm not using my phone's portrait mode, and both the foreground and the background are fussy and my clutter is in focus.
In photo two, the background is blurred, but I'm still giving you that soft 'getting ready in a real lived-in bedroom' vibe. Our phones blur our backgrounds digitally, so sometimes the edges are imperfect or weird. But it's good enough, you know? If I share the second photo, I'll feel like I'm doing the sweater justice.
Exercise 1: If you haven’t tried your phone’s portrait mode, give it a whirl.
Exercise 2: Experiment with how far away you are from your background. Get close to the camera and far away from your background, and see what you get. This has the advantage of also filling the frame up with your intended subject - you and your sweater!
Take photos of the sweater
Get closer to the subject - you and your sweater. If you want a photo that shows how your sweater fits, that might require a whole-body photo. But if you want to create a photo that’s a work of art and that evokes the same emotion your sweater does, use photography to tell us a story.
How do you do that? Create a photo that communicates something’s happening. Drill into a single moment - and a single detail of your garment. A different way to say this, to quote Sara Tasker? Capture "moments, not things." Exercise: Tell a very small story - capture just a little jawbone with the curve of that neckline you’re proud of. Catch just a cuff with your mug. Maybe the hem of your cardigan, on your lap, hands folded over an open book? So many sweater photos are just a straight on photo of a person wearing a sweater. How can you help your viewer see your sweater as a story?
In this photo, I'm telling a story about wearing my sweater at home, feeling soft and comfortable and embodied, about knits that I make and wear as an act of caring for this body. It's a bit out of focus and it actually puts my hempen bike shorts at the center of the frame, but it's still clearly a story about a sweater.
Go further: Follow some folks who teach posing! I particularly like Christine Buzan and David Suh (h/t to Aimee Sher for directing me to David!). Christine’s stuff feels more accessible to me without being (I feel like she just wants me to be able to take a better selfie at the pub), but I’m growing into the more advanced stuff David teaches (I freely admit his professionalism still scares me a little!).
Quit applying IG filters
I’m not going to take away your filters! I want you to expand your choices. Adobe’s mobile Lightroom has a free version, and the filters are much, much better (they call them presets, but it's the same thing). Bonus? You can go in and adjust any of the settings individually after you apply the preset.
Exercise 1: Apply a Lightroom preset!
Exercise 2: After you apply a Preset, go into the individual settings and play with changing them.
In these two photos of my Mini Drama shawl, the only difference is that I've tweaked the settings in Lightroom. This is the standard high-contrast present. For me, filters and presets do the same thing stage makeup does - they caricaturize a photo so that the moment you're capturing feels on screen as it did in real life, just as vivid and full of depth. It's not about changing how I look to be more beautiful or whatever; it's about bringing forward highlights and dropping back the shadows to create the kind of contrast our eye expects from digital media. You'll like different things than I do, and I hope you have fun playing with it!
A final note on photos
For the love of all that's good about knitting, please y'all, wipe down the lens on your celly before snapping pics. That alone is going to upgrade your photos. If you want to try some of these techniques and get feedback from peers or just document your process, come join the Slack group. We have a channel dedicated just to photography :)
About the patterns
In today's article, I'm showing you (Rav links ahead) Galentine's Hat, Local Meadow, Bock and Mini Drama. Not a Ravelry user? You can find these patterns on Payhip, too.
If you'd like to learn more
If you're interested in scooping some photography skills from Lauren Rad and Elizabeth Margaret, they both are presenters for the Fiber Business Collective, a monthly group coaching program hosted by my dear friend Anastasia from M1R Marketing. FBC memberships include bi-monthly workshops, and workshops are recorded so that members can access the entire past catalog. Check it out here!