Shots of Pots on the Cheap and Low Tech

 I’ve been shooting images of my ceramic works for the last 20 years. I learned out of necessity, simply because, I wasn’t going to pay the high prices that “professional” photographers wanted for less than expected results with strings attached. I tried working with several photographers but I was really never happy with their results and the whole “who owns the negatives” thing was always a problem.

I teach a workshop for artists titled, “Photograph Your Work”, several times a year at SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA. The two day workshop covers a lot of ground relative to the proper way to shoot images of 2D and 3D works of art. The ridiculously simple and cheap set-up in the images below will give you an idea of the concepts of how to use the gray background paper, how to set-up the lighting using a bounce board and how to create the classic gradient using a background sweep.

I use this set-up for small guinomi sake cups all the way up to my larger sculpture pieces, some as tall as 60.” If you understand the principals in the images below, you will be able to exploit this set-up’s flexibility.

I use a Nikon D40 Digital SLR with an 18-55mm lens

I use 2 – 500 watt, GE PhotoFloods (Tungsten), color temp. 3400K

I use a Neutral Gray or Dove Gray PhotoPaper Background (I don’t use a gradient paper, the gradient is created by the light being “cut-off” by the back of the “bounce Board.”)

I shoot on Manual setting at f25 with the exposure set using an 18% Gray Card. Then I disregard my light meter, as it will indicate a different exposure for every different piece, depending its lightness or darkness.

Remember to set you camera’s white balance to 3400k or tungsten or incandescent, whatever your camera uses.

As I think a picture is worth a 1000 words, please view the images below and ask me questions. Please consider subscribing to my blog, that way you will receive emails of other’s questions and my responses.

A sample of an image taken with this set-up. Also, the images in the header of this blog were also shot with this method.

This entry was posted in Glazes and Techniques. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Shots of Pots on the Cheap and Low Tech

  1. DJ says:

    AWESOME!!! looks like fun, too!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing your photo technique. I love the way the photo shows the back ground and the way the ambient light works with the pot in the photo. 🙂 I may just use this idea as well. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    MIchael, did you make your own bounce board? Do you think a white foam core board would work for slightly smaller set ups? Also, I’m assuming that the angle of the board is adjustable and it raises and lowers to accommodate the size of the piece?

    • shyrabbit says:

      Yeah, I made the bounce board, really simple to do and yes it’s adjustable. No, I won’t use FoamCore as the lights get too hot. I use Marlite, it’s a coated particleboard material that you can get at most home improvement stores. It comes in 4×8 sheets. You’ve likely seen it used on Gas Station Bathroom walls and restaurant kitchen walls. It comes with a smooth, 4×4 tile or Pebble finish, I use smooth but, I think they would all work. If you can’t find Marlite, just get some masonite and paint it matte white.

      Hope this helps

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks. I may try the foam core since I have some of that on hand. Will watch the heat though my lights are special photo compact flourescent and they don’t get all that hot. What is the dimension of your bounce board? I assume 4′ wide but how deep. How have you rigged the cords for the board? Do they go through an eye bolt in the ceiling or something similar?

        Sorry for so many questions.

        • shyrabbit says:

          Yeah, FoamCore would be OK with CFL’s. My bounce board it 30″ x 40″ and in this case is hung from our gallery lighting grid. The bounce board is really quite light and it is easy to adjust for different size pieces.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Does the rigging for the bounce board go through an eyebolt in the ceiling or something similar?

    • shyrabbit says:

      In my current case the bounce board is hanging from our gallery lighting grid above, but I’ve had other set-ups that did hang from the ceiling and I did use eye screws.

  5. Anonymous says:

    …just read thru all the comments and found the bounce board answers. Thanks again. Maggie

  6. Tom Johnson says:


  7. Fantastic post! Thanks for the tips!
    I am wondering where you got your light bulb “shades”. I don’t know the correct terminology for them, I’m seeing many places that their called reflectors but most places I have to purchase them with an entire light kit. I’m hoping my local hardware store will have something that will fit the bulbs that I have, so far I’ve only checked online. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  8. shyrabbit says:

    Hi Carolyn,
    Try your local hardware store to see if they have reflectors with the ability to clamp on to a support. If you find them, try to get the ones with ceramic sockets as the 500 watt PhotoFloods can get hot. If you can’t find reflectors with ceramic sockets you may want to limit your bulb wattage to 250 max. Also, you can make a perfectly serviceable light stand from a paint bucket, a bag of quick set concrete and a 5-6 foot long piece of rigid electrical conduit. Simply fill the paint can with wet concrete and insert the conduit, taking care to get it in the middle of the paint can, also check to be sure the conduit is plumb. The clamp on shop lights can then be clamped anywhere along the length of the conduit.

    I hope this makes sense(?), if not let me know…

  9. L. N. says:

    Thanks for the very informative images of your photo setup! What ISO setting do you use? Should I go as low as possible? (100 on my camera) Thanks again!

    • shyrabbit says:

      Hello L.N.,
      Sorry for the slow response…Yeah, it’s always best to use the lowest ISO possible, as you know this will give you the best “grain” quality. Also, use an f-stop that is atleast f-22 or higher for good depth of field.

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  11. Claire says:

    Thank You for sharing your technique. Can’t wait to put it into action!

  12. shyrabbit says:

    You’re welcome Claire, I’m glad I could help and I look forward to seeing some of your results.

  13. Another question on the bounce board, does the angle matter? How do you figure out what angle to use? Is it just trial and error?

    • shyrabbit says:

      Hi Judy,
      There is no specific angle, it’s a combination of angle, height of the piece and the distances forward of the bounce board in front the piece. So yes, there is a bit of trial and error but with some practice you can set up a shot quite quickly after awhile.

  14. Your set up is so amazingly simple compared to all of the others I have seen in workshops and tried. Yours is a wonderful simplification of my current set up which requires a 10′ run with an overhead tungsten light shining through ripstop nylon on a plumbing frame and black poster board to block light leakage around the edges of the frame and to create a moveable dark area at the back of the runner. You have accomplished all of that with one bounce board and the lights shining upward with a much shorter background paper. Ingenious! Thanks for sharing this.

  15. Oops, forgot to ask: what are the dimensions of the background photo paper? Thanks again.

    • shyrabbit says:

      Hi again Carol, The backdrop paper is 53″ wide x 12 yards. I also have rolls of this paper as wide as 110″ for large works. I cut it to length as needed. Hope this helps…Michael

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  17. Wendy says:

    Very timely information… Thanks!

  18. Melinda says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve just finished setting it up and my initial results are amazing. (I’m using foamcore and 2 85W CFLs.)
    One of my most popular glazes is a glossy variegated blue and I’ve never been able to get good shots because of excessive glare and the color that did show up wasn’t true. Problem solved!

  19. Bev Haas says:

    Hi Michael!

    Well, it’s been a few months since I collected everything for this photo set up (including a new SLR camera). With other projects that pushed their way forward, the photo set up got pushed back. But, our basement flooded last week (where my photo set up will be), and can you believe that we have now freed up the space to finally put it all together? How’s that for a silver lining? 😉

    I have a question about suspending the board with the 3 ropes. We will be hanging it with the ropes by going through the ceiling tiles and attaching it to the rafters. You mentioned using eye bolts before. How many did you use and how did you space them?

    As always, thank you so much for your fantastic help! It’s always great to see you postings on facebook!!!

    Bev Haas
    Solon, Iowa

    • Kathy Catlin says:

      Bev, how did this work out for you? I am also at a point to set up and wonder the same thing about how to suspend the board. If you or Michael see this posting, please let me know, it would be so helpful! Thank you 🙂

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  21. Amanda says:

    When you are using this setup for larger pieces (in the 60″ range), do you need to use a larger bounce board? Can you show a picture of that setup? Are there any other aspects that change when shooting big pots? Thanks!

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