Choosing a Photograph for a Fabric Portrait

Choosing a Photograph for a Fabric Portrait

When teaching a fabric portrait workshop, the question I get asked most often is “How can I know that I am choosing a good photograph to use for my portrait?” 

Choosing a photograph can be an easy process by paying attention to the following tips.

Use these tips for a stress-free experience!


1. Head and shoulders photograph

For someone starting out doing fabric portraits, it is best to start with a photo that shows only the head and shoulders of a subject.

This generally means that the photographer got closer to their subject and that you have a clearer, larger image to use.

This also means that it will be a manageable size for a first attempt

Portrait photo of a older woman. Fits with the text about a head and shoulders photo.

Head and Shoulders Photo

2. The lighting is balanced.

You want a photo that shows good light and dark areas (contrast) like this one:

Example of photo with good lighting. Fits with the text on lighting.

Even lighting

a. Avoid Photos where the lighting is Not balanced

If the lighting is too bright, it will be hard to distinguish the planes of the face and will make it very difficult to create a pattern for the portrait.

Here you can see that the detail on one side of the face is lost. 

Face overexposed in a photo.

Too bright

b. On the other hand, if the lighting is inadequate, the face will be all dark and it will again be hard to distinguish the correct values and the details of the features.

Underexposed photo of a man. Relevant to the text on lighting.

Too dark

 Lighting is insufficient. Photo is too dark.

 3. Copyright-free Photograph

You want to be sure that you have the right to use the photograph that you choose. 

The person in the photo has some say in how the photo is used and the photographer holds the copyright for the photo, particularly if it is one taken of a famous person.

Ask for permission to use a photo and get that permission stated in writing (emails are OK).

There are a number of free image sites that provide copyright-free photos.

Just be sure to check their rules of use.

Some sites for free photos are:


4. Have a good quality photograph

size and quality matter

Since you will be enlarging the photo for your fabric portrait it is a good idea to choose a good quality photo in the beginning.

The best size to have is no smaller than 6″ x 8″ (15cm x 20cm), taking into account tip #1 above.

Or at least 1mb in size when scanned into the computer.

Small photos with a number of people in them generally do not enlarge well for a portrait.

As well, blurry photos make it difficult to accurately determine the outlines of the features and without this critical element; the resulting portrait will look distorted.


5. Choose a photo for your fabric portrait that tells a story

Choose a photo that intrigues you. You will find it more interesting to work on the portrait if it tells a story.

My method for choosing photos is to look at the expression on a face, the clothes and or/the stance of the person. The combination of these elements adds to the interest and appeal of the portrait.

For example:

You may want to create a portrait of a grandchild.

Do you have a photo that shows them doing something memorable?

If the photo is of a parent or spouse, is there one that shows them as you most like to think of them? 

Does it tell a story or create a mood?

These are all elements that add interest to a portrait.

One thought on “Choosing a Photograph for a Fabric Portrait

  1. Pingback: Creating your Pattern for your Fabric Portrait - Valerie Wilson Fibre Artist

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