4 Steps to Photographing Statues and Sculptures | Light Stalking

4 Steps to Photographing Statues and Sculptures

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Statues and sculpture range broadly from historical figures, modern abstracts in a variety of materials to mass produced replicas of the real thing. Photographing sculptures and statues (we'll use these interchangeably) is an artist's view of an another artist's work.
When photographing a sculpture, it can tell a story. It can also be ‘just another sculpture photo' that does nothing other than document its' existence.
We'll explore different techniques and images for inspiring your own creative view when you photograph sculptures. When photographing ‘art', a simple shadow could be the difference of making an impact, or being a distraction.
We'll review

  1. Lighting

  2. Perspective & Angles

  3. Attention to the Details and lastly,

  4. Telling the Story from Your Eye.


1. Lighting

Lighting may or may not work in our favor. Cloudy, overcast days minimize harsh shadows for more evenly distributed lighting. On bright, sunny days statues with intricate details, curves, crevices and angles can easily be overpowered by harsh shadows.
If you're on vacation and have just a few hours, you have to work with what nature provides. Lightly overcast, even lighting provides the most flexibility in photographing a total statue.
If there are a lot of shadows due to unfavorable lighting, use those to your advantage. Harsh shadows and details may be further enhanced in post processing to convey age and drama.
Light and shadow can emphasize unique features that may have gone unnoticed in the total statue but are no less interesting on their own. Backlighting can offer silhouettes. Side lighting brings elongated shadows.

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2. Perspectives & Angles

If you're just getting started with photographing sculptures, consider starting with the same techniques as you would in your other work. As a portrait, look at the subject from a ‘person' perspective to get the creative eye going.
If you're an event photographer, try starting with what's happening around the statue. For nature photographers, consider zooming into the statue's features.
A few ideas:

  • If you're working up close, step back to re-survey the scene. If working from a distance, move in. Either case, moving your feet, going lower and looking up or standing on an elevated surface to reach eye level will change what your eye sees.
  • Work with a shallow depth of field to illuminate the feature of interest and soften surrounding details of the sculpture. Fill the majority of the frame with the point of interest.
  • When taking in the total statue, some of the surroundings include too many people, unattractive buildings. Take the photo anyway!
  • Use a tripod and neutral density filter to capture motion as it happens around the statue for a natural blur frame or create a blur surrounding in post processing. Tripod and cable release needed for this one – see the photo below by Mike Warot.
  • Study other photographer's sculpture work. If there is a specific statue/sculpture that you have in mind – trying googling images to see what photographs have been taken (and what angles to avoid).
  • Taking a full frontal shot will document that you were there.

3. Attention to Detail

While surveying for perspective, also look for distractions. If your statue is in a city or town, are street signs and street lights in the frame? Are there wires and cables overhead? Some distractions can be corrected in post-processing.
It's better to eliminate distractions before you get to post processing when possible.
Trees and branches may provide a nice framing element to your subject. Trees and branches could also look like a distraction ‘hat' if right behind the statue's head.
Statues made with materials that have reflections or glare may have blown highlights in various lighting conditions. Check the histogram to look for blown highlights. Bracket your photos to have multiple conditions to work with in post processing. If working in brighter times of the day, trying using a circular polarizer to protect and enhance color saturation and minimize glare.

4. Telling the Story

As the photographer, how do you envision representing the art? The creator of the work had a vision. That vision inspired you to want to take a photograph.
It may be the surrounding elements that caught your attention, the overall work itself or the lines and angles. Part of the story happens when you snap the shutter, the other in post processing.
From a personal perspective, I took the below photo a few weeks after a young family member had passed away. She loved dancing and music as do her children. When I walked up to the statue, the position of the statue's face led upward to the beautiful summer sky. It immediately reminded me of the song “Is there Dancing in Heaven?” that reflected the emotions we were all feeling at the time.

 
Take creative liberty with exploring subtle adjustments to the dramatic. Over-saturate a color or colors, de-saturate a color or colors. Push the limits on your choices of clarity and contrast, exposure, highlights, shadows.
Go for black and white. An average photograph in color may move to ‘wow' when converted to black and white.
Statues and sculptures also represent the ‘perfect poser' giving you ample time to survey lighting, finding perspectives and paying attention to the details. It's up to you as a photographer to tell your eye's story of another artists' work.

About the author

Sheen Watkins

Sheen Watkins is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, instructor, author and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

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