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

Case Study—A Reflective Silver Chalice

When photographing metal, glass, or other objects with a shiny surface, the problem is always reflections. Anything in the immediate vicinity that can be reflected will be, including you and your camera in some situations.

The Assignment

The assignment is to photograph a highly reflective sterling silver chalice. The goal is to use the reflective surface creatively. Chalice courtesy of Fred Finkel, Silversmith.

1. Composition

Reflections are not always bad. They can add modeling to a shiny object by the way they bend and follow curves. You can even place strips of paper or other materials so they are reflected by the object without themselves being in the picture.

To eliminate unwanted reflections you have to eliminate them or hide the reflected objects. Sometimes you can do this just by moving around the camera or subject. However, the best way to avoid reflections is to use a light tent that you light from outside so the subject is bathed in a soft diffuse light. You can make one out of paper or even a plastic milk bottle with the bottom cut out for the subject and a hole cut for the camera lens. You can also use a commercially available light tent.

2. Lighting

Since the chalice presents creative opportunities, we experimented with a number of lighting setups. While exploring them, we checked the effect of the lights and reflections using the camera's monitor.

3. Camera Settings

Since daylight balanced bulbs are being used and the subject is neutral in color and tone, white balance isn't a problem. When shooting into the white light tent, exposure compensation has to be used to keep the pictures from being two dark.

In this first shot, the main light is softened with a diffuser and the fill light projects straight down on the subject. Tinfoil is used to prevent light from spilling onto the background. The black band is the nonreflective area between the cards.

To remove the dark reflection, the chalice is placed in a light tent (inset). The openings are covered by a white napkin so they don't appear in the image as black reflections. The chalice is now only reflecting the white interior of the light tent so it has a smooth even look. The background is also uniformly lit.

Here the light has been moved behind the chalice facing forward to give a glow to the image from the bright spot on the back of the light tent. The result is a more romantic, even spiritual image.
When photographing silver, you don't want to illuminate it directly. The light and dark parts of it should be reflections of white and black paper placed in the setup for that purpose.

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