Tips from Spoonflower designers: Berene Campbell on how to photograph your fabrics

OCT 12, 2011

Now that it's possible to filter fabric search results on Spoonflower by photos of printed fabrics, I've been thinking about how to take a good photo lately. I personally have always found taking photographs tricky and have never considered myself particularly good at it. I'm more forgiving of myself when it comes to photographing my kids since, no matter how bad the lighting or how weird the angle, I'm always happy to see their sweet faces and antics. But photographing actual objects? Forget about it.

Taking good photos of your fabrics and your sewn projects isn't like taking photos of cute kids, and good photos are pretty critical to include on your fabric's design page given that printed fabric looks different from the onscreen version of a design. That's why it occurred to me to consult two designers on Spoonflower whose fabric and product photos really stand out to me as particularly well done.

I asked designers Berene Campbell of HappySewLucky and KristopherK a few questions about how they take their fabric and project photos and they were more than happy to share some pointers. I'll share Berene's pointers with you today and KristopherK's on Friday. We're also offering a giveaway from each designer, so read on for more!

First off, what kind of camera do you use?

Right now I don’t have an SLR, so most of my pics are taken on a Canon G10, which I love, and also quite often on my iPhone which, for a phone, takes great pics.

Do you take your photos at a particular time of day or in a particular spot? How do you deal with lighting?

I have a basic lighting set-up (white-box with 2 lights) but I don’t really like using it. I far prefer natural light. So if I can, I wait for a sunny day, or at least a not too dark one, so that I can shoot in natural light. I am lucky enough to have a southwest facing sunroom in our house. This is usually where I shoot because it has three walls of windows. But sometimes, depending on where the light is best, I shoot outside on the deck, or in the kitchen or our bathroom–any room is good if it has light!–both of which have skylights. I try and avoid direct sunlight as it creates hard shadows. If the weather is gloomy, I may use a white board as a reflector on the darker side of the image, to help boost the light a little. The way I shoot is pretty low-tech, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-ish. You don’t need fancy equipment to take good pics. Just some basic techniques.

How important do you consider taking photos of your fabrics and your projects? Do you do this for all your fabrics and projects or just some of them?

If you want your fabrics to be noticed and buzzed about then you need pics for sure. People love a bit of inspiration and eye candy. Color and design make us happy and get us talking. Sharing pics of your work is also great for chatting with other designers and sewists online. It gives you something to chat about. I’ve “met” so many lovely people through Spoonflower, Flickr etc and that would not have happened without my pics. I think I’ve photographed most of my designs. I like photographing the 3D projects the most.

What style or mood are you going for when you photograph your fabrics and/or finished items?

Most of the time I want the fabric or project to be the focus, so I tend to go clean and bright. I have a selection of cardboards that I use as backgrounds for smaller items. Larger ones I usually shoot outside if I can – on our adirondack chairs, over the deck railing, etc. Sometimes I'll add props if the design proportions are important to show, or if I think the image will benefit from it – like the pumpkins in the Pumpkin Skellie shot.

What do you think is the biggest mistake you see in poor photos of fabrics or finished fabric items?


Not ironing the fabric! This drives me nuts. Sometimes you see beautiful fabric look lousy just because an iron was not plugged in. Poor light and out-of-focus shots would be close seconds.

What’s the single most important thing a novice photographer should try to improve their photos of fabrics or finished items?

 I would say to think about it before shooting: “How would this look best?” “What pics have I seen out there that looked good, and what was it about that image that made me like that design?” “Does it need any props?” It sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to just take a pic without much thought and figure it’s done. But if you look at your shot after you’ve taken it and it looks mediocre, then figure out why and take better one.

Thanks, Berene! If you'd like to read more about product photography, check out the Etsy Guide to Photography for tons of useful tips. For sheer fun, my favorite part of the series might be the "Etsy old timers" showing their back-in-the-day product photos next to the sorts of photos they take today. You can find that part here.

Have you read this far down? Good! For a chance to win Berene's new "Retrotastic Camera Bag pattern" printed on a fat quarter of upholstery-weight cotton twill, add a comment below to be entered into a drawing. We'll announce a winner for this prize this Monday, 10/17/2011 at noon EST. Good luck!–GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED FOR ENTRIES.  STAY TUNED FOR A WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY!

(Note that the photo is ours, not Berene's. You can tell because the fabric backdrop is not ironed!)

Berene Campbell grew up in South Africa in the seventies with a mom that sewed all her clothes and had her first sewing lessons sitting under her mother's sewing table playing with scraps.  After high school, Berene studied graphic design, majoring in illustration, and continued crafty pursuits in her spare time, making mechanical wooden toys and wooden boxes. After college, Berene worked in ad agencies and design shops in Cape Town, Dubai, London, and eventually Vancouver, BC. She did some product design work for Robeez baby shoes, really enjoyed it, and decided to launch her own product line combining her love of sewing and making toys. You can find her fabrics on Spoonflower at HappySewLucky. She also runs an Etsy shop under the name HappySewLuckyShop where she sells sewing kits and embroidery patterns.

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