How to Photograph Your Woodturnings

By Mike Lanahan

From Mike's presentation to the West Bay Woodturners on March 11,2014


Mike is a woodturner. He is also a photographer. He started photography at the age of 7, has had his own darkroom, was a high school newspaper photographer and has done underwater photography.


This is NOT Rocket Science!

• Using the 80/20 rule – 80% of what is important is NOT technical.

• It is mostly common sense.

• I will not focus (pun intended) on f-stops/ apperatures, ISO settings, camera sensors, lens resolution,

or other photo minutia.

• I will propose some cost effective ways to set-up a photo shoot to improve woodturning images.


What is Your Objective?

• Share with friends & family.

• Post on Facebook, etc.

• Club Newsletter

• Contest, Gallery or Publications will have detailed requirements of file type, and size.

• My objective is to address the first 3, to help you capture better to darn good images.


Keys to Good “Product” Photos

• Neutral Background

• Diffused Light

• Good Color Light

• Steady Camera Support

• Composition and Shooting Angle

• Lens/Zoom Choice



Neutral Background

• Don’t Compete with the Turning, it is the Star.

• Neutral: White, Grey, Black or Graduated.  Other colors can be OK, but be careful.

• Seamless.  Continuous flow from Top Back, to Front Bottom.

• Paper Sheets from Craft Stores (Michael’s)

• Cloth OK, but may see a coarse weave.

• Don’t Distract from Turning


Diffused Light

• Diffused light is generally the most flattering.

• Point Sources Create Harsh Shadows

• Disable Flash on Camera

• Bounce Flash off Ceiling

• Outdoors, Overcast day on North Side of building with reflective cards to fill in.

• Light Boxes/Tents


Light Color

• Your Light Source will affect Color Balance.

• Match to Camera Setting

• Choose a Daylight or White Light Source

            – Halogen

            – CFL’s 5000-6000 K

            – Strobes/Slaves good color, but tricky

• No preview

• Overcast day on North side of house


Steady Camera

• Tripod Preferred

            – Support Bean Bag, or Bag of Rice

• Remote Shutter Release

• Timer Mode

• DSLR – Mirror Up, if you want to be picky.

• Tripod Mount for Cell Phone



• Fill the Frame

– Leave space for a border

• Rule of 1/3’s if Applicable

• Shoot down at an angle (to see inside a bowl) but not so steep as to hide a foot.

• Shoot in Portrait mode for Tall Subjects

• Best side forward


Fill the Frame


Shooting Angle


Lens or Zoom Choice

• Wide Angle (Zoom Out) Distorts the Image

            – Has good depth of field (how much is in focus)

• Telephoto (Zoom In) Compresses image

            – Less depth of field

            – Magnifies camera movement

• Intermediate Telephoto is more flattering

• Zoom with your feet vs. Digital Zoom

• Focus 1/3 of the distance back from the front of the subject to maximize depth of field


Camera Settings

• Hey – Did you notice, until selecting the focus point, everything applies to cell phone cameras as well as DSLR’s?

• The best camera may be the one you have with you, but more advanced cameras give the photographer more control.

• Select the highest resolution image your camera will allow.



• Native Camera App gives you Limited Control

• Camera+ App ($1.99) adds more control

            – More accurate focus point

            – Exposure control target area

            – Exposure adjustment

            – Timer

            – Horizon

• Security Tip: Turn Off Geotagging

iPhone Camera App

Camera Settings 2

• RAW images give better adjustment performance than JPEG if you edit the images.

• Choose a low ISO setting (100 typically) to reduce noise.  The newer the camera, the higher you can go.

• Choose a setting with sufficient depth of field for your work.  Sports is low DOF, and  Architectural is high DOF.  Or select Aperture Control, and set the f-stop (f8 to f11).




• Clean the piece of lint or dust before shooting.  Microfiber is your friend.


• Take Lots of Pictures.  Digital is Free.


• Adjust light position, shooting position, etc. based on results.


Post Processing

• Although a topic of its own, ALMOST ALL images benefit by post processing: cropping, exposure adjustment, white balance adjustment, sharpening, ect.

• Save a copy of your image before you adjust it.

• Use editing software that is non destructive.

            – JPEG images degrade with each edit and re-save.

            – Adobe Lightroom (Complicated) stores adjustments to the image, and you export an edited image without altering the original.


Out of Camera vs. Post Processed

Adobe Lightroom

• It is Nondestructive

• Rich feature set

• Runs OK on a laptop

• Organizes & Manages images too

• Reasonable price

• Frequently updated to recognize RAW files from newly released cameras.


Lightroom Develop Module Tools

• Histogram

• Crop

• Spot Removal – Clone or Heal

• Red-Eye

• Graduated Adjustment

• Adjustment Brush

• Basic Tools

            – Exposure

            – Contrast

            – Highlights

            – Shadow

            – Whites

            – Blacks

            – Clarity

            – Vibrance

            – Saturation


Develop Tools, continued

• Tone Curves

• HSL / Color / B&W

• Split Toning

• Detail

            – Sharpening

            – Noise Reduction

• Lens Corrections

• Effects

            – Vignetting & Grain

• Camera Calibration



•  Hertzog, Photographing Your Work

•  Improving Your Turning Photos.  Kurt Hertzog.

• Neal Addy.

• Jim Gott, “Photographing Your Work with a Digital Camera”.


More References

• Jamie Donaldson,

• John Lucas, “Lighting Tricks Using a Light Tent,”

• Bob Hawks, “Pictures to be Proud of”,

• John Jordan,

• Larry Marley,

• Katherine Kowalski, Photographing Your Work Tutorial,

• Stunning Digital Photos Show Off Your Turnings, by Ed Kelle, American Woodturner, August 2012, vol 27, no 4.



• Cowboy Studios, Top Open Photo Softbox Light Tent Shooting Cube,

            – 17” $21

            – 24” $29

            – 30” $33

• 3 - Bayco 8 ½” Heat Lamps, 125w max, Home Depot, $9.97.

• Daylight CFL bulbs, Home Depot, 14 W (60 W equivalent), 800 lumens, 5000 K.

• Tripod

• Camera+ ($1.99)

• Adobe Lightroom ($150)