Carving 4. Photographing the art work for best effect.
One might think that taking pictures of my own sculptures would be a snap. But in reality each one presents a different lighting problem.
The long bearded face of #1 relies on the contrasts in texture and colour between the smooth face, carved in the darker heartwood, and the lighter beard with its rippled wood and hairy-textured surface. After several attempts I put my Speedlight flash aside and use the bright light of a gooseneck lamp to sidelight the sculpture which brings out the textures of the beard and the form of the face.
The face of Chaos herself ( # 2 ), swelling upwards from the shallow cedar bowl, calls for a different approach. I try side lighting again and the shadows do pick out the contours of the face nicely but was that really what was being said here? I take the camera, pop up the on-camera flash, reset the exposure down to darken the final image and then turn off the lights in the studio. I wish to take advantage of the contrast between the shiny eyes, the ‘spit’ in the mouth, and the softer rubbed wax finish on the wood grain of the remaining surface. I use the focussing beam of light from the camera to light up the carving and keep repeating the light beam as I move slightly up and down and side to side until I can see that there is a good reflection from the yellow cedar plug and the eyes. Click/Flash, and I have a photograph that enhances the idea of the carving.
The torso ( #3 ) has problems all of its own. I try simple side lighting and frontal flash but neither brings out the gentle form or interesting spalded textures. I decide to treat this as if I were lighting a real torso and begin a series of speedlight flash photos. By bouncing the flash from the sloping ceiling off to one side and using a mirror on the other to redirect that main light so it will highlight the edge of the shadow side I am able to give gently modulated light to the varnished form, bring out the patterned areas nicely and yet not loose the lovely curve of the hip on the shadow side. Reflection of the main light on the smooth varnished surface is a problem but I persevere until I can get just enough to show that it is a shiny surface but not so it glares off the most important areas.
This was an interesting problem I set myself. Lighting, it turned out could make or break the photographic impact of the wood carvings. Being the maker, I had a gut understanding of what they were really all about and was able to light them in such a way that each communicated well in its own way.