Photography tips for sewing product photos

You were chosen to test a pattern, sewed up a muslin/final product, gave comments and now it is time for final photos. Or maybe you sew up strike-offs, samples, for fabric promotion. You know only the best ones get picked for the online gallery and promotion photos, plus you will be doing some spamming for promotion of your own, so…now what?

How do you get quality photos?

I will discuss a few of your options, in addition to posting some helpful links.

  • Watch your backgrounds. I know not everyone has an HGTV yard and perfectly in order house to take magazine cover worthy photos. This is not something you need! You basically just need 2 feet on either side of you to look decent.

When framing your shot consider out of the way corners, interesting doors, and non-distracting backgrounds (i.e. no cars in the shot, random stray toys, garbage cans…yes, people do notice the backgrounds). Do a bit of Googling of your neighborhood and see if there is any interesting, off the beaten path areas that you could use for a photo op. I’m not suggesting trespassing (illegal) or standing on railroad tracks (also illegal), but you may find some hidden gems.

Corner of my house with an overgrown vine

Dead end road on the edge of my city

This was from a deserted waystation overlooking a river valley that my city owns. It wasn’t exactly a city park, but it was open to the public. There were just about 10 feet of ruins here from an old wall, but that was all I needed. There also was a small tree growing on one side that helped shade her from direct sun. This gave some decent lighting without hot sun spots on her (hot spots are overbright areas in a picture where all detail is lost – no amount of Photoshop will bring them back). Side note: This isn’t perfect. There were a few spots where the sun peeked through and you can see those on her.

Don’t look on the scene as a whole, but on a small space that you can use.

  • Avoid noonday sun and midnight photos. Embrace the golden hour before the sun sets. The lighting is better in those times, but it is more yellow. You may have to do some color-correcting if it is for a strike-off photo.

High sun gives harsh shadows on individuals, and can also produce those “hot spots” or overexposed areas where the detail is lost.

Example of hot spots on her hair and white shirt:

This is especially prevalent on white clothes and blonde hair. Instead choose morning or an hour before the sun sets when the sun is low in the sky. Cloudy days are also a good option, as long as there is still enough light.

If you absolutely MUST take photos in full daylight, find a shady spot (watch for sunlight creeping through the leaves, though) or invest in a reflector/diffuser. You use the diffuser over them to filter the light. You will need a helper, but if you have a tripod you can get an attachment for them. The subject needs to stay in place, though (i.e. probably won’t work for a toddler).

Photos at night are a challenge if you are trying to take photos without a lighting set up. If you have a DSLR you can buy an external flash and bounce the flash off the ceiling or walls. Do not point it directly at your subject. Bouncing off a wall or ceiling diffuses the light for a more natural look.

A wall in my office at home…I had to clone out an electrical outlet

You can also buy a lighting kit. Amazon has a lot of them. Invest in a couple of vinyl backgrounds if you don’t have a great place in your house to take photos. You don’t need huge ones, just big enough for photos, so a 5 x 7 will work. I have used those in the past.

You can either tape them on the wall (they are fairly light) or buy a backdrop stand and clips to hold them on there.

I also have white seamless paper that I use for a backdrop, but you do need a backdrop stand for those.

Option 1: I don’t own a DSLR Camera…I only have my phone.

Camera phones have increased in quality over the past several years. In addition there are some great apps out there that can help in editing your photos.

A few tips for phone cameras –

  1. Select Portrait mode. This helps to focus on you and can give a blurry background called “bokeh”.
  2. Shoot during daytime as much as possible. Use a window for natural light, though watch to make sure it is diffused light and not direct sunshine on them. It is hard to get a good nighttime shot with just a phone. Either the flash gives high contrast shadows, or if no flash, your photo is not crisp and contains a lot of “noise”. There are some apps that can help smooth out the noise, but the crispness is not going to get better.
  3. If you don’t have a photographer, get a tripod and Bluetooth enabled remote. You can find them on Amazon for pretty reasonable prices. I bought a package of a tabletop tripod and Bluetooth remote for less than $20.

Option 2: I have a DSLR, but haven’t moved it off “A”

There is a reason you purchased this big, bulky camera, and that is the ability to take fantastic pictures! I think we all started out on Automatic, but eventually it is time to take the plunge into Manual Settings. Start by going off auto and using the different priority features.

Shutter priority – you choose the shutterspeed (how quickly the camera takes a photo)

Aperture priority – you choose the aperture (depth of field or amount of bokeh)

Manual is when you choose all of the options yourself. That is what I use when taking photos.

The Trinity of Manual

ISO –You want to keep this number at 400 or lower, but truly mine is set at 800/1600 so often in the winter. This adds grain to your images. If you have the photo exposed properly with a high ISO, then it doesn’t show as much.

Shutterspeed – This is another setting that sets your light sensitivity but at the expense of movement. With adults you don’t need to worry as much with shutterspeed, but you do with kids. They tend to run around (i.e. faster than the speed of light movement at all times), so you will need to set your shutterspeed at 250 or above. This generally will be at the expense of a higher ISO.

(In brief: High ISO = BAD, High Shutterspeed = GOOD)

Aperture – Last, but not least, is the aperture. This gives the bokeh, or blurry background. Lenses generally have a minimum/maximum aperture value. My kit lens only goes down to around 3.8, but my prime (fixed length) lenses will usually go down to 1.8 to 1.4. If you can’t get your aperture down to a lower number (which means that it is wide open and lets in lots of light), then it doesn’t really matter what your settings are for the shutterspeed or ISO. This is why I would recommend at least getting a 50mm 1.8 lens. This is generally on the cheapest end of the prime lenses for both Canon and Nikon. This type of lens is really needed indoors, as it is hard to take pictures without that low aperture option.

When using a really low aperture of f1.8 you may lose focus if you are close to a subject. You want the eyes to be in focus, so I generally focus on the bridge of their nose. If you need to get the clothing in focus (I assume so), you will either need to be far away or use a higher aperture.

Setting the aperture low gives you the shallow depth of field (meaning: a blurry background), which is great if you have subjects really close together. If you want to take group shots you need to be far away to have a setting at 1.8 (or thereabouts), but a 4.0 is usually the setting you would want otherwise not everyone will be in focus.

(In brief: Low Aperture = more light, which is good if you are okay with a shallow depth of field)

When I set my camera up for pictures I decide what I want from the photo. Do I want a shallow depth of field? I will set the aperture first and make the rest of the settings work for proper exposure. If I need to make sure everything is in focus (i.e. NOT a shallow DOF), then I set my aperture around 4.0 and adjust SS and ISO.

Next step? Take lots of pictures! I don’t really need to think about settings anymore. I can just quickly set mine once I get a feel of the lighting situation and can get to taking pictures.

Practice, practice, practice…that is how you get good at anything.

I would also suggest getting a tripod and remote for your camera. I have a radio remote, so it doesn’t need line of sight to take pictures. That means I can hide it behind me and push the clicker to focus and take pictures. Amazon has a plethora of options…just search by your camera type. Tripods are pretty generic. I have a tall one, a short one for a table top and one for my phone.

The hardest part for most people is just getting comfortable in front of the camera. It may be helpful to look at Pinterest for some posing examples, so you don’t just have one static rigid pose.

Some things to think about when posing for the camera:

  • You are selling a product, so make sure you are getting detailed, clear shots. Faraway shots that are hard to see will not sell the product.
  • Having a more “open” pose is more flattering. This means hands on your hips and arms not glued to your sides. Your legs should be cocked, too, so not together like a mermaid.
  • It is more flattering to have the camera shoot down at you than shoot up at you. An example would be to stand at the bottom of the stairs and have the camera shoot down towards you.
  • Shooting from the side is more flattering than shooting with you standing towards the camera.
  • Putting your weight on your back leg is more elongating.
  • Tip your head to the side and slightly down from camera.
  • Face the sunlight or light source. It will add light to your eyes and there will be less shadows.

This is another area, where just take a lot of photos. You will find the most flattering angles for yourself. It helps to pose in front of a mirror first to have a starting point.

This is where I’m not very knowledgeable on for phone apps. I am a Photoshop girl. I have used Lightroom a little bit, but for the most part I edit in Photoshop.

I shoot RAW (a non-compressed jpeg file), and do most of the color correcting, exposure, highlights, etc. in Adobe Camera Raw. I open all of my RAW files at the same time, do the edits to one and then synchronize to the rest of them. I may need to make some slight changes to some photos, but they should all look consistent.

I open those files in Photoshop, and defog (Unsharp mask 20/60/0 – reduces digital haze), make any additional color corrections (make sure the fabric color matches my screen) or brightness in Levels that I think it may need, flatten the images and use Scripts to batch save Facebook sized photos (2048 px on the long end).  I have written actions for the things I do to my photos. An Action in Photoshop is basically just a group of effects that you set up to run on a photo. You can open up several files and do a batch Action, reducing your editing time.

Color correcting is especially important when sewing strike-off fabrics for custom fabric groups. People are buying based on what they see on the screen. I usually check the picture on my phone to make sure it shows correctly there, too. Your computer screen may need to be calibrated correctly, so may not show correctly either.

Have the fabric next to you and get it as close as possible. Shooting inside or during the “golden hour” will skew more yellow, so you add blue. Cloudy days maybe more green, so you add red.

Some phone apps I have used and/or seen recommended:

  • Photoshop Express
  • Adding a watermark – iwatermark
  • Enlight
  • PhotoQuilt – for making collages
  • Picsart

These apps aren’t quite as precise as Photoshop, so you need to play around with them a bit more to get the desired result.


Useful links:

PDF Pattern Photography Posse on Facebook – This group focuses on improving photos for testing photography. Use the search function, and see what you can learn.

Posing Tips from Becca Duval at Free Notion – How to Stop Posing With Trees

I have an old photography blog that has a list of Photography tips on it. Some of the photos were linked to an old site, so I am in the process up updating the posts and adding newer (i.e. better) pictures.


Questions?

Let me know if you have any questions or are now more thoroughly confused. I tried to touch on many things, but it is all just the tip of the iceberg.

The TL;DR version is:

  • Watch your lighting
  • Watch your backgrounds
  • Shoot in natural light as much as possible
  • Detail shots
  • Color correction, if needed, especially on strikes.
  • Shoot lots…you’ll get better
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How to make a purse tassel

Hello, Stacy here.  Today I am going to show you how to make a leather tassel to go on a purse.  You can also use vinyl to make this happen.  There are places where you can purchase small cuts of leather (etsy has some sellers that do this), which would be a good option to be able to make one of these.

Tassels on purses can be a great accent. They can go on the zipper, or just hang off the handle. I also use these for my keys. I tend to have large purses, and it is much easier to find my keys when it is attached to a bit of fringe.

This is how I make these leather tassels, though, I am certain there are many other ways. (Yes, my cutting mat has seen better days. I tend to do multiple crafts on it, and it gets a bit messy!)

Step 1: Cut out a piece of leather. You can roll the leather to figure out how thick you would like the tassel. Some leather is thicker than others, so it will be larger when rolled. This piece is 6″ long and 13″ wide. I usually cut somewhere around 10″ wide. The length, again, is personal preference. I sometimes keep the natural edge of the hide. I do these for two reasons.

  • One: I don’t like to waste the leather.
  • Two: It’s an interesting edge.

This piece sat next to an oil tanned hide, which leached into this one. The discoloration will look fine on the tassel.

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Step 2:  Next, you need to take a straight edge and a rotary cutter to cut the fringe. I make them roughly 1/4 inch apart, and stop it at 1.5 inches from the top. You can use a scissors, but rotary cutters work really well for this.

Step 3:  Now that the fringe is cut, you need a little strap for the top. This is around 1″ x 4″. I just rough cut the length to make sure it is long enough to go into the fringe.

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Step 4:  Using a glue (here are two options), spread the glue across the entire top piece. I used a bit too much on this one. You could also use something like a school glue, too, if you don’t have access to these.

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Step 5:  Place the top strap at the inside edge, and tightly wrap the fringe. Make sure the top is even as you wrap it. The glue leaked out a bit on this, since I went a bit too aggressive with it.  20170705_637120170705_637220170705_637320170705_6374

Step 6:  Next, I put a contrast leather around the top piece. Cut to size. I suggest cutting a little wider than you think you will need. This should have been a smidge wider. I added some “bling” to dress this up. You can also add decorative rivets.

Step 7: Sew the contrast piece to the top. Generally, I want to have to stretch it to fit, so it fits tightly.

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Step 8:  Add a split ring and snap to finish it off. Usually the snap piece needs to be wide enough to fit over a purse’s hardware. I also had purchased some odds and ends on clearance at Michaels, and this stone worked perfectly!

Now you have a lovely fringe for your new Market Shopper purse!

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Bag Making Made Easy – Tips and Tricks for the New Bag Maker

If you are just beginning your sewing craft, or have been sewing clothes, crafts and other projects but want to learn to sew bags, this article is for you. Bag making is different. Like quilting, it is in a category on its own. There is a different set of problems and issues; you need a few special notions and tools; lots of sewing machine needles; some basic hand stitching skills which can be perfected with practice; and a foundational knowledge of fusibles and stabilizers (we have a cheat sheet for that!). There are also lots and lots of websites and bag making sites with resources for just about anything related to bag making on earth.

On the pro side: it is fabulously rewarding, genuinely fun, a great tool for income potential (craft markets, direct sales, Instagram orders, etc.) and high end gift-giving. It is also a great way to improve your sewing skills from “meh” to “WOWSA!” There are so many ways to personalize bags that bag makers now use the term “pattern hack” to describe this personalization.

What is pattern hacking?

Using a pattern and turning it into something completely different to suit your personal style. Simply put, this means, taking a simple pattern and creating a bag that looks like you purchased it from a high end bag shop for $2,000. You really can learn to do this with the right techniques.

Bag making, my friends, is seriously fun sewing business.

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First, there are various names of bags—here are a few:
* Handbag
* Bag
* Purse
* Tote

Then, there are different styles of bags—to name a few:
~ Baguette
~ Tote
~ Evening
~ Crossbody
~ Weekender
~ Drawstring
~ Wallet
~ Hobo
~ Clutch
~ Satchel
~ Shoulder
~ Cosmetic
~ Backpack
~ Saddlebag
~ Doctor’s Bag

Hefty Hobo Bag

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Note: There can be many variations of a style of bag. For instance, a hobo bag can have many of the same “hobo” characteristics, but look completely different. A hobo bag generally is a classic styled bag with a slouchy, but shaped appearance, and tends to have depth room, or more room from top to bottom (as opposed to width room).
Now, let’s look at the anatomical structure, or parts, of a basic bag:
• Handles, straps
• Pockets
• Closure
• Bottom
• Lining
• Exterior
• Guts
• Hardware (includes feet, D-rings, O-Rings, swivel clips, etc.—anything metal, although there are some plastic “hardware”)
• Connectors
• Accessories

Handles/Straps

There are various types of handles and straps. The type of handles/straps you choose will depend upon what type of bag you will carry, the distance and type of use of the bag and the weight and contents of the bag. A lot of information, yes. But the following will simplify all of this.

Arm Strap—an arm strap is simply a short strap for a daily use handbag with normal handbag contents. The arm strap is usually 1 or 2 straps, and tend(s) to be shorter in length, and wider for a more comfortable carry.

Wrist strap—a wrist strap is typically used for wallets, wristlet bags, and other smaller bags.

Shoulder strap—the shoulder strap is typically one strap, but can be two. Longer in length than the arm strap, and used either for carrying on one shoulder, or a longer and wider version for carrying across the shoulder (shoulder to hip) for larger, heavier bags, or smaller “crossbody” styled bags.

Waist strap—generally used for holster-type bags (sometimes includes a combination of waist and thigh strap).

Note: A bag can have more than one style of strap. It is not uncommon for modern bags to have an armstrap, along with a detachable shoulder strap.

Pockets

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There are so many fun types of pockets in handbags. Pockets are just as much fun to sew as they are to use.

Zippered—the zippered pocket can be an embedded pocket (where the zipper is located either on the exterior or the interior of the bag), a hanging pocket (i.e. beach bag), a floating yet connected compartment (such as a laptop bag), or a small and attached “kangaroo pouch” (for easy access to cosmetics, keys, etc.) which is attached to the inside of a handbag or tote bag.

Pleated—pleated pockets, in a vast array of designs, are a great way to store bulky items (like large smart phones and other electronic devices; baby bottles in diaper bags, etc.) without consuming room inside the bag when the pockets are not in use. Pleated pockets are pretty and super useful. There are many types of pleats.

Open (slip)—a simple and classic form, used for pads of paper, pens, and other flat objects.

Hanging—a hanging pocket is one found mostly in unlined leather bags or beach bags, and can either be zippered or open. Hanging pockets are simple to sew and can be substituted for other types of bags for the beginner bag maker.

Closure(s)

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Bag closures are important. Or not. Basically, you can have a closure, or not have a closure (and chose an open tote or bag with no closure).

When we talk about “closure” in bag construction, we are usually referring to the main compartment of the bag. Some of the types of closures you will see are: zipper (nylon or metal); magnetic snap (attached to the bag lining or attached to a connector tab); tie (fabric or leather); twist lock or click/tongue lock; pin clasp; and toggle—to name a few. Closures are a fun way to add your own personality to your bag.

Bag Bottom

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Depending upon the way a bag is constructed, the bag bottom can either have a gusset, a panel, or can be part of the main compartment. When constructing the bag bottom, think about how and where you will be “parking” your bag…do you normally place your bag on a dirty floor at school? On a nice plush carpet at the office? On a concrete walkway at your child’s soccer practice three times a week? These considerations will determine whether you will want to add bag feet, use leather or vinyl in place of cotton fabrics (for better wear and the ability to wipe clean), etc. These choices will also determine the life of the bag. (When you invest time and resources into sewing a bag, you want it to last many years.)

Lining

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The lining of your bag is basically the fabric on the inside of your bag. Some bags are lined while others are not. Some leather bags are not lined because they can be sewn with an industrial leather sewing machine. Due to the thickness involved, this unlined quality provides a classic and unique beauty. An unlined bag can still have attached pockets! A bag’s seams can also be serged or finished with biased tape for a finished look. It is all about personal choice.

Exterior

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The exterior of the bag is the outside portion of the bag. The exterior can have all kinds of pockets, cute zipper pulls attached to zipper tabs, and tassels attached to bag hardware. The exterior of the bag should always be well sewn and be constructed to withstand its intended use. It is a good idea to Scotchguard your bag (if using cotton fabrics) or wax your bag (if using leather) to waterproof it. Remember that your bag has “guts”; if the “guts” get wet, it may take a long time to dry, and may ruin your bag.

Bags costs a lot of time and resources. Invest just a little more into your bag to get the longevity from the time and talent you have already invested.

Guts (Stabilizers)

Foam stabililizer

The guts of a bag is the foundation of its support system. A better explanation of this would be the “skeletal system” of the bag—or the bones. Without the proper kinds of stablizers, your bag would basically be a pile of fabric. Information sheets about stabilizers can be downloaded from the http://www.pellonprojects.com/ website where you can find lots of useful information about stabilizers. Always purchase the best stabilizer(s) you can afford so that you will have the best finished project. Oddly, the stabilizer is going to be your best ally for a professionally finished bag.

Different bag designers prefer different stablizers for different reasons. Always use the suggested stabilizers listed in the pattern instructions until you become familiar with bag making. Once you become moderately familiar with bag making, begin experimenting with various stabilizers using the Pellon charts to get the outcome that you desire. Also experiment with small projects and scraps of stabilizers.

There are two types of stablizers: fusible and sew in (non-fusible). Some fusibles are only fusible on one side. When using fusible stabilizers, make sure to press the glue side of the stabilizer to the WRONG side of your fabric, or you will get a sticky mess on your iron. (If this happens, use iron cleaner or a dryer sheet to remove the glue from your iron.)

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In conclusion, bag making is a practice art. Begin with free patterns and cheap fabric. Gain experience and confidence. Ask questions. Watch videos. Have fun.

Angie Hebert, Admin Team
Bag Maker and Life Long Sewing Student

Photos courtesy of Admin Team, Stacy @ stylinstacy.com

Admin Bio – Stacy

I am Stacy, a forty-something *cough, cough* (I am I really this old??) wife, CPA, and mother of two very cute, smart and multi-talented little urchins.  I blog over at Stylin’ Stacy.

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I started sewing at 12 with a machine (over 30 years of sewing at this point!), and paper patterns.  Shortly thereafter, I began drafting my own creations.  At this point I can draft pretty much anything I need, but I do still like to use others patterns for convenience.

I have two sewing machines (Janome and Singer 401A) and a serger (Janome). I would love a coverstitch and an embroidery machine, but alas I am not willing to pony up the cash for them…yet.

I do, however, use a Silhouette Cameo to cut out designs that I either make or buy.  I use heat transfer vinyl to add some bling to our shirts.

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My fabric stash is way too large…I can’t fit it all in my shelves!  I buy almost all of my fabric at local fabric outlets.  I rarely buy at a chain store…well, except for notions.  Living in a large metro area has its perks!  If I buy a fabric online, I will usually link to the fabric if it is still in stock.

I also do a bit with leather.  I am lucky enough to have a sort of neighbor that overbought her leather supply and have been reaping the benefits of that association.  The Singer 401A comes in handy for those sewing tasks.  See this blog post on sewing with leather for tips and suggestions.

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Costumes are another passion of mine.  These are the posts related to costumes/cosplay.  They take a lot of time and are spendy, but I love learning new things.  Every costume has something new to figure out!

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This is my sewing room.  Yes, I know I am very lucky.  After sewing in unfinished basements or dining room tables most of my life, this is such a joy.

Photography is another hobby of mine, and I purchased my first DSLR (Nikon D50) in June 2006 and Nikon D300s at some point later.  My poor little D50 was the victim of a playful cat (pro tip…don’t set your camera on a table with the strap hanging down if you have cats).  I am fairly proficient in Photoshop and barely knowledgeable in Lightroom.

I also work full-time as a CPA.

I don’t sleep much.

Oh, and if you want to send me an email: stacy at thelandofka dot com.