There are so many aspects to running a ceramics and pottery business, and taking photos of my work is one of them. I have tried many techniques over the past few years, and I continue to make tweaks to my systems for ease and better quality. My photographs are by no means professional quality, and I still have a lot to learn, but I can do it myself.
The best part that I notice over and over, is that when I do a photo shoot of my work, I find myself falling in love with each piece. Looking at each item closely, trying to show how it functions and convey what makes that piece special is kind of magical. It makes me excited to get back to clay and make some more. Since I specialize in one-of-a kind work, and I sell a lot of pieces on line, I spend a lot of time photographing and editing photos. Lately I have been wondering if I should start making more multiples, but that is another story. So for now, I photo and edit constantly.
Back story and my current system for taking photos:
Once upon a time, I went to a workshop on how to take photos of your artwork. It was a fascinating class, and I came away from it equipped with knowledge and ideas. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the budget to support all of the professional photography equipment that I learned about. My photographer cousin gave me directions on how to create the budget version lighting system, and I tried. My husband, the engineer, got really excited about it too, and he tried to make me a light box and worked on various lighting solutions. All of our attempts added up to crappy photos, so I went back to what I had been doing. Below I address three main points: light and background set up, camera, photo editing.
Instead of a light box and professional lighting, I photograph by the natural light of a window. I used poster board as my background for several years, but have recently upgraded to a photo paper background. I have also moved my station to a permanent set up on a table instead of getting up and down off of the floor and constantly rolling up my paper each time between photo shoots. (The pets in the house always think that the photo paper is the best place in the house to walk, of course!)
I learned in the photo workshop that I should use a “real camera”. Again I tried, but I like things that are REALLY simple. When I take photos using a “real” camera, I also have to use a desktop computer to load the photos and edit them. Unfortunately sitting at a desktop to load, organize and edit photos does not agree with my personality type. We have to be true to ourselves, right? So I continue to use my iPhone to take photos, and I have fully come to peace with that. Fortunately the camera on the phone keeps getting better and better.
For editing photos, I kept hearing about a popular software for the desk top computer. I tried it, but it felt too complicated and laborious for me with the multitude of photos that I have to edit. I just can’t sit in front of a computer for that long! So I went back to my happy way on the iPad. I use a photo transfer app to shift the photos from my iPhone to my iPad, and I have created albums in my iPad such as “to edit” and “ready to list” for my work in progress. It is so easy to do a transfer, as all I need is wifi- and no cords. To do the editing, I use the app called Snap Seed. I like the portability of the iPad for editing, and I am just so much faster and adept at using the touch screen.
A few simple tips:
Pick a bright day that is not too sunny. Sun reflects off the pottery glaze and makes big glare areas.
Set up an area with a background that allows you to show off your work. I have stuck with white, though I have tried a few other backgrounds. Why? My work has a lot of color and variation, and the white background shows off the pieces the best, in my humble opinion. I am glad that I invested in photo paper because it is much wider and longer, so I don’t have to worry about the edges of the paper as I did with poster board. However, I went for years using inexpensive poster board, so that is a good inexpensive option if your pieces are not too large.
Take a lot of photos. Take them from every angle, and turn the piece around. Prop it if you need to catch the light in different ways. Find things to put around your piece to show how it fits into the everyday world. Take time to fall in love with your creation so that others can fall in love with it too.
Be honest. Don’t disguise defects. Don’t over edit. Allow your piece to speak for itself. With that said, one of the hardest and most challenging things for me is to make the photo of the piece look half as beautiful as the piece itself. My work almost always looks better in person, but then pottery is so tactile and three dimensional, and it is very difficult to represent in a 2-D format.