Photography: Thank God for Digital!

Some years ago my ceramics teacher at the time encouraged me to begin learning to photograph my work.  This was the early 2000s, and although it doesn’t feel all that long ago, digital cameras had not yet replaced 35mm, at least in the realm of art documentation.  So I drove into Portland to find the film and other sundries I’d need, and I spent three very tedious hours fidgeting with lighting and camera angles only to come up with a handful of VERY mediocre photos.  They were not suitable for anything other than nostalgia.  Although, come to think of it, I think I trashed them long ago.

Fast-forward to 2011…Kodak stopped making slide projectors long ago and everyone and their grandmother has at least one digital camera (in their phone!).  Technology now exists to give every potter the tools to take decent to professional-grade photos worthy to submit to any show.  I now have a Canon Powershot with more features than I know what to do with (I really wish I could find that infernal owner’s manual), in addition to a pair of lights, a graded background, and a light cube.

I purchased the cube and lights as a kit from EZCube for around $200, about a year ago.  The EZ Cube is a pop-up, table-top light tent, which diffuses light and reduces glare on the object being photographed.  The lights that came with my kit are pretty decent, not professional grade, but I feel like I got my money’s worth.  The cube comes with three pieces of background drapery, which are useless to me.  They are wrinkled most of the time, but even with ironing they do not drape cleanly for a seamless look.  When I moved into the private studio that came with my tech job, I discovered that my predecessor had bequeathed to me and the other tech a Varitone graded background.  It’s much to large for my EZ Cube, so lately I’ve been using the Varitone with the lights, which came with diffusing covers.

Here’s what I set up today:

Varitone background

I don’t have a table large enough to accommodate the drape I need to create with the Varitone background, so I found a piece of chipboard in the kiln barn to create an extension to one of my work tables.  I nabbed the heaviest thing I could find, a bag of clay, to keep it in place.

Counter weight for table extension

Next, I hung the Varitone from the ceiling with very long pieces of twine.  The background is painted with a gradient from white to black (a marvelous tool for those of us who want to take our own photos, but don’t want to invest the time into learning how to do proper lighting) .  I want to be able to change the curve of the background to increase or decrease the amount of black/white in the frame, depending upon the piece.  I learned today that I need even longer pieces of twine to anchor behind the lighting…there’s just no room in there to climb up to the ceiling to adjust the backdrop!

The whole set-up, sans camera/tripod
Soda-fired Pitcher

I took photos today which I plan to submit to “Atmospheric Fired 2011,” at the Carbondale Clay Center.  Once I got home to view them on my computer, I realized I still have more shots to take.  I’ll go back in tomorrow to photograph a teapot to add to the mix. Many of the pieces I shot today just don’t look very good in my photos.  I think that’s just the limits of my skills at this point, because those pieces look absolutely marvelous in person.

Wood-fired serving bowl
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