Given that the ceramics are all shiny and beautiful, they could be just as tricky to photograph. Without the right light and photography setup, you might end up with blurry photographs or pictures that are way too shiny. When photographing pottery items, it is important to create a seamless and unaltered background that has a beautiful gradient.
Pottery Photography: Lighting Elements to Keep in Mind
When photographing shiny and cylindrical objects, the key is to use just one spectral light for the best pictures. Keep in mind that the spectral highlights must be kept in the front & off-center to ensure that the object’s sides are darker and create a proper spectrum for the object.
On the other hand, if you happen to create brighter sides & darker center, it would create an opposite effect while failing to make the ceramic look cylindrical as they are meant to be.
Tips to Remember when using light for pottery photography
If you are looking for some quick tips for pottery lighting and photography, here are some you must know about!
- If photographing a pottery item for publication, make sure you leave some space all around the focused object. This ensures that your publication editor has a rather flexible layout for any changes required.
- Make sure your images are top-lit as opposed to side-lit. If you also want side lighting, ensure that the lighting is kept further away instead of being too close.
- Unless your pieces are meant to be their triptych or diptych version, make sure you frame each of the shots on their own.
- Further, you can experiment with the focal length. With ceramic photography, a longer focal length is better than a shorter one.
- Every time you photograph your ceramic item, it is important to focus on the entirety of the piece’s depth. Deliberate use of the selective and shallow DOF is very rare.
Further, you need to ensure that the background is simple. Keep away any patterned bedspreads or wrinkled tablecloths. Ensure the backdrop used is simple and the best color to try with brightly colored fabrics to make use of neutral gray.
In case you plan to stick with natural lighting, the key is to go with outdoor light on a well-lit cloudy day. Avoid any bright sunlight falling on the ceramic as they tend to create shiny surfaces and deep shadows that could be way too distracting.
Alternatively, you can also film your artwork in a well-lit garage with color-balanced bulbs of the fluorescent kind. You can either make use of gray-colored fabric or a properly graded backdrop. Make sure the flash of your camera is turned off as it can create strong shadows.
You can also try experimenting with different angles or elevations to get the best photograph of your pottery object. If you plan to show the volume of the ceramic, you can raise the photography angle a bit to allow the viewers to see within the pot.
Factors to Keep in Mind When Using Light for Pottery Photography
As mentioned earlier, capturing pottery or ceramics with your camera can be a puzzling task, and it is important that you avoid chaos or bad photography. Here are some factors that are important for you to remember.
1-Select a Seamless Background:
To start with, you need to create a setup that is just right for your ceramics photography. You can make use of a regular table that can be placed against the wall. You can also make use of gray paper for the background.
You need to make sure that the background has little to no texture. This is to ensure that it doesn’t appear that your pottery is kept against a fabric backdrop. However, you might also want to refrain from selecting a background that is way too smooth as it can reflect a lot of the photography light, creating a pretty shiny surface.
If you require a large backdrop, make sure you use a bigger roll with the uncut background paper. Having long rolls for background ensures that you do not have to join the cut-up pieces that might create a distorted look in the backdrop.
Make sure the background is created from a durable and long-lasting sweep that clamps solidly on your work table without curving on the edge or middle.
2-Positioning the Ceramic:
When positioning the ceramic on your sweep, it is better to keep in mind the entire setup, inclusive of the lighting, tripod, and the type of camera. You need to keep the subject right in the background’s center & right where the sweeping starts. You can easily fine-tune the object as required.
Place your ceramic in a position that ensures minimal shadow creation while keeping the reflection to a minimum.
3-Set up the camera and tripod in the right position:
A steady and reliable tripod is important when you work with ceramic products. It ensures that the camera stays in the right position without moving about & helps eliminate any need for re-positioning each time you click the object in focus.
Having a tripod also helps eliminate shaking issues that come along when you hold the camera using your hands. Apart from this, a slowed-down shutter speed ensures that you get access to a greater field depth for photography. This is particularly important when you plan on working with close-up pictures of the product. With the use of the viewfinder, make sure you adjust the object or the camera’s position to get your desired composition.
Make sure you take up multiple test shots of the ceramic before you finalize the right position for your camera to get a publish-worthy photograph.
4-Refrain from using shabby lighting:
In most cases, ceramic or pottery photographers make use of a single light setup with fluorescent light while placing it right above the subject for ideal illumination. Position your light in a way that makes it angle right down on the object. To do this, you can make use of tilting stands. This helps create a beautiful shadow that adds to the visual weight of the piece. This also allows the buyers the potential to understand how heavy it can be.
To help you understand the difference in illumination available in different types of lighting options, here is a table:
Type of Light
Kelvin Scale Lighting
Temperature & Light Shade
|Tungsten or Incandescent||2000 K|
|Sunset| Sunrise||3000 K|
|White or Fluorescent||4000 K|
|Flash Light||6000 K|
|Cloudy Light||7000 K|
|Shade Light||8000 K|
5-Soften the Shadows and Highlights:
With ceramic photography, you need to keep the light on the softer end as opposed to a bright or harsh one. To do this, take the light closer to your subject as it creates a larger fall area for the light while making it softer at the same time.
When positioned with the use of soft light, the shadows tend to lose their visibly harsh edges & become minimally visible. Further, this helps create rather subtle highlights with smoother gradations involving color and tone between the light and dark areas.
If you still fail to get a soft enough shadow after moving the light closer, you can introduce a diffuser in the midst of the light & the subject. This diffuser is created from a translucent material that can be bought commercially or even created from fabric or tracing paper. This will help dramatically soften all the shadows and light.
If you want to purchase such a diffuser of the highest quality, an ideal choice is the Neewer Light Reflector with a collapsible design. Available in a pack of 5, this diffuser is perfect for indoor and outdoor lighting setup.
You would see that your object might seem floating in the nondescript gray background in a regular setup. To fix this, you need to create a backdrop with a perfect gradient that fades from the gray shade to a black one as we move towards the image’s top section.
This gray backdrop with gradient lighting also helps define proper space to allow your item space to sit on. To do this, you need to use a cardboard piece and place it above while blocking some of the light that has been reflecting on the background.
You can also change the gradient pattern by moving the cardboard all around while fixing a place that introduces the best gradient. Further, you can change the gradation sharpness by shifting the distance between the card and the light. The closer your cardboard is to the source light, the better is its gradual fade.
Here is the list of recommended shade or cardboard size to get the best results in accordance with the diagonal coverage area:
Diagonal Measurement (Inches)
Recommended Shade or Cardboard Size
|200 inches or less||10 inches to 12 inches|
|200 inches to 300 inches||12 inches to 14 inches|
|300 inches to 400 inches||14 inches to 16 inches|
|400+ inches||16 inches to 18 inches|
7-Understand the Camera Settings:
There is no point in setting up the ceramic object to be clicked if you have no idea about the camera settings you have been using. When using a camera to click your pottery object, you also need to set the color balance in the right way. You can make use of the customized white balance setting.
To set up your customized white balance, you need to locate the very same option in the camera’s menu while using gray cards to adjust the same. Apart from this, you also have to set the camera exposure with the use of the automatic or manual mode. It is suggested that you make use of the manual mode for perfection.
Using a light meter reading, you can achieve perfection for your pottery lighting. Apart from this, you must also carefully adjust your camera’s focus with the use of the manual option while confirming the same with the help of the LCD screen. Ensure that you can see the minute details of your pottery while keeping it all in focus.
Finally, take up the test image & zoom in a while, making sure everything has been properly focused.
8-Snap it Up:
Now your setup is finally ready, and you can take click your ceramic’s picture. You should click multiple pictures to ensure the best results in post-production. Once everything has been set up, ceramic photography can be fun.
9-Post-Production: Sharpness and Levels
Even after the shoot is over, you can spike up the lighting effects in your photograph by using some tools and applications such as Adobe Photoshop. This can help make your photograph way more compelling for the buyers.
The very first adjustment that needs to be done is for the levels. For this, you need to locate the application’s adjustment panel & select the icon labeled “Levels.” Doing this helps adjust the picture’s tones to make it look closer to the real item.
Adjusting the levels will show the histogram with 3 different slider options under it. You can start by adjusting these sliders to highlight different sections of your image. You can move the slider left or right depending on your needs to adhere to the graph represented by the histogram. This will help brighten different sections of your pottery image.
The left-end slider, when moved to the right, will darken any part with shadows. A third slider can be found under the histogram’s center, which can be used to adjust the general brightness of your image. In case the image is too dark or too light, you can try and adjust the same using its center slider moved slightly to the right or left.
Next, you need to sharpen your image with the use of Adobe’s Smart Sharpen option. Zoom in the image to a 100 percent ratio. In the app’s filter menu, you can find a “Sharpen” option. Further, a Smart Sharpen feature in its sub-menu can be used to sharpen specific sections.
If you notice that the contrast in the edges is becoming far more prominent, you need to stop right away. You can set your tool radius at the 1.5-pixel option that helps enhance the details further. The goal is to make your image look pleasing and clear while removing any harshness, especially when you know that the pottery items are very shiny under bright light.
We hope you can create the right lighting setup for your pottery photography with all these pointers in mind. At times, you might think that ceramic photography would take up a lot of time and money, but the key is to learn as you go. Of course, the time taken would be substantial when you start, but once you learn the art, it is a smooth sail from there. And, you surely do not need fancy equipment to photograph your pottery; experiment with a simple setup and improve with time.