I finally got around to some tabletop photography today, trying to improve my eye for what I call “item” photography. Doing this helps me visualize what I want from a subject and then create some drama around that. It’s not something I feel I’m very good at yet; right now takes far too much time to get organized and the results still aren’t satisfactory. But, practice is how you get to the big leagues, right?
After playing around with some flowers I started experimenting on some glass objects that have internal elements – paperweights and such. I wanted to see if I could illuminate the interior elements without getting glare off the outside of the glass, always a challenge with curved glass objects. We practiced this in photo school but I never really felt I understood how to achieve it accurately. And I wasn’t sure I could do it with the lighting equipment I have on hand. Still, the flowers didn’t seem to be working for me and I knew the glass would be dramatic if done right.
I started with something pretty basic – clear glass around an interior design. To eliminate the glare I found all I needed was a narrow slit of light off the flash, which I got by blocking the flash with a piece of black foamboard.
My first lesson from this is make sure the glass surface is perfect – little scratches or dings will show up as the light shines from inside out. I can take most of these out in Photoshop but it’s better to start with clean materials.
This is direct side lighting – the heart is lying on a piece of black velvet and the flash is right at tabletop level with the black foamboard blocking all but a 1/2″ slit pointing at the heart.
I really liked the look of this. The next piece sits up more vertical so I wanted to get the light coming from the bottom instead of the side. Using a large round bowl that is tall enough to put my flash into and point upward I put a piece of black foamboard I’d cut a hole in on top and put the subject over the hole. I hung another piece of black foamboard up to serve as a backdrop since I would be shooting sideways instead of downward. All I wanted to show in the final image was the glass piece so I set my aperture where all the black background would have little or no detail.
I have no idea how glassblowers get these little elements inside the glass but they really work out well when lit up. In addition to the flash under the subject I placed another flash to the right and turned it down to a low power just to give some definition to the edges of the larger fish. It spilled over a little onto the backdrop (that brighter area up and to the left of the subject) but I found that helped give some dimension to the composition.
The up-from-below lighting was so dramatic I decided to photograph a subject directly from above, looking right down into the light. I have a glass paperweight that is almost full of internal elements so I put it over the hole in the foamboard and set my camera directly above. For this I turned the flash in the bowl up almost to 100% in order to get the brightness I wanted in the paperweight.
Not quite the Eye of Sauron but pretty haunting. Looks like a red whirlpool or an image from one of those scopes they put down your arteries.
Well, with an image like this you can’t pass up some Photoshop opportunities. So, a la Warhol, I made this.
Even though the dramatic flower photography didn’t turn out they way I wanted I’ve at least learned a little more about photographing glass subjects. Light and glass always go together well!