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how to craft great photos // the setup

how-to craft great photos : equipment

If you have a blog, or even if you just read blogs, you know that great photos can make all the difference. The same is true if you have an online shop. There are different types of photography, for example portraits, events, products, etc. for craft blogging, I do a lot of step-by-step photography, which can be a lot like product photography.

The goal is to show very clearly what an item is or what you're supposed to do in a particular part of a project. To put the focus on the materials or product, I like a clean background and a well-lit shot. Some folks do this with big studio lights, large backgrounds, or even light boxes, which, I'll admit, would be amazing to have, especially for late-night work.

Let me show you what my photo studio setup looks like...

Craft Great Photos - Setup

This is my front door, some art paper, a school project board, and my photo assistant. I have to believe that even if I had a fancy set up, she would sit in the middle of that too.

By relying on natural light, I have limited hours that I can take my photos, and usually that's between 10am and 3pm, though that's about the widest range. I like bright overcast days so i have light without the intensity of the sun. Other areas in my house have different lighting, so sometimes I move, but the setup remains very similar.

Craft Great Photos - Setup

Going in a little closer, this is what I've got. A sheet of art paper on the floor, with the project board reflecting light. Sometimes I place this board as a background, and sometimes the art paper gets taped up to form a background/base, but most of the time it's this way.

I also have an extra piece of art paper that I use as another reflector. With light coming from just one direction (the door), using these pieces to bounce light onto my photo subjects helps so much. A little bit of shadow is okay, but lots of shadows aren't pretty. And on days when it's just a little extra overcast, these brighten things up.


When I take the actual photo, the crop in my camera looks like this. This has just a tiny bit of editing, which I'll talk about next time.

Craft Great Photos - Setup

When I get in close for some photos, I grab my smaller piece of art paper and hold it with my left hand while shooting with my right hand. I can move it around and even flex it to fill in the light as needed.


And then I end up with this!

Working with a plain background and some light reflectors is easy and super inexpensive. And they work great for when you need to take other photos with not-so-plain backgrounds too. Like for a shot of a pillow on a chair or even of your child hugging a soft toy. Once you start playing with how the light bounces, you'll never go back.

Do you have a favorite tip for taking great craft photos? Share it in the comments! And be sure to check out my post from last week about the camera equipment I use!

handmadecharlotte // mix 'em up animal spools

Mix 'Em Up Animal Spools

As further proof of my animal obsession, this week on Handmade Charlotte I shared a printable for covering spools with mixed up animals. In clothes. Because, while I don't advocate torturing your pets with costumes, you have to admit that dressed up animals are pretty darn cute.

Wrapping up spools with these critters makes for easy play, but you could cut apart the printable to make little cards for more portable play too.

Grab the download for these Mix 'Em Up Animals at Handmade Charlotte!

printable // rainbow acorn note and journaling cards

Rainbow Acorn Cards

Do you know what squirrels love? Acorns. I also happen to know that they really love pumpkins, because they always try to eat ours, and never the ugly ones...just the really pretty pumpkins. But I digress.

I'm not actually sure if flying squirrels also eat acorns, but let's just pretend that they do, because along with squirrelly things, I've been working on some acorny things, starting with these printable cards.

Rainbow Acorn Cards
Rainbow Acorn Cards

I was going to make them with just one very modern looking acorn, but then I thought...RAINBOW ACORNS! I really got far too excited about it, and the mega coffee that I've had leading up to me writing this is really adding to the excitement factor. I honestly feel like a squirrel right now. A little nuts!

Anyway, things are so much prettier when they are in rainbow color order, and I think these acorns are no exception. They're perfect for including a note with a gift, packing away in a school lunch, and they even fit Project Life.

Print on card stock, trim, and enjoy!

Rainbow Acorn Cards

get started in quilting with craftsy's free video class

Piece Patch Quilt

If you've been following Wild Olive for a while, you may have noticed that the projects I'm making have shifted a bit. Rarely would you see me making something that required a sewing machine, and quilting was far outside of my comfort zone. And then I started getting more comfortable. I started sewing more and more, and then I decided to try some quilting, and soon I was hooked.

Naturally, I wanted to share more things that use the skills that I've acquired, so it's pretty safe to say that you'll find plenty of quiltiness ahead on Wild Olive. (The block above will become part of a simple project coming next week!) But maybe you're still new to all of this. Maybe you need to learn some quilting basics. Let's work on that, okay?

Piece Patch Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills - A Craftsy Video Course

I'm very honored to be working with Craftsy to present some of their fantastic educational video classes and other exciting features. Starting with Piece, Patch, Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills.

Folks, this is a free mini class, but there's really nothing mini about it. Over several HOURS veteran quilter and quilt shop owner Gail Kessler presents everything you need to know to get started. The information is broken into bite-sized lessons and sections so it's not overwhelming, and because all Craftsy classes are yours to keep forever, you can go back to this class again and again.

Piece Patch Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills - A Craftsy Video Course
Piece Patch Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills - A Craftsy Video Course

The high-quality video lessons cover things like choosing fabric and designing a quilt, cutting and piecing, backing and basting, quilting and binding. You'll learn how to do these things, and why it's best to do them a certain way. To demonstrate these techniques, Ms. Kessler walks you through making three simple quilt tops and a mug rug, and the patterns for each of these are included as PDFs.

And it's free.

Piece Patch Quilt

There are also so many great tips and techniques that will help you become a smart and efficient quilter from the beginning. This is where I really learned so much, and just look at those points I sewed! My seams are even! My quilt block is happy!

Sign up for this FREE basic quilt-making class today and you'll be piecing happy quilt blocks too. And you'll be all ready for making my inspired-by-autumn quilted kitchen project!

This post was sponsored by Craftsy, but the words and thoughts are all mine.

pattern // flying squirrel

Flying Squirrel Pattern

Last year, this flying squirrel nearly became a mini pattern in my shop. I'm kinda glad it didn't though, because the drawing is what led to this month's theme, and really, I just love giving away these patterns so that more folks stitch them up.

Download the pattern here.

So please, embroider a flying squirrel. You'll make his day and mine. (And if you do, please post a photo and let me know!)

how to craft great photos // camera equipment

how-to craft great photos : equipment

This summer I celebrated 10 years of blogging, and while there are a lot of things I've learned over time, one of the biggest things I've improved has been my photography. Believe me...I've still got TONS to learn...my photos just started out really rough. Even now, I see every flaw and compare my pictures to what I see on other blogs, and I'm sure you know how it is.

With all of my self-criticism, I'm still asked to take step-by-step photos for book and magazine contributions, and people say kind things from time to time, and I thought I might show you my process for getting great photos. At least...as great as I'm getting them these days. We all have room for improvement, right? This is going to be a three-week series, and today I'm starting with the equipment I use. Next week I'll show you my photo set-up, followed by how I edit my pictures.

how-to craft great photos : equipment

This is my camera.

It's a Nikon d60, and I've had it for just about five years. It's not the fanciest of DSLR cameras anymore, but it works. Over time I've gone from shooting all automatic to shooting all manual, and lots of options in between. For craft photos, I now only shoot manual with auto-focus so that I have more control. And often I have to take a bunch of photos to find the right settings for what I'm aiming for.

Ironically, my photos for this post feel a little different to me, because I took them with my sister's camera. She has the same model as mine, but it feels different, and she primarily uses a different lens. Which brings me to...

how-to craft great photos : equipment

This is my lens.

It's a Nikon Micro Nikkor 40mm fixed length lens. This lens has no zoom, so if you want to zoom in, you get yourself closer to your subject and vice versa. It's great for getting nice and close for detail shots, but it also takes amazing all-purpose photos (I used it all through Disney World!). What makes this my favorite lens is that you can get really close pics AND the aperture allows for light, bright photos.

I like bright pictures that pop on a white background. Which brings me to...

how-to craft great photos : equipment

These are my backdrops.

You might notice that they look a little like cardboard and paper. They are. Total cost here was less than $3.00. The project display board sometimes shows up in the background of my photos, though the seams drive me crazy. It's more likely that I use a sheet of white art paper. Sometimes, if I need more space, I use a freshly ironed white sheet that is doubled, or even tripled so that it's smooth and nothing shows through.

I use an extra piece of white art paper to bounce some light onto what I'm shooting. The display board comes in handy for this, because it stands on its own. Next week, you'll see this in action.

It's tricky to see in this photo, but the whites of these papers are all slightly different. This, and other factors, will make a difference in the coloring of photos, through what we call white balance. Which brings me to...

how-to craft great photos : equipment

This is my white balance lens cap.

It's the latest addition to the equipment I use. Again, this cost me all of $4.19. There are fancier versions available, and at some point I may try one, but this is helping me a ton right now. Most cameras have a way to set the white balance based on the lighting conditions. DSLR cameras get a little more detailed with this setting, and most have an option to customize it by taking a photo of a white or gray card. The way this cap works is once the camera has been told to set the custom white balance, you take a photo with the lens cap ON the lens and it gathers the light coloring through the cap. It produces more accurate color in your photos, which means less editing. Yay!

You might notice that a tripod isn't on my list of camera equipment, nor is a lighting system of any kind. I rely on a steady hand and natural daylight. And most of the time, they work for me!

Next week, I'll show you what it looks like when I take pictures (probably minus me scrunching into weird poses), where I take them, and how all this stuff comes together.

And if you have any questions for me, please ask away! I'm by no means a professional photographer, but sometimes I think that helps. At least, that's what I tell myself...

hello bee // animal face snack mats

Animal Face Snack Mats

Recently I've become obsessed with making animal things. You may have noticed that already. I just love taking some object and transforming into a critter of some kind! I've also been playing with Pellon Vinyl-Fuse, and seeing all kinds of possibilities.

Which is how these snack mats I made for Hello Bee came about. Animals, Vinyl-Fuse, cuteness, snacks...could you ask for anything more?

book review // felt-o-ween

Felt-o-ween Book Review

Today I'm very pleased to be sharing another very biased book review. I hope you don't mind.

To be really upfront, here's what makes my review of Felt-o-ween biased. 1. I have several projects in here. 2. The publisher, Lark Crafts, is also the publisher of my forthcoming book. 3. Co-author Kathy Sheldon is who suggested I write a book and co-author Amanda Carestio was my editor during the creation of my book, Stitch Love. With all that, it would be unlikely that I'd have anything bad to say about Felt-o-ween.

But disclaimer aside, this may be my favorite Halloween crafting book ever.

Felt-o-ween Book Review
Felt-o-ween Book Review

Like the other books in the series, Fa-la-la-la Felt and Heart-Felt Holidays, this not-too-spooky title is filled with things to make from felt. It's such a versatile material to work with, and these books really point that out.

There's a very nice variety of projects in here too. You'll find plenty of costume pieces, decorations, Halloween party goodies, spooky sewing accessories, and a few items that are perfect for while you're trick-or-treating (such as the Sew Gross Hand Warmers).

Felt-o-ween Book Review

There's a little bit of the gruesome, which is hidden away under this eye patch. And it might just be the most clever project in the book. Certainly I've never seen an eye patch like this!

Felt-o-ween Book Review

There's also a few harvest projects that can be used September-November. You know your mums need my happy little scarecrow and crow poking out from the blooms, right?

Felt-o-ween Book Review

And just when you thought that Halloween couldn't get any better, you are given the opportunity to make your own set of Pumpkin Patch Players. I'm going crazy for the cuteness!

Felt-o-ween Book Review

My mom likes Halloween even more than I do. Not the creepy version, but the fun kind of Halloween. We sat down to look at Felt-o-ween together, and both of us decided that every project in here is a winner. Even severed fingers made of felt appealed to her!

If I knew nothing about the publisher, authors, and contributors, and just picked this book up off the shelf, I'm confident that I would still say, this is a solid Halloween crafting book that should be in the library of any crafter who loves holidays.

Find Felt-o-ween at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or your local bookseller.

lovely squirrel crafts


With each new month this year, I've had a new animal to work into the things I share here on Wild Olive. And within the last few months, I've added in a new Pinterest board to go with the theme. For the flying squirrel in September, I now have a Lovely Squirrel Crafts board (with all things squirrelly). Be sure to check it out!

For those who are curious, the cookie cutter above is from Meri Meri, and the fabric has been in my stash for a few years, but originally it came from JoAnn. I've got a fun fall project planned for it coming soon!

the proverbial truth of a stitch in time

A Stitch in Time...

You've probably heard the adage "a stitch in time saves nine." The meaning is that doing something well from the beginning saves much effort in the long run. And amazingly enough, it applies to actual stitching.

When people ask me how it is that my stitches are so neat and even (especially running stitch), I don't usually have an easy answer. I tend to have an eye for spacing, and that helps. I also stitch a lot, and practice makes perfect! But probably the biggest help is taking time to get them just right.

It's not that I agonize over each stitch, or even that I go very slowly. It's simply a matter of paying attention to the size and placement of each stitch. One stitch, done well, is far better than nine stitches done sloppily.

Running Stitch sample

Believe me.

When I'm working under a deadline, it's amazing how poor my stitching can become. I hurry along trying to get it done, and then I realize that I've embroidered an inch or more of wobbly stitches. So I take them out. I could have saved nine! Or more!

Karen Barbé wrote a post about this undoing of stitches. It can be so disheartening, and yet, even when you remove the work you've just completed, it still saves you time when you consider the big picture and that you want that picture to look as pretty as possible! Not to mention, a bit of undoing can inspire better stitching next time.

So here's my challenge for you. Stitch a little slower. Look at each stitch as you go. Don't be afraid to go back and re-stitch.

After some time in this practice, you'll find that it goes faster...but hopefully not too fast! After all, a stitch at medium speed might save three or four, and perfection is overrated, but it is a wonderful feeling to look over your finished embroidery and feel truly proud of what you've created.