Quilt Photography Workshop: Color & White Balance

Beth over at Plum and June is hosting a new series that center on quilt photography. I am pretty terrible at taking photos of my quilts, so her series is right up my alley.


This month, the challenge was to play around with white balance and color in order to achieve the truest possible color representation. Since most of my quilts have large areas of white space, this is particularly tricky for me, and something that I’ve done a lot of playing around with on my own. The following will walk you through some of the adjustments I make in camera and using Photoshop.

Just for context, I don’t use an SLR camera, digital or otherwise.  While I do think they take excellent pictures, I’ve found that today’s point and shoot cameras have enough features and allow enough control for me to take decent pictures. I also find that the smaller size of point and shoot cameras encourages me to carry my camera to more places, so I end up with more photos than I would if I had to lug around a heavier camera (and, in this case, I do have some experience–I’m a real wimp when it comes to carrying around a camera).

For this challenge, I photographed the class sample quilt for my new Improvisational Applique class. I needed to take photos of it anyway, so it was a great opportunity to take some pictures for the Workshop challenge. The first thing I played around with was the white balance. This is the quilt using my camera’s auto white balance.


My camera has a couple different white balance settings on it that correspond to different types of lighting. Here’s the same picture using the “cloudy” white balance.


And here it is using the “sunny” white balance setting. I think this one is the most successful of the three.


One of the things other settings I have been using for a while is the exposure. This appears on my camera as a (+/-), and allows me to control how much light is let into the camera by adjusting how long the shutter is left open. Raising the exposure slightly helps the white areas of my quilts to appear white (not grey), but that raising it too high causes the whites to blow out. For instance, all three of the images above were taken with the exposure set to +2/3. This next one was taken with the exposure set to +1 1/3, and you can see how the white has become too bright and the details are lost.

Sunny 1 1-3

I also discovered a display mode on my camera that lets me adjust the exposure by viewing the levels of the resulting picture. By choosing an exposure setting that gave me the most level, er, levels, I was able to go from this:

Sunny 2-3 2

to this (note the greater definition of the lines of quilting in the top of the quilt):

Sunny Levels

This was about the best representation of color that I could get with just the settings on my camera, and the color is pretty accurate. I adjusted things a bit more with Photoshop, again using some tools that I’ve used before.

First, I adjusted the levels, giving me a slight, but noticeable difference (you can see it best in the leaves to the left of the quilt).

Sunny Levels Photoshop Levels

Photoshop also has a setting called Shadows and Highlights. If I remember correctly, this setting senses the outlines of things and adjusts the relative lightness within those outlines while leaving the outlines defined. In other words, it allows you to make the dark areas lighter and the light areas darker without loosing the definition of forms in those areas. Here is the image with the Highlights raised (again, notice that the leaves are lighter, but lose no definition):

Sunny Levels Highlights

Then I played with the saturation and vibrance settings. Just to give you a look at what differences these make, here is the photo with the saturation bumped way up:

Sunny Levels Saturation High

And here it is with the saturation normal but the vibrance bumped up:

Sunny Levels Vibrance High

I decided that a combination of raising the Highlights and the Vibrance gave me the truest representation of colors in this quilt. Here’s my final image:

Sunny Levels Highlights Vibrance

I’m pretty happy with how close I was able to get to the actual colors of this quilt when I was shooting in natural light. I was working with the sun behind the quilt and off to one side (so not in direct sunlight), about two hours before sunset (so the sun was fairly low in the sky).

I excited to see what the other Photography Workshop participants learned during this month’s challenge. Please hop on over to Plum and June for links to their posts!


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