Using natural light for quilt photography 

People always ask me “What’s the secret to quilt photography?” And the truth is, it’s not actually that complicated. With some natural light and a bit of practice, you can improve your photos drastically.

Start with natural light

The good news is that you don’t need fancy lighting equipment to get great photos. All you need is the power of the sun, which is free! The only downside to using natural lighting is that you’ll need to take your photos during daylight hours. No more photographing your projects at midnight when you finish them – sorry!

If you want pretty pictures, you’ll have to be patient and wait for the right lighting conditions.

Here’s an example of what not to do… In the below photo, I had completed some quilt blocks and was excited to show them to the world. I snapped this photo in my sewing room late at night (with the overhead light on), and the results were less than stellar.

A dim photo of a multicoloured quilt laying on a brown floor.

Womp womp. The blocks looked gorgeous in real life, but the photo was a big disappointment.

Taking photos in natural light might be especially challenging if you spend lots of time outside of your home during periods when there are few hours of daylight (like when I worked a 9-5 during winter in Canada… that was tough). In that case, you might need to batch your photos on the weekend (or whenever you’re home during daylight hours).

Appeal of natural light

There’s no denying it – our eyes love natural lighting. If you look around Instagram, I’ll bet you’ll find that your favourite quilters / photographers are using natural light exclusively – if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you!

A multicoloured quilt lays on a brown wooden floor in natural light.

That’s the same quilt as before! The only difference was that I waited a few days and took a photo in natural light. Wowee!

I promise that if you turn off your lamps and light fixtures and use only sunlight, you’ll be instantly impressed with the results. You might even be surprised to see how well your photos turn out on an overcast day – the sun pumps out some bright light!!

Not all light is equal

There’s a difference between sunlight and sunbeams…. If you take your photos in direct light (where a sunbeam is hitting the quilt), you’ll end up with harsh shadows which are not cute.

Instead, you’ll want to take your photos in a spot that is bright, but away from direct sunbeams. When you do that, the light will be much more gentle and even.

Place your quilt in a location where the light source (a window, a door, etc) is off to the side, then stand over top of the quilt and take some photos.

In the photo below, you’ll see me taking a picture of a quilt in our living room. The large window to the left is my light source, and I’ve avoided placing the quilt in the area with a harsh sunbeam. 

A woman bends at the waist to take a picture of the quilt she's standing on in natural light.

Bonus tip: Use a foam board

If you want to get even better results from your quilt photography, you can “invest” in a light reflector. The goal with this tool is to bounce the light back onto your subject (a quilt) and even out any shadows or dark areas. It’s a nifty little trick that professional photographers use all the time, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. 

Instead of buying a fancy reflector from a camera shop, I’d suggest using a cheap foam board. It’s rigid, and you can prop it up against something in order to get it to work hands-free.

A multicoloured quilt lays on a brown floor next to a gray couch with three white foam boards leaning against it.

I use the Elmer brand of foam board, and while I can find them on Amazon, I’ve noticed that they’re MUCH less expensive at my local Dollar Store. They’re usually located next to the bristol (poster) board. If you’re looking to support a local art supply store, you can also find them there (likely at a higher price). 

The proof is in the pudding

Take a look at the difference this inexpensive tool can make. In the photo below, I did not use a foam board. Not bad, but there are some distinct shadows around the quilting lines.

Brown slippers on a mulitcoloured quilt with shadows.

And in this photo, I did use a foam board (you can actually see it leaning against my leg a few photos ago). 

Brown slippers on a mulitcoloured quilt without shadows.

What a difference, right??? These two pictures were taken seconds apart, with all of the same settings applied. But the one where I used the light reflector looks much more even, doesn’t it?

Another benefit of using a foam board is that it can double as a background for your photos, and is easily tucked away. I take most of my quilty photos in my living room, and I store my foam board under the couch. It’s out of sight most of the time, and easily accessible when I need it. I’ve had it for years, and while it’s a bit beat up, it still does its job well! For a $2 investment, it’s produced some amazing results!


So there you have it. If you’re looking to take beautiful photos of your quilts, start with natural light, avoid direct sunbeams and any artificial light from lamps, and use a foam board to even out any dark areas. 

Let me know in the comments below if you think these tips could work for you!

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  1. Thank you! This was really helpful! I am trying to ‘up my game’ re. the quilt photography I publish on my blog. It’s hard being patient and waiting for the right sort of natural light! 😀

    1. I agree, Allison! It’s so hard to wait, but it’s definitely worth it when you see how great the results are in natural light. ?

  2. The photos do make or break an Instagram post. These are easy affordable tips I will definitely be practicing. Thank you

    1. It’s so true, Wynn!! Instagram is so visual, and if the photos don’t look great, people will keep scrolling by. So glad these tips could help you out!!

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