Growing Pains: Photography Edition

Black Mountain & Silver Nebula

The tools don’t make the artist, but the right tools certainly can help an artist more fully represent a vision.

When I first started putting my work out into the public, I took pictures with a Canon PowerShot that my in-laws had given us when they upgraded their own point-and-shoot camera.  It was free, took decent pictures, and I sold a few items based on photos that I took with it, so I didn’t worry too much about the fact that my backyard grill and a wayward chinaberry tree were visible in the silver’s reflection.

A few years later I was taking pictures exclusively with my iPhone.  We had removed the wayward chinaberry and I’d moved my photo spot away from the grill, but then there were reflections of bricks, gutters, a new fence, and a towering pecan tree to contend with.  I’d read a few articles admonishing jewelry artists not to photograph outside for these very reasons, but this one spot has the best light all day long–way better than anything I could set up indoors.  So I ignored the reflections and hoped others would as well.

Moderate manipulation of the background or light levels in a basic photo editor produced lovely and striking photos that highlighted the best of each piece without rendering the objects unrecognizable from their tangible form.  I received compliments on these efforts (no one mentioned the gutters) and so was happy until recently, when I noticed that opening the photos full-size in my online shop yielded an image that looked like it had been painted impressionist-style, with chunky swaths of thick oil paint.  The worst part was that it wasn’t a uniform phenomenon, but was rather patchy.  The overall effect was that my photos looked over-manipulated, which pretty much sealed the deal for me: it was time to invest in a good camera.

I looked at a few much-loved models by Canon and Nikon, and ended up going home with a Sony alpha, a mirrorless dSLR that is light as a feather, a good fit for my small hands, and can shoot the whole gamut from automatic to manual. I also ordered a ModaHaus tabletop studio and steady stand bundle and told myself it was time to graduate to indoor photoshoots.  I set up my “studio” at the kitchen table which is flooded with soft light from a bay window and let my new camera’s manual controls give me the lighting that I was only able previously to achieve outside (I still love you, weather-beaten wooden table in a sea of lemon balm).

The best part is that my photos now need very little manipulation, if any.  Maybe just a little white or black balancing, which I think is common when photographing metals, especially silver that’s been given a mirror shine.  I’ve no doubt that a professional would be able to identify rookie mistakes in my photography (and please do let me know), but for the moment I’m confident that I’m representing my work with crystal clear pictures that do not look like The Monet Paint-by-Number That Time Forgot.