Photographing Austin Allen James’ Artwork
Photographing Austin Allen James' Artwork
Photographing Big Paintings . . . Little Paintings . . . Everything In Between
A little over a year ago, I answered a request from artist and author Austin Allen James to photograph artworks he created primarily for the home decor and interior design market. These paintings, I was told, ranged pretty widely in size, but they also incorporated metallic paints among subtle earth tones, and just to make it a little more fun, many were finished in a mirror-like resin coating. The painting at the top of this post embodies every one of those problems. The photo below shows the reflections in the mirror surface in ambient light. Not good.
Problem Solved . . . Sort Of
It’s pretty basic photography that you can light some reflective surfaces if you make sure the direct reflections (mirror-like reflections) are visible in a direction away from the camera. In other words, if you bounce a light in at 45 degrees from the right, for example, it will go off at 45 degrees to the left. Theoretically, you can place the camera at a location where that reflection isn’t visible. But that works when the object isn’t entirely shiny but also creates diffuse reflections. Diffuse reflections are the sort that scatter light in all directions. They allow you to see what the light is hitting, not a reflection of something else. For example, you don’t see your reflection in a dry concrete sidewalk. You just see the concrete. The concrete produces diffuse reflections of light. If the sidewalk is covered in clear ice, though, you’ll see your reflection and, probably the sidewalk beneath it. In that case you have both direct and diffuse reflections.
But Austin’s paintings aren’t even that simple. They’re full of metallic paints. Those produce nearly 100% direct reflections. If you bounce all the light away from a metallic surface to avoid direct reflections, it just goes dark. Bad news if you want a bright gold streak to show up. So the test was, how to make sure the flash didn’t reflect back to the camera, producing those blinding white spots (like if you take a selfie in the bathroom mirror with flash on), and at the same time allow enough direct reflection from the metallic paints that they look shiny and metallic. That, came down to angles and distance. And we still had exposure to worry about.
We started by setting up two 60″ octaboxes at angles that avoided large flash reflections. An octabox is a large light modifier that produces a soft, spread out light. In the photo, below, model, Tayler Campbell, is standing in front of one while a makeup artist, Sarah Kate Harrison pretends to assault her with a makeup brush.
With the lights set up, we experimented. Some arrangements lit the metallic paint nicely, but created very bright hot spots on the edge of the painting. Others illuminated some of the metallic paints correctly, and left the others dark. Still other positions left the center too dark or too light. Eventually, we got close enough to make final adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop. Here’s where we wound up. Note that the gold color is not uniform in the original.
A Few Final Results
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