If anyone had told me in March that my new best friend would be a bag of rice, I wouldn’t have believed them. But after my marathon photo session for Sew Witchy I’m ready to name that bag Wilson and get matching tattoos.
The thing is, I’m a writer, not a photographer. That didn’t stop me from saying, “Yes, of course,” when Llewellyn asked if I could supply the step-by-step and finished project photos for the book. I’d snapped pictures for this blog and Instagram before with my phone. How hard could it be?
Oh ho! Let me tell you: I was woefully unprepared for how hard it was. And while I think the final photos turned out all right, I have no desire to do this again. (Famous last words, I know. Although they’re easy to write now as I don’t have any ideas for another craft book.)
I went into my photographical journey thinking that the hardest part would be how much longer it would take to complete each project. I figured it would take twice as long so that’s what I planned for. Instead, I quickly realized it was taking more like three to four times as long. I was photographing each step, even if I didn’t think it needed to be documented because the book was meant to be accessible to new sewists.
As an aside can I just talk about what a trip it is to write a book about sewing book when you are self-taught? Several times I would stop in mid-stitch and question if my technique was “proper”. Was this the sort of thing a beginner should start with? I had to look up terms to make sure they meant what I thought they meant. At every step I had to stop and make sure that I had adequately explained what to do. Just writing instructions and then photographing the various stitches used in the book was a process that took days.
So, back to the pictures. I had sent sample photos to the art director months before and was told I needed to use a tripod and provide photos in both horizontal and vertical shots. My local library had tripods I could check out which addressed the first issue. The second was a bit trickier. The tripod couldn’t hold the camera vertical leaving me at a loss of what to do. I came up with the brilliant idea to shoot step-by-step photos on a white piece of foam board. I’d take one shot and then rotate the foam board 90° and take another “vertical” shot.
I only got through the first day of that when my friend Randy, who does photo art layout and design for a living, kindly told me that my brilliant idea wasn’t really. He’s the one who clued me in to the bag of rice trick. (Actually he suggested a bag of beans but I’m more of a canned beans kind of witch, so I instead filled a sandwich baggie full of rice.) I would take the horizontal pictures, then balance the camera on its side on top of the rice, which was balanced on the tripod. This added to the time each picture took, but it meant that there weren’t as many pictures that looked like I had taken them during an earthquake.
As difficult as all the above was, getting shots of the finished wearables was an experience on a whole ‘nother level. The sample robe was modeled by my son Benjamin. He is a ball of chaotic energy, rarely able to stay still for even a microsecond. A good 99% of the photos I took were blurry. Eventually Ben ran out of patience and refused to pose any longer, leaving me with exactly two pictures I could use. To all the child photographers out there, you have my utmost respect.
In the end I took over 1000 pictures. (Not counting the pictures I lost one day when I returned the camera to the library without transferring the day’s photos over to my computer. Fun times.) Of those, about 350 were sent on to the art director. By the end my everything hurt: back, legs, feet, head and hands. My house looked like a tornado had hit a craft store and dumped the debris all over it. Dishes didn’t get washed. Floors had gone unvacuumed. Cats had not been pet. If my husband hadn’t stepped in to take care of things while I toiled the family would have been wandering around hungry and disheveled.
I’ve always been the type of person who learned by diving in the deep end. This is no exception. And I did learn. The pictures I took at the end are world’s better than those I took at the beginning. I’m in no hurry to put my newfound skills to use, though. I’m going back to amateur camera phone photos.
UPDATE: After writing this post, I got word from my editor that I need to reshoot all of the finished project shots. I sort of took their comments on my first sample shots a bit too far and ended up with very sterile shots. Fortunately, the editorial team sent me a document with notes for each shot. And, a friend offered me the use of a tripod that can do both horizontal and vertical shots. So my best friend will be retired and I’ll be able to get the pictures done faster.