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.

5 features to pay attention to when selecting a photo.  Use these tips for a stress-free experience!

1. Head and shoulders photo

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. 

Head and shoulders photo

2. The lighting is balanced

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

head and shoulders photo of a man.

My good looking husband!

Lighting Not Balanced

If the face of the person is too light, 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 the light side of the face is lost. 

 

Photo overexposed

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.

 

 

3. Copyright free

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 may hold the copyright for the photo, particularly if it is one taken of a famous person.

It is always best to ask for permission to use a photo and to 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: 

https://pixabay.com/ 

https://unsplash.com/

https://www.pexels.com/

 

4. Have a good quality photo – 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 in to account tip #1 above. 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.

Woman holding a small child - too blurry for a good fabric portrait

 

5. Choose a photo for a 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.

I choose my photos because of the expression on a face, the clothes and or/the stance of the person. The combination of these elements adds to the portrait.

A lady wearing a lacy gown.

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?

 

To receive my complete guide and checklist with these and more tips for choosing a good photograph for your fabric portrait, sign up for my newsletter.


 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Choosing a Photograph for a Fabric Portrait

  1. Brenda Ferguson

    Hi Val. Is it too late to buy some of your skin tones hand dyed fabrics for next weekends class? I just received the supply list yesterday and having had a look at my stash not sure about what I have.
    I am hoping to work from a black and white photo taken in the early40’s of my Dad in his army uniform. It is a headshot tsken by the army. Never done one of these before so if you think I should start with something else let me know.
    Haven’t taken one of your classes before, but we have met at one of Coreen Here’s classes in Glenboro. Looking forward to a fibre art class.
    Thanks,
    Brenda Ferguson

    Reply
    1. Valerie Wilson Post author

      Brenda

      I am planning on bringing some sets of skin toned fabric to the workshop, so yes, you can have one set.
      An old black and white photo will be fine. Read my blog post about choosing a photograph for more info. It will still need to be posterized and enlarged before the class.

      I look forward to seeing you in class!

      Reply

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