Monday, September 14, 2020

StencilGirl® Stencils and the Art of Photography

Hi friends! Welcome to another Trendsetter post.  I’m Debi Adams and today I'm side stepping an actual project (though some will be featured) to address a very important component in art, one that often gets overlooked and/or buried in the hustle and bustle of due dates, deadlines and excitement, and that is, photography.  When we create amazing projects and share them with others, or apply for magazine editorials, teaching assignments, blog posts, etc. we are adding another layer to our work and in essence, putting out our portfolio of sorts.  Yet often times it is not considered because it is secondary to our art.  Don’t get me wrong, our artistry IS the focus, but photography is the key to making our work shine in it’s best light. Literally.  It has the ability to elevate what we have created, gives others a clear vision of our handiwork and provides the professional edge to our artistry. 

Taking nice photos does not require a degree in photography nor to own a fancy camera in order to take some beautiful shots. I do not possess either. It does require however, that we adhere to a few simple principles, working them over and over again through practice, until they become a habit.  The nicest part about photography these days is that we all have a camera via our cell phones and they give us the ability to create some amazing work! Honestly, it is so easy to accomplish. Oh yes, there can be more, so much more to know and learn, especially when it comes to all the capabilities that’s available on your camera, not to mention computer apps like Photoshop, Darkroom, and outside products like lighting, etc., but most of us are wanting to spend our time on our art, not adding to another hobby.  So for today I will address just three items that I think are the most important; clear photos, correct lighting and stylizing.

Clear Photos  

So easy to accomplish and often overlooked.  It requires us to slow down enough to let the camera do its job or slow down ourselves enough to notice.  First piece of homework.  Go back and review your photos.  Really look at them.  Can you see the details well? If you zoom into to the object, what does it look like? Clear? Dark? Shadowed?  The number one thing I learned for myself was to allow the camera time to focus. It only takes a few seconds but those few seconds can make the difference between a sharp image and a blurry one. (Example  coming up.) Professional photographers with professional cameras can adjust their cameras to make those quick clicks count but the majority of us are using our cell phones and they can take a few seconds to focus.  One more thing, remember to CLEAN your phone/camera lens with a soft, non-abrasive cloth before shooting.  Better things happen when you do! I promise. :) 

Homework assignment: Try it.   

Correct Lighting

Well this one I could go into length about but my intention is to give you enough tools to be successful and not require additional investments into time or equipment. Truth is, outside of natural lighting, I only own two purchased professional lights. I do not use them often, really only at night or if I can’t get an area lit as much as I want, more common with videos.  If you are shooting at night, you most likely will need to invest in one.  

Use natural lighting whenever possible.  I like to use North light BUT I have also found areas in my home where the light filters in and gives the least amount of shadowing. Move around your house with your projects and take photos.  Eventually you will find that sweet spot where everything comes together perfectly.  Mine is where I open my front door in the late afternoon.  

Also look for natural, direct, overhead lighting.  Generally that is around noon, depending on where you live.  I have a sky light right above this table. Perfect.  

Be acutely aware of your shadow as you take the picture.  Is there a gray area being cast where you lean into the object?  Time for you to move in a different direction.  You will need to play and practice with this. It only takes a few seconds but is definitely worth it.  It won’t be long before you figure this out and then establishing where to shoot photos will take just minutes.  

"Blurry with a chance of shadows"... A very common but correctable problem.

 Try shooting your item from further away.  It lightens or removes shadows entirely too. You can then crop it to a tighter shot and you are good! If I had angled this set a tad bit more, I think that left shadow would have disappeared entirely.  I will crop it however, and that will eliminate the shadow altogether. 

Take pictures at different angles.  Some cool details are brought to the forefront with different shots!  It’s also a great way to contribute to instructions for a project. You can see layers, 3-D components, texture, etc.  Make that light work for you! 

I also recommend spending sometime on the “editing” section of your phone just by playing there.  You can lighten your photos using the  “exposure” or “brightness” button.   My new favorite edit on my iPhone is Black Point. I had NO CLUE what it was, so I moved the button and it was magic! I use it almost all. the. time.  Wanting to add some ambiance or change the mood?  Try “warmth”.  Moving it to the right creates an almost vintage hue while moving it to the left makes it whiter and more modern.  Did you know there’s a place to sharpen your photos too?  I discovered all of these by playing. The nice part is everything can be reverted back if you don’t like what you created!  (If you don't have an iPhone, I am certain the other phones have similar adjustment icons. )

Homework time.   


Though not quite as significant as the other two steps but definitely worth considering is stylizing.  It can really add to your art in several ways.  It can be the background that grounds your art and can be as simple as a painted piece of wood, a dirty, painty stencil, a few brushes, etc.  Remember though, your art is to be the main focal point so if something else is stealing the show, it probably needs to be removed or hidden a bit.  

I love stylizing A LOT.  It doesn’t take a lot of items to create the background. Here are a few compiled together.  I'm certain I wouldn't  use them ALL in a shot but this gives you an idea for  prop materials.

Stylizing can help tell the story of our work. By incorporating little props or setting our work at a certain angle, we can direct what story we want our viewers to know and see.

I have discovered that if done correctly, stylizing can actually make my art look better than it really is! Yup!  I’ve been known to toss a feather or a paint brush on top of my art and wow, what a change. 

Go from this...

To this...

And finally,  stylizing can be an art in itself. It’s a lot like collage making or scrapbooking but with a little less stuff. I love the rearranging of the elements to bring my art into complete focus.  I say it’s like problem solving or working a puzzle.  When your eyes settle on your art as it takes the whole scene in, you have arrived.   Check out this "stacked" art photo by Seth Apter.  Simple stylizing, no props, (with the details in the work, it doesn't need it) but great lighting, a clear photo (love the angle) and nice story.  (Photo used by permission).

So how about some tips and maybe a little bit of homework?  

1.  Start following a few instagram accounts that are attractive to you for photography purposes.  You can look in the “searchable “section of Instagram to see what catches your eye. They do not need to be art-based projects.  They can be flowers, stationery, home decor, clothing, really anything.   The bonus is you just might catch some color combinations you hadn't thought of to use in your art!  Here are a few of my favorites. I mixed them up a bit so you can see a variety:

And of course, lots and lots of our own artists at StencilGirl® are amazing too! Check out StencilGirl’s Instagram and see what photos you are drawn to.  

2.  Practice, practice, practice.  It doesn’t get easier if you don’t practice.  Continue to try something a little bit different or new once you get comfortable somewhere so that the next time you shoot you have a library of ideas to draw from.

3. Stylizing props…

Branches/twigs, nests, wooden boxes, greenery/succulents, old paintbrushes, clean and dirty StencilGirl® stencils, stamps, paints, markers, tea-dyed muslin, woven placemats, real, dried and fake flowers, wood slices, layers of your old art pages, small vintage suitcases, old books, rusty ephemera, marble, gold pieces, macrame, and the list goes on, are perfect for adding to art. Always remember that less is best. 

Oh and I almost forgot…

I have purchased and encourage you all to make some hand painted boards for backdrops.  I went to the Home Depot and had them cut me up a $10.00 piece of thin plywood into smaller pieces and painted them in different colors.  Make sure you have a black one in there. It is a staple for me. It’s so nice to grab a backdrop when I’m ready to shoot.  And these are considerably less than the professional drops you can purchase. 

4.  Some of the best ways to get engagement on Pinterest is through nice photos.  A while back Kristin Williams of Ephemera Paducah posted her work table with items she was going to talk about. Seemed really simple at the time but on Pinterest, it was a huge hit!  Your table can be messy too! That’s just as eye catching as a tidy one and gets a lot of attention. Remember two of the rules though, it must be clear and it must be well lit. 

So there you have a very simplified version of photography.  I think or at least hope, you found this helpful and it will open up opportunities for you to showcase your work.  Clear photos, good lighting, nice stylizing are concepts that never go out of style and are always appreciated and considered when applying for design teams, magazine features, creative job applications etc. At least it puts your best light forward. :) 



“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.”
-Ansel Adams”

You can visit me at:

Instagram: debi_adams
Facebook: Debi Adams
Pinterest: Debi Adams


  1. thanks so much for the tips and for prompting me to think before I shoot!!!

  2. Super photography tips, I am constantly searching for ways to enhance how I share my work, I agree that playing and trying different angles and locations makes a huge difference. It’s all perspective! Thanks for the black point tip, I’ve never tried that one! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience

  3. Great, useful column - thank you, Debi!

  4. Thank you very much … I learned some very useful tips and appreciate you taking the time to share this article with us !

  5. Thank you Debi... is it the regular/comes with the iPhone camera to do these?

  6. Great tips.. I need to make some new backdrops... paint the older ones.. and clean the lense.. and..
    thanks.. I made notes while reading..

  7. Great post, Debi! I need to be experimenting more with my props. Thanks for the tips.


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