Tips for Taking Photos of Your Projects

A photo collage of projects made by Creativebug members

There is so much talent in our community, and we absolutely love seeing photos of your amazing projects in our class galleries. We encourage you to share your art, inspire each other, and spark conversations – even with your wonderful works-in-progress.

However, there may be times when a lower quality photo can overshadow your project, and we all want your hard work to shine. Here are some quick tips for you to consider before snapping your next photo series, whether you’re posting here on Creativebug, your social media, or even your online shop.

1. You Don’t Need a Fancy Camera

First and foremost: you don’t need an expensive DSLR to capture a good quality picture. Your basic point-and-shoot camera and even your phone are perfect tools. Every device has its own quirks and characteristics as far as adjusting levels like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, but if those aspects of photography seem uninteresting or daunting, your phone or camera’s default auto settings can still take you really far, as long as you keep some of the next tips in mind.

All the photos in this blog post were taken with an iPhone XS.

2. Clear Away That Clutter

Finding a clutter-free space to take a photo can be challenging, especially if you live with an abundance of art supplies and partially finished projects (we see you – we’re one of you!). Most of us will need to make that space happen – at least just for a few minutes. Do your best to push aside distracting objects, like your water bottle on a table or a random sweater on the floor. Even if extra objects are blurry and in the background of the photo, we can often still see them, especially if they are brightly colored, and they can draw our eye away from the actual subject of your photo.

Photo is still pretty clear, and the puppy plush is easy to see, but there is quite a bit of distracting background clutter and a lot of irrelevant information for the eye to take in.
Taking less than a minute to remove extra items from the book shelf gives you a nice, neutral background so that the star of your photo truly stands out.

You can play with styling your project with relevant art materials and objects to create a beautifully messy aesthetic, but the key here is that these extra items should feel intentional and harmonious, rather than fight against your artwork for attention. If you are not sure how you would style your creation in this way, it’s best to keep the photo as clear and tidy as possible.

Placing some props and supplies near your art can also help give the viewer a sense of scale. While the objects do add a bit of distraction, there is still a lot of white space in this art to balance everything out.
An un-styled shot puts all of the focus on the watercolor, which is perfect for sharing your work. This much white space could end up feeling a little sterile, so it’s up to your eye to decide if you want to style a piece like this with a few other objects.

It’s interesting to note that even though both of the watercolor photos were taken in the exact same spot (on a wood floor right next to a sunny window) at the exact same time of day (around 2pm), the photo on the left has a warmer feel and the photo on the right has a cooler feel. The color of your background can affect how your camera interprets the color of your art, so sometimes this can help or hinder the final shot depending on what you’re aiming for.

3. Good Lighting is Everything – and It’s Already All Around You

Lighting for professional photography is an art in and of itself, and there isn’t just one way to properly light your subject.

However, we know that sometimes, when it’s late in the evening, and you’re excited to share your work, you might take a quick phone snap in some low light in the living room and call it done. Low light can often result in a photo that is not only dark, but perhaps yellow in tone or even grainy or blurry. If you want the details and the true colors of your work to pop, night photography is not the best way to go, unless you have a light kit.

The flash on your phone or camera is generally too bright and harsh and should probably be avoided altogether, as your photos will likely appear oddly exposed and flat.

At night with overhead track lighting: yellow tones, unavoidable shadows, color is really dingy and drab.
At night using the flash on the phone camera: shiny highlights, spotlight effect, harsh cool-toned colors.
Daytime near a sunny window with a white curtain: warm natural light, colors more faithful to the actual plush and a more contoured look.

The most common advice is to take photos during the day and take advantage of the sun and its beautiful natural light. If you’re indoors, shoot next to a window to get close to that light. If possible, make sure it’s indirect light, like with a light curtain in front of the window, or choose a time of day when sun beams are not landing directly on your subject.

At night with overhead track lighting: while the embroidery is still fairly clear, the lighting is quite dark which results in yellow hues and distracting shadows. The colorful books in the background also add to the noise.
Daylight with a sunny window on the right side of the bookshelf: bright, even lighting, with the colors and the stitching of the embroidery beautifully represented. Books that are more neutral toned allow the colors of the embroidery to pop more.

Strong, direct sunlight can lead to harsh shadows or overly blown out highlights, which can certainly be its own aesthetic, but in general, you want to avoid super harsh lighting and aim for bright, even lighting with minimal shadows. You can also pay attention to what the light is usually like throughout the day. For some, 12pm-2pm has the warmest, brightest light, and for others, it might be 2pm-4pm. Different sides of your house or building can also change the kind of light you get.

Make sure that your light source is in front of your project or coming from the side of it. If your light source is behind your project, your photo will likely be back lit, and your project will appear very dark in comparison to the background.

Even though it’s a beautifully sunny day outside, the plush ends up entirely in shadow because the source of light – the sunny window – is behind the plush. The camera will try to shoot the bright background evenly, which will make the object in front much too dark.
This photo was taken at the same time in the same room as the one on the left, except the sunny window is on the right side of the plush rather than behind it. The position of the light makes a huge difference. The peach background also complements the colors of the plush a bit better than the purple paper.

If you’re outside and the sun is very strong, remember to bring a piece of cardboard or posterboard to create some shade over your project or find natural shade from a building or tree. An overcast day also provides lovely outdoor lighting without the need to find or create shade.

If you are limited to shooting at night, try to use more than one light source with the same kind of bulb (avoid mixing for instance an incandescent bulb and fluorescent light as they are different temperatures). If you have two lamps, place both of them in front of your subject with one on each side. The idea is that you’re trying to light both sides to avoid one harsh shadow. Move the lights around to find the perfect spot. If the light seems too strong, pull the lamps farther away from your subject or find a safe/non-fire-inducing way to mute the light with fabric or paper.

Again, there is a ton of room for artistic freedom when it comes to lighting, and you should experiment with different set-ups, but don’t forget that the most accessible and brightest light source is the sun.

4. Try Different Angles

Experiment with different camera angles. Take a snap that is farther away, one that is closer up, come from the side a little, shoot from the top. Move your body. Move the object you’re shooting. You might discover that you love the look of an angle you had not previously considered, especially if there are different textures or depths on your project. You can post a straight-on photo that captures your whole project and then also post a close-up that shows off details from a fun angle.

Starting with a straight-on shot, from the top. Good overview of the whole project and a good first shot to post.
Shooting from this angle (low camera, rotated embroidery) is not a big win and kind of disorienting, but it’s interesting to experiment and see what happens.
Lowered the camera, tilted up slightly, & came in from the side to get closer to the embroidery. Shows off the stitching & texture.
Rotated the embroidery and got close to the pink flower with the camera slightly tilted up to get a different perspective on a different part of the project.

5. Edit Your Photos Sparingly

There are numerous photo editing apps available to help beautify your photos, and digital photography can sometimes use a little bit of punching up. However, if you’re unfamiliar with photo editing, it is best to keep it really simple. If you over-edit a photo, you might lose the details or correct colors of your work. If you managed to shoot your photos with good lighting and a complementary background, they will probably not need any editing at all to be clear and fairly true to life.

If you are shooting with a phone, your phone probably comes with its own basic photo editing functions as well. A few favorites are increasing the exposure or brightness a little, or maybe increasing the contrast or saturation just a smidge to get your photo more true to life. Remember that you are documenting your art to share with others, so if you alter your photos a lot, you will lose what the original piece looks like.

Completely unedited photo, straight off the iPhone. Taken near a window but still has a lot of grey tones and isn’t true to life, especially in the paper.
Photo edited with too much contrast in the attempt to lighten the lights and darken the darks. Shadows and colors are too dark.
Slightly edited photo. Highlights and midtones brightened a little, shadows darkened a little, saturation increased a tiny bit. Colors are more true to life.
Photo edited with too much saturation. Colors appear almost neon compared to the actual watercolor painting.

As with any class you take here, play around and try new things. We look forward to seeing more photos of your fabulous work. Keep creating and keep posting!

Projects in this post are from the following classes: Sew a Luckyjuju Puppy Doll with Katia Ferris, Embroidered Flowers with Lauren from Lark Rising, and Watercolor Lettering: A Daily Practice with Jess Park.