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.
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.
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.
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.