Lighting Sculpture
One of the most fascinating things about looking at sculpture is how many ways there are to do it. The setting, lighting & point of view all have an effect. The process & decisions involved in lighting sculpture can go in a number of directions, depending on the requirements of the shoot. Are you looking to show all of the deatails of the sculpture, including imperfections & damages for either archiveal or insurance purposes?
Are you looking to enhance the emotional mood of the piece as you interpret it? The 3 dimensional aspects of sculpture make the technics used to light it for photography closer to our interview lessons than may appear at first. As you will see, there is plenty of room for creative expression.

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Here are two very common results when people try to get quick shots of three dimensional objects.

First by the ambient light in the room. The available light in most rooms comes from directly or nearly overhead. In this example you can see that there are odd shadows across the face and there are double shadows seen under the hand holding the book.

The next attempt is usually to use the on camera flash. It overpowers the ambient light, filling the areas that were in shadow, but makes a shadow of its own on the background. It also fills many of the crevasses and pits that define the various textures on the piece.

ambient room lightcamera flash
Ambient Room LightCamera Flash

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Basic Techniques

While it is tempting to want to eliminate all shadows by using very soft lighting, the results can look flat and really don't give an accurate impression of what you are looking at. Images of 3 dimensional objects are reduced to 2 dimensions, and lighting craft is required to help show that 3rd dimension.

When the light is coming from the exact same position as the camera, there will be very little shadow & depth. Even using a single light and moving it away from the camera position will make shadows that give visual clues and better show depth and detail in the object, such as how long the nose might be, or how deep set the eyes are.

soft light from camera position
Soft Light from Camera Position
soft light from above camera position
Soft Light from Above Camera Position

Soft Light from 2 umbrellas symetrically placed at 45 degrees
Soft Light from 2 umbrellas symetrically placed at 45 degrees
For simple documentation purposes, such as in museums, having two lights placed symetrically at forty five degrees on each side, and slightly higher than the object & camera, is still a common standard.

While nearly flat, the lighting gives a reasonable impression of the object's shape and condition, with a bit of depth, and is an easy method to use for general cataloging. The slight added height of the lights increases the shadow, which helps show more of the object's form but many of the finer textures can still be difficult to make out.

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