A quick snap it isn’t!
Going professional 4 years ago brought many challenges, not least of all, having to learn to take a photograph! OK, I already knew how to point a camera at a bowl and to take a quick snap of it, what I didn’t know was how to handle light and shadows, how to determine what parts of the picture were in or out of focus and how to adjust an image after I’d taken it. A friend who is a wedding photographer helped me enormously in the first year, teaching me how to get my camera out of automatic mode, and the quality of my images improved considerably. Fortunately, as a member of our regional art trail, “Helfa Gelf”, I also managed to get a place on a training session with a professional photographer who specialises in taking images of three-dimensional artwork, and then my images improved in leaps and bounds.
A small investment in equipment, especially lighting, a backdrop and a tripod, plus the purchase of a new camera has meant that sometimes my office and my workshop look more like a photographer’s studio and it’s a great shame that I don’t have a dedicated space for taking photos, but space is at a premium, so I have to set up my studio and dismantle it again each time I photograph a new batch of bowls.
Similarly, when I’m writing magazine articles about turning, my workshop takes on a very different appearance. Tripods pop up everywhere, two for lights and one for my camera. The camera is encased in a clear plastic cover to keep the dust out (I’ve already lost two cameras to dust!) and minor spot lights and LEDs are taped to the tools or to the lathe to give high spots of light where they’re needed.
Below is an example of a simple little vase-form, turned this morning from freshly felled sycamore and made from branch-wood thinnings. The vase will distort rapidly as it dries, taking on an organic shape determined by its own internal stresses, rather than the perfectly circular profile that my work had given it, so I wanted to record its shape straight off the lathe and then photograph it again in a few days to see how it had changed.
Two photos taken from the same camera position, but from very different angles. In the upper image, the camera was set much too high and distorts the shape of the vase, whereas the lower image shows the vase from a much better angle, its profile is displayed correctly and the viewer gets enough of a view of the top of the vase to appreciate its shape and depth.
Now three views of the vase lying on its side, showing how lighting can create very different effects. In the first image there is too much light on the left of the image, bleaching the colour out of the outside of the vase when what I really wanted to show, was the inner shape and the amazing patterns in the grain and its spalting. The middle image is just about right. The inside is well lit while the outside is in shadow, ensuring that the viewer concentrates on what I wanted them to see. In the right hand picture, however, the outside of the vase and the backdrop are just too dark.
In this image, I wanted to show that the underside of the vase was hollowed slightly, so the lighting was positioned so as to cast a shadow on a part of the rim, which works well whilst still keeping good light on the side of the vase.
In this picture, I feel that the lighting is bad, I wanted to light up the whole of the inside, with perhaps a little shadow on the bottom, just to give more definition to the shape….but I got it wrong!
Finally, an example of how lighting can be used to dramatic effect. Vessels such as this, turned from green timber, become increasingly translucent as they are turned thinner and thinner. This is a fact that wood turners often use to their advantage, placing a strong light immediately alongside the vessel during the turning process such that light shines through the vessel wall. That way, it’s possible to see any variations in the thickness of the vessel wall; where the light penetrates strongly, the vessel wall is obviously very thin, but dark areas indicate thicker walls, so further cuts can be made until the same amount of light is visible throughout the profile. In this example I have set up a lamp in my studio just to show the effect.