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Of course, the very best way to get a great picture of your quilt is to have it professionally photographed. But many of us don’t really need that. Still, it’s nice to have the best possible snapshot if for nothing more than being able to show it off on our Facebook pages or from the screen of our smartphones. (And for submitting images for the next installment of my “Finish Line” seriesHint, hint.)

My husband, Tom, takes photos of my quilts. He’s not a professional, but he has a good eye and his computer skills help to overcome some of his lack of skill and specialized equipment when taking photos. He can color-correct and sharpen photos to get the best result.

But what if you don’t have a Tom? (No, he’s not for rent.) Can you get a good shot with just what you have on hand?

I talked to my friend and pro photographer Joel Davidson for some hints. Joel has his own photography blog called “Through Joel’s Lens.

Joel is the husband of Marilyn Davidson, a student of mine and talented art-quilt maker. Marilyn often uses Joel’s photos as inspiration for her quilts. I also used Joel’s photos in my marabou stork quilt, “Kaloli Moondance.” In an upcoming blog I’ll show off some images from their dual exhibit of Joel’s photos and Marilyn’s quilts.

The Camera in Your Pocket

Rather than using his professional equipment in his studio, for this demonstration Joel shows us how to get a good shot using only what we have on hand—or in our pocket.

Using only an iPhone and natural light, the following sequence shows step-by-step how Joel achieved the image of Marilyn’s quilt of a roseate spoonbill (based on Joel’s photos). While he uses an iPhone for this demo, many other types of phones have similar features, so you should be able to adapt these instructions quite easily.

“Pretty in Pink” by Marilyn Davidson, 2016, 36 x 28 inches

The photo above was taken by Joel using only his phone. I love that you can see the stitching. You can pick out the fabrics that are used. The colors are vibrant. The image is crisp, clear, and colorful. This photo really shows off Marilyn’s ability as a quilt artist and her skill at using fabric in fabric collage to its best advantage.

So here’s how he did it, in his words.

Joel Takes Us through the Process

“Our iPhone lenses collect debris from fingerprints and pocket lint. We cannot take a sharp image with a dirty lens.  Before photographing your quilt, take a damp cotton swab and clean your lens. Then dry the lens with a dry cotton swab.”
“Turn flash off and place iPhone in photo mode.”
“Pin your quilt to white foam core. Do not use colored foam core or the color will reflect onto your quilt. Place pins at an angle as shown. The head of the pin will be cropped in the final image.”

“It is very important to photograph your quilt outside in “soft shade” or on a cloudy day. Bright sun will produce glare, hot spots and uneven lighting on your quilt.”

“Have a helper hold your quilt straight and parallel to your iPhone as shown below.”

“The next three images are examples of  incorrect positioning. Keep taking images until you have a straight square image.”

“Once you have a good image, you are ready to crop. Start by tapping the line symbol shown above.”
“Tap the crop symbol as shown above.”

“Use the sliders as shown above to crop the quilt so you have a clean edge all around.”

“Now you should have a straight, square quilt image without any foam core or pins showing as seen below.”

“Next tap the line symbol as indicated above.”
“Next you will adjust the contrast. Tap the symbol shown above.”
“Tap “Light” down arrow.”
“Tap Contrast”
“Adjust contrast to your liking. Most iPhone images do not have enough contrast. I like to increase contrast by sliding the adjustment as shown above. After the contrast is complete tap “done”.”
“Completed image with only iPhone adjustments.”

Other Thoughts from Susan (and Tom)

In our experience, the color from our own smart phone cameras is pretty good. However, sometimes we feel the colors are a little dull, so Tom will add to the saturation of the image. Be careful not to go overboard with any of these digital manipulations. It’s easy to make your image look “Photoshopped,” by making the colors look unnatural.

Also, don’t be afraid to take lots of shots. You can always delete the extra ones later. I think that many of us are hesitant to snap the shutter because we grew up in the age of film, when you had either 24 or 36 shots per roll and developing photos wasn’t cheap. That’s the beauty of digital: just keep shooting until you get an image that’s bright, sharp, and square.

You’ve put a lot of work into making your quilts. You can take a little extra time and effort to capture great pictures of your quilts. Joel’s instructions will get you a long way toward having images worth bragging about.

Special thanks to Joel and Marilyn Davidson for their contributions to this blog post.


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