Friday, January 27, 2012

The 7+ Tacky Sins of Pattern Photography

Listen up, knit and crochet designers of Ravelry. I don't want to be the bitch here. I don't want to be all coming-down-on-you, telling you UR DOIN IT RONG, lecturing you about how good photography is really, really important to a knitting pattern.

...but I totally am going to.

'Cause when I browse through the pages of "recently added patterns" I've noticed a few disturbing trends. Ugly trends. Perfectly lovely designs being represented in the least flattering way possible. What a waste of your hard work and effort! Your project deserves much better than that.

So let's have a little talk. (But first up, full disclosure: All of the "don'ts" photos you see here were taken either by me or my husband. Some are not pattern photos, some, unfortunately, are- it's taken awhile for me to learn these lessons. Most of the "do" photos were taken by the obscenely talented Vivian Aubrey. She's the pickiest photographer I've ever met and as a result, her photos tend to look awesome.)

1. No Goddamn Cell Phones
Just because your cell phone HAS a camera does not mean it IS a camera. Look, I snap a ton of iPhone shots with the best of 'em, and I even post them here sometimes, which is sort of bad form. But when you need a really clear, high-quality photo to show off your goods? Don't do it.


And don't think you can just run it through friggin' Hipstamatic and make it go from crappy to artsy. It doesn't work like that. We see through that.

2. No Goddamn Flash
Unless you are a professionally trained photographer using professional equipment, your flash is never going to make anything look better. NEVER. Nobody has ever, in the history of ever, looked good in a photo taken with on-camera flash. You either get super-washed-out-with-no-detail:

Or you get Cap'n Shinyredface:

And either way, you're likely to get red-eye. (And just so you know, I actually had to go take those right now, for this post, because I hate flash so much that I didn't have any around. Something I can't say for the rest of these, unfortunately.)

3. If you're taking it yourself, use a tripod and a remote or timer. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Just because Stephen West can get away with the self-held-camera Myspace shot and make it look damn good doesn't mean anybody else can. And even he can't pull off the grungy-mirror-shot:

(Also, don't hold the camera at angles that make your chin look redonkulous.) If you don't have a tripod, you can also prop your camera up on a table with stacks of books and whatnot. But decent tripods can be had pretty cheaply, as can decent cameras, nowadays.

4. Watch your backgrounds

The purpose of a pattern photograph is to make your item look beautiful and to give the knitter vital information about the piece. Information you DON'T need includes: what my neighbor's house looks like, what kind of bush is growing on top of my head. And while the first one has my face in shadow (another no-no) the second one has wretched direct sunlight, which brings me to...

5. Watch Your Shadows!

You pretty much never want to shoot in direct sunlight or any other harsh directional light (unless you're after a specific effect and you know what you're doing, in which case you'll have already stopped reading this post.) It will wash out some details while plunging others into shadow, and nothing will look very good. It will usually make your models squint unappealingly, as well. On the other hand....

6. Don't Get Antsy and Try to Take Your Photos Indoors At Night

Even with a tripod and the ability to hold very still, indoor night shots just won't be that flattering most of the time. Addendum: Don't then go on to lose the hat, and therefore the ability to ever reshoot it without knitting it again. Sigh. Miss you, Maelstrom!

7. Think About How the Yarn Will Photograph Before You Knit

This one has taken me years to embrace. The sad fact is, some colors are very hard to capture well on camera, especially when you're trying to shoot details. It's one thing if you're working with a very skilled photographer- a good photog with good equipment can usually capture just about anything. But if you're closer to the amateur end of the spectrum, it's best to think before you cast on. Very dark colors will require a LOT of light in order to show off their detail, something I didn't account for here:

Meanwhile, in order to keep white knits from looking washed out, you may have to underexpose the photo so much that other things disappear into shadow:


And then there's the problem that many cameras have with bright, pure reds:


It seems to send their sensors into overload :-( In theory, pure green and pure blue can do this too, though it seems to happen less often. This yarn gave me a lot of trouble unless I photographed it with both a black and white object in the background to balance things out.

So do yourself a favor- if you're not sure how a given color will photograph, take a bunch of photos of the yarn in different settings, held next to your face, etc. before you start knitting with it.

BONUS. Don't do anything that looks like this:

Muppet Scalp

There are exactly zero things that are ok about this picture. Sweet Guacamole.

How to do it right:

Let's have a look at some of Viv's lovely work, eh?

1. When in doubt, choose a nice neutral background in a complimentary color, and use a wide aperture so that it blurs out. Make sure your model is far enough away from the background for it to get good and blurry.


This wide-aperture trick is great for isolating detail or photographing smallish objects:


(THAT ONE'S NOT VIVIAN'S! She might kill me if I let you believe otherwise. One note- the piece of dog hair stuck to the balls is not exactly in good taste. Always be scanning for intrusive details. Vivian would've caught that.)

2. Get in nice and close to the details. Knitters want to see how things look on people, obviously, but they also want a good hard look at the minutia.


3. Look for sunlight that has been bounced around a bit- reflected off a wall, perhaps. Shady photos work too but tend to be very cool feeling. If you can get that ideal, reflected sunlight, you'll get lovely colors. In this case, we were under a fairly high bridge. (You can get a good look at the location a ways down this page- look for the car.) The light hitting me was bouncing off the legs of the bridge, the nearby houses, the ground, etc.


Of course, color correction helps too. My camera seems to tend towards cool tones while Vivian's always seem to come out warm and lovely (jealous.)

Now that I've said my extremely wordy piece... if anyone else has any other tips to add, please feel free!

Like this post? You might enjoy my (chock-fulla-designering-tips) ebook!


  1. Thanks for a great post! I'm trying to avoid most of those tacky sins, but sometimes a little sin creeps in...(desperation pic!)

  2. Great post - I wish more designers followed your suggestions!

  3. Great Post, thanks. My pet hate is when the model (often the designer or member of designers family) looks embarrassed, uncomfortable or just plain doesn't want to be there. It makes it look like its the item of knitwear that is distressing them and who wants to knit something that makes you feel like that?!

  4. EXCELLENT POST! I totally agree. I understand if someone takes a bad project photo...not everyone loves to play with their camera. But especially for a design photo, make it flattering! the photo is what sells your pattern, for sure! I will admit too I don't usually read blogs with awful photography's important! you gave awesome tips. Flash is my enemy!!!!

  5. Holy Friggin crap AMEN. I am a professionally trained photographer and the birth of digital photography has liberated and obliterated my world all at the same time.
    Grrrrr. I miss film.

  6. Thank you for the tips. Some I knew, others I thought were no brainers. One other I would like to add is that if you are photographing your work on a model, ask them not to look directly at the camera. They human eye is programmed to be drawn to the same. By not having direct eye contact with the model the viewers will be drawn to the intended subject of the photograph - your work.

  7. Sweet Jesus do I ever hate seeing hats displayed on weird mannequin heads. That might be my biggest pattern/FO photography pet peeve. But your point re: cell phones, I have to say I disagree (except about use of hipstamatic!). To be sure, a cell phone shot is never going to be mistaken for one taken by an slr. But with bright, indirect light, a plain background, and attention to staging/styling, a decent cell phone can get a shot just as nice as a point and shoot, showing the knit perfectly clearly and attractively.

  8. Haha, well if it's good enough that I can't tell it's a cell phone pic, you get a pass.

  9. What an informative post. This is especially helpful for us fledgling designers who are struggling to get our act right.

  10. If this post could literally hurt, I'd be dead by now! Hahaha!

    Thanks so much for your post. You sure have a point... To think that I actually own a dslr made me feel sad for myself more because I chose to be lazy and grab my smartphone to take snaps of my precious knits. :/

    Thanks for the "poke"!:)

  11. Great tips, but but wouldn't some of these principles apply to the studio tour video too? It was shaky and either too bright or too dark. I'm a longtime fan, and don't mean to be mean about it!

  12. Haha, you're right Narwhal Love - if I relied on video regularly I'd get my better camcorder fixed, but since it's not really my primary means of income, I use my iphone for shooting goofy little things like that. I do need to get it fixed so my tutorials will be clearer, though. Good video is even harder than photography because you have to worry about the sound and movement as well as the visuals.

  13. Great tips! Sometimes you can get away with some of them though, but you have to be careful and really pay attention and know you're doing a big no-no and try to make it as little no-no as possible. If that makes sense :p

  14. Such a great post. Thanks so much!

  15. Such a wonderful post but yet I still find myself frantically taking pictures of projects with cat fur on them, shadows looming, and trees growing out of the top of my head (sometimes, all three of those things at once).

  16. My heart is the warmed and the grateful! If only I had something cooler to show for all your generous bragging over at my sad and neglected blog...sigh.

  17. really good advice! i have run into the same problems. i HATE flash photography, and none of my indoor night-time pics ever look good.

    i wish i could get depth of field with my cheesy camera, but it seems manual aperture adjustments only go with pricier cameras. :(

    i love your designs! thanks for sharing.

  18. I refer to this over and over. Because it's funny, and SO true! Here's a mini tip on camera hating reds. I bought a hot mirror filter. It cost $65. a simple screw on lens cover. Booya! My colors a much more balanced, and my Canon 450D can handle red.

  19. Hi, I just loooove the first hat, it's so funky===is there a pattern?

    1. Haha, no, not yet anyway... it was very much an experimental piece ;-)


add this

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
romantica theme by Pink + Lola