Images from Zapplication.org
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.