Friday, December 19, 2014

Photos of Your Knitting, Part 3: Low-Tech Solution

Excuse my rumpled paper, but I just threw together another idea for something you can do if you don't want to invest in 3 flashes, a camera, and (maybe) light stands.

Find a window. Pile up boxes, tables or chairs to create a flat platform at least as high as the bottom of the window.

Tape, rig, or otherwise affix your paper to the ceiling. If you're starting with fresh paper, it will look better than this, I promise. This is all banged up because I moved it from where it was before. 

Place object, and shoot away.

Not bad! It will depend on the time of day and the weather, but it's not bad.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Photos of Your Knitting, Part 2: Location Location Location

The next thing that matters a LOT to your photos? Where you are taking them. Look for a space in your home that has a white ceiling. Ideally, it would have white walls, too, but any color that isn't really bright or really dark is still ok. In this house, that's the basement storage room.

In our old house, I took over a corner of our white living room as a photo studio. Our basement was unfinished. If I had to use a part of the house that was painted a dark color or an unfinished basement, I wouldn't be above stapling up white posterboard. You can get as much as you like for less than $50 and you can replace it if it gets dirty or you have to tear it down to get to the plumbing.

As it is, I have a crowded but pretty good space with light walls and a white ceiling. I only ask that you not judge the number of unopened moving boxes. We moved into this house about 7 months ago and it turns out that isn't a long time when you're also finishing a book!

A roll of white paper is completely needed for a seamless background. "Real" photographer's background paper is really big, designed to be stomped on without tearing, and expensive. Fortunately 36-inch craft paper is available at most office supply stores and is usually less than $10. I put mine up with blue painter's tape. I'm using a stack of boxes, here, instead of a table, but a TV tray works well. The only problem with these boxes is the shape of the top of the box - you really need a flat surface or you'll have to spend a lot of time photoshopping out wrinkles. I don't like to do that, so I switched to a stool with a flat top after I took this photo.

Using stacks of boxes (or chairs, or whatever you have around) is a cheap way to get around light stands, but if you want to use light stands, it's hard to go wrong with this set. It gets you where you need to go for less than $100. The umbrellas are a great bonus - you would have to worry less about the color of your walls and the state of your ceilings if you had that kit. 

My basement has a fair amount of window light. A slight change in the lighting will happen depending on the amount of daylight outside. This is great if I don't need the lighting for all of my photos for several months to be the same. If I do need that consistency, I will either cover the windows with drapes or only shoot at night. 

However you do it, here's a quick three-light set up. Imagine your studio area is a tiny baseball stadium, with your subject (the foot) at home plate. Your camera will usually be around the pitcher's mound, with a flash that can point straight up. Put that flash into manual mode and set it to send out as little light as possible. (Check the manual or online for how to do this. It's called "dialing it all the way down.") Take your second flash and put it somewhere along the first-base line, pointed at the ceiling, with a slave, and also dialed all the way down. (If you don't know where this is, ask your sports-nut friend while he's drinking something. Hilarity will ensue.)

Your third flash should be your most powerful/easiest to use. It goes along the third-base line. You can see mine on the right side of the above photo. It also needs an optical slave. Start by dialing it down to 1/16 or 1/32. Set your camera on manual. Choose 200 ISO, 1/125 for the shutter (or the highest manual sync for that camera, again, check the manual), and f/5.6 or f/8 for the aperture. 

Take a test shot. Too bright? Dial down your main light. Too dark? Dial it up. Experiment until you love it. 

Tomorrow: How to get a white-background, pretty good photo with just a digital camera or the camera in your phone (and the right location).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Photos of Your Knitting, Part 1: The Gear

Even though "photographer" isn't my day job anymore, I still am one! I get questions, with some frequency, from knitters who just want their photos to look better. Knitting is hard to photograph. It's often small, we do it in our homes (living rooms are notoriously dark), and since most knitters aren't professional photographers, we have to make do with whatever equipment we happen to have. 

Today's post is geared (ha!) toward any knitter who has a digital or film camera that will accept an external flash. 

The top photo is the set of flashes I use. The one on the left is from when my mom was in college (1970-ish). The center one I bought last year when my old Nikon flash died after many years of service. I bought the one on the right the morning after my junior prom in 1996 at a camera swap meet. I remember because my dad took me and I bought that flash and my trusty Nikon FM2. I still have that camera, but film and processing costs mean that it's mostly a nice keepsake now.

Those weird little things you see below the flashes are called optical slaves. For less than $20, they will turn any flash unit into a remote flash that will work well as long as the light in the room isn't too bright (I don't recommend them for outdoors) and you have a direct line of sight between your units. Fancy, expensive flashes used to come with built-in optical slaves. Alas, those days are no more as camera companies prefer to build in radio-controlled slaves, when they build them in at all. Radio control is awesome, but I'm not about to replace everything I use (including my Nikon D100!) just to take advantage of a feature I can buy for less than $100. 

Rant over. Sorry. BTW if you want to drop serious money on just making sure your flashes will fire, I recommend Pocket Wizards. I used that system the entire time I worked at newspapers, and they never, ever let me down. For relatively inexpensive "studio-style" lighting gear, Alien Bees are hard to beat, too. 

You don't need a fancy flash to take great photos, but it helps a lot if it has a tilt and swivel head. Just check for that option when you're comparing flashes. The two flashes on the right in the above photo have that, and it just opens up your options a lot. 

The second photo is probably even more important than the first. Fresh batteries. You can use rechargeable if you want, but always, ALWAYS have a spare set of hand and ready to go. There is nothing worse than being ready to shoot and finding out that your batteries aren't working. 

Also, unless you use your flashes at least one a week, never, ever store batteries in your flash. Batteries can leak. The stuff that leaks out of them will almost always ruin your gear! I don't use brand-new batteries for every shoot, but I often keep little snack-size ziplocks in my bag and pop the batteries out when I'm finished shooting. I store batteries on a shelf, neatly lined up so that the ends don't touch each other. That can cause a short, which can cause a leak. If you can get a box of batteries that is resealable, that's even better.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how to set up a temporary studio and show you my messy basement. Look away, mom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Turns Out The Internet Isn't Forever

I've known this was coming for a while, but it was still a shock to me last week when, all of a sudden, the 155 patterns I'd written for the Math4Knitters: Crafty Living blog were...gone. 

The Journal Gazette switched website systems. I don't blame my former employer for not keeping files that are, in some cases, from the beginning of 2010. In newspaper terms, that's about 1,000 years ago! But, I was truly worried that all of the knitters that have enjoyed (or are planning to enjoy) the free patterns I published would be really, really mad at me. 

So far, the only reaction I've had is a nice note from someone who saw that a link wasn't working. I went through that night, removed all of the links, and added notes to the pattern pages on Ravelry. (Yes, on 155 records! Thank goodness for my iPad.) That knitter was completely understanding when I explained the situation. 

We'll see what ends up happening with those patterns. I'll let you know. In the meantime, thanks for not blaming me!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Knitmore Girls' 25 Days of Enabling: Sock Architecture Made the Cut!

Photo by The Knitmore Girls
I'm sure everyone knows about The Knitmore Girls and their 25 Days of Enabling. It's the sort of advent calendar everyone can get behind. In their own words, "We’re going to feature one cool thing (yarn, pattern, book, cool thing) each day, and some of the amazing people who make the goodies are offering deals. :)" Day 13 is Sock Architecture (20% off a purchase of $20 or more, but get the full details on their Ravelry post.)

A lot of people think 13 is an unlucky number, but I know it's a Fibonacci number, so I love it!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Digital Explosion has allowed knitters of all stripes to become knitwear designers, too.

On Ravelry alone, right now, there are over 190,000 patterns available. Some are free, some are for sale, and all of them would have been much harder to find 15 years ago.

It's important to say "buyer beware" about all of those patterns, and especially the free ones, because many of them may not have gone through any sort of traditional editing process. The free patterns I offered on the Journal Gazette's Crafty Living, for example, were generally only checked for spelling mistakes by one other person (a beginning knitter), and were almost always only test-knit by me. I'm not saying they're bad patterns, and a lot of knitters have happily knit things from them. But, I've also received messages from people at 2 a.m. who are freaking out because k2tog, k2t and knit 2 together all mean the same thing, but I used one that's new to them, so they just don't know what to do.

The problem there isn't just free patterns, or the fact that people are able to publish patterns much more easily than before, but ALSO that there's no one rulebook, language or code that is always used by every designer.

In bellydance circles, we sometimes are a tiny bit jealous of ballerinas, because when one of them says "rond de jambe," they can expect other dancers to know what they mean. When we say "hip figure eight," it can mean at least 2 and, maybe, 8 different things. There's no one code for us.

Perhaps not having a set code or method helps creativity. But, mostly, it leads to confusion, unless you can show your student what you mean.

By the way, this "no rules" world in knitting isn't a problem caused by the internet era. I've found it in almost every knitting publication I've ever read, starting with ones from the late 1800s. To an extent, it seems like every writer (and publisher) has to decide not just what they want to say but how they're going to say it. That's probably why every knitting publisher has its own stylebook - the same pattern for the same thing will read differently if it appears in Knitty than if it appears in a book by Interweave Press. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it is.

I guess this is all a long way of me saying that I've been looking for a resource like Kate Atherley's new Pattern Writing for Knit Designers for a long time.

Short review: For the same $$ you would spend on that magazine subscription that I will totally get for myself if I don't get one for Christmas (that's a hint, mom!), you could get a book that will help you write better patterns, make your tech editor think you are wonderful and get knitters from "I like what you knit" to "I loved knitting your pattern" faster and with less panic.

Longer review: Kate's simple philosophy is this: "Good pattern writing matters because we want knitters to keep knitting." There is nothing more destructive to a knitter's will than encountering poorly-written or confusing instructions. When a pattern doesn't work, some knitters will decide that pattern isn't for them, some will decide that technique isn't for them, and (hopefully very few) will decide that knitting isn't for them. That's a bummer for everyone involved!

She includes a downloadable pattern template (that is also printed in the text), to make everything easier for you, but also explains why each element of a pattern is important. 

I love her tips, too. She includes "don't just take it from me" snippets from knitters, "things you can do to make knitters LOVE you!" and advice from other knitting experts.

I've always found Kate to be smart, professional and polite, and it shows in her book. She's not afraid to share the opinions she's developed from her experiences as a knit teacher and tech editor, but she also explains the reasons for her opinions. 

Just a few: 

- Including metric needle sizes is mandatory.
- Charts are an excellent way to express repeated pattern stitches. They’re mandatory for colorwork, and are highly recommended for lace and cables.
- It is never, ever true that gauge “doesn’t matter.”

All I can say is: Amen, amen, and preach it!

Everything a designer needs to know is covered in this book. If you have questions about writing, grading (that's sizing) or copyright law, Kate is your guide. For anyone wanting to get more in-depth than is possible in a book her size, Kate also includes great information about where to dig deeper on your own.

*Kate gave me a digital copy of the book so that I could write this review. She's also been the main technical editor/angel in my life. But I would have loved this book either way, I promise!