How to take a great shawl photograph

December 1, 2013

Shawls and wraps are beautiful. They are a testament to the skill and effort of the knitter.  Shawls are the heirloom gift we give to babies or brides or very special people. Yet so often on blogs and our Ravelry project pages, they are immortalised in poor light, on blocking boards with pins every which way.

Shawls are tricky to photograph. They are often large, awkward shapes, full of detail, texture and colour and they are flat, very flat. I knitted my first shawls this year and really struggled with the photography.  So I looked to other knitters for inspiration.

In this post, you are going to see some beautiful photographs of shawls and wraps. The photographers, who include professionals and amateurs, will also share  their advice on how to best photograph your shawl.

There are lots of Ravelry links in this post, so to my dear non-knitting readers, I ask your forbearance.


Photograph by  Brooklyn Tweed

This is Girasole by Brooklyn Tweed. It is a large circular shawl. It is brim full of lace detail. In photographing the shawl, designer Jared Flood has not tried to show us the entire circle.  We can see enough to know that it is a circle and we can see the texture and patterning.  When I asked him about photographing shawls, Jared said,

For me the important thing about photographing a shawl is finding a way to show a flat, or semi-flat arrangement so that it is clear to the view how the lace motifs are arranged and how they fit together. For circles, often just showing a partial portion of the design is sufficient, since one section is repeated around the circumference of the design. The larger the shawl, the more difficult it is to photograph of course. I am partial to hanging or draping shawls over something (fence, tree branches, furniture, etc.) as it props the work up enough to display the motifs while still giving the possibility for an interesting image (or at least more interesting than a shawl on the ground!)

This next image is another circular Brooklyn Tweed shawl, Leaves of Grass.


Photograph by Brooklyn Tweed

Jared has hung this one from a line between the trees.  Notice how the photograph has been taken slightly to the side of the shawl rather than front on.  In this way, we understand the shape of the shawl but it is also rendered three dimensional in the fold lines.  The light shines through the shawl, highlighting the lace motifs. Notice also the simple wooden pegs, plastic wouldn’t fit this woodsy story.

At this point you might be thinking, well, Jared Flood is a professional photographer with an expensive camera and loads of gear.  How can the home knitter take pics like that?

Fear not home knitter! Take a look at the images in the popular knitting blog, My Sister’s Knitter.  Andi is a self-confessed amateur photographer but her pics are lovely.  I never tire of her beguiling work-in-progress images: knitting on the needles against a pretty cloth and a cup of tea or a book.  I feel calm and relaxed instantly! Whilst Jared Flood’s photographs provide an important visual reference to accompany his patterns, Andi’s photographs show how knitting makes her feel and what she is enjoying about the project.  She says,

No need to buy an expensive camera. I use a very inexpensive point and shoot. I would rather spend my money on more yarn! The key is to understand what your camera can do. Reading and trying out all the functions on your camera is key. You will be surprised at some of the camera options that are available.


Photograph by My Sister’s Knitter

This is An Affair to Remember, from the Cameo design by Paulina Popiolek.  Notice that Andi has focused closely on the detail and drape of the shawl not the shape.  It is the movement of the colouring that is the important element here. Andi suggests taking the time to stage your knits.

Just like when we are having our photo taken, we want our best side showing. Obviously, you don’t want to photograph the wrong side of your project! What I mean is, in order to capture the drape of a yarn, you may want to stage it, where the knit looks like it is flowing, either by rolling up the knit or hanging it from a hanger.


Photograph by My Sister’s Knitter

Andi creates movement and flow in this picture of her Lolo shawl from the Sugared Violets design by Rose Beck. The hanger is such a simple prop but it transforms a static flat thing into a dynamic thing.

Getting your shawl flowing is great advice.  Take a peek at WiscJennyAnn’s Ravelry project page.  This Clapotis is quite literally flowing.

Andi’s emphasis on detail is also very pertinent to photographing shawls.  Showing detail whilst alluding to the whole, such as in the Girasole photograph is key.  Try experimenting with creating a shallow depth of field in your shawl photograph.  Focus on an edge. The foreground will appear sharply focused whilst the background will blur.  Even point and shoot cameras often have an aperture setting you can use to create this effect.  

Everyone I talked to about photographing shawls emphasised the importance of natural light. Lori from Lori Times Five is a professional photographer.  In her blog, you will see stunning photographs which range from epic Californian wildscapes to detailed interior settings.

It’s been said many times, but the most important element in a good photo is light. natural light, either outside or indoors, indirect sunlight is the most realistic, colors are truest, and there can be a softness that shows woolly stitches at their best. Outside be careful of shadows, which can distort the image, making it uneven, not showing knits to their best…For out in the field, collapsible reflectors are brilliant for diffusing light, and reflecting at the same time. In most cases, artificial flash, is best used sparingly and with a lot of practice.

Without a diffuser, sunlight can be very harsh, overexposing the image and draining the shawl of colour.  If you don’t have a diffuser and you are photographing outside, you can try shooting on an overcast day.  The clouds will act as a natural diffuser.


Photograph by Lori Times Five

In this picture, Lori has photographed her Arcadian shawl, from a design by Kristen Hanley Cardozo, on the ground outside.  Notice however, the shawl does not look flat.  It has been arranged to show drape.  The bleached timber boards accentuate the warm colours of the shawl and delicate edging.

If you are going to be taking your photographs inside, make sure you have lots of natural light still. Shoot near a large window if you can.  Pay particular attention to the background.  It needs to be clean, as in not dirty and also as in uncluttered.  Lori suggests using a foam board as a background or you could use white card.  You could simply use a clean white wall.  If you look again at Andi’s An Affair to Remember photograph above, you will notice the white textured background, this is perfect for showing your shawl against.

You can try draping your shawl over a dress form.  The form should be clean and minimal.  My dress form is fushia with purple dials, so I am never going to be using that for my pictures.  Take a look at how Sachiko, a Portland knitter, uses her dress form.

knittmoautumn leaves

Photograph by Knittimo

Sachiko has called this shawl Autumn Leaves from the Semele design by Åsa Tricosa and whilst she is an amateur photographer, the image is exquisite. She says,

I think my dress form against the clean background helps a lot. Sometimes I use pins and some pinnable furniture (like an upholstered chair), not shown in edited photos, to help me hold items.  As for light, it’s all natural from the windows.

A wander through Sachiko’s Ravelry project pages, where she is knittimo, will yield many ideas for photographing shawls on a dress form.  She really takes time to dress the form well and stage the shot.


Photograph by Knittimo

This is a photograph of her Silken Haruni, a design by Emily Ross.

Whilst staging your shot is important and props can be fun and interesting, think about keeping it simple.  You want the focus to be on your shawl, not prop.

IMG_6863Another simple prop which most people have access to is a window.  The window frame provides a place to pin against. If you use a shallow depth of field, the background will blur nicely and the light behind the shawl will highlight any lacework.  For want of a better pic in the wee hours of night, I have used mine from Half Happy to illustrate the point.

It is worth the effort, to make your shawl photographs the best they can be. Good photographs of your work, document the skill and artistry of your work.  A good photograph acknowledges the hours you gave to the project.  You and your knitting are worth it.

My grateful thanks to Brooklyn Tweed, My Sister’s Knitter, Lori Times Five and Knittimo who gave me permission to use their beautiful photographs and who were so generous in their advice.

I am going to finish with some words from Lori.

A photo shoot can take a little time and effort, the last step in the making, and one that should be honored as much as choosing the perfect pattern, and yarn, swatching, knitting, then soaking and blocking.