A few folks have been asking, so I thought I’d share my recent forays into photography. Specifically, we’re talking photography of books and prints for the seemingly endless string of applications (for teaching, for residencies, for submissions to galleries). Most applications I fill out ask for “gallery quality images.” And really, if you’re showcasing your work, why couldn’t you want these high-quality images anyway? 

The trick is, they can be a real expense if you have to hire a professional photographer. I was lucky to find a fantastic one at the University of Alabama who photographed our work while I was in the MFA program there. But once I was on my own, I found it nearly impossible to find someone affordable, and it was even harder for me to shoot great quality photos myself. I was stuck with a makeshift photo-area in my living room, which consisted of a large sheet of white paper in a curved chair and a couple of strategically placed lamps. The results were less than impressive. I did creative cropping and a little Photoshop magic, but still cringed when I sent them away.

faulkenberry book
nice for Etsy, not the gallery catalog

Etsy recommends shooting objects “in situ,” which allows for a certain amount of creativity (i.e. smoke and mirrors) to show off an object in a little micro-environment where shadows aren’t such an obvious villain. Great for Etsy, Tumblr, Instagram, and all of those other outlets for our work, but still not “gallery quality.” 

So one day my mother, who is an excellent photographer, sent me a link to a site that sells light tents. She also shared a link to a blog by an especially crafty person who documented how to build your own DIY light tent. I neither had the time nor the faith to build my own box, but it seems like it would work just fine. (I know a bunch of y’all are going to run right out and try it, so when you do, please leave your results in the comments!) 

Now I have my very own pop-up light tent and a couple of very bright lights (white bulbs, 500w). Word of warning: I nearly knocked myself unconscious when opening the pop-up tent. You should know that a 24″ tent arrives in a box that is approximately 8″ square and 3″ deep and opens with twice the urgency of a life raft. If only my mother had been filming me, we’d have made all the silly home video shows. (No way will I ever get it folded back up. Oh well.) 

photo tent

Kidding aside, the results of this tent are amazing. I borrowed Mom’s super rad Nikon 7000 camera to take my real photos for the next looming application, but for our purposes, I also shot a photo with my cell phone to test the tent. (So far, the most impressive part of this little set up is that there are no shadows in the tent, even with two 500 watt lights. Below is a photo taken with my iPhone. It’s a little crooked and uncropped–the print needs some backing board behind it so it doesn’t slouch against the back of the tent–but you get the idea.

not bad for an iPhone–a magic tent, indeed!

Books, for me, are the trickiest part of this deal. It’s hard to shoot them when open, and it’s hard for me to get a good angle. 23 Sandy Gallery has a wonderful blog series on how to shoot gallery quality images (you should go read it immediately), so I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say I am trying to follow their tips. Combine that knowledge with the light tent, and this is what I get: 

Captivating, by Kim Maher (Kim, I got to show off your work in an
application because you printed this lovely book in my class!)
Wadaduga Nvwati, by Jen Shook (also a survivor of the
UICB’s Writing and Letterpress Printing course).

Amazing! Look at the texture of that paper! (Ignore the blurred page–this is a reminder to turn off the ceiling fan before you shoot.) Of course the powerful camera has something to do with this image quality, but I could not be happier with this light tent. It comes with four background drapes (black, white, dark blue, red) that can be placed inside the tent. (Tip: be sure to iron out the wrinkles before you use them.) 

Got any tips to share? I’d love to hear about your favorite processes and advice for shooting photos of your work. Be shameless–send me some links to sites that feature your fabulous pictures.