Tableaux Photography

family at dinner table

What Is Tableaux Photography?

Tableaux Photography” is a form of photography that essentially creates the illusion of a 3D object on a 2D plane. It’s accomplished by photographing subjects on a table, shelf, or other type of elevated surface and then using clever angles to achieve the desired effect.

How Do You Do Tableaux Photography?

In order to employ the technique in Tableau photography, you’ll need to set up your scene and take an appropriate photo from one angle. You’ll then have to take additional photos from specific angles and using different lighting. At the end, you’ll create a composite picture that looks like a 3D object.

What Do You Need to Do to Learn Tableaux Photography?

In order to use Tableaux photography, you need to understand (1) how light works and (2) how cameras work. If you follow these instructions closely, you’ll be able take good pictures of your subjects no matter what your subject is: flowers, insects, cars, people.

In order to master Tableau photography, you need a digital camera with a good zoom lens, as well as Photoshop or other image editing software.

The idea of the Tableau is to make your picture look “3D” in size and shape. The effect is accomplished with props and lighting. Most Tableau’s (I’ve seen) have the subject on a table or shelf. They are elevated above the background – which needs to be even in color and of a similar tone to the subject (no contrast)

Getting That “Staged” Look

Just like with any type of photography, the key to creating a good “Tableau” image is the lighting. Both natural and artificial light will work, but it’s best if you can shoot during daylight hours so that you have both shadows and highlights. After you’ve found a good location (a table or shelf), your next step is to set up your props. Get all of this set up before you take any pictures, because once you start snapping pictures, it’s hard to change anything around without ruining your shot.

The best way to create the illusion of depth is with this example setup:

First, set up your table so that the front of it is on a 45-degree angle. Then, have your subject (say, a flower) at one end of the table. Position them so that they match the angle of the table and so that their body and head are at different altitudes from any background objects. The distance between their head and ceiling should be roughly equal to half of their total height.

Once you have your subject and props set up, find the angle that depicts the object in the most realistic way. Use a tripod to keep your composition steady, and take a photo from that angle.

After you’ve found the right angle, take as many pictures as possible from different angles using natural and artificial light. Try to get at least one shot for each side of the table. This will create depth and texture for your scene.

After you’ve taken all the pictures, bring the photographs together in Photoshop. Adjust brightness and contrast until you get an image that looks like it was crafted by a 3D designer. I like to use a high quality anti-aliasing filter when I’m editing my images. This makes the images look smoother.

Bottom Line

Some advice for people who are new to photography: Try not to get frustrated if your pictures don’t turn out right in the beginning. It takes a little practice, but with time and patience, this technique can produce amazing results.