Buddhist Altar Tables

I was hired by the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in Staten Island to photograph large and small Buddhist altar tables that are in their collection. The Tibetan name for these tables is mChod stegs, or mChod lcog. Altar tables are traditionally placed in the main shrine room of a temple or in front of a special deity.

These exquisite pieces are made of wood with copper repoussé sheathing inlaid with gemstones from Nepal, 17th-19th century. On each panel there is an offering goddess holding two of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism. They are made of crystal and have gilded hands.

In the photo above, I feature the front panel of the large table with all four offering goddesses. Directly below is the overview of both the large and small altar tables, and finally I present details of the four individual panels from the front of the large table.

I shot these photos with my 50mm prime lens, as prime lenses are notably sharper than zoom lenses, and I had to capture minute detail. An aperture of f/16 ensured sharp focus on both the deepest and the highest details. I added one light, directly over the camera at a 45-degree angle to the front of the table to create shadows to add depth and highlight the details.


4 thoughts on “Buddhist Altar Tables

    • They were actually pretty easy. There was a large, open space in the middle of the museum that made a perfect studio. Lighting was simple with just one strobe, since I wanted to create deep shadows to show the detail. I shot tethered to my laptop, so I could see the photos large and high-resolution on the screen right away and make adjustments easily to get it perfect. That wouldn’t have been possible on the camera’s small viewing screen.

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