Photographing African Art

About six weeks ago I got a call from an African sounding voice: do you photograph art? I need to have a collection of artistic objects from Africa photographed really well. The images are for an exhibition and for museums.

That sounded like a wonderful project. I regularly photograph products and dare say I am a pretty good product photographer. But photographing art takes it to a whole new level. These pictures end up in catalogs and on posters and so need to have a higher level of quality.

How many how quickly?

Basically every client wants beautiful images, but the images need to be made as quickly as possible, so as to reduce cost

I said I would be like to do this very much. The next question every client asks is: how many can you do in how short a time? Basically every client wants beautiful images, but the images need to be made as quickly as possible, so as to reduce cost. This, of course, is a problem. You can make a photo in a very short amount of time — but it will look like crap. Making an object (or a person) look really good takes time. Positioning it well; making sure it’s clean, then lighting it well, and the making the right composition. How fast you can work also depends on the object itself. Is it very reflective or shiny? Or is it dull and dark? Lastly, do you want great consistency among your photo’s, or do you want every photo to have a different look: a different background, a different angle, a different light, a different look-and-feel?

The client and I reached an understanding. And so it came to be that last Wednesday he and two assistants came to my studio with a bus full of beautiful objects. At first I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of objects. My studio, though it is large, filled up rather quickly! And these objects were all quite different!

The first shot takes the longest and is the worst

That’s what I always tell my client: it takes a while before we are ready to take the first photo. And when we do, please don’t think it will be wonderful! It just takes some time to familiarize myself with the object in front of me; with the texture and how it responds to light; and with the project as a whole.

Luckily the client was thrilled to bits with the first shot! We ended up having a very productive day. I photographed 57 objects. I had a lot of fun with these African gentlemen! We worked hard; then ate Chinese for lunch, and then worked hard again. Here are some of my favorite images and a little explanation… As always click on the images to see them larger!

The image at the top is my absolute favorite. It’s a statue of two warriors on a horse. It’s so incredibly dynamic: raw yet flowing. The energy is amazing.

This lady is beautiful too. I fell in love with her a little. My client explained she’s from Nigeria. I gotta go there some time.

Or how about this bronze warrior on his camel? It really was a black statue, so to get the light in there so you could see the detail and make out what it was, proved to be a bit of a challenge.

Here are some pictures of the team, so you get a sense of the scale of some of these objects:

There was one downside to the day. My client brought in a competitor. Skinny fellow, not very talkative. Being the hospitable host that I am I tried to engage him in conversation, but I’m afraid he didn’t say much. Quite rude really…  But what I really could not stand was that he had a bigger camera than me!


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