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Photographing Your Work

photographingThe following piece was written before I switched completely to digital, it still applies to film. With a digital camera you can set the white balance to match lighting conditions. I now use $17 quartz work lights bought at Canadian Tire rather than $300 photo lamps and get just as good results. While digital isn't quite as sharp as film it is much more versatile. I send image files (usually jpeg) by email to magazines, galleries and competitions. I use them to keep my website up-to-date. I have had them published in books. I also use them in exhibition catalogues that I design and layout using Adobe CS In Design (formerly Page Maker). I burn a CD and send it to a digital print service who prints and assembles catalogues for the gallery involved. The switch to digital images from film is pretty well complete. I love knowing that I've got a good shot while the piece is still in the studio rather than waiting for film to come back.

I use a SLR (single lense reflex) digital camera with high quality interchangeable lenses. Using a professional level lense really helps to make a good image.

That said, if you do use film this is my advice:

It is important to use "tungsten" type film with these quatrz lights. Normal daylight film won't give you accurate colours. It is also important to remove any lens filters such as UV or Daylight filters which are often on lenses to protect them from scratches. Filters can give a pinkish cast to your slides. I use Kodak Ektachrome 160T(tungsten) EPT 135-36.

I have rigged a white-painted piece of light plyboard over my setup to reflect the quartz light down on the piece (as pictured). This is on rails and can be tilted and raised to get the best effect. The paper loop runs from high on the wall behind the setup area down over a work table and drapes down the front of the table giving a graded seemless surface. The lights are aimed up at the reflective plyboard to give a nice general diffuse light that leaves no "hot spots" or reflections. Be careful with the lights. They are very hot and can cause burns or start a fire if left too close to anything flammable. Be sure that all other light sources in the room are turned off and that there is little or no sunlight penetrating the room. My setup is in a cellar room. Before I had a dedicated room for this I did my shooting after dark in the studio so I wouldn't have to deal with blocking off the light from windows.

Shooting. Once you are set up and the camera is ready, you want shots that show your work to its best advantage. (That means keep the cracks and glaze flaws turned away from the camera). It also means focus and framing are important as well as a simple, undistracting background. Don't leave too much space around the piece but enough so it doesn't crowd the edges of the slide. It is generally a good rule of thumb to adjust the f-stop (look it up or ask a friend) on the lens to its mid-range. I like 11 to 16. This gives good depth-of-field without sacrificing definition.


Once you have composed your shot and are happy with the lighting, you need to be sure that the lens is focussed (choose a spot midway between the front of the piece and the furthest part visible toward the back of the piece to focus on). Now adjust your lens speed to give you a normal exposure at the f-stop you've selected.

What you want to do at this point is shoot several exposures in "half-stops" above and below what the meter wants you to do, as well as "on-meter". I generally find I get my best shots 1/2 to 1 full stop below what the meter calls for. Many electronic cameras have a meter over-ride that allows you to adjust the exposure in 1/2 stops without actually changing the speed manually, but don't worry, if your camera doesn't have that feature just adjust the shutter speed or the apperature to over and under expose your shots. As you get to know your setup and film you can narrow down the range of your bracketing, to start with it's better to have the range wide to be sure that you get good exposures. I also use the timing device on the camera to trigger the shutter to avoid jiggling the camera when pushing the shutter. This also pre-releases the mirror in the camera so it doesn't add any vibration during the exposure.

In-Camera Dupes:

I take several extra exposures at the settings I think will be right to make "in-camera dupes". That means when my slides come back from the processor I have a set of duplicates all ready to use. Aside from being cheaper than getting slides duplicated they are also sharper and have better colour balance. They are, in fact, originals. That means they will be suitable for reproduction in magazines and will be better representatives of your work than duplicates.


Good images are an essential for pretty well all competitions, grant applications and publications. It may be an aggravation to have to deal with them, but my take is that since it can't be avoided it might as well be done well and as easily and cheaply as possible. It took me years to figure this out, I just wish I had gotten down to it sooner than I did. It really isn't as hard as it might seem. If you have a group of friends or a guild, it might be worth looking into setting up a "photo coop" so that you can all use the same pooled euipment and shared know-how to deal with this effectively and cheaply.