Friday, June 26, 2015

5 Tips for Better Pictures of your Work

Tide Pool

For every one of my photographs that you've seen published I’ve taken at least three and sometimes as many as 20 pictures. I’m very picky about the content and quality of my pictures, whether they’re high resolution product images, process photos, or cute puppy snapshots. Every picture has a specific purpose to clearly deliver an intended message to the viewer. There are some very simple things you can do to improve the quality and impact of your pictures. 

1 Crop it with the camera. The view finder is your friend. Use it. Before you press the button to take your picture, run your eye around the perimeter of the view finder. Make sure only the objects you want, the things that strengthen and support your subject, are included. Physically crop any distracting items from your photo. You may have to change your position or get closer to your subject. Do whatever it takes, but make it the cleanest shot possible right from the start.

Good: photo of kiln.
Better: cropped with the camera photo of kiln.
2 Background basics. One of the best backgrounds I’ve found for quick shots is a large piece of white foam-board. It’s light weight and easily moved from one lighting environment to another, such as from an indoor setting to an outdoor site. The smooth, shiny surface reflects light very well which enhances the object you’re photographing. While white cotton fabric, on the other hand, absorbs light and as a result, robs your artwork’s dazzle. 

Good: photo of Asian Poppy taken on white packing foam sheets. Notice how lifeless the glass looks.
Better: photo of Asian Poppy on smooth, reflective foam-board. WOW!
3 Take advantage of natural light. This is especially true when photographing glass, as natural light brings out the true color and depth of the material. This practice works best if the light source is off to one side of the object, as opposed to directly overhead, like a floodlight. Side illumination produces desirable contrast; it sets a mood and creates drama. It also emphasizes the three dimensional quality of your focal point. When taking photographs, I often stage my artwork beside a window or take it outside late in the day, when the sunlight is softer. 

Great: photo of Tide Pool with natural light and a colorful drop shadow. WAY COOL!
Bad: photo of Tide Pool. Without good lighting it looks flat and dull. BORING!
4 Alignment is key. Before snapping the shot make sure that all horizontal and vertical planes that appear in your photo are squared off; align them with the perimeter of your viewfinder. For example, if there's a window or shelf in the photo make sure the window casing in straight up and down. Make sure the shelf is level. This makes those lines visually blend into the background as opposed to stand out. There’s nothing more distracting than a random diagonal line running through an image. In fact, it will usually cause your viewer’s eye to stray from your subject, to follow the line right off your photo. 
Bad: photo of Milky Way with distracting background with an odd angle.
Great: photo of Milky Way cropped in the camera. Dazzling!
5 Give your artwork a lift. If you’re taking pictures of a plate, bowl or vase prop your piece up on a stack of 2” x 2” clear glass squares, or with a clear acrylic stand. This allows light to pass through the glass creating a drop shadow made of reflected color from the artwork. The shadow emphasizes the beautiful transparency of the medium you’re working in, plus it shows off the unique shape and color of your piece. 

Set up shot of Zebra Palm on acrylic stand.

Glam shot of Tiger Palm and Zebra Palm on acrylic stands taken with natural light on foam-board.
I keep these tips in mind when taking process pictures of projects for tutorial articles, photos for my website and images for presentations. These low-cost methods produce good quality images quickly.  When taking high resolution product images, my set up is much more elaborate. My gallery quality pieces of art are photographed inside a photo-cube that’s lit with professional quality studio lights. The bulky equipment takes time to set up, it takes up a lot of room and it’s a sizable investment. The advantage to venturing into that level of madness is image quality. Your picture literally sells your work. It has to make a strong enough impression to make someone act to buy. 

Ah, but enough for now. We’ll explore that lengthy subject in another post… 
Happy snapping,

Please visit my YouTube channel for more tips, tricks and tutorials

Upcoming Classes
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August 24-25, 2015
2-Day, Hands-on Glass Fusing Workshop, D&L Art Glass Supply, Denver Colorado

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August 26-27, 2015
2-Day, Hands-on Glass Fusing Workshop, D&L Art Glass Supply, Denver Colorado

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September 15-18, 2015
4-Day, Hands-on, One-on-one Instruction, Wesley Chapel, Florida
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mother of Invention

It’s amazing how much art and engineering have in common. Art concepts are born from a small spark. But it takes hot, burning desire, coupled with ingenuity, to actually transform such obscure ideas into physical reality. 

There’s got to be an easier way.

I’ve been making fused glass sinks for years. In the beginning, I constructed them using the layered method. This type of construction has a beautiful, round finished edge when the fused glass comes out of the slumping mold.  

It wasn’t long before I started building sinks using the cast method. This sink style is thicker. The glass comes out of the mold with an irregular edge. This type of sink construction requires the additional step of polishing. 

Sinks are advanced projects that involve a considerable amount of time to construct, a sizable amount of material and a skilled craftsman to complete successfully. When it comes time to cold-work your masterpiece, you want to feel confident that the job will go smoothly. And so it was our intention, to build consistency into this otherwise unstable task. That’s why we modified a readily available carpenter’s roller stand, into a customized sink support/guide that would provide us with reliable results time after time.   

If it worked for me, it’ll work for you.

This new, re-purposed tool, significantly improved my work time and success rate. Here’s how you can make your own sink stand/guide.  

Start with your standard, home improvement store variety roller stand. Remove the metal roller. It comes off easily by depressing two buttons, one on each end of the roller; similar to toilet paper roll holder. Cut a 2” x 2” block of wood to fit between the uprights. Secure the wood in place with wood screws, one on each end. Cover the surface of the wood with a strip of nylon, like the white cutting board used in your kitchen. The nylon holds up longer than the bare wood and it won’t scratch your glass as the edge becomes shinny. Hold the nylon strip in place with two wood crews. Be sure to countersink the screws so they don’t damage your glass. Pre-drill two holes for the dowels behind the nylon strip. Press two hardwood dowels into the holes in the wooden base. These dowels serve as stops that help you maintain a consistent distance from the grinding wheel throughout the grinding and polishing process. Tip: Don’t glue the dowels in place. They wear out quickly, and therefore will need to be replaced every few sinks.  
Once you have one of these stands, you’re certain to find multiple uses for it. So don’t hesitate to add this handy tool to the supply of tools in your studio.

Roller stand
Wood screws
2” x 2” strip of wood cut to size
1”- 1 ½” wide strip of nylon cut to size
3/8” thick hardwood dowel cut to size

You got this!