Photographing a sculpture or statue should be easy—after all, they don’t move. However, finding the very best and most unique way to capture a sculpture can be a challenge. Here are a few tips for getting the very best pictures of the sculptures, statues, and other works of art all around you.
Choose a sculpture that has meaning for you.
Don’t think about what other people like or enjoy; when getting started in sculpture photography, it is all about you. There is a good reason for this. If you have a personal attachment to a particular piece of art, this affection will show through in your photos. You will be able to study the sculpture carefully and find details and nuances that otherwise might have been lost. The best photographs result from a photographer’s love of their subject. You should take advantage of this.
Think about legality.
Once you’ve found the perfect piece of art, your next duty is to figure out if you are legally allowed to photograph it. If it is on private property, you will need to get the owner’s permission and a signed release as well if you plan to publish or sell the resulting image. If the statue is on public property, you still need to show respect. Do not do anything that would deface the statue such as climbing on it or going into publically forbidden areas for a particular shot.
Consider the background carefully.
Many of the best sculpture and statue photographs have a minimized background, often reduced to a colorful blur. In some cases, photographers have even used backdrops to give a clean and uniform image. However, a background is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider whether the sculptures surroundings are merely a distraction, or if they provide a necessary context and even a contrast to the object in question. This may require special lighting settings and other considerations in order to avoid losing focus on the main object.
Look for a new angle.
The very best photographers are those that can show an everyday object from a completely new perspective. Walk around your sculpture and even try to get above or below it. Sometimes there is more interest from unusual points of view than from more traditional angles. The effect of different angles and the shadows they produce will be more dramatic at times of day when the lighting is either very bright and direct, or very dim and diffuse. Don’t be afraid to return a few times for the best possible shot.
Use lighting to add depth and perspective
. Sculptures and statues are usually highly three dimensional. Your lighting can enhance or detract from this, depending on how you choose to build your photo. For even and attractive lighting, your best bet is often to use evening or early morning light when it hits the statue from the front or side. However, shadows and overall character will vary at different types of day. Although you cannot usually choose the direction of light, you can move around the object to see the very best vantage point. If there is never a good time to get the angle you need, consider bringing lighting or bouncing flash at the sculpture to fill in any lighting holes.
Some sculptures have plenty of personality, be it a creepy feeling or a serene sense of peace. Others need a little help from the photographer in order to come into their own. Evaluate each piece before you plan any other aspects of the shot. Will you be capturing the artist’s vision or adding a little vision of your own? Look carefully and try to identify what made the artwork interesting to you in the first place.
Focus on the details.
Sometimes the real interest in a sculpture lies in the details. When you are evaluating your subject, look very closely. Are there areas with interesting texture or a detail that deserves more attention? Use your “artist’s eye” to determine if there are any aspects of your photography that could stand on their own in a photograph. This is often what separates the true professionals from the amateurs.
Don’t be afraid to be “under the weather”.
Weather can have a huge effect on your photograph. Not only does it affect key aspects of your photograph such as lighting and background, it also can add entirely new effects to your photographs. Autumn leaves, dripping rain, fluffy snow, and drifting fog can all add an entirely new personality to a sculpture and bring out new and previously unseen features. Try capturing your favorite sculpture in all four seasons and you will see the difference that the weather can make in the personality and quality of the finished product.
Process for best results.
Photoshop is not cheating when it comes to outdoor works of art! It is rare that the lighting, the background, and all other aspects of the photograph are exactly what you want them to be when you are relying on Mother Nature to provide the light and the backdrop. The makes processing all the more important. You can add or take away lighting, enhance or reduce shadows, and make the background disappear if needed. Don’t be afraid to try black and white or sepia effects, especially if you need to simply the photo, remove background interference, or soften overly harsh lighting.
Try, try again.
In most cases, the best photographs were not impromptu first attempts but rather planned operations that occurred over several days. If you really want the best possible picture, you may have to scout out the area several times and then return for several different shoots. Try different cameras, different films, and different settings to see which yield that perfect effect. Look at your prints, evaluate your mistakes, and try to correct or compensate for them next time. In the end, you will be rewarded with the best possible picture of your sculpture.