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Written Instructions

Boxelder Vessel

Walnut Spiral

Walnut Detail


First of all, I am not a photographer, but a woodturner who has learned to photograph my own work. My photographic knowledge is limited, but I do know a lot about the end result and what is needed to present the kind of images that are useful for showing to potential customers, galleries, or publication.


In general, you should photograph in a vertical format with the piece filling most of the frame. Thumb through magazine ads and look at some covers-editors like the vertical format. If you apply to juried craft shows, and just for a more professional look, try to make the style of your images similar. Submit slides that relate to one another ( regardless of what the application might say)-showing the full range of things you make can be very confusing, and the kiss of death, since the images are usually only looked at for 5-10 seconds. Think *PRESENTATION*


The setup here I use for slides and also digital photos. You could take photos (prints) as well, but slides are really the accepted way of presenting images.


I suggest Fujichrome 64T (tungsten) slide film. It is balanced for the tungsten lighting. Only take it (or send it) to a professional lab that specializes in E-6 (ektachrome) processing. Mall stores and camera stores are NOT generally professional labs. Look in the phone book. If you want 4x6 prints, find a place that does machine prints. This probably will NOT be a professional lab, but a drugstore/camera store. Machine prints mean that the prints are made directly from the slide at a cost of 50-60 cents. The pro lab will make an internegative and then a print, but this is fairly expensive, but good if you need larger prints, and the quality will be quite good. The cost of a 36 exposure roll is about $9, and processing is about $7. The film can be gotten considerably cheaper from the NY photo houses.


For digital images you can have the slides scanned in for a modest charge by the pro lab. They will scan them in several resolutions, again of the highest quality. Inexpensive flatbed adaptors will only do a marginal job at best, but maybe good enough for the web etc. I shoot most of my pieces with the digital camera for use on the web, quick prints etc. I would like to have all my slides scanned at high resolution eventually for archival purposes. With the number of images I have, I will save my money for a higher end slide scanner. I use an Olympus 3000 digital camera in automatic mode,  and let it do the exposure  etc. I simply turn off the flash and mount it on the tripod just  like my film camera. Most of the current digital cameras will adjust for the kind of light source you are using. (white balance)


I use 54 inch wide(considered a half roll) seamless background paper. I use studio blue a lot, but more conventional is studio gray or thunder gray. Some people use formica, and I think John Lucas may use linoleum. The background should be quite long, 5-6 feet, gradually turning vertically. The allows lighting only the object, and the color of the background fades to black. There are also graduated backgrounds available, but I have no experience with those. Whatever you use MUST be flat and wrinkle free or it will show. The paper is very fragile and I roll out new pieces frequently.


The light I use is a halogen type shop light, with a tungsten photo lamp installed in place of the standard halogen bulb. This is a 500w bulb, and cost more than the entire shop light, probably $25. The shop light has the grill removed to avoid shadows. It has also been fitted with a real photo light barn door, which is used to selectively block/direct the light output. It would be easy to fabricate something similar. I use shower curtain fabric as a diffuser, and it's long enough to double the thickness if there is too much light. I use clothespins or small spring clamps to secure and fold the curtain material. PAY ATTENTION!!!! THE LAMP IS HOT!!!! Never go away and leave it on due to fire danger. There is also an incandescent bulb which can be used with a standard ceramic base and some sort of reflector. They are much cheaper but only good for a few hours. They will work just as well, just not as long.


There is a black piece of plastic with a crumpled edge  that is used to block light off the background behind the piece. The crumpled edge prevents a hard shadow line.


I also use a focusing spotlight (Lowell Pro) with a cobbled up cardboard snout to focus a smaller circle of light. The circle of light is adjusted so that it provides a slight highlight around the lips/openings of my pieces. This is not always effective or appropriate, but it can be a nice touch.


The main light source is angled from the right side, and I use a piece of white foam core on the left side to bounce back some of the light. I look through the lens and move the foam core around until I like the look. Some  people use shaving mirrors  etc. as reflective light sources.


I use a professional quality Bogen tripod, and my camera is a manual Nikon with a 28-80 zoom lens. A standard 50 mm lens will work, but 80 - 90 mm or a zoom will allow you to get back from the work a bit which is more comfortable. Inexpensive screw on close up lenses will work well for detail shots, in spite of what real photographers may tell you. A shutter release of some kind is need, or you can use the timer if the camera has one. I only use Fujichrome 64T, which is balanced for the tungsten lighting. Using a small aperture, f11-f22,  insures good depth of field (focus front to back). I use the in camera exposure meter, and I usually leave the shutter speed set on 1 sec and vary the f stop for proper exposure. It's usually a good idea to bracket your exposures, although I rarely do since I have become very familiar with my setup. I shoot multiple exposures at the same settings rather than having duplicate slides made later-it's cheaper and better. Fill the frame with the image and leave most of the blank space at the top, less space on the bottom, least on the sides. Try to place each piece you shoot at exactly the same place in the frame, so the pieces will look good viewed together.


All this has to be done with the lights out, and the room pretty dark. I shoot at night or place black plastic over the windows. A small flashlight, masking tape, clothespins or small spring clamps are all handy.


Take some decent notes and pay attention. As with everything, you get better with practice.


The photos here are shot with the Olympus C3000. They reflect my lack of expertise at digital editing, and in no way compare to the quality and "snap" of good transparencies.

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