business tools, tips and tricks · Clothing · DIY · Etsy · Fashion

Professional looking photographs without a DSLR or photographer. It IS possible!

Hi all! I’m still a relative newbie to the pattern testing and strike off world, but I like to think of myself as a quick study.  One thing I have discovered that all of us seem to struggle with at one point or another is photography.  Whether you’re just starting out, transitioning to the next phase or just looking to achieve a more professional appearance for your shop or sewing projects,  photography can be key.  Badly lit, blurry or pictures that are obviously taken by a 5 year old will keep you from getting the positions you want, keep customers from purchasing (or even looking at) your products and keep you from getting the attention you and your products deserve.  

I’ve found some very simple ways to ensure that my photographs look professional and garner the right attention…WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME! I fancy myself a cheapskate, and love finding ways to “beat the system” (so to speak). This is one of those things. Do my self taken photos look as amazing as those taken by an experienced photographer a $700 DSLR camera? No. Not by a long shot. But that wasn’t my goal. My goal, since I’m still working my way up, was to simply take better photos. I wanted photos that didn’t make me cringe, when viewed in the same thread as others I idolized within the sewing community. I wanted them to show off my work and not look like they were taken by my toddler. It’s been a learning process and I still have sew much to learn, but in the meantime,  I wanted to share the tips that I’ve picked up along the way, for anyone else with are small budget and a dream. 🙂

So, in no particular order, here are my tips for photographs (that look better than those taken by your toddler). 

  1. See if it’s possible to upgrade your current cell phone.  – most cell phone companies offer you an annual upgrade free of charge (or for a great discount). If you will be using a camera phone for your photos, make sure it’s the best one you have access to. Some cameras I know that have excellent cameras: Droid Moto, Samsung Galaxy, IPhone 5 & up.
  2. Find a great photo editing app. 
     You don’t need one with lots of filters or effects (most pattern designers, fabric designers & customers dont appreciate over edited photos anyway ). You just need it to be able to crop, adjust the contrast, exposure, black & white balance, saturation, hue and in some instances, be able to blur out background. (I’ll go more in depth with the last thing in a moment, because that is another tricky one) Some apps I’ve found helpful: Photoshop express, Photo director,  After focus and open camera.
  3. For flat lays, (photographs of your items laid flat by themselves or with other coordinating pieces & shot from above) find a solid colored background and the best lit spot in your house or yard. 
    I’ve used poster board for smaller pieces, beadboard, a solid colored fabric piece,  a leather couch and plenty of other things,  experimenting and playing and around to try and find what works best. These photos always look best when done with a lot of natural, but indirect light. (You want a bright area of the room, but no sunshine falling directly on it) If outside, find a shaded area. Experiment with different pieces and props to find the look you like best. This is one of the fun parts! Sometimes I will shoot just the piece by itself at a slight angle.Other times,  I’ll do other coordinating pieces with it and lay it out as an outfit.I’ve also seen people do them with props, such as a bathing suit, with floaties, sunglasses and a popsicle or cover up.  There is no wrong way to do this!
  4. For modeled photos: find the timer setting on your phone camera & put it to good use! This part of the process feels incredibly strange at first. I’m not going to lie. The first time I took my double stroller out in my front yard, (the best looking yard I have. My back yard is a mess from kids) propped my cell phone up on the handle/cup holder and started posing in my bathing suit…I figured I had lost what little respect aNY of my neighbors had ever had for me. Did I care? Yes! Did I need a good picture more? Yes! So I did what I had to do. (The upside to it is, once you get used to it, you start to feel a lot less self conscious when doing just about anything else in public haha. ) find something to prop your camera phone up.  Think outside the box. A tall AC unit, something on your porch, a stroller, trash can. Ideally, you want it to be something you can move around with you to get dfferent backgrounds. this item needs to be at the right height to capture your entire body in the camera lense, but almost nothing else. You don’t want a ton of background. You can acheive this through trial and error   This applies when editing pictures as well! 
  5. Strike some poses! Don’t be afraid to get creative to find what works for you. My first few sessions involved lots of trees.  Standing next to trees, holding onto trees, looking at trees. Haha. Apparently this is a big beginner thing, as most everyone starting out does it. It has to do with the whole “what do I do with my hands? ??” Thing. (See above photo. Lol) Do some research. Head to pinterest or your favorite shop and see how they’re posed. Copy supermodels and target models. Play around.  
    Eventually you get better and start to learn what works for you and what doesnt. It’s definitely a process. When I look back at my first few photo sessions and the ones from recently, I’m amazed! (This isn’t to say that all of them are amazing or I’m an amazing model. Theyre just way better than before.
  6. Enlist a friend. This one isn’t an option for everyone,  which is why it’s way down on the list. We all have busy lives, so sometimes having someone take pics isn’t possible. But if you have a friend who likes to take pics or is willing to help,  don’t be afraid to let them help! I’ve found personally that there are some friends that this is truly a “helpful” thing, then others, like my hubby, where it’s just more work for me, as I have to basically position the camera for him, show him how to hold it and then run and jump into position while yelling “ok now!” So sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself. But then there are friends like my photographer friend Laura, who are not only extremely helpful,  they also have a fancy DSLR camera and an eye for photography….which leads me to my next point…..
  7. Use your contacts & barter. Have and friend who is a photographer? What is something that they need? If it’s hand made clothing or household items….you’re welcome.  🙂 But seriously, even if the person is merely an aquaintance or friend of a friend , don’t be afraid to ask! My photographer started out as an aquaintance and now is one of my closest friends. And it turned out she truly wanted/needed more experience photographing different styles and items. I keep trying to talk her into letting me make her or her girls something, but she is seriously just happy to have the experience and be practicing.   Of course, because we are batering, I feel the need to be more respectful of her schedule and try to plan well in advance. If it’s something last minute, I’ll just try to take the photos myself.  But I have friends who barter for clothing, graphic design work, cleaning, etc. You name it and someone is probably bartering for it. So check Craigslist and facebook for local photographers too! If it isn’t someone you know well,  I strongly suggest having a contract of some sort drawn up to determine what is being traded for what, what amount of time will get invested, etc. Always best to have things in writing when you’re unsure. 
  8. Last but most definitely not least (probably one of the most important things, in all reality), EDITING. 
    New, unedited photo from 1 of my Photoshoots

    When editing your photos for testing gigs or product photography,  there are a few things that can make or break those pretty pictures you just worked so hard for. For starters, it’s always best to do your editing on a desktop with a program like photoshop if at all possible. But, since we are trying to keep this at little to no cost, odds are you will be on your phone. This means that you will not be viewing it the same as those on other devices. So keep that in mind. 

    Photo with saturation turned up all the way

    Don’t over saturate your photos. It may look great to make the colors look more vivid on your phone, but it doesn’t translate well to other devices. They will look fake and cartoonish. Keep the saturation at the lowest possible level, and try to make the fabrics look like their true selves. 

    Photo with brightness turned up all the way

     Don’t overexpose. Don’t turn the brightness all the way up. EVER! Even if it is a darker photo. Try to lighten the shadows and highlights and white balance instead. Anything above halfway on the exposure scale translates to a very very light photo that is hard to see. 

    Photo with blur effect done to entire background

    Don’t blur your photos until you’ve researched how it’s done correctly. Professional, DSLR camera lenses produce these stunning photos with the background that is slightly blurred. This happens because the focus is shifted to the front. (Also a bunch of technical stuff I don’t understand. Haha). If you are to blur your picture and you blur everything except the subject, it’s not realistic and doesnt translate well, either. Not to mention,  most apps that allow you to blur your photo are very hard to use and things get blurred or unblurred that shouldn’t be. If you love the look and simply MUST do it, try to blur very lightly and only do it from about the knees or waist up (or back, technically), so that the foreground stays in focus, as it would in a true blurred background via dslr. 

    Photo with blue effect done on lowest level and only on the true background of the image

    Even a low key effect can drastically change the way a photo looks
  9. Don’t use fancy filters or effects. Very few designers will accept photos that have these effects done to them. The goal is to use the most realistic photos of your work, so that potential customers can get a sense of them in everyday life and situations. Plus, they just look fake and teeny-bopperish. 🙂

    Fun for instagram and personal social media posts, not so much fun for customers and designers.

I hope this has helped a bit. I don’t claim to be an expert, by any means. But I’m all for sharing knowledge that took all while to figure out. Feel free to comment or email me with any questions!


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