Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Photo Studio

Colleen asked if I wouldn't maybe step my camera back a bit and show the set-up I use for photographing my pottery. This will be fun. If anyone has any specific questions after my brief overview, feel free to ask. I've been learning as I go -- learning how to make the pieces look more "present". There's SO much I haven't figured out yet, but I'm getting happier and happier with my results.

First, after several generations of homemade setups (cardboard lightboxes, different light sources, color-corrected film, filters, etc), I HAPPILY took the easy way out about three years ago. I bought an ezcube -- complete with their lighting system.

I would HIGHLY recommend getting the biggest ezcube you can afford. The value in an ability to photograph mulitples, as well as the ability to move the lighting more, cannot be overestimated.

Before I processed the above photos (with photoshop), the set-up with which I started looked much like the image below. You can see the outline of the ezcube. It's sitting on a card table. In the background you can see a sheet of cardboard. It's there because there's a window behind my set-up. My photo studio is lousy with windows and I ended up putting cardboard over all of them. I could NOT get consistant results with even the slightest ambient light leaking through.

I shoot on a graded grey background. This works exceedingly well because one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in shooting pottery with digital equipment is getting good color balance. I'll use an image that came out very badly in the raw form. It was over-exposed from the start, and I couldn't really bring it back to usable, though as you'll see, I can come close.

The grey background simplifies this immeasurably. This is because, no matter how blue the green glazes become -- no matter how brown the red glazed photograph -- if, when processing the image in photoshop you go to Image-->Adjust-->Curves, then in the "curves" pop-up box, choose the "eyedropper" that's in the middle of the three to the right. Then click that eyedropper over the middle of the grey background, you will see the entire image color correct. That's because that center eyedropper corrects the grey to the standard grey. When the grey is correct, all the other colors are too. Magic.

Here I have cropped (I regularly use the cropping tool set to 1000 px X 1000 px. That setting works very well for my Etsy images (I get severe distortion from my camera, so I often have to "stretch" the photo a bit. If you want to know how I do that as well, feel free to ask).

After cropping, here is what the image looks like with the color corrected (but not yet set to a good value). Note how the once purple background snapped into grey, and with it came the green of my glaze...

Next, using Image--->Adjust--->Levels ... I set the levels (value) -- usually I slide the center slider over and darken the image. Next I slide the right had slider to the left to bring up highlights. Essentially, I compress the right hand side of the sliders.

This almost always oversaturates the colors. So the next thing I do is go back to Image--->Adjust--->Hue/Saturation. With the saturation slider I usually go back -11 to -18 and the color comes back to more natural, while remaining true.

The final act in processing is: Filter--->Sharpen. I do this, though it doesn't always do much. I always sharpen the final image -- the final size. If I sharpen the unsized-down image, it doesn't do anything.

Color balance is of UTMOST importance to me. This is because these images are for marketing. Why is that important to me?

...Probably not for the reason one might assume. That is, when I say it's for marketing, I'm not saying that I'm trying to make the most appealing image possible -- though that is true too. What I mean is that every piece I'm shooting, I will at some point be shipping hundreds/thousands of miles at great expense. That means I don't want ANY returns! I don't want anyone to feel as though I misrepresented my pottery in any way. I want them to open the box and see, as nearly as possible, the exact thing they thought they ordered. Make sense?


  1. Thanks for such a detailed post, I will print this out to utilize. I got the cube but didn't get the lights, I think I need them as my photos out of doors were better than they are with the cube now.

  2. Thank-You, John !
    I appreciate how much thought and detail you put into answering my question.
    You know... this post should be in a potters magazine. Think about submitting it, will you? Its very helpful.
    And I do understand what you are saying about using the pictures for marketing and wanting the pics to be a good representation of your work.

  3. Hey, I'm glad you found it useful. Thanks for the comments.