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Applied Arts: Photographing 3-D Artwork Workshop November 17, 2009

Posted by claralieu in Applied Arts, Architecture, photography, sculpture.
Tags: , , , ,

This past weekend we hosted the Applied Arts WorkshopPhotographing 3-D Artwork” , led by photographer Warren Patterson.  Warren has been shooting architecture and fine art for over 25 years, so we were thrilled to be able to learn from his experience and vast sets of skills. He started us out with a few words of wisdom for photographing artwork:  “Simple is best”, and “Don’t show me forty shots, show me one quality shot”, and “Good design is easy to shoot”.

Photographing 3-D Artwork Workshop

For a local photography store, Warren suggested Calumet Photo in Cambridge, MA.  I would also add B & H Photo in New York City.  One piece of equipment that I was fascinated by was a “soft box“, as seen in the above photo above Warren’s head. A soft box is essentially a cover which is placed over a light.  The soft box diffuses the light, resulting in a completely even spread of light, similar to the visual effects found in natural light.

Photographing 3-D artwork Workshop Photographing 3-D artwork Workshop

For lights, Warren suggested the Arri 150 Tungsten lights, (see above photo) especially for photographing architectural models.  These hot lights have “barn doors” on them which allow you to control the aperature. This light even has a zoom feature on it where you can zoom the light back and forth.

Photographing a Sculpture

In terms of setting up your work to photograph, Warren discussed that essentially anything can be used as a backdrop, but recommended formica (the kind used for counter tops) which can be purchased from Home Depot.  Formica can be purchased in white as well as a range of textured greys .  The formica is an especially good choice compared to using fabrics-the formica doesn’t get wrinkled and keeps a smooth, perfect background. Another important aspect is that the table you set your work on should be about the height of your waist- any lower will force you to do lots of uncomfortable bending down throughout the shoot. The above photo illustrates the set up with formica, with the camera at the appropriate height in relation to the sculpture.

Live camera view

Warren demonstrated the “live view” of the camera, (see above photo) which he projected from his laptop during the workshop.  The “live view” allows you to control features such as the F stop (which you would normally adjust on the camera itself) on the laptop.

Warren suggested that for portfolio images, square images tend to be the ideal shape.  The most important thing in a portfolio is to stay consistent with the shape throughout all of the pieces-i.e. if one image is square, all of the others should be square as well.

Student Sculpture

In terms of files, Warren explained the importance of shooting Raw files.  Raw files are taken directly from the camera’s chip, which maximizes the rendering ability of the image.  Jpegs on the other hand are a compressed format where data is lost in the compression process. One other detail I noted was the fact that as Warren worked on these images in Photoshop, he continually saved multiple versions of each image-the raw file, a cropped version, a non-cropped version, etc. He emphasized the importance of of saving everything in terms of files, to prevent losing images you may need later.

Photographing an Architectural Model

He explained that photographing architectural models is a completely different approach than photographing sculpture. Another technique I took note of is the angle he chose to photograph the model from; the camera is level to the model, which allows the model to look larger and is less likely to distort.

The backdrop he is using in the above photo is formica flat on a table, with a sheet of blue plexiglass (can be purchased at a plexiglass store or a sign shop) which has a light behind it. This creates a feeling of atmosphere and space in the image which helps the architectural model transform itself in a palpable space.  He also used a “Photo Flex Light Reflector” (see above photo) to bounce some reflected light off of the side of the architectural model.  In the event that you don’t have a reflector, aluminum foil works too.

Student Architectural Model

What struck me most about Warren’s approach to photography was the way he knew how to custom design the set up and lighting in accordance to each specific work. Each work has it’s own unique set of physical properties, creating new challenges and options with each work. Simply watching him move the sculpture/models around and experiment with different options for lighting was really incredible.

Student Architectural Model

The work he performed on the images in Photoshop was amazing; at one point he shot one architectural model using two different kinds of lighting, and then “married” the two images together in Photoshop to create a final image. (see above photo) The degree of detail and thoroughness that he applied to shooting these images was phenomenal, watching him work made me want to be a photographer.  This is a hugely important skill for all artists and designers.  Professor Carlos Dorrien, who arranged for Warren to teach this workshop said it perfectly:  “As artists and designers, we live and die by our photographs.”


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