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« Photosynth | Main | Flip it »

Photographing sculpture

With summer vacations coming up soon, lots of us will be visiting museums in far away cities. We’re bound to be surprised, impressed or possibly even amused by some the work we see, and may want to bring home photographs of the inspiring piece.

Such was the case recently, when I saw the work of sculptor Patrick Dougherty, who fashions tree branches into amazing structures. Sometimes the work is free-standing, but often he weaves his work into existing landscapes and the results are simply remarkable. Just take a look at some of the images, and videos at his website,

This display of his work is at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Englewood Colorado. The museum is adjacent to a business office park, so there is a wonderful relationship between the primordial quality of the sculpture, and the surrounding environment. And it seemed important to show that. So although the first photograph, where the piece is centered in the frame, may be a better summation of the sculpture itself, shifting the framing so that some of the building show in the background give both contrast and context.

Next, I wanted to show the rhythm and sense of movement Patrick builds into his work. The view above has a sense of flatness to it, and really doesn’t have the kinetic quality of the work you feel when you are in its presence, so I moved to an oblique angle, and changed to a wider angle lens. I also experimented with shooting from eye level, and ground level to see if one or the other enhanced the sense of movement, scale or height.

I also wanted to show the relationship of the sculpture to the existing environment, so I moved to an even more oblique angle where you could see the way in which the work was woven into the existing trees.

Finally, I wanted to show the texture of the sculpture, so I moved in closer, and made several graphic compositions that highlighted the tactile quality of the piece.

It’s no different if you are shooting the Michelangelo “David” in Florence, or for that matter, the Parthenon in Athens. Take your time to play with camera angle and lens focal length to create an intimate representation of the art before you. That way, when you return home, you will have images that evoke the experience fully when you look at them in the weeks, months or years that follow.

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