Frequently Asked Questions About
Photographing your Quilts
Answered by Caryl Bryer Fallert
Do you find that your overhead vita-light bulbs are adequate
for doing the photographs of your quilts without additional
lighting. I'm planning to use them in my new studio and the
plan is to wash my design wall with ones that are aimed to flood
the wall with light. From your experience, do you think this
would eliminate the need for flash for indoor photography of
quilts? Or do you photograph your quilts outdoors?
When I'm taking process slides for my lectures I often
use just the available light provided by my overhead vita-light
bulbs. When I'm taking the official portraits of my finished
work, however, I add the light of blue photo flood lights. I
have one set of overhead vita-lite's and a second set that can
be put on the floor to wash the wall with light. These are great
for showing the relief of the quilting patterns, and I occasionally
use them to supplement the lighting of very large pieces. I
find that in the photos, they tend to slightly wash out the
colors. The manufacturer does not recommend them for photography,
probably for this reason.
The advantages of blue photo floods are: They
duplicate outdoor light, and can be use with daylight film.
They are inexpensive, and easy to use. You can see exactly
what you are going to get, you don't have to guess. The disadvantages
are: They only last for about two hours, and as they die,
the color shifts to yellow. They are a fire hazard. They get
extremely hot, so care must be taken to use sockets designed
for hot bulbs, and nothing must touch them while they are
turned on. Several times I have had bulbs that literally exploded
when they died. The flying pieces have actually burned holes
in my carpeting (imagine what they might do to your quilt)
I am careful not to put my face in front of the bulbs when
I'm turning them on, and I NEVER leave the room when they
I'm writing in the hopes you can advise me. I'm trying to
take photos of quilts inside on my design wall, otherwise known
as the living room. I want as natural a light as possible, however
daylight is not enough. I spent 2 days photographing quilts,
putting them up, taking them down, to have reciprocity failure,
or not enough light. They came out yellow, just awful. The camera
was on a slow speed with the shutter wide open, on a tripod,
etc., but the light was simply not enough. Asking around to
other photographers, film developers, I get very different answers
as to what to do, what light system would work. I recall you
discussing the light in your studio, and the many and really
good photos you take as you construct a quilt. You talked about
the regular light source as being equivalent to sunlight. Would
you tell me the specifics on the lighting? "Howdjadudit?"
When I'm taking process photos I usually use a faster film like
Ektachrome 100 or 200. Ektachrome film favors the blues and
greens, and is not great on reds and yellows. In my studio I
have 48 full spectrum vita-light
bulbs which come close to duplicating sunlight. If I'm taking
a close-up on the sewing machine, I often add light from blue
photoflood lights. If I'm using asa 100 Ektachrome, I also usually
double the shutter speed. Ektachrome 200 I usually shoot at
the default shutter speed. You can also go down one f-stop.
I prefer to double the shutter speed, because I want everything
in focus, and stopping down reduces your depth of field. I am
using a camera on which I set the f-stop manually, and the camera
sets the shutter speed, which can be doubled automatically by
turning a dial. I almost always use a tripod.
When I'm photographing my quilts, I use blue photofloods
on light stands. These are inexpensive ($6-$7 each) bulbs
that overcome the yellow of normal incandescent light. These
bulbs have usually been available at camera shops, but they
are getting harder to find all the time. Usually I have to
special order them any more. If it is large quilt, I may use
as many as 10 bulbs. The bulbs last for up to two hours, and
they get very hot. Sometimes they explode when they burn out,
so use them very carefully, only with shades and sockets that
are designed for high temperature bulbs, and never leave the
room when they are turned on. The glass fragments are so hot
when they explode that they have melted holes in my rug.
My older slides were all taken with Kodachrome asa 25, which
has an extremely fine grain, and makes beautiful reds and
yellows. This film has a major reciprocity factor when you
leave the shutter open a long time. (i.e. it gets darker faster,
the longer the shutter is open) I always doubled the shutter
speed when shooting Kodachrome 25, and on larger darker quilts,
I often set the f stop at as low as 8.
More recently I have switched to Fuji Velvia 50 professional
slide film. I still double the recommended shutter speed,
but I shoot all my photos with an f stop of 22. This allows
me to get the entire surface of even the largest quilts in
focus. This film is almost as fine grained as Kodachrome 25,
and doesn't seem to have a reciprocity problem when the exposure
time is longer. It seems to do pretty well on both the warm
and cool colors. I still haven't found a film that will accurately
record chartreuse (one of my favorites). I buy the "professional"
version of this film, which is kept in the refrigerator at
the camera store, and I keep it in the refrigerator at home
until I'm ready to use it.
I know some quilters who only shoot with tungsten film and
tungsten lights. You can get inexpensive tungsten light bulbs,
and tungsten film. Personally, I haven't used it much, because
if there is any daylight coming into the room the slides will
go very blue. It needs to be shot in a room where there is
no daylight at all, or after dark. Since I don't have a dark
room, and I don't want to shoot photos at night when I'm tired,
I don't use it.
For prints, I have been using Kodak Royal Gold ASA 25 film.
This had a very fine grain, and could be used with the same
lighting as the Fuji Velvia 50 slide film. Unfortunately
Kodak has discontinued making this film, so I have recently
switched to Kodak Royal Gold 100 asa. I usually shoot
half my prints at the default exposure, and half at double
the shutter speed. Often I can't tell the difference
when I get my prints back. Since I am using relatively
slow film, I always use a tripod when photographing my quilts.
do you store your slides and photographs?
The slides of my quilts are stored in large
ring binders, one for each year. I print labels from my computer
for all my quilt slides. I use Avery ½" x 1¾" laser
labels #5267. They come 80 labels to a sheet. The labels have:
(1) name of the quilt (2) year it was completed (3) dimensions,
(4) materials (5) techniques (6) arrow and the word "top"
indicating the top of the image. On the detail slides I substitute
the word "detail" for list of techniques. I label
each slide before it is filed. I use the same labels for my
name and address, however I wait until I send the slide out
to add the address label. Shows usually want the whole address,
and probably also phone number. Agents and galleries on the
other hand just want your name, with no address or other contact
information. In my storage binders, I use archival plastic slide
storage sheets from Visual
Horizons 180 Metro Park, Rochester, NY 14623-2666 1-800-424-1011
When I make a new quilt, I keep one set of slides in a separate
binder. These are master originals, which are never sent out,
but can be used to make duplicate slides. This binder is kept
in a separate building.
I have a additional binders for "process" slides,
which I often use in my lectures, slides of my studio, installations
of my work, and those embarrassing promotional photos we all
have to have. I have three binders of work by others, in alphabetical
order by artist, with tabs, so I can find them easily. I go
through this collection of work by others often, when I'm
organizing and updating my lectures.
My 3x5 and 4x6 prints and negatives are stored in a series
of 4x6 file drawers, in alphabetical order, with divider tabs,
so I can see the name of the quilt at a glance. 8x10 prints
are stored in a regular file drawer, in alphabetical order,
with a separate file folder for each quilt.
How close are your detail shots? Do you use a macro
I often take slides of my quilts from various distances
for my details. Usually shows want a detail that is about a
foot square, so I usually do at least one for sending out to
juries. I also often use a macro lens to take close-ups of the
quilting or other technical details. These are used in my lectures
and classes to explain my process.
you give any advice on preparing slides for competition?
Usually exhibits and competitions want a detail that
is about a foot square, so I usually do at least one detail
that size for sending out to juries. While I'm at it,
I take several frames of that same image to be used for different
I use Avery 5267 Laser labels for my slides. They are ½"
x 1¾". They come 80 to a sheet, and they exactly fit
on a slide mount.
I label the slides with the title of the quilt, the year
it was made, the dimensions, the materials, and the techniques
plus the word "top" and an arrow in the appropriate
direction on one label, for the full shot of the quilt.
For the details, I skip the techniques, and substitute the
work DETAIL in caps. I put copies of these labels on
all my slides as soon as they come back from the developer,
and then store them in alphabetical order in notebooks, so
I can find them easily.
On a second label, I have my name, address, and phone #.
I don't put this label on the slide until I'm ready to send
it off to the show, because galleries don't want your address
and phone # on the slides they keep on file. I have
a second set of labels with just my name for sending to galleries.
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Bryerpatch Studio 502 N. 5th St. Paducah, KY 42001