Photography for Knitters – Part 4 Photographing Yarn

Getting the correct exposure when working in Auto (more accurate color representation)

For those of you photographing yarn, all of the same applies from the previous tutorials except your getting more of a product shot and it’s more important to pay direct attention to what you are placing your yarn on. Lots of people use white light boxes. I don’t so I don’t have much to say about them except I think they are great. If you don’t want to go that route a pretty stone boulder, or wooden step can be a nice backdrop for your yarn. Avoid distracting things like mesh iron tables, flat plastic plain green table tops (the out door variety) or glass (reflects light badly sometimes). Try photographing your yarn on several surfaces and see what turns out best when you get back to the computer. If you are photographing a dark yarn you may need to place it on a medium toned surface so the yarn color does not photograph too darkly. Avoid a sheet, its wrinkles will show up. If you insist though, iron it out very well and find a bright spot in the corner of your kitchen so you can smooth the sheet out perfectly on your table. A wrinkly background is always very distracting. Maybe try the back of wrapping paper, most of us have some stashed in our closet someplace. The best would be some poster board from a local big box store or even better, a crafts supplies store.

If the yarn you are photographing is not showing up the right color on screen, it’s an easy fix. Photograph it ON a different color, it will help the camera balance out. The way it works is with the fancy DSLR’s is you can actually set the camera exposure so it will have the correct amount of whites, grays and blacks in a given light situation but that’s more advanced and I’m not going to get into the details, but the “hack” for it if you will, is to just change the over-all colors in the shot to get the camera to expose things better. I won’t get into the technical reason why this works, just know that it does.

Here is an example of the camera set to Auto and how the background color effects it. I have a little exposure card which has white/gray/black so I used that to help me fill in the colors.

Example 1 Black: The camera see’s the mostly black area and compensates by making the over-all photo lighter. This made the black much lighter and more gray then in real life, and also resulted in the yarn looking too light. In reality its a dark gray yarn.

Example 2 White: The camera see’s the mostly white area and compensates by UNDER EXPOSING the photo AKA making the photo over-all darker so the white doesn’t get blown out. This resulted in the yarn being much darker then it was in real life, as well as the bit of medium gray in the center of the exposure card appearing darker then it is in reality.

Example 3 Medium Gray: Here I shot on the center of the card, on the medium gray color. The result is that the exposure card itself is properly exposed, as is the yarn.

These results may vary based on the darkness/lightness/brightness of the yarn you are shooting. That means experiment. In most cases a medium gray background will be perfect and help expose everything properly.

What if I want a white background?
For this I would suggest shooting a picture in auto in a set place with a gray background, then write down all the settings the camera picked in auto. Remove the gray background and replace it with white (but keep the yarn in the same spot) and then put the camera in manual but set the ISO/Aperture/Shutter-Speed to whatever the camera wanted in auto. Your white will probably turn out over-exposed but I don’t think it would actually matter for yarn shots, what is most important is the yarn and a white background is nice looking.

To view the settings on flickr, on the photo page to the far right there will be something that says “This photo was taken on June 28, 2011 using an XXXXX.” If you click on the XXX’s which are actually the camera name, it will take you to a page listing all the “EXIF” data, aka all the camera’s settings. This is helpful when you see photos on flickr you like and want to know the settings, it will even list if the flash was used.

The camera in Auto is just looking for a medium toned color, if you shot a photo of a pretty women wearing your hand knit cardigan, but she has a white shirt on, the camera in Auto is going to use all that white to figure out what to do and its going to tell the camera it needs to make the photo a little dark so as not to blow out the white (blowing your whites OR your blacks is bad and auto tries not too). The problem with this is that the bolero may look darker then it really is, and even worse the persons face will appear darker then need be. So if you dressed them in a gray shirt, or even a medium tone of another color, lets say green for example and shot them on a nice medium toned background (maybe a medium colored brick wall, or a forest of trees) then the camera will probably go more on the lighter side or properly exposed side and the face and skin tone will look radiant but most importantly your knit cardigan will look better.

Now there are two parts to getting correct color, exposing the yarn properly (darkness vs lightness) and white balance. Every camera has a white balance setting on it, it may have a cloud or a sun symbol. Everyone’s camera is different. If you do what I mentioned above and the tone of the yarn is off but the darkness/lightness is correct then try a shot with each of those different white balance auto settings the camera has, cloudy day, shade, sunny. One will look better then the rest.

What would you like me to cover next? Please reply in the comments!

Previously:
Photography for Knitters – Overview
Photography for Knitters – Using Natural Light
Photography for Knitters – Photographing Yarn

8 Comments

  1. These are such great articles! Thank you so much :)
    I would love to see a post on how to pair your item with an appropriate background. For example (especially since you photograph children), you often manage to have something interesting in the background (such as a yard, a bedroom, etc.), but it isn’t distracting… but so much more interesting than a white background!
    Any tips?

  2. Barbara Margolis

    You are really providing useful information. Thank you. How about how to photograph finished projects?

  3. Thanks so much for putting these blog posts together with good examples of what you mean. I think the tips about backgrounds helping with exposure will really help me – I didn’t really understand why some things were completely over or under exposing.

    For further topics, what about some info on composition or styling? I love really bright accessories (bright blue wellies!) but they seem to distract from the finished items, rather than adding to the fun of the shoot. What’s a good way to do this?

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