How to Photograph Craft Projects & Food

I’m often asked how I capture the brilliant colors of yarn in my stash, mouth-watering goodness of something I’ve baked, textures of knitted items, or glimmer of a piece of jewellery I’m repairing. I’m always flattered and appreciative for the feedback. Today, I’m focusing on how to photograph craft projects & food. You’ll be surprised at the simple and budget-minded supplies I use. Hopefully, you’ll share your own tips and tricks in the comments so we can all make our photos just a little bit lovelier.

I spent my Saturday morning #photographing food for my upcoming book. Reaching new heights here as I stand on a chair.

My Equipment

Disclosure/Note: The Amazon links are affiliate links. Not that I make much money from it, but it helps me buy a few supplies each year. Nikon D3200 with a fixed AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8G lens. I bought mine a couple years ago and the price has since gone down significantly. Here is the same model in red which has free shipping and is the lowest price of any of the D3200 models: Nikon D3200 Digital SLR with 18-55mm VR II Lens Kit – Red (24.2 MP) 3.0 inch LCD. I bought a fixed lens locally, but here it is online (for less than I paid, of course): Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G LensUsed for all photos. I mostly shoot on manual settings, landscape, or sports. Sports is my preferred setting for photographing babies & children, animals, or sports.

One big reflector. I use this one: Ex-Pro 42 inch 110cm 5-in-1 Photographic Light ReflectorUsed to reduce bold shadows in large shots like a model or a larger styled set-up.

One small reflector. I use this one: Ex-Pro 23 inch 58cm 5-in-1 Photographic Light ReflectorUsed to reduce bold shadows in small shots, like a skein of yarn or a cupcake.

One standard tripod. Like this one: Ravelli APLT4 61-inch Light Weight Aluminum Tripod With Bag [Camera]Used to take photos of self, especially useful for when you are the model and photographer. Also helpful for low light photography or if you are going back and forth to perfect the styling but don’t want to remember where your favourite vantage point was. 

One remote with time lapse feature. I use this one: Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Remote Control for Nikon DSLR with Timer and Time Lapse.  I also have a very inexpensive one that isn’t meant for use with my camera, but works fine and is a fraction the price of the one just mentioned. It’s this Amazon Basics model: AmazonBasics Wireless Remote Control for Nikon P7000 D3000 D40 D40x D50 D5000 D60 D70 D7000 D70s D80 and D90 Digital SLR Cameras Used to take photos of self, especially useful for when you are the model and photographer or to capture hand knit socks that you’re wearing.

A small USB-powered LED light. Something like this: Mudder Portable USB Flexible Stick Touch Switch LED White Light Lamp for Laptop Computer PC or Daffodil ULT300 Dual Powered USB Light – 28 Bulb Reading Lamp with Desk / Headboard Clamp and Flexible Gooseneck – Battery (4xAA Not Included) or USB Power – 3 Brightness Levels – PC and MAC CompatibleUsed to add a reflection or brightening, especially useful instead of drowning it out with flash.

One square foot of dark simulated wood flooring (like this or this). Used as a neutral background for dark non-red items.

One square foot of light simulated wood flooring (like this). Used as a neutral background for light or pale items. 

One piece of matte posterboard in grey and one in creamy white. Both bendable, but sturdy. Used as a background or bend to create a seamless background (see R2D2 hat below).

One rectangular piece of thick heather grey felt. Like this one: Creativ Company 42 x 60 cm Craft Felt, Grey. Used as a neutral background. 

Easy Tile in white subway design. This one: Easy Tile Subway wall tile panels – cut with scissors, insulating, easy to use for bathrooms, kitchens, toilets, utility rooms, caravans. (Pack of 6 12″ by 12″ panels). which I used to make my son’s play upcycled kitchen. Used as a bright kitchen-style background so I don’t have to clean my own kitchen just to take a photo. Portability also means I can use the best light anywhere without restriction to a room with actual tile. This is what the package looks like:

Kid play kitchen building project DIY

My Set-up

I have my desk next to a large window and probably take about 92.4% (guesstimation) of my photos in natural light. I just prefer how it comes out. My desk almost always is clear and awaiting a project, unless I am actually working on one already so I wouldn’t be working on something else at the same time anyway. I have a little mail/paper sorter that holds up one of the flooring boards or the subway tile sheet as a background then I set up something on which to set the craft project or food dish. I set this up during a lull in cooking or crafting so it is ready to go when the picture is to be taken.

Here you can see the set-up in action with both a craft project (my Falling Petals lace shawl) and a food (my Strawberry Mascarpone Tart).

#tbt Last summer when I photographed my #BakeKnitSew book. Food stylists are getting younger and younger. That's a strawberry mascarpone tart atop my Falling Petals lace shawl.

And the resulting photo which was for my Bake Knit Sew book: And the money shot from the setup shown in the previous photo... Strawberry Mascarpone Tart from #BakeKnitSew

How I Work

Most of my blog photos are taken while I’m working on the item itself or between tasks. I work outside the home and have a small child (sorry, LB, a “big boy”), so time is limited and often I can only spare five minutes to style and photograph something I’ve cooked before LB wants to eat it. He is very understanding that photos often occur before we eat, but I don’t want it to ever be seen as more important than the actual eating. For this reason, I snap a lot of pics on the fly and it has a nice way of capturing my real life in the process. I never studied styling, but I do have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Art Studio. I took one photography class as a senior in high school in which I excelled. At university, I studied color theory, design, bookbinding, painting, drawing, graphics, and publications design. All this built the foundation of the skills I draw upon today. I’ll now run through a few random tips with examples.    

It’s ok to be off-center so long as it is the rock star of your photo. This photo is of a simple preemie hat I knitted up for someone special so I wanted to get it off to the baby quickly and just snapped a simple photo before it went in the mailer envelope. You can see I used the dark wood planks for the base and the grey felt for the background. It lets the hat be the star of this photo without feeling dull or bland. The essential thing with any photo is setting the stage so your knitted or craft or food item is the rock star. This photo was about the hat, but if it were about how to make a pom-pom, I would have photographed from an overhead angle and had the focus by on the pom-pom. So, know what you want to be the rock star before setting up your shot and when you’re shooting, try a few angels to see how it effects where your eyes go in the final image.

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Don’t forget the accessories. If you’re showing a knitting project in progress, be sure the needles and notions you need are shown to keep it real. The same goes for food that needs a fork or spoon to be eaten. Let the viewer of the photo feel like everything they need is right there in the image.

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For something with little visual interest, try to liven it up with what’s around it. Like putting undyed roving in a pretty bowl, bread dough on a vintage dishcloth, or fudge on tissue paper to tie up with string. For this Candy Cane Fudge, I coordinated the satin ribbon with the green in the green flecks in the crushed candy canes and the red stars on the tissue paper pick up the pink/red hues. No Photoshopping, just what I had on-hand.

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Include a peek at your original supplies in the final photo as a nod to its origin. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. For these Reeses Pieces Brownies with baked-in candies, I sprinkled a few on the plate as well and it looked great. It also worked with the socks, which were part of the 2010 Pink Auction.

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Show motion or action. Including action or people gives the photo soul. Even though these fruits were completely still when I photographed them, the way they’re positioned alludes to motion. It makes the photo feel less staged…hopefully. For crafts, this can be accomplished by having your hand be in a photo holding the knitting needles or have the knitting in the foreground and you sipping tea in the background. Or a Honeycomb Tea Cosy (from Bake Knit Sew – pattern link here) on a teapot with a teacup gives the impression tea was or is about to be poured. Or a fun hat on a child who is just being a kid. It gives an image a little life and feels less stagnant.

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Show texture whenever possible. In photos, you can’t reach out and feel the knits and purls or icing and sprinkles, but you can show it to it can be imagined. Here are examples in which I brought out the texture of something. The first photo is Dutch Pancakes and the second is a scarf I knit my sister-in-law.

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Midnight in Paris Trench Scarf

Show context! If you’re something exotic, capture it.

Morning Espresso

Fair Isle Newborn Hat at Kylemore Abbey

Layer, layer, layer. Don’t be afraid to layer different elements for a complex, yet uncluttered, image. Mostly neutrals with little bits of green to tie it together, these marinated mushrooms looks more interesting than you’d imagine they could.

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Pay attention to reflections. Metal knitting needles, spoons, and glazed dishes reflect things. This is important to remember. It also means that you shouldn’t photograph things naked. This photo is Blueberry Rice Pudding and a split second after I snapped this one single photo of my creation, my son knocked the whole set-up over. Thankfully, rice pudding is gooey and it stayed in the cups so we ate it anyway.

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Don’t be afraid to show progress. Before and after photos don’t always have to be drastic, but with knitting they usually are since blocking is magic. This is a beautiful shawl in progress show simply on a large grey tee-shirt by a large window. Natural light, simple set-up, and letting the start of something beautiful be the star. Stew/Suzi knit this Vernal Equinox Shawl Surprise with Malabrigo Yarn Lace in colorway Cadmium.

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Seamless backgrounds are your friend and can cost as little as a piece of pasteboard. You’ll need a silicon oven mitt or cupcake holder to place at the bottom edge and put something heavy in it, like a hand weight so the posterboard stays in place. Then bend gently with the grain of the board’s paper and rest it against chair legs or sometime sturdy to hold in place. After you’re done, rest it flat again for it to recover its original shape. This R2D2 hat is modelled by a small silicone weighted ball that is a perfect newborn size, but a partially inflated balloon works too.

R2D2 Knitted in Fair Isle - Star Wars Baby HatGo diagonal. Straight lines can be dynamic if you keep the eye moving around your finished object, so use any texture or lines to your advantage by making them diagonal not straight side-to-side or up-and-down. The pins create direction, so your eyes see many things, and also explain what this hedgehog pincushion does.

Hand Knit Hedgehog Pincushion

Try something new. We placed a strand of Christmas lights under a glass table then put the in-progress gloves on top of the glass tabletop for a cool photo with no fire risk. Stew/Suzi knit these. It should be noted that this photo is the ONLY one in this blog post to be captured using artificial light. Every other image before and after this one was taken near a window, door, or skylight. Which leads me to my next tip…

Suzi's Knitting

Use only one lighting source. I almost always use natural diffused sunlight to illuminate my work. But I’ve also had some luck with LED and natural sunlight simulating bulbs. Whichever works best for you, go with it. I find that using natural/available light is part of my style so I stick with it unless impossible for the shot.  Casting On

Show the item in two ways, if it folds or closes. Like with these fold over Coirceog boot cuffs (from These Islands), showing how they look off the needles then showing how they look when worn. These are in These Islands. You may recognise that dark wood board from my list of supplies earlier in this post.

DSC_0645 Coirceog Test Knit

Photographing Shawls

Sometimes, with shawls, it is tempting to be formal and show them spread out, but also remember to show the detailed stitchwork with a closeup that almost feels like a candid photo when the shawl wasn’t aware it was being photographed. Here are shawls photographed in various ways, but each shows off the design nicely.

 

Sometimes backlighting works. This is the Peipponen Shawl knit with Irish Fairytale Yarns.

Photos of the Peipponen by Heidi Alander

 

If it’s a huge shawl, show it with a person for dramatic scale. The violet shawl is called Eva Shawl and was crocheted by Carlene for Pink Auction 2010.

Eva Shawl

Layering can lend a richness to the image and make the person long to be wearing the item on a chilly day. The Beaker Folk Shawls were knit by Sara with Smudge Yarns and layered for the photo below to be featured in the book These Islands.

We love layering the Beaker Folk Shawl made with @smudgeyarns for a warm and feminine look. Come celebrate the book launch this Thurs 9 Apr with us? http://bit.ly/1yKDtGs

 

Avoid artificial traditional lighting, if possible. I am in love with the Damask Shawl, knit by Stew/Suzi. I modelled it on a dressform mannequin with a coordinating cream/pink dress. The mistake I made was forgetting to turn off the CFL interior lights when I took the photo, so there is a yellow tint to the image. I much prefer natural diffused sunlight for my photos.

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Create a story for the photo. The Cold Mountain Shawl, knit by Stew/Suzi, is shown casually on a table as if it was set there for a moment while its wearer gets a cocktail or greets a friend. I photographed it in a few “poses,” but this actually ended up feeling very natural.

Coal Mountain Wrap

Show off the stitchwork and edges. I had been wanting a Citron Shawl for the longest time then Stew/Suzi knit me one in green! Her mind-reading abilities are uncanny.

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Photographing Socks

It is tempting to photograph them with something pretty in the background, but unless you have a dry tree stump or a nice collection of large rocks that lend a natural strength to the image, it may be better to stick with just a plain background, whether it be a white/grey wall or a wood floor. Here are two two plain background images then a busy one so you can see the difference. The busy one is fun, but it distracts from the socks. Marseille knit these blue and green socks for me! It’s like she cares my feet stay warm and cosy. To thank her, I took some project photos.

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Now, here are socks photographed on a plain wood floor. You can see the wood planks behind her legs as a neutral background that ties in with the flooring without competing. The two photos are almost identical except for the focus. One is focused on the ankle and the other focused on the toes in the front. Which do you prefer? These are knit with Irish Fairytale Yarns in a variation of the same Fairydust colorway used for the Peipponen Shawl.

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Photographing Yarn

Now, lastly, I’ve written a separate post about photographing yarn before so this is just a link to that and a reminder to let the yarn be the star of your photo. Use props that help the yarn shine, but don’t distract from it. Busy backgrounds and shadows can be distracting. Here, I used the smaller reflector in my arsenal to lessen the shadow to the left of this hank of Irish Fairytale Yarns (colorway: Candy Floss). You can see the exact same yarn and set-up without then with the reflector.

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Here, for impact, I put several skeins together and used a wood fruit crate, a sheepskin blanket, the dark wood planks, and several hanks of Irish Fairytale Yarns. That’s it.

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Then I photographed a few hanks without the crate. Both look nice, but having similar blue-toned colors together was more calming to look at. Though the one with the crate gets your heart pumping thinking about those delicious yarns, doesn’t it?

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Take Away Points – My Collected Advice!

  • Make sure the focus of your photo IS the focus of your photo.
  • Do away with distractions, whether it is a shadow, glare, reflection, or busy print.
  • Don’t let your background be overwhelmingly light or dark in comparison to your knitted object, finished craft, skein of yarn, or food dish. Though sometimes contrast is nice, generally it can feel stark and less approachable for crafts and handmade items.
  • It’s ok to be off-center so long as it is the rock star of your photo.
  • Don’t forget the accessories.
  • For something with little visual interest, try to liven it up with what’s around it.
  • Include a peek at your original supplies in the final photo as a nod to its origin.
  • Show motion or action. Including action or people gives the photo soul.
  • Show texture whenever possible.
  • Show context!
  • Layer, layer, layer.
  • Pay attention to reflections.
  • Don’t be afraid to show progress.
  • Seamless backgrounds are your friend
  • Go diagonal if using stripes.
  • Try something new.
  • Show the item in two ways, if it folds or closes.
  • Sometimes backlighting works to show off detail even if not the colorway.
  • Stick with one lighting source, I prefer natural.
  • If it’s a huge shawl, show it with a person for dramatic scale.
  • Layering can lend a richness to the image and make the person long to be wearing the item.
  • Avoid artificial traditional lighting, if possible.
  • Create a story for the photo.
  • Show off the stitchwork and edges.
  • Go simple, go natural, or go with a plain background for socks, basic baked goods or roasts, and simple knits.
  • Shadows can be distracting, so use a reflector or even white piece of paper to limit bold differences in lighting.
  • Having similar blue-toned colors together was more calming to look at, but don’t put really close colors next to each other or it can be too heavy and take focus away from the rest of the image.

Advice for Photographing Craft, Knitting, Food from award-winning craft blogger, Evin of EvinOK.com

What would you add to this advice?

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