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Digital Desktop Studio Photography
The Complete Guide To Lighting and Photographing Small Objects with your Digital Camera

Case Study—A Chinese Porcelain Vase

A first test shot against a dark background shows that separation of the top cap and base will be hard to achieve. A lighter background is chosen.
A Chinese vase is a fairly traditional lighting subject, much like taking a portrait. It has a smooth, reflective surface and a round shape that needs to be emphasized. The surface is covered with details that add to the vase's interest and need to be retained in the photograph. The cap and base are significantly darker than the porcelain vase.

The Assignment

The assignment is to photograph a vase so all of the intricate details show.

1. Composition

The vase is arranged so it can be shot head on against a neutral background with a darker tone. The background is curved into a sweep so we can light it for a graduated effect.

2. Lighting

The main light, with a diffuser in front of it, is positioned to light the vase from the side. A second light is aimed down from above to illuminate the top of the vase and cast a shadow in front of it. Tinfoil is used on this light to create a shadow and a graduated lighting effect in the background. Fill cards are used to illuminate the sides away from the main and top lights.

3. Camera Settings

Aperture is important because we need enough depth of field to keep the entire vase sharp. White balance is adjusted to capture accurate colors. Exposure is adjusted as necessary to retain the white in the vase.

Here the vase is lit from the side with the light softened by a diffuser.

A top light is added to light the top of the vase and project a shadow in front of it.

A fill card is added to the right to bounce light onto the side away from the diffused light.

A fill card is positioned in front of, and below, the vase to bounce light onto the recessed base.

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