Dan Reeder is a Seattle area maker of monsters and other creatures. He is a master of paper mache’. Along with monsters he teaches math. What does that say?…
Next to the quality of the work itself nothing is going to do more for one’s career as a sculptor than the quality of the images one uses for submissions or an online web portfolio. Having submitted images to juries for way too many years, (don’t even ask), and done web based portfolios for the last eight I’ve fallen into just about every pitfall there is. Perhaps I can save the reader a little head banging and maybe some serious money. In the coming articles I’ll cover the whole process from setting up a studio to proper submission format for Zapp. Finally I’ll write a bit about website design. For the first article I’ll cover the fun part. That is, buying stuff cheap.
Professional photographers earn every penny. It is a highly skilled occupation with an insanely high equipment budget. For your premier pieces the professional is a great idea. $90 an hour is not unreasonable. You can also take excellent photos on your own with little if any pain to your pocketbook. In fact a complete photo studio, (assuming you have a computer already) need not set you back more than $200, and that includes a good camera.
The bare bones ‘get it done’ set-up is possible for less than $200
You will want a decent digital camera. It should have a good sharp zoom lens and manual settings. A new one will have a 10 megapixel ccd and set you back $200 to $500. Here’s the neat thing though, 3 or 4 megapixels is ample for web work or for submitting images to a jury. Find a good candidate on Craigslist and then Google the model number and read the reviews. You can even download the manual to see if the camera fits your needs. In fact right now there is a Canon Powershot on Craigslist for the grand sum of $25. It would do nicely.
As sculptors you will be shooting 3d objects. You will want to control what is in focus and what is not. Usually you will want your piece in sharp focus and the background fuzzy. For this you need to control depth of field or how much is in focus between the lens and infinity. Controlling this precisely requires manual settings for aperture, (size of the lens opening), and shutter speed and a zoom lens. A 3x zoom lens is sufficient. You’ll want a shutter delay feature where the camera waits until you can get yourself into that family photo. In a low light situation where a long exposure is required the very act of pressing the shutter button will blur the photo. The shutter delay will give the camera time to stop vibrating. So, your camera should have: a manual setting feature, a good 3x zoom lens, 3 megapixels or better and a shutter delay or self timer feature.
If you already have a digital camera and it does not have manual settings it will probably do ok if it has a good lens and an aperture priority setting.
Unless you can stand very, very still you will need a tripod. The Goodwill stores are awash in them. A decent one will set you back $5 or $10 at the most. Your camera has a threaded hole in the bottom. There is a little quick release doodad that fits into the top of newer tripods that has a bolt that fits that hole. Make sure the tripod you buy still has that little doodad with the bolt. Older tripods just have the bolt and no doodad. In either case make sure it’s pretty sturdy and extends to a decent height. They make decent light stands too.
The Lighting Setup
Harsh shadows, unless you want them for special effect, tend to look pretty bad. What the pros do that makes their pictures look so good is control the light and shadow very precisely. They use remotely controlled high powered flash units, soft light boxes and reflectors of various kinds and sizes. What can you do for $25? Quite a lot actually.
You will need: 3 clamp lights, 3 photo flood bulbs, light stands, (these can be anything you can attach a clamp light to), enough pvc plumbing pipe and connectors to build a frame that can hold your pieces and enough white ripstop nylon to cover the frame top and two sides. I use a light gray construction paper for the background and foamcore for both shading and reflecting light into dark spots.
Pictured left is my setup. It’s downright ugly but it works. The lights are just clamped to the basement rafters. Usually I don’t even have the legs on the frame but just hang the top part from the rafters and drape the ripstop over it. The ripstop softens the lights eliminating harsh shadows. For the sample shot I held a piece of foamcore behind the piece to create a background shadow.
Image Editing Software
You will need to crop, resize, adjust exposure, contrast and color, and sharpen your images. Photoshop Elements will
Gray construction paper background pops the bright colors of this piece
do the job as will Paintshop Pro. There are also gazillions of freeware programs to do the same. Unfortunately most aren’t very good. Google has one called Picasa for both PC and Mac that is quite good and free to boot. Download only from a trusted source of course. Both Paintshop Pro and Photoshop Elements run about $60. Paintshop Pro is probably a little better than Photoshop Elements.
The full version of Photoshop is the holy grail. If you are a student or a teacher you can get an 80% discount at the student bookstore. Photoshop has a long learning curve but it is a medium in itself. I mean what’s it worth to take that old family group shot and switch everyone’s heads around. Little Bessie’s head on Uncle Fester?…priceless. Retail the price is astronomic but last I heard you don’t have to be a full time student to qualify for the student price but you do have to be taking a class for at least 3 credits. Check with the bookstore before enrolling.
George is the web person for Pacific NW Sculptors and has designed web based portfolios and websites for a number of NW artists. He has been an avid photographer since 1969.
He is a tight fisted scoundrel
Most people have a fairy Godmother or have had interactions with the tooth fairy. Not me. I have Sid. Sid brings hangovers, muscle soreness and indigestion. Sid is the one who tells AARP that you’ve turned 50. He’s also in charge of health insurance rates. Please get him out of here. The buzzing is driving me nuts.
Note: Pacific NW Sculptors is a regional non-profit sculptors organization based in Portland Oregon. In the fall of 2008 the Seattle chapter of Pacific Northwest Sculptors declared it’s independence and formed a new organization; The Seattle Sculptor’s Guild. The following is an account, (a pack of lies), of events immediately following the declaration. Only the names are real so as to embarrass as many people as possible.
On December 10th the PNWS* ministry of military affairs received word that the Northern colonies had declared independence. In the best interests of the Empire and for the good of the Northern Territories themselves we immediately dispatched the PNWSS Frigate “Good Cheer” to deal with the deteriorating situation. With 24 18 pounders on the gun deck, 6 more on the main complemented by two 36 pound carronades we expected our excellent ship to make short work of those in rebellion. Orders to Captain Gracewood were to take the Crittenden Locks, subdue both the Viking Fire and Fremont foundries, as well as Fort Magrath then proceed to Elliot bay and take by any means necessary the Wastweet Studios.
After a rough but otherwise uneventful 5-day passage Gracewood reached Salmon Bay and dispatched a company of marines to take the aforesaid locks. Proceeding overland Major Gregg was able to achieve complete surprise bursting into the control room while the lock tender, Sgt. “Toothless” Osterberg was at his lunch of salt cod and lutefisk puree’. When confronted by these forces the sergeant wisely yielded. His only comment being ” Ya shure, u betcha. U vant some?” Not a shot was fired. Leaving two men to guard the control shack Gregg proceeded overland to Viking Fire to lay in wait.
Meanwhile, Captain Gracewood ordered the boats lowered and under the cover of darkness our stoutest men manned the oars and towed the Good Cheer to and through the locks. With a midshipmen at the crosstrees directing fire Gracewood opened fire with the carronades** reducing in a matter of minutes the foundry and the surrounding three blocks to smoldering rubble. Unfortunately the rabble within were able to evade Gregg’s marines and made their way to the Fremont Foundry in time to raise the alarm.
On hearing the news Colonel Magrath knew he had them. 6 cannon destined for a war memorial had recently been cast and chased and he had no shortage of cannon fodder. This was in the form of several thousand leftover bronze fingers and toes from a somewhat miscalculated commission. Using block and tackle he raised the cannon to the roof pointing three at the ship canal and three down Leary Way to deal with Gregg’s marines.
Having negotiated the locks and reached the end of Salmon Bay Gracewood called in the boats and dispatched a crew to either side of the ship canal to pull the Good Cheer along by means of hawsers. He had not, however, counted on anything other than small arms fire and hearty insults from either Magrath or the Fremont foundry. He was somewhat disconcerted then when a number of forefingers suddenly appeared embedded in the mizzenmast followed immediately by a crack of thunder. Each pointed back the way he had come. Being a religious man Gracewood took this as a sign from God and ordered an immediate about face.
Major Gregg, not being a religious man, nonetheless came to a similar decision when confronted with a variety of toes speeding by in excess of the speed of sound. He beat a hasty retreat. After a hearty but somewhat repulsive lunch at the lock with Sven – pureed lutefisk does not keep well – Gregg and his Marines rejoined the Good Cheer and all proceeded out the bay and around West Point towards Elliot Bay where perhaps they might find a softer target.
It was well known that Wastweet Studios, being of a peaceful nature, had only light defenses and was quite close to the East Waterway of Harbor Island. This put it well within range of the carronades. For those reasons it should have been easily taken down. That might have been the case but for an observant guard at the Olympic Sculpture Park spotting the Good Cheer as it rounded the south end of Magnolia Bluff. Even though there is no official connection between the Seattle Art Museum and Wastweet Studios the former does get testy when foreign vessels of war invade it’s space. By the time Gracewood had reached the mouth of the East Waterway SAM was ready to put to sail its 74-gun ship of the line Blue Moon. Put to sail is perhaps too strong a term as the Blue Moon was docked at the Coast Guard Museum right at the entrance to the East Waterway. All they really had to do was give her a big shove backwards and drop the gunports. The Good Cheer was trapped! Not relishing the prospect of 37 of anything passing through his ship from stern to stem Gracewood ordered the colors struck. Within an hour Gracewood was offering his sword to President Wastweet. “Don’t be silly”, she said. “Lets go get Chinese”.
* Pacific Northwest Sculptors
* * A carronade is a cannon similar to but heavier than a land-based mortar. It is capable of lobbing a very heavy shot but is limited to a short range.