Notes From The ‘Net
Questions and Answers About Carving Gathered From Popular Carving Groups
Edited by Matt Kelley
I was weeding through some old files recently and ran across this question and series of comments that appeared in the original Woodcarver List mail group back in March 2009, Although 8 years old, the information is still quite useful.
On Taking Photos Of Carvings
Alex Bisso posed the following question:
I have a recurring problem with getting good photos of carvings. My standard method of trial and error with the lighting, inside and outside works sometimes but not consistently. On my last fish for example, I took one photo (after a couple of tries) using a piece of light blue foam from an old camping bedroll and the color and contrast came out very well. However, when I tried to set up with a cloth maroon cloth background to take more photos, it looked good but my camera did not like it at all. The photos were either too dark or too bright and glarey and the colors did not look true. There must be a way to set up for photos that provides a good background and lighting for true color without glare. Can anyone suggest something simple and reliable that might work.
Byron Kinnaman was the first to reply:
Get a photo cube. It’s a white nylon cube that diffuses the light and eliminates glare. They usually come with 4 colored backgrounds and come in different sizes. I bought mine on eBay. Simply search on eBay for “photo cube” there’s lots to choose from. The best thing for photography since the invention of film.
Thanks Byron — I will look into the photo cubes. I will probably still have questions about lighting.
Joe Dillett wrote:
I think Byron’s comment about the photo cube is good. Other things that are helpful is always use a tripod. I always put something white in the photo, even if it’s in the corner that will be cropped off, so the camera has something to use it for white balance. Shadows help define depth. I like using one light source, generally from the side, to show shadows. Natural outdoor light seems to be ideal however indoors the daylight type of bulbs yield good results. Joe Dillett
Maura Cooper added:
As for pictures, I just bought a new Nikon and the difference in my pictures is amazing. I also thank god for digital cameras. I often take up to 20 pics of the same thing, changing the lighting, changing positions, changing backgrounds. Then load all the pics into my pc and pick out the best one or two.
Ron Ramsey penned the following:
If you want a professional looking photograph on a budget, follow these instructions:
Set up a table or sawhorses against a wall in a room where you will be able to block out all of the the light or to make the room dark at night. You want to be able to control ALL of the light on your carving. Too much light in the wrong place will cause the colors to be washed out or the carving to have too much glare in some areas. This why it’s NOT RECOMMENDED TO TAKE PHOTOS OUTDOORS!
Go to a framing store and buy a large piece of medium grey poster board. Bend the poster board so that has a curve at the back and is vertical against the wall at the top and horizontal against the table at the bottom. Some thumbtacks outside the edge will help hold it in place.
Use a minimum of two lights that have swivel bases and adjustable arms. Use CFL bulbs. Natural light bulbs are better if you don’t plan on processing your photos on photo software. The bulbs should not be more than the equivalent of 40 watts incandescent. The reason you need two or more lights is that you will need to direct the light from at least two directions to fill the shadows. You will still be able to get shadows to show the detail but there wont be areas that are lost in shadow. Cover the light bulbs with semi-transparent tracing paper taped to the lampshades. This is to diffuse and soften the light. Professional photographers have special lights that work essentially the same way. Experiment with the adjustments of the lights. Do not point the lights directly at the carving. I sometimes point the lights at the ceiling to reflect the light off of the white sheet rock. The ideal lighting will be much darker to your eye than what appears correct. Sometimes it appears too dark to take a picture but don’t be fooled.
EXPERIMENT! EXPERIMENT! EXPERIMENT!
If the photo appears too dark when you upload it, experiment with the brightness and contrast.
USE A TRIPOD! Set the ISO at 200 or less, and the highest resolution your camera allows. Too high of an ISO will cause grainy photos. Set the camera on manual and don’t use the flash. Use the timed release to release the shutter so there will be no movement. You will be taking the photo at a very slow shutter speed and any movement will cause blur. Most digital cameras will set the exposure for you. Use a 10 second time delay to allow the camera time to settle down after you push the button.
I prefer to take under exposed photos and then work with them with photo processing software. This allows me to enhance the brightness and contrast and adjust the colors and saturation. The computer processing can take a bit of experience to master but it’s possible to get quality raw photos with the photography techniques I’ve outlined above. Take lots of photos, upload them to the computer and analyze the weaknesses. Adjust lighting angle etc. and take lots more. You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t
Jeff Pretz commented:
Very Helpful for us who are learning to take pictures of our carvings! Thank you very much Ron!
Great idea to write down the set up, flash setting, position (flash, camera and subject), type of lens and exposure number on the paper, so you will know what going on between frames and lot easier to figure out from trial and errors. Digital camera are lot easier than 35 mm. Write down everything, no matter what or why. Without record, you waste more time. Good Luck (Great tip by Ron)
Loren Woodard wrote:
For my photographs I use a home made light tent. Lynn Diel had an article in Carving Magazine a few issues back that told how to make the light tent. My best results have come with a light blue background. I use three lights. My light tent is wrapped with a bed sheet. I use a clamp-on light fixture on top with a standard incandescent bulb that shines through the top of the light tent and onto the light blue back board. I then light the front with two light that have 13 watt daylight (florescent) bulbs in them. I direct one light on each side of the carving. This setup seems to work better for me than any other method that I have tried. I too had a terrible time with light. As a matter of fact, I had an article turned down for a carving magazine because of the pictures. I’ve worked hard on the photographs and the above worked better for me than anything.
By all means, don’t use a bare flash.
Byron Kinnaman replied to a comment about natural outside light:
I agree that it’s hard to find a soft light day. Professionals use color corrected lights and polarized filters on the lights for direct lighting. Many use umbrellas for soft non-direct light. The lights are still color corrected. I managed to find couple 5000°K CFL lights. From the pictures I don’t think they’re exactly 5000°K. I’d like to find some 5900°K light without paying an arm and leg for them. I also use the photo cube which provides a nice soft light. I prefer to use 3 lights. 2 at approximately 45° and one overhead slightly behind the subject, sometimes refereed to as a halo light. With the halo light slightly behind, the subject is separated from the background and appears to float. Many catalogs use that technique.
I’m going to disagree with part of what you say. Natural diffused sunlight produces the nicest pictures. Note I said disused. The colors on a cloudy day pop. Direct sunlight is not good nor is direct light of any kind. With sunlight you don’t have to fuss with color temperature settings. Some CFLs have a green cast to them and can be difficult to deal with. I’ve had to mess with the color temperature setting using CFLs.
Ron Ramsey concluded:
It’s true that cloudy days can work to get great photos but you have to wait for the right day. Where I live it’s not cloudy that often and when it is, it’s usually raining or snowing. With the indoor method you can take photos on any day or night. Color casts can be a problem so it’s a good idea to get familiar with a software program that allows you to change the brightness, contrast, saturation and color hue. The cloudy day method is a good option but I find I have
much more control over the shadows and details by using lights. That’s why professional photographers use a studio to take photos of art. Natural light can sometimes obliterate fine details because it is coming from all directions at once. By using adjustable lights you can fine tune the look you want and cause the details to show up.
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