Photo shoot post 5: styling

This continues (and completes) my series of posts on the photo shoot of the fibers for the book that Storey Publishing will release next spring . . . in either very late April or early May; I am hoping and trusting it will be ready by the first full weekend in May!

Today's topic is photo styling, which means arranging everything that will appear within the boundaries of the photographed image so that it is beautiful and serves all of its purposes. For a book like this, those purposes include conveying information clearly, working consistently with the other images in the book, contributing to the mood of the work as a whole, and so on.

You could say that the photo below has been styled, although not for the purposes I just listed:


That's a snapshot I took with my little camera of a few of the fibers that I pulled from the files to contribute to the section opener for the Northern European Short-Tailed sheep. The breeds above are Finn (on the left) and Icelandic (on the right). In this group, I also pulled samples of Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, and Shetland. For each section opener, my job is to come up with clean locks and skeinlets that demonstrate either the range of fibers within a group or the most characteristic types of fibers in that group. I get to set the criteria as well as pick out the samples. Because we are dealing with a lot of fibers at once and they get jumbled during styling, I have been taking quick snapshots of the raw materials in case a sample escapes from its labels. They do that.

It is the responsibility of art director Mary Velgos and photographer John Polak to make sure the fibers end up looking far better than they do in my reference snapshots.

Mary is the photo stylist (not always a job done by the art director), although John contributes information on how her proposed choices will photograph. What we see with our eyes is not always what the camera sees and records, especially when we're dealing with subtleties of color and texture.

Mary starts the styling process by consulting her computer. It tells her not only what needs our attention next but also how that piece of the project relates to the whole.


I've written before about the computers and the backgrounds. Mary and John begin by putting down the mat board (bottom level) and then positioning the piece of barn board that identifies the group of fibers to be photographed. The board changes position on the table depending on whether the image will be a righthand page, a lefthand page, a spread (two opposite pages shot as one continuous image), or something else. In the photo below, I think Mary's setting up a spread.


John's looking through his camera to be sure everything's in exactly the right position. For this book, the camera has mostly stayed in one place so that all the fibers that are meant to be compared to each other (almost all of them) are being shot at the same size.

(The backgrounds, boards, and fabrics, as well as people's clothes, may change randomly in this sequence of images. I did not take all of these snapshots at the same time: I had to sneak them in between my other responsibilities.)

Next Mary tries out fabrics. Because for most of the shots the fibers are surrounded by the selected fabric color, it takes a while to figure out which of the many colors to use for a given group. Mary and John may be smiling in the next photo because the piece of wool Mary's holding is the one that came to be known as "Mary's favorite."


But if John expressed reservations about how a given color would work, she'd try another, like this plummy-fuchsia:


. . . or maybe this blue. . . .


Once the preliminary choices have been (probably) made, John checks positioning again and Mary brushes off bits of fiber, wood, and dust that may have accumulated. These specks can be removed from the digital files later with Photoshop, but it's a whole lot easier (especially when there are many photographs) to eliminate them before they ever become pixels needing to be fixed.


Finally the background is (probably) set.


Part of the positioning of the background elements in relation to the camera involves placing paper markers to show where the edges of the page occur. For a spread, this includes a guide for the gutter (the area in the center of the book that will go into the binding). Then it's time for Mary to arrange the fibers.


With the rough placement set, Mary puts the identifying cards on the fibers and John takes a reference photo (his being much classier than mine).


The cards come off and John starts taking test photos. Mary continues to check placement of the items, and we all look at the preliminary images in the layout file and then move this or that item by a millimeter or two, or replace it entirely. When we're all happy (although I may have spent most of the adjustment time over with my deck of cards, being sure we're not missing any items) . . .


. . . someone says, "Let's shoot it," and John takes at least three bracketed exposures, while Mary and I make sure not to be walking around so the floor doesn't vibrate.

The results look so simple.


Then we put those bits of fiber and mat board and barn board and fabric away, and Mary starts styling the next photo.



We've finished the photo sessions, including the section openers and a couple of cover prospects. I get to go home for a while.

However, at the end of this four-day session of work I had most of a day to keep my feet on the ground here in New England. I spent the time writing outlines for two segments of Knitting Daily TV that I'll be recording soon (paperwork due today), and also visited the Jones LIbrary in Amherst to see a painting of Emily Dickinson by Guillermo Cuéllar, a friend of mine from way back. I sat in the library's special collections room and read the paper Guillermo wrote on his method of doing the painting, including the research he did before he began to paint (part of the paper is available online). Although all of his comments were interesting, I was most intrigued by his remarks about the textiles. Apparently he was unable to find anyone's determination about whether the tablecloth in the famous daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson was printed or double-woven. I'd be curious about digging into that myself, if I had time. . . . I have a guess, but it's just a gut reaction.

The trees are beginning to turn a bit.


But for those who have plans in a few weeks to come see the colors, don't worry: most of the landscape has not changed yet. Although the photo above was taken quickly, when I was going more slowly I looked more at leaf shapes to see if I could figure out which were changing and maybe why. At that point, the color I saw was in the sumacs and in some oaks that may have been stressed this year.


Just enough bright reds and oranges for me to enjoy. They remind me of when this area was home.


1 thought on “Photo shoot post 5: styling”

  1. Ouch! I can’t imagine how you missed a twist in your cast on. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that can still happen to even the most experienced of knitters….

    Thank you for the bit about the fall colors. I will be in CT late October and worry I may be too late and miss most of the glory that is fall in New England.

    I may plan next year’s trip around Columbus weekend – traditionally considered CT’s peak time for color though it really does vary each year. I miss home.

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