Workbench and Photo Studio in One


When it comes to photography, I have no idea what I’m doing.  But then my goal is not to create amazing photographs, but rather to simply take a photograph that captures the true sense of a piece;  I want the bowl in the photograph to look like the real bowl.  Sounds simple.

This  can be difficult to do with sculptural pieces.  With so many potential viewpoints, which ones best define a piece?  Plus, much of the character can only be revealed by moving over the surface with one’s hands.  Photos come up short there.

My approach is pretty simple (and I don’t even know how to complicate it).  I never use the flash.  Especially for curving forms like this, the form of a piece is revealed in a photograph by the contrast between shadow and light.  The flash wipes them out. Sometimes I’ll take some shots by placing a piece near a window, using natural light. Most of the time, I go to the setup you see in the top photo.

The typical procedure:  Clear all the tools and chips off of the workbench.  Run upstairs to get the piece of grayish/brown mat board (purchased in the framing supply section of a craft shop) stored behind the dresser.  Push the back up against two nails in the wall above the workbench and hold the front with a small brad hammered into the workbench.  Turn off the glaring overhead lights in the shop which leaves the wall sconce over the bench (a bit to the side of the “stage”).  No fancy bulb, just a regular incandescent. Hold the camera steady on auto mode and take some shots; some will look okay.

National Geographic has not called for my advice.

I shot some photos of a recently finished walnut bowl tonight.  I included the apple for a sense of scale.  This is a shallower bowl than usual, but it still allows room for some dimension and interesting curves.  I’ve just posted it on the website, too.

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5 Responses to Workbench and Photo Studio in One

  1. John Thorson says:

    Your photos are great in my opinion. A thin white cloth over the light source (far enough away to not catch fire) gets rid of that round light bulb look just like the fancy studio lights and would not be a huge complication to your setup.


  2. Ron Sites says:

    I think your carving and photography are both amazing.


  3. Just in case you ever have doubts: don’t change. Not a thing. Your straight forward delivery, humble honesty, simple Shaker esthetic are all perfect. It is a true pleasure to see your work, read your clear narrative and enjoy the beautiful photos. I wouldn’t have you change a thing for anything in the world.


  4. Tone says:

    Lovely bowl 🙂 I struggle with photographing bowls too – my photo’s often don’t do them justice. I usually take photos outside if weather pemits (in the UK it often doesn’t!) as I recall reading somewhere that outdoor light is typically 10,000 times brighter than indoor light. I had previously noticed that it is hard to take a bad/out-of-focus picture in brightly lit locations (e.g. California, Arizona, New Mexico) – I expect the aperture of the camera closes down small giving a much greater depth of field. Outside, you get a single, bright primary light source and perhaps some diffuse lighting from your surroundings and no need for a flash 🙂


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