Monday, July 20, 2009

Photographing your art

When I was studying ceramics we did a photography subject which was geared specifically at teaching us to photograph our ceramic work. This was slightly before the "digital revolution", and I'm quite pleased to have had that grounding in basic technique with an SLR camera (single lens reflex).

Back then slide transparencies were the benchmark for entering work in competitions, and I am quite thankful that era has nearly disappeared, because the film was pretty expensive especially when you consider the need for "bracketing". For those not familiar with this term, it means take the same shot with three concurrent exposures, just to be sure you get the perfect image.

Photographing ceramic pieces is not as straight forward as you might expect, because you often have to cope with shiny areas due to the glaze or ways of highlighting translucency. I found out the expensive way that the training we had in our ceramics course made me better equipped for the task than some professional photographers (but that's another story...) and I know that I'm not the only ceramic artist to fork out lots of hard earned dollars for images that simply were not usable.

Still, I was frustrated that even with digital technology, my photos just weren't quite making the grade. At college, we had this great box thing with a lovely white curved perspex surface which you could position your work in and then snap away. I've often thought longingly of that "box" (I'm sure it had a proper name, but I can't remember it). It seemed to assure a great result.

Then I stumbled on this great post over on Strobist. Basically it explains how to use either natural or artificial light and make your own "box" (ah, he calls it a light tent!). I'm not going to repeat everything he says here, you can just follow the link, but I am going to post a photo of mine in action (below).

I didn't clear up my studio at all, because I wanted to show you how simple it is to use, once contructed. I just plonked it on my table after sweeping the rubbish aside slightly. All you have to do is choose a spot near the sun (that window faces west) or even better is to carry the box outside and place it in the sun. Below you can see the lovely even soft light that the tissue paper creates.

Above: caterpillar binding as learned from Adele Outteridge

And I have to say that books are about 100x easier to photograph than ceramics, but even they turn out much better with Strobist's Light Tent. Thank-you Strobist!


  1. this is just great, just what I needed and so perfect to make during winter with artificial light. Thank you !

  2. Great post, Amanda, and I love the caterpillar binding which I've just learned myself! Now where did I put that cardboard...? Sara

  3. I had saved that Strobist info because it seemed such a good idea but you've beaten me to making it. Now I'll look at the instructions again. Your book is really beautiful. I can't call it a caterpillar though - too many legs. It just has to be a centipede for me. Perhaps this is the result of too many years in a natural history museum.

  4. Hi Amanda

    how are you doing and thanks for the 'get well' wishes. Very thoughtful of you. And yes I have been learning about not overdoing it. (!!)
    Getting a pitiful amount done each day lately but at least the severe nerve pain in my gammy leg has 'settled down'.
    Now I only feel that I have had a major 'kicking'session, in the base of my back UGH!!!

    Trying to do some simple monoprinting now Even that is proving very arduous.

    Like this idea re photographing artwork with the "light-tent" - I will use it next time.

    all the best


  5. Thank-you all for your comments - I was really pleased with the results from this set-up and I knew it would help others.
    Carol: I know what you mean about caterpillar v. centipedes and the need to be exact (I did 2 years of a science degree straight out of school). So...I looked up caterpillars, and while they have 6 real legs(being an insect) they also have up to 10 prolegs, which are unsegmented legs. Centipedes have 30-100+ legs. My little fella has 32 legs, so yes, he must be a centipede, but maybe I'll stick to 16 in future so he can be a caterpillar.

  6. i too often think of that box! It was fantastic!!

  7. Thank you for this idea. I will use this for small works.