How to Photograph 3-Dimensional Artwork Better

Artwork Archive | October 14, 2016 (Updated April 12, 2021)

Photographing 3D art presents an unusual challenge: how do you showcase the dimensionality and texture of your artwork from just one angle? To help with this, we’ve highlighted a few excellent 3D photographs from Artwork Archive artists.

We elaborated on techniques that can help lend 3D art gravitas and presence, even in a two-dimensional image. For many of these techniques, we recommend using a tripod and some form of standalone lighting. Also, try experimenting with different backgrounds or even consider building your own DIY lightbox.


Canoe by Steve Immerman

Steve Immerman’s photographs of his glasswork showcases how crucial proper lighting is for capturing the important aspects of 3-dimensional artwork. The shadows on “Canoe” are subtle, but add a sense of depth to this piece. You get a sense of material, shine and texture—without hot white spots or flattening the piece out altogether.

The shape of the shadow evokes the form of the piece and the lines are subtle enough to avoid overpowering the work itself.  You want to watch out for competing shadows that scream “studio lighting.”

To achieve good shadows in 3D art photography, start by placing the lights about halfway between the subject and the camera. Then, carefully adjust the angle of the lights starting at around 45 degrees relative to the piece. Next, methodically re-position the distance of the lights from the piece to achieve dynamic—but not overpowering—shadows.  

Lauren Mabry’s piece Cylinder.

Ceramicist Lauren Mabry highlights the surface treatment of her ceramic objects against a neutral background. Both the hint of a shadow, as well as camera angle shot slightly above the piece shows off the roundness of work. You can see that the piece resembles a section of a pipe from observing the back edge of the lip and noting that the interior is hollow.

The white balance has been well adjusted and has a tone consistency between gray and white. Depending on your camera, this setting can be adjusted ahead of time or in post-production. Experiment with your white balance settings to achieve neutral grays and soft whites. The goal is to prevent the image from skewing too far towards brown, yellow, or blue hues.

Beth Kamhi’s piece Fringe V2

Shooting installations can be challenging because of the difficulty in showcasing the entirety of the work without omitting important details. This photograph of Beth Kamhi’s piece Fringe V2 shows the entirety of the ceiling-mounted installation and also the delicacy of each individual strand.

In order to really do an installation justice, you may need to use a wide-angle lens. This might also mean zooming in slightly to correct for blur at the images periphery. Since you can’t necessarily haul your own lighting to an installation, you may need to use a small aperture to get the best shot. To avoid any shakiness or blurring in these shots, use the camera’s countdown feature and a tripod.

Want to browse a variety of other working artist’s photographs for inspiration? Check out all the incredible artists on Artwork Archive’s Discovery platform.

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