It’s Back to School – Quilt Photography

Bill Volckening behind the camera.

I know I’m not alone in this sentiment: as visions of school supplies dance in my head and back-to-school ads for extra-long twin sheets populate my newsfeed, my heart beats just a bit faster. The excitement of a new school year is palpable. And before you know it, our kids will be primping, polishing, and “putting on a good face” for the yearly school photo.

While looking for one of my own portraits (complete with a toothy grin and a “home-made haircut”) I came across some family treasures: a fourth-grade class photo (my mother is on the bottom right) and her mother’s report cards. Just look at those smiling kids, all excited to learn and laughing for the camera.

My mother's fourth-grade class photo and her mother's report cards.

My mother’s fourth-grade class photo and her mother’s report cards.

The Makings of an Engaging Photo

Taking an engaging photo, whether harnessing the youthful exuberance of twenty fourth-graders, or documenting the intricate stitches on an historic quilt, is a learned skill. Most of us have good quality cameras at the ready, and could use a primer on how to best utilize them to take quality high-resolution digital photos of our own quilts. I asked quilt collector, author, and photographer Bill Volckening to share some of his insight on the subject:

“What’s the best way to produce high-resolution studio photos of quilts? If you asked 100 professional photographers, you would probably get 100 different answers. There are so many variables – equipment, studio space, skill, and experience – but the goal is always consistent. Photography is about setting up, shooting, and editing, and a quilt is essentially a large, flat, work of art. It needs to be smooth, well lit, in focus, and color balanced.”

Quilt photography set up of studio view with quilt hanging on stand.

Studio view with quilt hanging on stand. Photo by Bill Volckening.

Equipment

Bill continues with a serious discussion about equipment. He notes that your camera does not need to be the top of the line in order to take great photos of quilts, but you should invest in a tripod, a memory card, and possibly a color separation and gray scale card to correct the image while editing.

Final full-view image, 1860s appliqué quilt.

Final full-view image, 1860s appliqué quilt. Photo by Bill Volckening.

Lighting

Most interesting to me, as someone who takes lots of photos of my own work in my not-so-well-lit home) was Bill’s discussion of lighting. “The primary goal of lighting is balance. I work with daylight coming from a skylight in my studio, sometimes adding on-camera flash to fill any unevenly lit areas. The advantage of combining flash or studio strobe with daylight is maintaining the same color temperature between two different light sources.”

Taking professional quality high-resolution photos of your quilts is a skill that takes a lot of practice, but is worthwhile. Bill notes, “In photographing all the quilts in my collection I saved a pile of money and learned a lot… Most importantly, it allowed me to share so many wonderful quilts with people around the world.

Bill Volckening behind the camera.

Bill Volckening behind the camera. Photo by Linda McLaughlin

More Photography Tips

The August/September 2018 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine delves deeper into Bill’s insightful perspective on quilt photography. Don’t miss it, along with other insightful articles from a dozen of our contributors.

And, at last! I found my favorite grade school photo. It took a bit of digging, but here it is!

Me in the third grade.

Me in the third grade.

Pick up your copy of Quilting Arts Magazine today!

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