*Shooting tattoos

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

Shooting art can be a tricky task. Replicating the colors, texture and vibrance all while lighting it properly and controlling detail ruining reflection is challenging. Every canvas provides it’s own nuances and unique elements needing to be worked around, especially a canvas that is 3 dimensional and isn’t entirely static. All of these tattoos are original works by my friend Josiah Laughlin. He tattoos here in Portland, Oregon at Imperial Tattoo, and this is an ongoing series we’re collaborating on to document his portfolio. C’mon in to see more of his work and read through diagrams on how I shot them.

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

The general challenge with shooting tattoos comes down to lighting. To me, documenting Josiah’s work was a balance of showcasing his artistry, and showcasing the people his artistry now resides on secondarily. Tattoos are one of a kind, both because they’re manually drawn and tattooed as well as having to do so on an individual, unique canvas every time. Lighting to avoid direct reflection was the first goal. This meant lighting from an angle that would not reflect light back into the camera. On a 2 dimensional canvas, this is somewhat easy, on a three dimensional canvas, it’s a little bit harder as every curve creates a new plane from which light can essentially reflect. I used two strobes, both shot through softboxes, one from either side of each subject and feathered so that the light would merely brush them as opposed to blasting them straight on. This had me almost shooting the strobes straight across my lens adding the potential for flare (enter the hood!). The second goal I had was to balance the power between the two lights in a way that would subtly add some depth by way of a very slightly imbalanced ratio 1:1.2 or somewhere thereabouts. This gave me a little falloff from one side to the other of my frame, but also lit evenly enough so that the color and detail in the work didn’t suffer. Traditionally, when shooting paintings, or printed art, it is seen as best (especially for reproduction) to have a completely even 1:1 lighting ratio across the frame, but here, I wanted to play to the three dimensionality of it a bit, because A) I’m a tinkerer and B) Because I could.

Each setup varied slightly because of where the tattoo was on each subject, but the basic concept was the same, see the following diagram for my setup.

Tattoo Lighting Setup

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

One trick I enjoyed employing was compositing shots, as so often, a sleeve piece cannot be shot in one frame as the art continues around an appendage. This was pretty simple with a solid background and can add simplicity for a book or printed portfolio.

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

Tattoos by Josiah Laughlin Photography by TysonRobichaud

You can visit Imperial Tattoo HERE to see more of Josiah’s work as well as the other artists working there. Feel free to fire off any questions and I’d be happy to try and answer.

Happy shooting,

t

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17 thoughts on “*Shooting tattoos

  1. This is cool. I was thinking of photographing some friends tattoos as we all have tattoos and thought it’d be quite cool to document. I found your blog for the first time today and have been reading quite a few of your ramblings throughout the day. I’m considering adding some more lenses to my set up. I currently have a G3 with 14-42 Kit lens and Mets 50 Flash (for about 8 months now) and want to purchase the 20mm Pancake this week (which is how I found your blog). It looks like a smashing lens, will be handy when I do a few shots at my friends wedding coming up.

    Anywho, keep up the good work!

      • I got it, love the 20mm lens. Such control over the DOF but also some great shots, there’s a pic of yours you title upachukkah or something that really made up my mind. Do you still use your g3 much?

        Chris

      • Hey Chris,

        Sorry that I didn’t reciprocate initially via flickr, and thank you for the comments. The 20mm pancake might be my favorite lens that the system has produced, even though I sold it off to make way for the PL25mm. While it isn’t the quickest focuser, it is fast, it is light, it is compact and it is such a great lens IQ wise, even wide open. The extra speed and slight differences in rendering, contrast and saturation that the PL25 offered was just enough for me to change over, but I still think that the 20mm offers the best bang for the buck in the system personally.

        I actually have my G3 for sale, but might just hold onto it as a backup. It’s a great camera. I shoot RAW, so for me, the Oly Jpeg output is moot, but if I did shoot Jpeg, I’d probably look at the EP-L5 or EP-M 2, not only for the jpeg output, but the in body IS which is pretty nice. For the current prices though, the G3 (or even G5!) are killer, especially if you shoot RAW. The dynamic range is (from my experience and tests) just as good as the EM5/EPL5/EPM2 with the Sony sensor, and offers less artifacting. The Sony sensor has about a stop better noise performance in real world use for me, but with a little noise reduction, they’re so close it really comes down to the ancillary features (IBIS, jpeg engine, fps, or whatever may float a particular shooter’s boat). One thing I will say in favor of the Panasonic cams is their menus and user interface. The oly menus are insane to me and so illogical to someone who hasn’t been shooting Oly’s that it takes a lot of getting used to. But, that is all personal stuff.

        Thanks for the read and comment!

        Cheers,

        Tyson

  2. Hey Tyson,

    Your responses are so informative and I appreciate the info, infact from the sites I have visted in my time yours has recently become my first port of call for M4Ts stuff and the only blog on the webisphere I actually read! . Ive played around with the G3 for the last year with the kit lens 14-42, I love going out and shooting but I must admit since having it I havent done as much as I shouldve, Moving house, new jobs, Night course at college etc have resulted in a lack of doing it as frequent as I should! However I must also blame the 14-42 kit lens (…only a bad work man blames his tools!!!) as I never really felt like it inspired me as much as my Yashica Electro 35mm (side note: It took me years to move over from film to digital as I love playing with the old 70′s gear) but my new 20mm however has changed that for me, I now have something similar in size and just as fun. I can not wait to get this weekend and do some more shooting, providing the weather holds off, apparently we are snow bound in Coventry, UK this weekend! Youre right on with the menus, I have played with Oly pens and the fated Pentax Q (which I was lent from a camera company and broke due to poor build, slightly drunk me and a heavy door) and find Panasonics way of doing things to my liking.

    Thanks so much for setting up this blog, I, like many before me im sure, really appreciate the information and general insite you provide on this site, theres a lot a crap out there on webisphere and the dedicated forums tend to get watered down with unecessary arguments, so its a breath of fresh air to visit here.

    Cheers

    Chris

    • Thank you Chris.

      Honestly, it’s conversation and motivation like this that justifies any time I put into anything here. I started the blog as a way to just kinda ramble and document certain things so that my mom could have a reference (she likes to shoot too, but is more an artistic soul, not so much a technical one) to come back to for certain techniques or basic understanding and it kinda just grew into whatever it is now. My immediate love affair with the GF1 and 20mm pancake opened it up to a whole new community and it’s just kinda kept going from there.

      I greatly appreciate your appreciation :) Here’s to hoping we’re able to share a pint some day, on either of our respective sides of the pond.

      Cheers,
      Tyson

  3. Sorry, one more question, Where do you stand on the panny 14mm? Im really after a wide angle for some stuff I want to do down in london and I can now get this lens for a steal £130 brand new? Insane!!! But will having this with the 14-42 and 20mm be beneficial? I promise I’ll stopp bugging you one day.

    Cheers

    • Please don’t apologize. If you knew how much I enjoyed nerding out on photography gear, you’d not be worried in the least.

      I absolutely would suggest the 14mm lens at that price. It is sharper than the kit lens (and faster in both max aperture AND AF speed wise) and for the size alone is worth every penny. I don’t use it a whole lot as a 28mm field of view is right about in the middle of either side of what I’d like (I’m a fan of a 24mm and 35mm fov) but, I have it with me all the time. That said, I don’t have a lens that provides me with either of those (other than the 12-50mm EM5 kit lens which admittedly I never use). The 14 pancake weighs nothing and is absolutely tiny. As long as it’s not going to keep you from eating or paying a crucial bill, I’d say it is certainly worth it as long as you feel you could use a slightly wider angle lens.

      Take care and good luck with it!
      t

  4. Thats a really cool reason to start a blog as a reference point for your ma. Yeh, if you’re ever this side of the pond or vice versa, first ones on me as a thank you. Yeh, im seriously loving this 20mm and hoping the 14mm would be a good investment. Eventually im going to need to replace the kit lens with a better zoom but for the mo and what I do, its not too drastic a price. Im just really looking forward to doing some more photography out and about again soon but the weather is keeping me from it, wish we could weather proof the m43s system some how without going deep sea diving style. Funny you mentioned the GF1 and 20mm love affair because I remember when I was at uni seeing that in a magazine and falling in love with it, Id like one now still. Maybe ill get a cheap one as an ‘always keep with me’ type deal.

    Take care

      • Thats a really cool reason to start a blog as a reference point for your ma. Yeh, if you’re ever this side of the pond or vice versa, first ones on me as a thank you. Yeh, im seriously loving this 20mm and hoping the 14mm would be a good investment. Eventually im going to need to replace the kit lens with a better zoom but for the mo and what I do, its not too drastic a price. Im just really looking forward to doing some more photography out and about again soon but the weather is keeping me from it, wish we could weather proof the m43s system some how without going deep sea diving style. Funny you mentioned the GF1 and 20mm love affair because I remember when I was at uni seeing that in a magazine and falling in love with it, Id like one now still. Maybe ill get a cheap one as an ‘always keep with me’ type deal.

        Take care

    • Well, as far as weather sealing, there are now two bodies (GH3 and OMD EM5) and a few lenses that are “splash proof” which basically means you can shoot in the rain, and they’re better at keeping dust and the like out. Handy for those of us that happen to live in the more inclement climates. I had the GF1 and 20mm out and about through varying conditions, and while I never really got the combo drenched, it is so compact that you can fit it back into a coat pocket for safety pretty quickly.

      • Maybe I’m just being a little precious with it. The next big cam purchase will be a gh3 when i can afford it (way off yet though). Still enjoying the g3 at the mo. Off to shoot stuff today. Cheers as always

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