Artists in Action: Taking Professional Images of Craftspeople

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Craftspeople make interesting subjects as there’s an element of creativity outside photography. So, how do you shoot captivating images?

Perhaps what makes photography extra fun is when you’re shooting creative subjects—potters, painters, makers, and craftspeople top the list. It’s always interesting to see them in action, to see how their art consumes them. For everyday photos, taking snapshots using an iPhone works. These creatives are probably pretty good at taking selfies. However, to capture nuances and layers in professional images takes skill. And, it takes a photographer willing to explore outside what’s typical.

Female Jeweler
Capture the nuances of their work. Image via Jacob Lund.

Play with Shadows

Female Potter
Don’t be afraid of playing with lights and shadows. Image via Wavebreak Media.

Playing with light and playing with shadows go hand-in-hand, but doing the latter sometimes scares people. Especially the newbie photographers. But, we’re here to tell you to go for it. Sometimes, it’s when light is scarce that the beauty of the image emerges.

Talented Female Artist
Use shadows to lead the focus to your subject. Image via Gorodenkoff.

Take multiple shots and see which shadow-play works best for the kind of image you’re taking. Just like how you’d use light, use the shadows to bring focus on your subject. Artistry is full of color. Shadows are extremely helpful in balancing an image.

Give It That Lifestyle Vibe

Female Potter Wearing Mask
Capture true-to-life images of the artist. Image via Wavebreak Media.

The thing about shooting creatives and craftspeople for professional reasons is that the images may look too generic. Whether you were hired to shoot for their website or you’re a photographer planning to submit photos to stock photography, it’s easy to default to those common images.

Guitar Maker
Create a lifestyle vibe, allowing the subject to be comfortable with your presence. Image via Ian Spanier / Image Source.

Keep your work fresh by adding a lifestyle vibe. Create images that are candid and chill, like the subjects don’t even know there’s a camera. Let your subjects get comfortable with you and with the camera so the images have a relaxed, natural feel.

Get into the Details

Violin Maker
Extreme close-ups embody the intricacies of their art. Image via Tom Chance / Westend61.

Closeup shots like this may not feel commercial enough to sell, but they do feel fresh and creative enough. Today, brands aren’t just after what looks commercial because, let’s be honest, we’ve been looking at those kinds of images for so long.

Leather Craftsman
Really get into the details of the artist’s work. Image via Pirat Pirat.

Today, more and more brands are seeking unique shots that may be simple but also fairly creative. So, don’t be scared to get into the details. Crank up the zoom dial, get physically close to the subject, do what’s best to take photos that focus on your subject’s art—that’s what it’s all about.

Always Find Interesting Angles

Artist Tools
Keep things interesting. Shoot from unique angles. Image via Dmytro Zinkevych.

The main job of a photograph is to keep things interesting. In order to achieve that, you want to shoot from interesting angles. You don’t need fancy lighting gear. You don’t need to upgrade your lens. Sometimes, you just need to challenge yourself and steer away from your usual way of taking photos.

Macramé Curtain
Consult with your subject (they’re artists!) for ideas, as well. Image via ROBERTO PERI / Image Source.

Remind yourself that you have full creative control here, and you can capture images from whatever angle you see is interesting. Also, communicate with your subject. They’re artists, after all. They have photo ideas of their own.

Photograph the Pauses

Painter's Studio
Photograph the downtime in addition to the action shots. Image via dnlv.

If you’re shooting for stock, you know that diversity can make or break your career. In Shutterstock alone, there are 343,254 photos for the keyword “craftsman,” and this is June 2021. To shoot images that will sell, you want diversity.

Which is to say, capture the moments where your artist is in action as well as when she’s on break. Shoot even when she’s resting, sipping coffee, or pausing to assess her work. Pauses and breaks matter just as much as when the painter’s brush is dancing on a canvas. Be sure to get these moments in your frame, too. Photographing makers and creators in action is all about photographing the messy. Messy at pause is an interesting story to tell in a still frame.

Natural Light, Always

Violin Maker
While challenging, natural light can do wonders for your image. Image via Mint Images.

Nothing beats natural light, period. Don’t get us wrong, we love lighting gear. However, despite the fact that natural light can be challenging to deal with, we believe it’s still the best kind of lighting you can have. It can be difficult to control, but once you get the hang of it, natural light can do wonders.

Wooden Surfboard
Add life to your images by shooting at golden hour. Image via Guerilla.

That said, whenever time permits, maximize the power of natural light. Open those windows and use thin curtains to help diffuse it a bit. Let the golden hour light bring more life to your shots. Encourage yourself to be more creative in working with an element that’s out of your control.

Explore the Possibilities Outside the Studio

Bamboo Fish Traps
Capture artists in their natural outdoor elements. Image via TZIDO SUN.

You can always shoot in a studio. But, when chance permits, we say explore the outdoor possibilities. Instead of creating your setup within four walls, find a pleasant outdoor spot and create a setup there. And, since you’re already shooting makers and craftsmen, don’t be afraid to ask advice from them. You never know, they might have a bright idea of how to do outdoor shots for the kind of craft they make. Again, the goal here is to create something new and fresh. And, while studio setups are fun, outdoor settings (when done correctly) could be even better.

Thai Indigo Cotton
Create something new and fresh. And, have fun with it! Image via thirawatana phaisalratana.

For more tips to nail different shoots:

Cover image via Dmytro Zinkevych.

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