Museums are facilities where art work can be experienced in optimal conditions.  Perfect lighting, absence of distracting sound, controlled temperature, and a planned layout all contribute to being able to fully appreciate a gallery exhibition.  Artists labor with love and dedication over their work.  It is though their eyes that they imagine us seeing, hearing, smelling and, when allowed, touching and tasting their art.  Tasting and smelling might lend itself more toward the culinary arts and touching is prevalent in children’s museums.  The gallery is a controlled environment meant to promote the artist’s vision in the best way possible.

Photographing to serve the artist

The responsibility I have as a commercial photographer when capturing an artist’s work is:  accuracy of color, angle of view, distribution of light (shadows and highlights) and treatment of the background.  When I photograph flat art, attention to background shadows or gradients as well as angle of view is eliminated.  Sculptural, 3 dimensional glass art employ all considerations to accurately represent the artist’s intent.

From Raw to Final

Typically, when I photograph things that don’t move I light with 200 watt mini spot lights.  For these individual  7 glass art pieces, I was using 4 -5 mini spots for each set up.  First we would choose the best angle, viewed from the camera lens.  I would then work with one light at a time, building the lighting scheme to illuminate the form and color of the piece.  The background was a Thunder Grey seamless paper that I shadow darkened to black at the top. I was not concerned about shadows falling on the background at this time.  I tried to keep them to a minimum by side lighting the art, but my priority was lighting the glass accurately.

raw unaltered image and background

Almost, but not quite…

After I set up, lit and photographed this grand piece, I realized that the most confusing component to the scene was the distracting shadows cast on the background from the outstretched arms and legs inherent in the piece. This was still an issue even when I overlaid the unaltered raw file over the “background only” file I shot, digitally erasing the natural shadows from the raw image, letting the “shadowless” background  show through!

I decided to abandoned my traditional approach and simply shoot the glass art piece with the intent of digitally isolating the art piece (“dropping” it out) and placing it on an airbrushed existing Thunder Grey gradient background I had in my files.

natural lighting on background vs. perfect airbrushed background


Below is the comparison of the same art piece, same angle, same lighting on the object – different backgrounds.   I prefer the  gradient background from my files for this piece.  It is less distracting.  By my adding a subtle drop shadow to the final, the reality of the scene is made more apparent.

final analysis
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