Can you Capture Mood Photographing a Sculpture?

Photographers often have images of sculptures of famous and historic people, monuments and even commissioned art works. Most of what I’ve seen are well lit, typically an afternoon sun during a visit to a park. The subject is positioned in a balanced position among flowers or trees sometimes with friends and relative near by.

The Bean, in down town Chicago's Millennium Park.

The Bean, in down town Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Have you ever shot sculpture thinking of it as a model ? Why not ? Look at it this way, each subject will hold its pose for you indefinitely and never complain. They are usually in ideal settings giving beautiful backdrops, even better having a natural light environment where you control the time, light and weather, you can return to your studio check your images and re-shoot with your improvements even a year later. Lastly some of these famous people would charge you a small fortune in modeling fees, of course some are no longer with us and some are just iconic symbols.

Chicago Millennium Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Selecting the right spot with a well contrasted background and in this case a strategic refection.

Here is a suggestion on how to get started. Find a subject that your interested in and it doesn’t have to be a human figure. Go to it and look at it from every different angle you can imagine and take shots from all these locations. Return to your studio and look at each one, find your favorite and ask these questions:

  • What is in the back ground?
  • Should I move closer or further away?
  • Would a slight elevation change make the composition better?
  • What time of day gives you the best light for the subject?
  • What weather condition would best suit a mood for this subject?
  • Would a secondary light source enhance the subject?

Lets detail this out a bit further:

  • The Background – Examine your image looking closely at whats behind and around the subject. Less is more in most cases so find a contiguous fill that has good neutral contrast. Remember that depth of field can change the look of this field as well as texture, light and shadows. Will the change of season offer a different more appealing contrast. Time has no limitation to this subject.
Chicago Millennimum Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Standing further back revealed this gull trying to hatch this egg, placing him with a contrasting background of a darker building with its geometric window pattern.

  • Foot Zooming – If your happy with the angle of your composition how does that change if you stand closer and even further away. Image compression is seldom considered so try it out and see how it changes this type of imagery.
Leo Mole sculpture garden Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This frog at the foot of the statue was a great opportunity. The pond refection was the motivator, shot from a mono-pod at arms length and a remote trigger release allowed for an uninterrupted refection of blue sky with no people.

  • Elevation Changes – You have the perfect spot that best suites your composition and background but what happens if you just do an elevation change. Most people will shoot from eye level, the human tripod height. Get low and see what you have, maybe bring a small step ladder and see what change that brings to the composition. Most viewers will comment on images that have this slight variation.
Cancun, Mexico, Iles Desmure

Looking up to the angle in the clouds was a must do. The light from behind gives the viewer a sense of the angle not knowing we’re present as she looks down and prays to the crosses below.

  • Time of Day – We’re all aware of the golden hour but is it the best light for your subject. Does it cast the best shadow lines to enhance the character, is morning or sunset best. It maybe that a time later in the morning or earlier in the evening is best remember the sun moves in an arch across the sky what is the optimum time. Also don’t forget that the seasonal changes will cast shadows differently as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture garden in Winnipeg.

High noon gave this sculpture a nice highlight across her entire body. It also allowed the camera settings to be closed down so as to not blow out any highlights and create this high contrast dark background.

  • The Weather – All types of weather will add another variation to the lighting of your subject. Could an over cast day suite your subject even better or a rain or actual down pour have a positive effect, never know till you try. Fog has an amazing effect and a capture during a snow storm can be effective as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Taken after an afternoon rain, broken clouds allowed just enough light to cast off the wet concrete patio illuminating her face under a dappled lit background.

  • Additional Light – Adding a secondary light source can add a real sense of drama to a sculpture. A controlled highlight of soft colour during a rain is very special. A night shoot with a start lit sky and specially crafted light painting can be spectacular, this is very popular in advertizing today.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Why does the rain make everything greener, because its wet. Great time to shoot in a garden. The Honeysuckle vine cascaded down to her face gives this a real garden of Eden mood. Broken skies allow many different lighting opportunities.

So why can’t sculpture portray a mood, well of course it can and creating it is a lot of fun and in some cases takes a lot of skill and practice. Try it out.

Leo Mole Gardens, Winnipeg, MB

Orion looking toward the skies which just so happened to be broken clouds allowing a variety of lighting opportunities. The light at this moment was defused as clouds moved by.

Leo Mole Sculpture Garden

Post production can help to create many different moods.

Building a Photographic Brand

Branding a collection “Vintage Reproduction Imagery” one pearl at a time.

This journey started a little more than a year ago. I was commissioned to do a project at the new Fox & Fiddle Restaurant in Winnipeg. They requested vintage images of Winnipeg to match their historic building site. Image files were acquired through an archives service and the body of work chosen was from the iconic Winnipeg photographer, L.B. Foote. Foote was a prolific Winnipeg photographer who accumulated the largest collection of photo’s from the early history of Winnipeg’s business districts, but, he also shot sporting teams and clubs including some macabre murder scenes for the press. He became the city’s photographer of choice for official visits by dignitaries like King George & Queen Elizabeth from their respective reigns.

1914 Winnipeg Auto Club

1914 Winnipeg Auto Club

I completed this commission by creating 14 individual collages panels of images in tones that matched their decor of black & white marble. The three foot high panels were printed on a vintage smooth texture paper that added further detail and dimension to the project. After its completion I thought it would be an interesting study to take some current images and try to replicate this early look and feel. Of course it had to have an element of artistic interpretation that could be uniquely defined for a body of work, a canned sepia like tint on a B&W image would not suffice. The oysters seed had been planted and now the creative juices needed to bring it to life to see if a pearl could be created.

When I began the study I quickly realize that ultimately I wanted to create a baseline formula that could be applied to most any composition then hand detailed and finished specific to the image. This was completely different from my past works which were very individualistic, time and software intensive and very difficult to reproduce if a collection was required.

As luck would have it I received a call to submit ideas for a provincial commission. They were looking for iconic vintage architectural builds with a bit of a grunge look in an updated contemporary perspective. I accepted the challenge and proceeded to explore and shoot a specific collection for the project. I submitted a set of 20 images for consideration, each was prepared to specifications based on the decor and the specific boardroom requirements. Further consultations, discussions and additional fine tuning secured the project. In the end we selected and produced a set of 4, one off, digitally hand coloured pieces. Each image was digitally mastered and printed on French cold press art paper with a hand torn dappled edge. The prints were mounted and matted in a custom pewter shallow shadow box frame produced by master framer Barry Striemer.

This triptych depicts the essence of the growing culture of the City of Winnipeg during the late 19th century. The historic and stoic entrance of the Winnipeg Law Courts building emits a sense of strength. The turret above portrays justice with its view points overlooking the land to the North, South, East and West. The Land Titles entrance emits grace and style giving settlers a sense of honor as they approach these grand doors applying for  land titles.

This triptych depicts the essence of the growing culture of the City of Winnipeg during the late 19th century. The historic and stoic entrance of the Winnipeg Law Courts building emits a sense of strength. The turret above portrays justice with its view points overlooking the land to the North, South, East and West. The Land Titles entrance emits grace and style giving settlers a sense of honor as they approach these grand doors applying for
land titles.

At the unveiling in the Civil Service Commission boardroom, Corporate Office Administrator Pauline Gagnon and Deputy Minister Debra Woodgate were enamored with the finished look and feel of the images. They were deeply touched when they learned of the accompanying story lines behind each image. Not only were the images appealing but the story behind each image gave it an additional depth and relevancy they had not expected. Deputy Minister Debra Woodgate requested that a gallery tag accompany each image completing the instillation. It was an important commission for me in my development and these details are part of who I am. The first stage of the pearls development was now cast.

I knew then the processing formula was on the right track but I had to refine it to be able to produce a series or collection of work. The second hybrid set was of the historic “Grants Mill”. There were six images created which I posted on my facebook site back in early Feb., 2013 to receive feed back. The collection garnered some very positive comments but as I viewed it on line I felt it just wasn’t quite there yet, to contrived, it didn’t feel it was truly part of the story of the image set. So I went back to the drawing board and over a period of 6-7 weeks it became much more distinctive and refined.

The oldest flower mill in western Canada.

The oldest flower mill in western Canada.

Grants Mill 2

Detail of Grants Mill in Winnipeg, MB., Canada

Searching through my archives I found a collection of images taken in the east Kooteny Mtns. a few years back. The images were filled with local history and an infinite amount of detail to challenge this concept. Processing this set I could feel it brought me closer to what I was looking for. The diversity of the images combined with this developing formula had me convinced it was doable. A tweak here, a push there and they came out with a sense and sensibility of character and in some cases with very little intervention. Still each image required specific details that can only be done by hand. I cherished the individualistic nature of this process as it allows me to delve deeply into each image and pull out the intimacies as I remembered capturing them. Within each image there is a dappled light created by a canopy of mature fir and cedar trees that is a significant part of the charm of this area. The technique handled this with a grace befitting these hallowed intimate landscapes. Of this set of approximately 70 images I submitted 5 into a local photo competition to be adjudicated and receive feed back. The critique was very interesting culminating with two images winning awards of first and second place in the senior colour print category. One image one became the “Image of the Month” in the competition. The members of the photographic association recognize and expressed interest in the style and feel of these images. This has help build credence for establishing this branded style for a collection. The pearl is gaining momentum in its growth.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Earl’s place was a favorite haunt for me, I learned that Hollywood loved it to as 3-4 movies were shot here at Earl’s house.

To test the waters further I introduced some other genres and one I have is a good collection of are wildlife images. Would the concept work with a set of imagery that has a completely different set of demands in post production. I tried it with different types of subjects, light and background looks. It worked well but it takes some extra tweaking to bring out the details of the individual animal species in their environments but over all I was happy with the results.

Capture near Jasper Alberta.

Capture near Jasper Alberta.

Taken in northern Alberta this moose was most interested in me at this point.

Taken in northern Alberta this moose was most interested in me at this point.

How about portraiture? I had planed to shoot at an event called “Doors Open” hosted by the Winnipeg Historical Society. During this event certain historical sites are open to the public to view and some locations provided actors in period costume reenacting events pertinent to that facility. Perfect setting for this style of vintage processing I thought. Camera in hand I specifically shot for the project and they turned out decidedly better than expected. Each photo creating a real effective ambiance, enhanced by special lighting treatments I had planed. Its always in the lighting, details and ambiance.

This ghostly murderer returns from the dead once a year.

This ghostly murderer returns from the dead once a year.

Criminal clergy never entered these hallowed walls.

Most criminal clergy never entered these hallowed walls.

Youthful innocents, not always as it appears from the darken shadows looms danger.

Youthful innocents, not always as it appears from the darken shadows looms danger.

I’ve continue to experiment with this technique to include on stage performance images. Here, with a few minor tweaks it becomes a very effective grunge look for current bands, musicians and dancers. This processing pearl has been created but it is has a constant flux of evolution.

"Almost Birds"

“Almost Birds”
Jared Kist

"Almost Birds"

“Almost Birds”

So why go through this process and what does it mean. It means now I can effectively create an identifiable pictorialist portfolio of work that I know, trust and enjoy. I can assemble a consistent look for an exhibition or portfolio request based on this technical style in any genre of imagery. It is a concept and look that I can now promote and market to different end users. It has become a branded collection by Joe Kerr and CSCS Digital Imaging. My oyster has relinquished a pearl.

Parliment Builds in Ottawa Guard House, Ottawa

An interesting sidebar, I’ve been encouraged to teach this and other techniques in an up coming workshop series. Worth the time and efforts, you bet.