Tips for Photographing Sculptures Using Speedlights

Whether you’re a professional photographer documenting someone else’s artwork, or an artist creating images for your own portfolio, knowing how to properly light three-dimensional work is crucial. In this video, photographer James Madelin shows us some simple ways to take better photographs of sculptural artwork:

  • Secure your camera to a tripod to ensure that you get a set of similar images, and to avoid having to continually refocus.
  • Mount flashes to light stands (or even tripods) using a “cold shoe” like the Frio and place them on either side of the artwork.
  • Face one flash toward the wall, and one toward the subject matter using an umbrella diffuser.
  • For especially reflective material, try facing both flashes toward the wall. Madelin recommends running one at 1/4th power and another at 1/16th, so that there is enough shadow on one side to let the contours of the sculpture show.
sculpture speedlight diagram

The top diagram shows how most of the sculptures were photographed, while the bottom one shows the change Madelin made for a shiny, high-glaze sculpture.

sculpture speedlight example

This image was taken with the lighting shown in the second diagram. There are no harsh highlights and the soft shadows on the right complement the sculpture well.

This method can be used for any instance in which you need to photograph an inanimate object, such as artwork documentation, product photography, or still life. These sculptures work great with a black background, but of course, you are free to experiment to find what works best with your subject.

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