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How to Photograph Pottery

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The Purpose of the Photograph
Types of pottery photographs can be classified as to their purpose.

Types of pottery photographs can be classified as to their purpose.

Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

There are four basic things necessary to consider when shooting your work:

  • the purpose for which you want or need the photographs,
  • the equipment needed to capture the image,
  • the equipment needed to light the piece appropriately, and
  • the handling of the artwork and its setting.
All four need to work together in order to give you the best possible result. Once they are understood, it becomes much easier to shoot good-looking, accurate images of your work.

Let's begin with the purpose(s) your photographs will serve. Possibly purposes include:

  • keeping records;
  • to show other potters what you are doing, such as on the Pottery Forum and the Monthly Pottery Projects;
  • for online stores such as Etsy or Artfire;
  • for entries for exhibitions or craft fairs; and
  • for portfolios for colleges or galleries.
Of these, the first two purposes are fairly informal. You want accurate photographs, but you don't necessarily need them to be shot as carefully as the others. The others, however, require more thought.

For online stores (or a catalog, if you print or email one), you need to think about what setting will make your pot appeal most to a buyer. You may want to include a related object next to the pot, such as a fruit near a bowl or flowers in a vase. Backgrounds need to be uncluttered and should be unobtrusive. They don't have to be white or off-white, but do be aware that color contrasts will effect how the pot's color appears.

Photographs of pottery for professional use and portfolios need to be focused on the pot alone. Backgrounds should generally be white or off-white. The exception is when photographing a white object, in which case a gray is most appropriate. Black can be used as the background, but tends to "feel" heavy and is generally not the best choice.

The purpose of your pottery photography can have a heavy influence on the equipment you use. Personal record shots can be taken with practically any type of camera, but all other shots may need more professional gear.

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