ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Photography ... Capturing Inspiration

On October 22, a reader named Caroline left a comment regarding the blog posts I made about my recent teaching trip to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Caroline's question was "how do you get these photos to look so awesome"? Thank you Caroline, I am honoured and thrilled that you like my photographs. It is my mission to capture beauty where I see it. I thought it might be a good idea to write a blog post about how I approach photography.

1. I take A LOT of pictures. For every lovely picture you see on my blog, I've probably taken at least 20 (and sometimes more) that I wouldn't even think of showing you. In other words, I only share the best. That means I take a lot of crappy photos too. I'm talking blurry, poorly lit, wrong colour and simply poor composition!  Here are a few examples:

The photo of this deer was taken early morning. There wasn`t enough light and so it is blurry. I tried flash but that left a glare coming from the deer`s eyes. In addition, the composition is bad. The deer`s head is almost dead centre in the photo. Had the photo been clear and well-lit, I could have cropped the photo and created a better composition. I would estimate that at least 90% of the photos you ever see on my blog, and that I use for inspiration for an art quilt, have had some sort of cropping done to them to improve the composition.

I loved the moss and lichen growing on this stump in the forest. The lighting wasn`t good enough and my hand wasn`t steady enough, so the photo is blurry. I should have adjusted the manual features of my camera and I should have brought a tripod.

The photo of a flour paste resist that Barb made in my Dyeing to Quilt class is not a great photo. It does not do justice to the subtle beauty of this piece of fabric. Could once again be a lighting issue.

So, my conclusion is that just because you take some crappy photos, doesn`t mean you should not keep taking photos. It is worth all the work for the one or two stunners you might get. Mastering any medium requires practice. 

2.  I am using a 14 Megapixel Canon Rebel T3i  DSLR camera. I have it set on the highest image quality. It captures a lot of fine detail so I can crop very close and not lose too much image quality. If you go back to my blog post of June 3, 2012, you will see what I mean about cropping compositions from within a photo, getting rid of extraneous stuff and honing in on a stunning design. 

3. Having said no. 2 above, I do have to tell you that several students in my Flowers and Foliage class this past summer took their inspiration photos using their Blackberry phones. I was amazed at the quality of these photos, and I would imagine many smart phones these days would give good images.

4. I use a polarizing filter on my camera on days that are bright and sunny.  It helps to cut back on the glare, avoiding that over-exposed look I used to get, and makes blue skies look really blue and wonderful.

5. I try different settings. While I haven`t gone fully manual, I have moved away from using Intelligent Auto most of the time, preferring to control some settings using the Program mode. In this mode I can select for cloudy day, sunny day, shade, different types of indoor lighting, etc. It is not foolproof by any means, but it gives options.

6. Last, but certainly not least, I think the one thing that has improved my photos over time is simply learning more about composition and design.

So that`s my view on photography. A professional I am not, but don`t sit back thinking you can`t take good photos. Just take more. Practice. Finding your own inspiration and capturing your own themes will make you a unique artist and make your work original.


  1. I have a very basic camera and have to spend most of my week indoors at a desk job, therefore I'm not that into photography at this point in my life--but I really would like to know whether your students use dyes, paints, or thickened dyes when making the flour paste resist pieces. I think they're fabulous!

  2. Hi Laura. Well many folks take awesome photos with a basic camera. I was trying to get the point across that for every good photo I take, I take a huge number of crappy ones. For the flour paste resist, we used thickened dyes. We did not use any paint in this class. The fabric is soaked in soda ash and then dried and pinned to a board. The flour paste is mixed (1 cup plain cheap white flour and 1 cup water) and then painted on the fabric. It is left to dry, and then one gets to take one's frustrations out on it, scrunching, punching, and pulverizing it to create cracks in the dried flour paste. Then it is pinned back on the board, and thickened dyes are painted on it. I use Print Paste from ProChem. I let it batch overnight. The thickened dyes penetrate the cracks in the flour paste, and that is how the crackle pattern is created. Next time I do flour paste I should put up a tutorial.


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