Saturday, December 11, 2010

Figure Photography - A Brief Tutorial

One of the best ways to be inspired by and learn from other people's work is by reading articles in magazines and following people's work on the Internet. Being able to see great photographs has always inspired me to tackle subjects or improve my skills. Nothing aggravates me more than poor quality photos, especially as I have learned from other how really easy it is to take near studio quality photos on a shoe-string budget. As you can see below I use a simple setup that utilizes two goose neck lamps with 65watt "daylight" bulbs for lighting. An additional light has been built in a homemade wooden box using a lamp repair kit that can be found in any home-improvement store (Go to Home-Depot not Lowe's - I'm partial as I work there). This third light creates a "hot spot" on the bottom of the colored backdrop that gives you a nice reverse lit effect behind the figure. I'll explain that more in a moment. All of this sits on a table with the various sheets of colored paper clipped approx. 10" or 150mm behind the box light. Another example of a tabletop photo setup that is very nice can be found on my friends site at Massive-Voodoo. Roman uses a very cool diffuser for his lighting that is made out of a translucent white garbage can. Ingenuity folks, that is where it's at!

One of the first things we learn from experience is the effect that color has on the camera lens, specifically backdrops. The interplay between the colors of your figure and the color of the backdrop will appear in photos. Your eyes can filter this and make adjustments in real life but the camera cannot. It simply captures the light that it is exposed too, where our brain works it's magic and "auto-adjusts". When I finish a figure I will take my photos in front of all of the various color papers I have and then select the one that best depicts what I see in real life. I prefer not to tweak my photos with software but I will from time to time by using a software photo filter that acts the same as putting colored filters over the lens of the camera. For this I choose to use Adobe Photoshop Elements. Below you will see my recently completed Marcus Aurelius figure shot in front of four different backdrops. If you look at each picture in detail you will see how the colors are effected by that background. Some figures are effected more than others but all figures require a particular background to appear normal.

In addition you can change the appearance of your photographs by how you adjust the goose neck lights, forwards/backwards, closer/further, side to side, etc. Obviously your camera plays a role in this as well. Everybody has their favorite. For years I used a high quality reflex camera and scanned my images from the photographs. This was done because 15 years ago when I was writing articles we didn't have the benefit of today's technology. Now with a simple, inexpensive digital camera set on macro, a simple tripod and about $30 worth of lights, paper, wood and clips you can take really great quality pictures of your work to show everyone as well. I thank Phil Kessling and Bill Horan 15 years ago for showing me how simple it really is.


  1. Jim,

    Nice to see you at Buff Con again this year. The painting of the light effects on this was even more amazing in person. Your work is very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Nice to see you too Scott. Glad you got something out of it. I have to admit that as sick as I was I'm fairly sure it wasn't my best offering but it's always nice to see everybody at the show.