How to photograph your quilts

At some point or another, every quilter has faced the challenge of getting a good photo of the quilt they just finished.   And the usual method is to grab a family member or two and have them hold it up while you snap a photo.   If you take the picture inside, the lighting can distort the colors.  If you go outside, you are at the whims of Mother Nature – too dark, too bright, too windy, too rainy…    And then you try hard to get your quilt holders to hold it steady and try not to get too many fingers and feet in your photo.

And what if you don’t have anyone handy to hold up that quilt?  You lay it out in the grass and take a lovely photo that looks like the bottom of your quilt is 6″ wider than the top due to the angle.    UGH.

I was frustrated by this, so I started doing some research to figure out a better way.   This is how I make it work for me.

You’ll need:  Camera, Tripod, Design Wall or flat wall surface,  tiny pins or tape,  daylight bulbs.  Clamp lights with reflector dish, measuring tape, painter’s tape.

First I hang the quilt on the wall approximately where I think it will go – it will need to be adjusted as you finalize the setup.   Place your camera on the tripod by screwing it into the base (or using a cell phone mount).  Now you will need to move it out from the flannel wall until you can see the entire quilt in the viewfinder without zooming in.    This will keep the distortion of the edges of the quilt to a minimum.

Now take a moment and grab your lint roller and get all the cat hair and lint off of your quilt.  If your quilt has creases or fold marks, you want to press them out and rehang.

After you have the tripod set up, measure from the floor to the center of the lens.    You will want the center of your quilt to be at the same distance up from the floor.   In other words, the center of the lens and the center of the quilt should form a horizontal line.    I mark the center of the quilt with a piece of painters tape and measure the distance to the floor.   Adjust as necessary and pin the center and the top center edge to the flannel wall.    I then measure the distance from the ceiling to the top of the quilt and use that measurement on both top corners of the quilt to make sure it is hanging level.

Use tiny sewing or applique pins as needed to hold the quilt up on the design wall.    You don’t want them to show up in your final photo so don’t use your big yellow headed quilting pins :).

Check your quilt placement by looking through the camera to make sure the marked center is in the center of your viewfinder.  (Remember to remove that painters tape before taking the photo!)

About the lights:     You will need to purchase some Daylight Bulbs.  These are important to get the colors to show up correctly.   You want bulbs that say 5000 Kelvin on them!   Approx equivalent to 100-150Watt.  I chose LED bulbs.   They are difficult to find in normal hardware stores, but I had no problem ordering them from Amazon.   Look for:  LED,  Daylight 5000k,  A19 shape (standard lightbulb shape),  E26 base (standard base).  100-150W equivalent (17 W is what I found).   Mine were approx $20 for a set of four.

Clamp light reflector:  These are very affordable and found at any hardware store.    Your daylight bulbs as described above should screw right in.


Now you will want to set up the lights on each side of the quilt so that they are about halfway between the quilt and the camera on each side of the quilt but out of the way of the photo shot.  Currently, I use some floor lamps (with their lights turned off) to clamp my lights onto.   It’s not ideal but until I can figure out another DIY option, they will do.   In the setup I’m showing here, I got a little bit of shadow at the top edge of the quilt, so I probably should have moved my lights up higher.   Also you’ll notice that my tripod is set up on top of my very heavy cutting table.   Ideally I’d have a bigger space in front of my design wall but, I’m working with what I’ve got.  I just shortened my tripod legs to compensate.


Now lets talk about camera settings.    It’s very important to set the white balance on your camera to match daylight.  My cell phone even lets me select 5000K to match the bulbs I’m using.    For my Canon camera, I have to choose the Program mode to be able to select daylight white balance.

To take the photo, I set my camera on a timer.  This eliminates any shaking from me touching the camera.

Now, take your camera off of the tripod and take some close up shots as well.    Remember to fold up the backing to get a shot of that and take a shot of the label as well.    It’s nice to have close up photos that really showcase your quilting.  Experiment with the placement of your lighting to highlight the quilting.

Any simple photo editor will let you crop out the excess background.

For very little investment, you can now produce nice straight-on photo of your quilts that are ideal for entering them into a quilt show or for keeping in an album for documentation purposes.    And there are no fingers and feet in the picture ;).

Pinwheel Space. 2001 Laura Bryant