Photographing Felt

It’s funny stuff, felt. It has a distressing tendency to look blurred on an image even when it isn’t. I have on some occasions taken multiple photos of the same felt vase – and they’ve all looked blurred unless you zoom right in on them. Here’s a few tips I’ve used to create better images of felt. Have a look at some of the felt photographs I’ve taken.

I think the key factors in a good photo are:

  • Focus
  • Depth of field
  • Lighting
  • Background

I have taken almost all of the felt photos with a Canon EOS350D SLR. My initial attempts used a cheap secondhand Fuji compact digital camera, which did produce acceptably sharp images, but it was very difficult to control the focus and depth of field (the bits of the subject that are in focus). SLRs make it much easier to focus on the element of the subject you want to be really sharp. If you haven’t got a digital SLR, however, don’t despair – read this article and then click the link at the bottom.

Depth of field is the amount of the subject that is in focus on the image. The depth of field is reduced the closer you are to the subject you’re photographing, so if you’re taking a close up picture of a small(ish) felt item then you want to maximise your depth of field. The easiest way to do this is to use a small aperture (f-number) – and that’s only really possible if you’re using an SLR. One of the consequences of using a smaller aperture is that the exposure time will need to increase, so it makes sense to use a tripod to keep the camera steady.

The images below illustrate depth of field on a felt vase. The image on the left was focused on the back of the vase, and the centre image focused on the front, both taken with a large aperture, f4. The out of focus area of both these photographs is very noticeable, even with the small image size shown here. The image on the right, which has both the front and back of the vase in focus, was taken using a small aperture, f22 (and an exposure time of 2.5 seconds – requiring a tripod).

Felt vase - back in focusFelt vase - front in focusFelt vase - front and back in focus

Having experimented with using daylight and flash to achieve acceptable lighting on the felt, in the end I invested in a couple of cheap studio lights (£100 or so from eBay). This is a much more predictable approach to lighting. It’s much easier to make sure the subject is bright enough – from all angles if it’s three dimensional – and hence it allows you to easily use a small aperture on the camera to get the maximum depth of field. This makes a lot of difference for three dimensional objects like the felt vases, where you’re probably trying to get the front and back rim of the vase in focus. Having a couple of lights also allows one to be used quite directionally to emphasise surface texture.

Most of the 3D objects were photographed against a sheet of (matt) black cloth, variously draped over convenient household objects to provide a smooth and plain background. Scarves and handbags were photographed against different mixtures of garden gravel, slate chippings and white spar – all bought from garden suppliers, washed to remove dust and then spread on a cut down cardboard box. Simple and cheap but (I think) effective. This sort of thing:

Pink felt scarf against gravelFelt necklace against grey slate chipsFelt brooch against white sparPink felt scarf against gravelScarf against grey slate chips

Another top tip here is to check for bits of dust, cat hairs and other unwanted items both on your subject and on your background. In particular hairs on felt are very difficult to see when you’re looking at the item but quite obvious on the image.

I have mostly used a Canon 17-40 zoom lens, with the focal length set at 40mm, plus a Tamron 90mm lens for close ups.

If you’re interested, read my other article about photographing felt with a compact digital camera.

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