by Jennifer Leach, guest blogger
Choosing the right fabric for a photo shoot can be tough. With thousands of fabrics to choose from, where do you start? In today's post, I'm going to answer that question by sharing some lessons I've learned working as a photographer for more than 15 years.
No matter which fabric you choose, there are a few basic things to keep in mind. First, make sure that your fabric doesn't steal the show. Unless you have a subject that can hold its own against bold colors and patterns, you'll want to stick with neutral or muted colors and fine or solid prints. You'll also want to make sure that your edges stay clearly visible by choosing a color and texture that doesn't blend in with your subject.
So which fabrics work best for photography?
Heavyweight fabrics hold their shape, resist wrinkling, and block out light, which makes them perfect for hanging smooth backdrops or shaping on a tabletop display.
Luscious! Passion Suede is available in a variety of solid colors in the Home Decor section of
Pacific Fabrics and is 60" wide.
Passion Suede is one of my favorites. This versatile fabric is soft enough to drape, but thick enough to hold a shape. What makes passion suede unique (and perfect for photography!) is that it has two distinct sides. The nap on the right side can be smoothed out for a velvety-look; this side absorbs light and creates a rich, solid background color. The reverse side is a smooth, tight weave that has no visible texture even when photographed up close.
Most commercial photography backgrounds are made from dyed or painted Cotton Duck, also 60" wide.
Cotton Duck is another good choice for a heavyweight fabric. It behaves a lot like Passion Suede but without the nap, and comes in a huge variety of colors and patterns. Be aware that that this fabric has a course weave that may be visible if you're shooting close-ups.
Tooled Faux Leather is perfect for photographing country-western boots and comes in a 54" width!
Very stiff fabrics are great for simulating walls and flooring. Try awning canvas or vinyl - both are available in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures.
Lightweight fabrics are great for draping or shaping closely around your subject. The possibilities are endless for layering these fabrics on top of other fabrics or materials like wood, stone, or plastic. Some thin fabrics can wrinkle easily, particularly if they're 100 percent Cotton, so stay away from fabrics like Linen unless you're intentionally going for a wrinkled look.
Frame your subject in beautiful curves by draping a Nylon/Lycra blend.
For a satiny-finish, try Nylon/Lycra. It's relatively opaque so it hides whatever's underneath. It drapes beautifully, and resists wrinkling. Rayon has very similar qualities without the shine.
Draping Burlap creates a beautifully dimensioned natural look. It comes 47" - 60" wide.
Loosely woven fabrics, such as Burlap, are also a great choice for draping when you want other background materials to show through. These fabrics have a very distinct texture, so make sure that the texture you choose makes sense for your subject and the rest of your photo set.
Just a few of the hundreds of quilting cottons available at
Pacific Fabrics. Widths range from 45" to the 108" wide Quilt Backing fabrics.
If you're looking for a specific color or pattern, it would be tough not to find it (or something darned close!) in a
Quilting Cotton. These smooth-textured fabrics are available in just about every color and pattern imaginable. Lighter colors can be somewhat see-through and all variations of this fabric are prone to wrinkling. Some selections are available in 108" width - about 50 percent wider than most other fabrics - which is a huge plus when shooting larger subjects.
How much fabric do I need?
For hanging backdrops, you'll want to buy enough fabric to cover the background behind your subject and a generous amount of space to the top and sides of the subject for framing. When shooting on a tabletop, be sure to buy enough fabric to cover the table and drape over props or stands that will lay under the fabric.
Note: When shooting large subjects including full-length portraits, you'll need a backdrop wider than what's available in fabric stores. If you don't want to pay big bucks for a commercial backdrop, try a painter's tarp.
Preparing and storing
Unless you have a very wrinkle-resistant fabric, the fabric will need to be ironed or steamed before every use. Run tape or a lint brush over parts of the fabric that will show in the photo- dust, lint, and pet hair can really ruin a shot! When you're done, fold the fabric very loosely and store it in a dark bag to protect it from sun damage and dirt.
All fabrics shown above were photographed at are available from Pacific Fabrics.
Click here for store locations.
If you're interested in learning more about how to photograph your arts and crafts, join me for a workshop! The next one is coming up on Saturday March 30 at the Seattle Creative Arts Center in Ballard. To learn about other workshops I teach or to register for the class, call me at 206-937-0590, or visit my website at