objects Reflective surfaces are a special case. I remember seeing an Art in America
magazine once, and on the cover was a picture of some really famous sculptor's
work in a Washington, DC gallery. It was a large, bulbous, bronze casting.
It was highly polished, and what was really funny was that there on the
cover of Art in America magazine was a picture of the sculpture, and on
its surface was the photographer, the tripod, the lights, the man lying
on the floor holding a large white fill card: everything in the gallery.
My first thought was "These people missed this. The photographer missed
it, the editors missed it, the picture selector missed it, and here it is."
Reflective surfaces give you yourself back in the picture and bring the
world onto the object, bring the surroundings into the image taken, which
can be a real problem - it usually doesn't look good at all. Reflective
surfaces tend to bring in the colors around them, which in the photo - booth
as I've described it means that you get a lot of black reflections, so it
looks really bad. One generally arranges to have white fill cards placed
everywhere that is reflecting black to the camera until the object appears
white through the viewfinder. You subtract the black reflections by using
judiciously placed white reflectors until the image looks good.
One professional photographer I met, when asked by a jeweller, "So how
should I make pieces best for good photographs?" said "Don't polish them."
Well, real life is that we have to deal with polished objects. There are
several ways of approaching this.
If you have a reflective silvery surface and it has black reflections
in it you end up with a very muddy picture which has a low tonal contrast
between object and background, and it really doesn't work. Hanson suggests
that, instead of getting upset with the black reflections as a negative
problem, you view them as a positive solution and, as described above,
replace them with reflections that you actually want (usually white; rarely
colored cloth or paper etc.) which to my mind is a nice way of looking
at the problem.
Tents The usual way of dealing with reflective objects is to shoot the object
inside a translucent tent. If you have a copy stand (which is how I used
to photograph most of my work when I started out) you can use it to create
a vertically - oriented tent. Otherwise one constructs a situation where
the object is surrounded by translucent diffusing material (Mylar©) so
that no surface facing the camera is able to reflect anything except translucent
or white material. One may put a large sheet of translucent material clothespinned
in place over the front of the photo - booth with the camera stuck through
a hole in it or a large stiff piece of white paper, card or Foam - Core©
which works in the same way. The whole point is that the camera cannot
see any reflections on the object from the world outside the tent. This
means that we don't care about the back half of the reflective piece:
only what the camera sees counts.
Another way is to take a large piece of Mylar©, and hang it over a fishing
line, rod or bar and place the object inside. The more transparent the
supporting part is the better: best of all is to support the Mylar© from
its center with a fishing line slung over the horizontal strut above the
shooting surface. Then from all sides there will be nice diffuse light,
lovely white surfaces. From the front, I will still be getting the camera,
and me, and all of the front of the room that the object can reflect from,
and so what we do is take a large piece of white cardboard or Foam - Core©,
cut a hole in the middle to stick the camera lens through so that the
camera's on the back of the white card with the hole and then take the
picture. In this way there will be no reflections on the object that you
don't want. You want, if possible, all of the reflections on the object
to be from white, translucent, or very diffusely lit surfaces. Fill cards
of various shapes and pieces of translucent Mylar© all serve to replace
reflections you don't want with white, neutral ones. Sometimes when shooting
silver reflective geometric objects in a good light tent it can be difficult
to discern the edges and corners of the object. Meltzer takes thin black
paper strips and tapes them to the inside of the light tent so that they
line up perfectly at the edges of the object thus defining the objects
corners in a 'natural' manner for the shot. A curving black strip reflection
in a rounded object may also be useful sometimes (Meltzer, p 62).
Sometimes when using a tent and a white card on the front of the camera
you will see the camera lens itself as a round or oval black reflection
in the object. In that case slowly raise the camera on its central cranking
column. Look through the lens as you do this and at a certain point the
black reflection will slide out of view. At that point tighten the camera
into position and take the shot.
Copy stands Copy stands also provide a way of dealing with reflective objects. They
offer a very controllable (and hence repeatable) system for taking slides
of your work. For flatter items, coins and much jewelry a copy stand is
a good solution as a photo - booth system. As described before there are
horizontal and vertical systems. What follows deals with a vertical system.
You can mount the camera looking straight down and create a bag around
the object suspended from the camera itself so that the entire interior
space is within a tent. Make sure that you fold the bag so that by releasing
a single clamp (clothespin) you can quickly get a hole that is big enough
to reach into and arrange the object for the shot. Note if you use a vertical
set - up with a dark background cloth (black velvet) under the work that
dust and any dandruff can become a real issue. When I first started out
I used a pillow case; I would have the camera inside the bag, and I would
point it straight down and take a picture. I would have the lights fairly
close in, but I no longer recommend this approach with a pillow case,
because regular cloth is laundered, and commercial laundry soaps have
what's called bluing in them. Bluing is a material that fluoresces blue
under normal lighting conditions. If you have a surface that is emitting
a blue light, then that eliminates any yellow light that you would otherwise
see. What this means is that your sheets are actually yellowish, but the
bluing in them fluorescing blue eliminates the yellow, and so they appear
white to us - but perhaps not to the film and camera. Instead, use white,
ripstop nylon which you can buy at climbing and camping stores. This is
a neutral material, it can easily be made into a bag for a vertical copy
stand or stretched over frames to produce diffusion screens, and professionals
really like it. It's easy to work with, inexpensive and apparently doesn't
adversely affect the colors that the film records.
It is possible to make your own copy stand. I did at one point. I think
my recommendation is to buy one; shop at auctions, call up print shops,
printmakers, anyone who records flat items photographically and ask them
if they know of any used ones. They come up regularly in my local government
surplus auction center.
Dusting (dulling) sprays Sometimes professional photographers will use dusting sprays (also called
dulling sprays) as a way of dealing with reflective objects. I don't use
them myself but it might be a solution to a problem you have at some point.
Dusting sprays are fine, light - colored powders in a spray can and can
be bought at professional camera suppliers. I've heard of people using
Arid Extra Dry© Deodorant powder in a spray can the same way. You take
a highly reflective object and give it a very light coating of a fine
dust, almost like the misted effect of breathing on a metal surface when
it is cool and your breath condenses on it. This eliminates reflections.
Then you can take the picture. Note that you don't want to make a mess
or damage an object with a dulling spray so you should proceed with caution
when using them. Collins only uses them on silver - colored reflective
fill cards to alter the degree of reflected fill light and does not use
them on objects (Collins, p 187).
When people are working with a reflective object using a dusting spray,
quite often they will put the dusting spray onto the object, and then
add a white 'reflection' where they think light streaks should be to describe
the object to the viewer ("okay, to describe this thing, we need a white
spot here and a white stripe here and a white stripe there"). One takes
one's finger and wipes the dust away in a swipe where the 'reflection'
should be. Then a white card is placed such that it reflects in the wiped
areas, and now there are white light streaks 'where they should be' to
describe the form on this less than reflective surface.
Some photographers will 'paint with light' by choosing a long exposure
and hand - holding a suitable tungsten light source (I think one might
be able to use a halogen flashlight - I'll have to try that sometime)
while moving it rapidly back and forth or up and down to create a light
streak line that follows the form of the object thus describing it in
space better. I've done this once or twice but think it would work best
on exposures longer than a second. Therefore, because most of the exposure
times in our photo - booth are close to that, this method may not be immediately
useful to you. Remember it though: it may sometime be a correct solution
to a problem for you.