photography 101: finding your spot

You all know our friend Sarvi, right? She’s one of the moderators over in the discussion forums. Well, she did a fantastic series on the blog last year about preserving patterns, which included several different methods: freezer paper, Swedish tracing paper, and carbon tracing paper. They were popular posts and you’ll want to be sure to check them out, if you haven’t already. This week she’s back with another series, but this time around it’s all about photography. Take it away Sarvi!

Hi folks! I’m hoping to keep this relatively short and sweet. I want to share some practical photography tips that will help you improve your images, so let me briefly explain what this post is meant to do. I know we all work hard on our sewing, and a big part of the fun is sharing that with our sewing friends. But since most of us are not professional photographers but just parents sewing for our kids (or metric equivalent–grandchildren, nieces, young friends), we often have to shoot in less than ideal conditions. If you’re indoors at night, with a rushed kid on her way out the door, or with no kid at all, and all you have is a cell phone or tablet, what’s going to save you is the work you’ve done in advance. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today: finding your spot.


Photography 101


Here are all the devices in my house that take photos. This photo was taken with my husband’s smartphone. There’s a DSLR, pocket digital camera, film camera, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. They all do the same thing.


Photography 101, cameras


They don’t actually take photos of subjects; they take photos of light. It’s the one rule of photography that rules everything else. So when you start setting up your spot, the little patch of your house that you identify and prep as your micro photo studio, the first thing you need to look at is light.

Step 1: Find some light. A window, a lamp, a string of bulbs maybe? Now put something in the light and see how the light falls. If you can move the light, move it around until it’s sweeping over the folds and curves of the fabric and you can see those beautiful shapes and textures. If you can’t move the light, move your subject! Standing at not-quite right angles to a window, maybe turned a little more to the light, shows shapes very nicely.


Photography 101


Step 2: Control the quality of the light. If the sun is pounding straight into your window, that’s going to give you very harsh light.


Photography 101


Try looking to see how far into the room the light falls. Taking a few steps farther into the room might give you all the light you need, while cutting down on hard shadows. Remember that it’s not about using a specific technique, it’s about the principle of trying to achieve big, soft light in whatever your unique space is.


Photography 101


Step 3: Art direct. This is so seemingly obvious but can feel so unintuitive.


Photography 101


It’s almost as though people feel they don’t have permission to move themselves or their subject, or to move or replace background clutter, or get some cute props. I give you permission! Get a cute basket and shove all the toys into it. Again, it’s not the specific technique you use, it’s about identifying the Spot, the space in your home that’s the best candidate for grabbing quick, consistent shots.


Photography 101


Step 4: Compose. It doesn’t matter if your whole house looks like a tornado hit it as long as it doesn’t show up in the viewfinder. If you’re using a cellphone, don’t zoom, especially in the dark. Either twin-ankle zoom (walk in closer) or shoot big and crop later. Cut the head room, position your kid’s face, or the top of the garment, right at the top of the frame. Unless you have a particular reason to to show a bunch of space over the top of your kid’s head (maybe your kid’s holding a balloon?), cut the head room like your life depends on it.


Photography 101


In the last place I lived, the light was ridiculously bad. Recessed lights, fluorescent bulbs, few windows, and those badly angled. I wound up shooting everything in front of a set of white shutters, while standing on a stool in the kitchen. The result wasn’t anything you’d want in a portfolio, but the best was made of a bad situation and you could at least see the clothes reasonably well.


Photography 101


Up next: photography 102: working with kids.




  1. Sarvi, you crack me up. What a great post! Thanks so much for doing this.

  2. Audrey

    Interesting! And splendid photos to illustrate exactly what you are explaining. Can you tell me a little more about why you say to shoot big and crop later? I’m a zoomed and maybe that’s part of my problem.Thank you Sarvi and Liesl.

  3. Hi Audrey! I think if you’re already comfortable with zooming and you’re getting good results, you’re fine. A camera lens that’s zoomed out usually needs more light to get a bright image. On a cellphone, what you’re often getting is a ‘digital zoom’ — which means it’s essentially magnifying an image, rather than an optical zoom, which means it’s actually changing the focal length of the lens itself. With both types of cameras, what it usually means is that the image you’re getting is ‘noisier’ (doesn’t look as smooth and bright). An added benefit to shooting big and cropping is that you don’t have concentrate on composition quite as much at first, and think more about image quality. If you keep up with photography as a hobby you’ll find you might find compose in-frame pretty naturally and rarely want to crop later.

  4. A big THANK YOU to Rebecca and her gorgeous daughter for doing all the photos!

    If anybody wants to pop up a photo of your space, I’d be happy to see if I can think of any suggestions to help you get a shot you might like a little better. Just post a link in the forums and tag me in your post so I see it. Hope this is useful!

  5. Wow! Thanks for those great tips.

  6. Brilliant, I am so very grateful for all the great tips I have received from Sarvi

  7. Lots of great tips here – I’ve already learned a lot and I’m looking forward to the next post!

  8. Rebecca

    No problem Sarvi. It was fun! Thank you so much for the tips! Now I can’t wait for post #2….

  9. Sian

    Thank you!
    I always feel that the clothes I sew look SO much better in real life than in the pictures I take. Now I realize why… These tips are a great excuse for me to sew something new and have a photo shoot!! xx

  10. Mel

    This is a great idea for a blog post, super useful. Looking forward to the next one!

  11. Fab post Sarvi. Now I just need to balance my desire for blank spaces for photography with my need to have stuff in my house…. Or maybe I just have to replace all my stuff with more photogenic stuff…..
    Can’t wait for the “how to wrangle small, live models” post!

  12. Thanks, Sarvi (and Rebecca) for showing how to put the techniques to use! I especially like the props idea…it helps take some of the awkwardness out of just standing there.

  13. Thank you, Sarvi – this is so clear and helpful. Not sure why, but I’m one of the people who needs permission to use props, and now I’ll get on an do it!

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