Photographing Costumes for Reference

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Last week I mentioned I was going to go see the Rogue One costumes at Star Wars Celebration. Several weeks ago, I mentioned what you should be looking for in terms of references. Today, I’m going to talk about how to shoot photos of costumes that are ideal for references. For your enjoyment, I’m going to be using the Rogue One costumes to illustrate my points.


Meet Director Orson Krennic from Rogue One

The modern world has started to give us costume people more and more information. These days, you can buy books on favourite tv shows and movies that often have pages devoted to high quality photos of the costumes and, if you’re lucky, interviews or tips from the costuming department. If you’re really lucky, they may release sets of the design photos with notes to help along the way. However, nothing really beats being able to see it with your own eyes.

If you have the opportunity to see a costume in person, then it is worth your while thinking about what and how you need to photograph it. First off comes general photography skills.

Make sure your photos are in focus

You want sharp pictures. Slightly blurry photos will end up with you furrowing your brow, trying to decide if its just a fold or an actual pocket for hours later on.


Second one is still not perfect, but you can see the details much better.

I actually tend to delete anything that isn’t 100% sharp simply to avoid this. This does mean you may need to check your photos as you take them so that if you only have one shot of the back and its out of focus, you can take another.

Try to represent the colour truthfully

Colour can change depending on a lot of factors, including some that are out of your control like the lighting that is on the costume. However, the biggest changer of colours is flash photography. If you can get non-flash photos, you will have a truer representation of the colour. Of course, this can be compared to images on screen, but remember that those may also have been colour washed or filtered by the video department and may not be accurate either.

Get top to bottom shots

Most people already do this. Most images you see are of about 3/4 of the costume.


Another photographer demonstrating the photo most people take.

But you need full length. There’s nothing worse than realising that you’ve photographed everything in detail, but now you’re home and realise you have no idea what those shoes looked like.

Get close up detailed shots

I actually go ahead and use my zoom lens. Yes, it is designed for making that person who is an auditorium away a lot closer, but you know what? It makes those details really pop.

Detail photos

First one is what people usually take for detail shots. In this case, at that distance, it almost looked like a USB port on the bottom of the gun, but with closer detailed shots, you can see that is not the case.


This is your best chance to really find out the details of a costume, so take it. Is there stitching? Take photos of it. Is there a funny looking panel? Take photos of it. Is there what appear to be cape slits? You know the drill.

Get shots from different angles

The simple fact is you can’t see everything from just one angle. If you only take photos from one angle, you will miss details.This is especially true if you’re trying to figure out how something works.


This is a series of shots I took just to figure out how the slit in the back of cape worked. You can’t even really see the slit from the first picture, but by the last its pretty obvious. Is it crazy to take 8 photos of the same thing? Not if at the end of them you have a good idea how it all gets put together and works.

Take as many photos you can, in as high a resolution as you can.

There really is no such thing as too many reference photos. Sometimes the camera focus will change slightly from one to the other and you’ll notice something. Higher resolution photos mean that you can zoom in later on to answer questions.


And if they are nice enough to give you a blurb about the costume, photograph it. Trust me, you won’t remember the exact combinations without some kind of reminder, and a photograph is faster than writing it down.

The best way of thinking about this is as a puzzle. How is this costume put together? How does it all come together? What are the proportions like? The more photos you have, the easier you can put it all together later. Hopefully, by the time you’re done taking photos, all your questions will be answered.

If you’re interested in more photos of Director Krennic, you can see them on Facebook or for super high quality photos on my Flickr. Other costumes from Rogue One will be uploaded later this week.

~ eliste

Photography Hacks: DIY your own studio

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We’ve discussed basic tips to getting better photos, and then we talked about simple composition tricks. One of the pieces advice given was to watch what ends up in your backgrounds. Making certain that you don’t end up with a stray foot/mess/stray threads in your photo frame can save you time and aggravation later on.

A step up from just ensuring you have no random extras in the background is to create a background that your item will look good on. This does not mean you need to get yourself expensive camera equipment. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, anyone can create a photo background that will make their photographs look more professional. This is particularly useful when photographing anything that you intend to sell or display.

What makes a background look professional? Generally, for items that are destined to be sold this means a background that isn’t busy, usually plain one color, and possibly like there’s no background at all. The easiest background to manufacture is a white one. This may be easier with smaller items, but the principle can be done with anything.


My makeshift photography booth- three pieces of paper, my sewing machine cover, and a box.

All you need for this is paper. It doesn’t even have to be big paper. Just paper out of your printer will do as long as it is clean and flat. Then simply put your item on top of the paper, prop more paper around the item, and voila! Homemade photography booth.


Even a simple photo can be cleaned up with just white paper underneath.

Obviously, the standard piece of paper won’t work for all creations- particularly the larger ones! One option is to layer your white paper, creating a collage of white for your items to sit on. This works quite well I’ve found.


This is me testing out a different white background- an old hamper. Its not perfect, but see next photo!

Alternatively, when your items are larger than a standard piece of paper, almost any white backgrounds will do. Poster board, mat board, card stock- whatever you can find that is flat and white. I’ve seen a number of people use white sheets and this works as long as you make certain that you iron them well. Wrinkles in your sheet will translate into your photograph and show up!


Same photo as above, with simple exposure change. All of the white messiness can be fixed easily when its all one color.

Want to capture your light, but don’t want to go outside? You can prop your homemade backgrounds onto a windowsill or at a doorway for good effect too! This way you get the bonus of good lighting as well as the nice clean background.


A nice clean photo from my paper booth.


Just doing something like this can radically adjust how people view your photographs. A white background looks clean and professional. Black can also be used, but it may change the way the lighting hits your objects.

With just this knowledge, you can upgrade your photos one step further- making your photographs interesting, professional, and inviting.

Practice makes perfect, on photography as well as crafting. Happy shooting!

~ eliste

Photography De-mystified: Simple Composition Tricks

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Last week we discussed some tips that can instantly help you make your photos better. This week, I’m going to do the same, but in a more artsy fartsy way.

Photo composition is something that can be as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. The same photo taken by two different people standing at the same place can look entirely different, all because of the composition they choose to give their photo. So what is composition? This term can be used in other art as well, so some of you may know it already. Simply put, it is the layout of a photograph.

What makes good photographic compositions? Well, this can depend on the effect you’re trying to achieve, the purpose of your photo, and how you choose to aim or crop your photo. (Cropping, btw, is totally a skill that everyone should learn, but will happen in a much later post).

Before I go into the how, let me tell you the why. I learned this naturally- by watching my father and his photographs growing up, but I’ve also done a bit of research since hitting my adulthood. What I’ve found is that photos become more “interesting” depending on your composition. Its about balancing the focus of your photograph, and drawing the eye of your viewer to where you want it to be.

The rule of thirds is something you’ll hear kicked around when you go researching photography, but you don’t particularly need to know the background behind it, although if you understand the Golden Ratio you may find its history interesting.

A photo with the rule of thirds applied to it. See how the photo balances the bottom third as pavement, interest in the middle, sky in the top. The intersection of lines at the girl's feet draw your eyes there.

A simple photo with the rule of thirds applied to it. See how the photo balances the bottom third as pavement, interest in the middle, sky in the top. The intersection of lines at the girl’s feet draw your eyes there.

What you do need to know is that this trick works. If you line up the subject or focal point of your photo at one of the crosses in a grid like this, your photo will draw people in to look at it in more depth. You create “interest” just through the composition of your photo.

A more complex use of the rule of thirds. Opposing intersections draw your eye to the figure and the flame.

Simply put your focal point at one of the intersections of the lines, and your photograph will automatically be more visually appealing to most people. There are 4 focal points to choose from, and they will all give different effects to your photos. This grid works for all of types of photos no matter what the final shape of the picture- square, rectangle, etc. Your grid may shift slightly, but the principle remains the same.

When you’re starting out, I highly recommend trying out this technique, and trying to aim for the 4 different focal points. You will end up with different looks, feels, and you can always pick which you like best. Eventually, you’ll get a feel for the grid and you’ll be able to shoot it instinctively, but when you’re starting out that may not be the case.

Don’t think you can handle that and the camera? Well, there’s plenty of help these days. A lot of cameras will automatically add a grid like this for you if you set them up to. iPhones can turn on a grid with their standard camera and a number of apps will do it too. Android phones have the capability of doing this as well (and some users may find it comes up as default), although again you can find a number of apps that will do this amongst other things. Even Instagram’s camera will automatically add in your lines for you. DSLRs sometimes won’t do this as they assume you have an idea of what you’re at…

What happens if you shoot and don’t have your composition right? Well, today technology provides us with all sorts of options. First option, of course, is to take the picture again. With digital prints, your capacity to shoot is only limited by your memory, and plenty of photographers take more photos than are needed and use the best ones.

However, there’s also the easy way out. Almost every photo editing software that I have used, whether it was on a full computer or just an app on a device, will automatically provide you with this grid when you use the Crop function (which is what is happening the first picture). It becomes easy to alter the composition of your photo into something better by cropping so that you use the rule of thirds.

But wait!!

Not all photographs need or should use this rule. If you are trying to show off an item to potential customers, then you want to ensure they have a good idea of all of its features and can fully see what is going on. While it might artistically look good to use the rule of thirds, it may not suit your purposes.


Food happens to look pretty good when shot straight on, but notice my faux pas with the glass in the corner! Watch your backgrounds!

This is why I said at the beginning that good composition can really depend on what you are trying to do with your photograph. Having said that, even showing off items can be made better with small tricks.

Angling your camera or the item in question so that it is not squared up to the photograph can be enough. This trick may mean you need to provide more than one photo of an item to show all sides, but once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that difficult.

By angling the camera, you create distance and perspective in this quilt which draws the viewer’s eye.

With just this knowledge, you can upgrade your photos one step further- making your photographs interesting, professional, and inviting.

Practice makes perfect, on photography as well as crafting. Happy shooting!

UPDATE: This video below explains things in even easier to understand ways. Enjoy!

~ eliste

Simple Photography Tips for the Crafter

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Photography. Love it or hate it, in this internet age, you can’t get away from it.

This becomes especially important for us artists, crafters, and small business owners whose wares may be displayed online in the hopes of coaxing customers from their cash. Crass, but true. The first thing any customer notices about a website will be the visuals. But who has the money to hire a professional photographer for everything that needs to go on their website?

I got lucky in this department. I grew up with a father who loves photography, and have been spending a lot of time working on my ability to take good photos. So I thought I’d take the time to pass on some simple wisdom that can make the difference between someone giving your photos the time of day or rapidly moving onward.

First things first.

You do not need an expensive camera to produce good photos these days.
Most smartphones produced in the past 5 years will have cameras that are “good enough” for putting things on the web. While yes, a fancy DSLR can take amazing photos, its not necessary. Further, even a DSLR won’t take amazing photos if you don’t consider the things the below. I personally recommend starting with the camera you have, learning to shoot better with it first, and only considering an expensive step up if it makes sense for you.

With that said in mind, here are some basic tips that will instantly improve your photos.

Consider your lighting
Use natural light if at all possible for your photos. This is easier now that it is heading towards summer than it is in the winter, but it really does make a difference. But just the simple change to natural light can make your pieces seem more real, less of an afterthought. What is natural lighting? Natural lighting is that stuff that comes from the sun. It may burn my eyes and skin, but it will make my projects look beautiful.

Left photo is natural lighting. Top right is halogen lighting at night. Bottom right is natural light in the shade.


Colors get changed with non-natural light which can be especially problematic with online purchases. But not all natural light is created equal.


The daffodils in these shots were both taken in natural lighting (top in direct sunlight, bottom in cloudy light), but shows that sometimes bright sunshine isn’t quite what you what. It can wash colours out, throw more shadows, and it can alter the feel of a photo. Making the decision of what kind of natural light you use in a photo can change your audience’s response to it.

Obviously it isn’t always possible to get the perfect natural lighting when you want to take a shot. I take plenty of progress photos in the dreadful halogen lighting in our apartment, but for finished products, I try to wait until the next day when the sun is out because I know it will show off my work in a better way.

Consider your background
It is easy to get focused on the item we are taking the picture of. This is natural to try to get it to look good. It also means that it is very easy to realise that you’ve actually taken a picture of the messy dishes in the sink and the laundry pile in the corner. Watch out for the unexpected item in your background. See my beautiful sock feet below:

We’ve all done it before…

I spend an inordinate amount of time cropping my feet and mess (see glove photo, lower right corner) out of photos when it would be much easier to simply not put them in the photos in the first place. Sometimes it can be nice to have background objects, but take the time to both consider them and decide if you actually want them there or not.

Consider your angle
This is more of a composition suggestion than the previous advice. Most people instinctively take photos from where they stand, but finding a different angle for your photo can make a real difference in the outcome. It is very easy to make a photo more interesting to look at just by changing the angle that you take the shot from. Do you want it to be face on? Do you want to look up or down? Choosing different angles can also make things seem larger or smaller.


And yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

This is the same dessert from directly above and from on its level. The only thing that changed was the angle of the camera, but the size of those ice cream balls significantly increased just by changing the angle.

Which is better? I like to go with multiple options. Providing your audience with new ways to see your work can only be a good thing. What might not appeal to them in one photo, they may realise is not a deal breaker in another.

And that’s it.

Three things that will instantly make your photos look more interesting and possibly professional. There are many websites out there that will suggest more or less, but at the end of the day, these three simple things I’ve found can make a word of difference in how you present your work.

Good luck with it, and happy shooting.

~ eliste

Chris Smart Photography

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Drawing inspiration from the people and streets of Toronto and southern Ontario, Chris of Chris Smart Photography finds beauty in the most unlikely places.

Chris has worked in the video game industry for over a decade as an artist but photography has always been his passion.  And now he is sharing that passion with us.  I find that I’m inspired by Chris’ work.  His photography varies from:

Industrial decay




City Scenery and Architecture

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And especially Fashion


Chris has an ability to draw us into his world and honestly, I could spend hours just staring at some of his photographs.  I bought the icicle lamp photo that I posted above and I intend to put it in a place of honour so I can look at it everyday!

There are many ways you can keep up to date on Chris’ work – through his Facebook page, his blog, etsy store, twitter or instagram.  Be sure to check him out!

– Lindsay