{Tester Series} How To Stop Posing With Trees

If you're on my sewing blog, there's a pretty decent chance that you sew. (I'm a smart one, aren't I???) And since you sew, you probably like to share those beautiful creations across the inter-webs. Maybe you blog, maybe you test patterns, maybe you just enjoy sharing creations with your friends on sewcial media. Whichever you do, you've probably taken one of the following:

  • A photo with a tree.
  • A photo against a fence.
  • A photo against a wall.

And you might be thinking... "Hey now! What do you expect from me? My yard space is dominated by big wheels, and that wall is the only angle I could take a photo that didn't include that laundry basket explosion. Plus, it's not like I have access to a picturesque beach sunset or anything. It's the best I can do."

Except, I'm a photographer by trade, and I'm telling you that is absolutely not true. 

Before I go on, here's what I'm NOT telling you: "you should be embarrassed", or that I've never been the subject of such photos myself. We all start somewhere, and I am NO exception!

What I AM telling you, is that you shouldn't settle. You can take better photos ANYWHERE, with ANY kind of camera. (In fact, I wrote a whole series on the subject!)

But this post? It's about more than just taking prettier pictures. It's specifically for my sewing friends out there, and how you can make those photos more RELEVANT. 

"Relevant to who, Becca?? They're my photos, my sewing projects, and most likely of my kids or myself. That's plenty relevant, to me."

Touche! And so long as you are taking photos for you, you rock on my friend! 

But - maybe you need something more than just a visual record of your sewing projects. Maybe you rely on these photos to drive traffic to your blog, sell your etsy products, stand out in a pool of pattern testers, or even just for the thrill of a designer's praise and promotion on social media. In which case, keep reading, 'cause this info is for you.

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Fabric Selection

The most marketable photos have mass appeal.  So while you might be into wearing a dress covered in sexy drummer men, odds are that the majority of people who see it won't be able to look past the distracting print, much less envision making a version for themselves. And while your daughter's bound to be the envy of the playground in that Frozen-print dress you made her, the sewing moms and grandmas (and dudes and granddudes. Let's not forget there are sewing menfolk out there too!) of the internet world are all like.... 

Which isn't to say that you can't have your fun with fabric selections! This is your creative outlet after all, and the majority of designers I polled for this post expressed appreciation for that creativity of yours. Just try to find prints and colors that don't overshadow the details of the pattern. 

Fabric choices should be age appropriate - and not just for the age of the child you're sewing for. If a pattern comes in sizes 6m - 10 years, consider using prints and colors that would be relevant and pleasing to all size/ages.

Lastly: have you considered where you're going to take your pictures? Be careful to pick fabrics that will stand out from your background. It'd be a shame to take all the time constructing a garment only to realize that the dark green fabric you chose blends right in with the wooded setting you had your heart set on photographing in.

Don't skip your prep work!

I know your model is squeezing in some photos for you between school and ballet. I know the sun is quickly setting and you need to snap those pictures ASAP. But there is no faking brushed hair or ironed garments. And while sloppy styling can be cropped out in an absolute pinch... wrinkled clothes can't. Iron those bad boys - and tailor them too. You have to stitch that hem anyway, why not do it at the correct length? And ladies - when it's your turn to model - don't forget to wear the right undergarments!

"Do people REALLY care about all that?" You bet.  If I see your bra straps in a product photo, I'm going to assume that the top is not designed to conceal them, and pass on purchasing the pattern. "........Seriously?" Seriously. And I can't tell the difference between a garment that sat wadded in your sewing room until it could be modeled, vs the one that is poorly drafted and wrinkly/saggy/pulling funny by design. Either way, it's a lost sale for the designer and a bad impression on potential consumers. 

Lighting Makes or Breaks a Photo

I feel so strongly on the subject that I wrote not one, but TWO posts about lighting. To sum up my personal lighting preferences... I use natural light exclusively, and 90% of the time I photograph in full shade. Why?? Because in my experience, the flat, even lighting preserves the most garment details. You don't lose the fabric's vibrant colors or the designs unique features to dark shadows or bright "hot spots". (Pro tip: it also evens skin tones, which is super flattering!)

Distracting Backgrounds

I have spent the last 4 years training my eye to see that bright colored recycling bin that shows up over your shoulder in your "Please husband, come into the front yard with me and take a quick picture of this dress I just made" photo. ("Yes - just one, I promise!") And I know you see it now, too, and I know how bummed you are about it. I know you don't need to be all "cover-girl" in this promo photo of yours, but it'd be nice if we could avoid those background distractions in the first place, wouldn't it?

Thankfully, that's super easy to do. And it doesn't require photoshop, either. Here are some easy steps to take:

  • Take your photos vertically. There are likely fewer distractions in the air above you than there is on the ground around you. 
  • See something distracting that you can't avoid? Are you editing photos now and your model is mid-sneeze in your favorite shot? Did you just discover a zit on your face? (How unfair are zits after puberty, anyway!?) CROP that photo. Crop it good. This photo has a tight crop - I mean, who needed to see my pale calves anyway??
  • Take your photos either dramatically pointing the camera up, or pointing the camera down. Remember the reign of the Myspace selfie? You may have seen every clump of mascara on those eyelashes, but I bet you couldn't see the piles of dirty laundry on that bedroom floor! Take this photo, for example. I was in a crowded parking garage in downtown Richmond. There were cars to my left, and cars to my right. I sent my husband (still in suit and tie, bless him!) to climb a short concrete pillar to get this tight downward angle. Don't have a pillar handy? Stand downhill of, or at the bottom of a staircase from your photographer or tripod. (Or, you know, if you're the photographer, put your model down the hill/staircase from you.)
  • If straight-on, eye-level photos are most flattering - do your diligence here and look around you. Then take a test picture, and confirm that there's nothing crazy in your background before carrying on with your product photos. Sounds obvious I suppose, but you're not going to find distractions if you don't train yourself to look for them.
  • See a distraction you can't avoid? (I mean, it's probably illegal to remove your neighbor's gaudy mail box... right?) No biggie. Block that distraction with your model's body. The bigger the distraction you need to block, the farther you'll have to be from it. I could hide an entire elephant behind my 5'2 frame if it was far enough behind me! 
  • Lastly - if you have a fancy camera, use a low aperture. Low aperture = blurry backgrounds. And just like in my last tip - the further you are from the background, the better (and blurrier) your distraction camouflage. So even if that mailbox is behind you, odds are I won't see it. (But I don't photograph any lower than f/2.8 on modeled photos. I want as much of the garment in focus as possible. That f/1.8 or f/2 will blur out important pattern details.) 

I did not include back drop recommendations or interior lighting setups here. If you have that stuff and know what you're doing, go for it. But I don't think they are required to take good photos, and designers are in no place to expect that kind of investment considering the favor you are doing by promoting and/or testing their work.

Brush up on your Posing

Trust me when I say.. it's easier to spend time opposite the camera when you feel confident there. Your garments are going to look their best when you feel your best. So learn how to use your body to accentuate your favorite features, and minimize others. Twist, lean, and shift your weight until you feel like the rockstar I know you are! (And seriously, if you don't have time to read my posing tips post now, pin it for later!)

In case you find yourself anxious over your own modeling gig... I find it important to note here: NOT A SINGLE DESIGNER that participated in my survey mentioned their models themselves as a problem. They didn't secretly wish you had more makeup or fewer pounds, boob jobs or botox. You have an extraordinary body, remember? Learning to pose is just one way to show (and surprise) yourself how beautiful it already is. 

Have a Fidgety Model?

Give them something to do! But, if you put them on a bike, they're going to ride away. So consider activities to occupy their attention... and keep them stationary. "How many birds are in that tree over there? Can you count them? 1... 2.... 3..." - and use this frozen time to snap your garment detail photos. Play a game with them.  Flatter them. Whatever you do,  keep talking to them. You'll have an easier time keeping their feet still if you can keep their brains moving. (Actually, the fabulous [Stitched by] Crystal was kind enough to share all kinds of toddler posing secrets over at Sewing Stadium!)

Take a Variety of Photos

Front, back, sides, and details - lots of details! Use hands or eye contact to draw attention to them, and consider trims, piping, or contrasting top stitching  to help outline them. 

*PRO TIP* Don't forget to get a variety of image crops, too! I create square images for Instagram, and vertical images for pinterest. I prefer horizontal images for facebook viewing.... so basically, get a good mix. (And if you have to crop distractions out of your image for one reason or another, pretend like it was intentional and assign each image to that particular use. )

Use Props - but choose them CAREFULLY

I HIGHLY recommend incorporating props into your photos. You wouldn't believe how common "ken and barbie hands" are when you have nothing to do with them. But props in photos have GOT to be age and context appropriate. Otherwise, you've managed to pluck a distraction out of your backdrop, and put it front and center. The oh-too-common "stand or lean against a tree" tester photo? What is it saying? "I made a dress. And it has given me an all new appreciation for the Maple in my back yard.?? It just doesn't compute. Trees can be IN your picture, but there's no reason for them to BE the picture.

Same with your fence. Boy am I glad you don't have to see your neighbors sunbathing, that's one functional fence. But unless it's also gorgeous, with cascading vines or flowers and architectural details.... I find the unintentional reminder that I need to restain my own fence a major distraction. And if you MUST photograph with a tree-or-fence backdrop, put as much distance between you and the backdrop as possible so it fades into the background instead of competing for viewer's attention. (As for walls? They can absolutely be tasteful backdrops! For example, I happen to adore In A Manner of Sewing's photo style. So long as you don't LOOK or FEEL like you're taking a mug shot, carry on with wall-photos.)

Props SHOULD:

  • Be Natural. Would you interact with this prop in the standard course of the day? Think Hair, Jewelry, POCKETS are always a great option! Girl With Curves does an excellent job of occupying her hands in a natural way. Can you spot all of her hand-occupying tricks?
  • Be Relevant. You're selling the experience of this garment, and the props you choose have got to be relevant to that experience. Take the Pattern for Pirates Dolman, for example. The coffee-in-hand cover photo may be a cutesy play on the pattern name, but it also says "This is everyday-outing attire." Compare this to the recent athletic jacket released by Greenstyle creations. The pattern CAN be made "everyday" based on fabric choice, but it's designed as part of Angie's activewear line, and the prop she chose for her photos provides relevant context for potential buyers, AND a relevant way to occupy her model's hands.

Props SHOULD NOT:

  • Block/obscure pattern details. A swimsuit cover-up makes sense in those photos of your newly-sewn swim suit, but I shouldn't be left to ask "what style swim suit bottoms come with that pattern?"
  • Be the subject of your photo. The first thing I see ought to be the pattern itself. Not the dog you're walking that's totally working the camera with his adorable droopy puppy dog eyes. 

Depersonalize

Ever binge watch  HGTV?  Oh good, me too! So think back to all those times you've heard realtors advise home owners to "depersonalize your space." Is it heartbreaking to take those family photos off the walls? Of course! But you're not selling YOUR home to someone new. You're selling someone THEIR new home. Tying that concept into this blog post - we're selling people on THEIR next sewing project. So sure, your kid is adorable. The cutest kid in the world, in fact. (Mine are too! Who knew we had so much in common??) But the cutest kid in the world isn't what sells a stranger on a new sewing project. How can you depersonalize your sewing project photos? Oh lookie here I happen to have just the list for you!

  • Not every photo has to show your model's full body, or even their full face. The easiest way to depersonalize an image is to cut off eye contact. Crop your image. Leave that smile, if there is one (to sell the positive experience of the sewing project) but experiment with artfully cropping out that eye contact.
    Now - before you go decapitating every photo of your adorable child - consider using this psychology trick instead...
  • Our minds are trained to follow the eyes of people in pictures we're looking at. If you stare at me in your photo, odds are I'm going to stare right back. That's super personal. Eyes are the window to the soul, remember?? But... If you're looking away, I want to know what you're looking at! "What's so interesting over there, anyway??" You can use this to your advantage  in product photography by asking your model to look in the direction of an interesting detail on the garment. That way, if there's a fun ruffle detail on the hem of the skirt, I'm subconsciously trained to follow your model's gaze and focus on exactly that. Beware the double chin! This tip works best for details on the bottom half of a garment, or at the ends of sleeves. If you ask your model to admire that cute peter pan collar, they end up straining and tucking/smooshing their chin to their chest to try and see it. 
  • Or, you know, just have them look away. I can't follow eyes I can't see.

Keep a clean edit!

I don't care what a great deal you got on that preset bundle. Filtered photos are like chevron prints. They're a flash-in-the-pan kind of trend, and they'll date your work FAST. And from your designer's perspective? They'll stick out like a sore thumb against all the other product photos in their shop. Besides, aside from "clean edit" presets - I've never encountered a preset bundle that actually saved me time editing a photo. And believe me, I've tried a few. 

Where to watermark?

"To or not to" watermark isn't even a question. That's your booty or your baby hitting the inter-webs - take credit for it! There are too many weirdos who will steal those photos to create fake profiles, or to represent a product they'll sell with one you made. Watermarking public photos is internet best practice these days. Plus, it's free! Try PicsArt, PicMonkey, Inkscape... :)

So - where do you watermark?? For this I advise "Do as I say, Not as I do." I have a default watermark placement for batch-editing purposes. Consider overlapping your garment slightly (but not concealing garment details) and playing with the opacity of it. The goal is to make cropping it out inconvenient for the weirdos, not adding a distraction after working so hard not to photograph one in the first place. 

 If a designer wants to use your photo for their cover, and the watermark is inconveniently placed, you can discuss alternate methods of receiving credit (like a note in the product listing?), or adjust watermark placement. You are NOT obligated to provide unwatermarked images. Those - like your materials, time, and talents - have value! Professional photographers sell unwatermarked digital prints for $20 and up. You can choose to gift those to your designer pals, but I repeat: you are in no way obligated to do so.


So, now it's quiz time! Time to test your new product-photo knowledge:

Check out the photos below. These are exemplary product photos, as chosen by the designers themselves. What do you see in these images? What DON'T you see? Which appeal to you most, and why?

A huge thanks to the designers who participated in my survey! I'd love to hear from testers in the comments below. Do you agree or disagree with my suggestions? Looking forward to your feedback!! XOXO Becca