March 18, 2017

Lighting for Quality Arts & Crafts Photography

The most important consideration when photographing your Arts & Crafts is showing each piece in the best light, both figuratively and literally. I'll talk more about backdrops and staging in a future post so you can create the right context for your art, but for now let's focus on the most basic element that can make or break your photograph, how it's lit.

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Here are several important factors to consider when setting up lighting for your own shoot or reviewing examples from a professional you'd like to hire to ensure you get great photographs.

Natural vs. Artificial

  • In most cases, natural light, the sun, is going to yield the most true to life photographs of your art. Artificial sources can often lend a colored tinge that doesn't represent your work accurately. Think of fluorescent lights for example. 
  • If you have access to a window that lets in a lot of light, that can be a great spot to set up, although be careful about  the golden hours when sunlight is also tinted (dawn / dusk). 
  • White photographic quality lights are often the next best option and can offer more brightness than window lighting if needed.

Shadows vs. Shadowless

  • After determining that you have enough light for a quality exposure, its time to decide how much shadow you need to show shape and contour. 
  • For 2D works, its better to avoid shadows (and glares for that matter) which can be achieved in how you position the lights; avoid a direct angle.
  • For 3D objects though, shadows are one of the best ways to bring your piece to life, to give it more dimension than a flat photograph. It's important that the shadows don't distract from the piece, so again, it's all in where you set your lights. 
  • As a general rule of thumb, I start with my lights at a 45 degree angle in front of the work and slightly above. Then I adjust according the unique form of each art piece.

Direct vs. Diffused (i.e. Hard vs. Soft)

  • Whether or not you choose to include shadows, the quality of lighting helps shape them. 
  • Hard lighting yields distinct shadows which can add a neat effect, especially with sculpture. 
  • In most cases though, you'll want to use softer lighting for more diffuse shadows. These are additive, but not as high contrast so they don’t distract from your work. 
  • The way to achieve softer shadows comes in modifying the light. 
  • When you use window light, make sure you don't set up directly in beams from the sun. Those will give you hard shadows. Clouds are a wonderful diffuser. 
  • There are also a number of tools you can use to soften light like soft boxes, bouncing light and other diffusers available at many camera stores. 
  • More professional photographers will have an array of their favorites. 
  • Soft lighting is key for 2D work so you avoid shadows and glare as much as possible.


  • The lighting is most important while you're capturing a photograph, but you can use editing software after the fact to perfect each shot. 
  • Most of these tools offer a white balancing option to correct any tint from the light. 
  • You can also brighten an image if you didn't have enough light and even soften shadows sometimes if you need to focus attention on the piece. 
  • There is an art to retouching, doing just enough, but not too much. Suffice to say that you should expect to tweak or finalize your images for consistency and professionalism. 
  • This is a natural step in the process for any photographer you hire.

I hope this helped shed some light on what you need to consider when planning to shoot your artwork. If you have any questions or prefer to delegate to a professional, please feel free to reach out.