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So many people are posting great tutorials online, and these days it's so easy to illustrate them with digital photographs (imagine having to draw out the steps, scan them in, etc., or take 35mm prints and scan them in—so time consuming!). But I've noticed that often the closeups range from a little blurry to really blurry.
Here are a few tips so that you can get great closeup shots. You don't even have to mess with shutter speeds or f-stops (lens settings)! All you need is my tip below and your Auto setting, or my other tip below on using your macro/closeup setting, if you have one. And speaking of that...
Does your camera have a macro setting?
Not all digital cameras have a macro setting, but most do. A quick glance at some cameras on the Best Buy site shows that even a $50 Polaroid camera has a macro setting, and another brand offered what they called "Closeup" that lets you take pics as close as 5" from your subject. How can you tell whether your camera has macro capability? Well, you could read the manual (shudder)... but one quick way to tell is to look for a tulip icon , either on the camera's buttons or mode dial, or in its menus. That tulip stands for macro mode.
First tip: Auto mode, no macro setting
Let's say your camera is one of the few that lack a macro setting. Are you out of luck? Not at all! Oh, it's true that if you try to take a photo in Auto mode just by holding the camera super close to your subject, it will be blurry. In the example below, I held the camera about 12" from my scarf, and as you can see, the pic looks bad. (In the example at the top of this page, I held the camera about 2" away. A nasty shot!)
And you can tell by looking at the image on your LCD display that your shot isn't in focus, too. If it's blurry there, it's gonna be blurry when you upload it to your computer. (Most cameras will also blink an indicator light or otherwise let you know when they can't focus.) To give you a rough idea, most cameras on Auto can't focus closer than about 18". So if you hold the camera 12" from your subject, it's gonna be a fuzzy pic.
How to get around this if you don't have a macro setting? Stand back from your subject and zoom in! That's all you have to do! Here's a pic I took from about 36" away, on Auto, zoomed in a bit.
(My cat helper, Mr. Noodle, had to check things out as well.) Of course, this method won't get you close enough to photograph really small objects such as jewelry, but that's not our main concern here.
Second tip: macro setting
If you do have a macro setting, then you can get really close to your subject—your manual will tell you just how close. My Canon Powershot S5iS has a macro setting and a "Super Macro" setting. In regular macro mode I can be 4" from the subject, but in Super Macro mode I can be only an inch away. (Shooting that close can actually be a problem, because the camera casts a shadow on the subject, making it hard to get good lighting.)
Check your manual and set your camera to macro. Again, as you focus (usually by pressing the shutter halfway) look at the image in your LCD display and see if it looks sharp.
Here's a Super Macro shot of a scarf in our Etsy shop. I made it with my own hand-dyed cotton sateen and silk and some batiks, and it's backed with lusciously soft white minkee. Look at the sharpness—you can see the grain of the fabric and all the stitches clearly. Now that's a good macro shot!
Third tip: Milk jug macros
Lots of people are jazzing up their work with beads and other shiny decorations these days. And that brings up another useful macrophotography tip. You see, anything highly reflective—especially silver or gold metal—can't look its best unless it's surrounded by light. Here's a good example: this cheap silver-metal pendant was photographed with two of the compact fluorescent lights we recommend, one on each side.
As you can see, the metal looks almost black! Why? Because it's reflecting its surroundings: the darkened room and the camera. If I hadn't told you, you'd never know this is shiny chrome-plated metal.
Professionals solve this problem by using a "light tent," such as the EZcube series—basically a five-sided cube made of translucent white fabric. When surrounded by lights, it illuminates an object with a soft, even glow from all sides (except where the camera is, of course). Light tents are great if you do a lot of jewelry or silver photography, but they cost $55 to $150. Here's a trick that will get you the same even lighting for objects up to about three inches in diameter... for free!
All you need is a plastic one-gallon milk jug. Once it's empty, rinse and let it dry. Then using sharp scissors, enlarge the hole at the top only enough for your camera's lens to poke through. (With a small camera, you may not even have to do this.) Then cut off the jug's rounded bottom, leaving straight sidewalls. You now have a perfect light tent.
Set the open-bottomed jug over the object you want to photograph, and put lights on three out of four sides. (You want one side a little less bright to provide natural modeling.) Put your camera into macro mode, poke it through the opening on top of the jug, and snap away. You'll find that your photos look much more natural, with silvery surfaces looking silver instead of black. Here's our pendant again—judge for yourself.
OK, it's a really cheap pendant—in fact, I bought it at Walmart for $2.39 just to use in this explanation. But at least now you can see that it's silver, even if the finish isn't very smooth. You get the idea.
Well, that's it. You are now a textile photography expert! Remember, if you want help with your photo software, such as Photoshop Elements, you can read Dennis Curtin's free book "A Short Course In Editing Digital Photographs," online. We hope these pages have shown you that taking good photos of your textile art can be simple and affordable. Let us know if you have any hints or tips we missed, or if there's anything else you think we should cover here. Good luck and happy quilting!