Friday, June 19, 2009

How to Photograph Your Collection

During the recent SBCS Convention, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion about photographing a souvenir building collection. Why photograph your building collection? Perhaps you want photos for insurance records or to create better photos which can result in higher eBay sales. It’s also a great way to document your display and collection (and then send great photos to me for his blog). Photographing your collection can be fun and can also reacquainting you with individual souvenirs. Do your photos look like those below? They all suffer from three main problems which can be easily remedied. In addition to a good subject, essential components of good photographs include a pleasing background, good lighting and a flattering angle. Below are a few simple and inexpensive tips to photographing your collection. Backgrounds:
Keep the backgrounds of your photos clean, simple and not distracting to your subject. Use a white or black paper for a backdrop. You can buy colored card stock paper from a craft store for backgrounds and they cost less than $1 each. Use some boxes to prop up the back to create a “sweep” in the paper. This eliminates a distracting seam or corners in the background of your photos. White or black paper? This depends on the tone and features of building replica you’re photographing. You can also use another color, but I find this distracting to the main point of the image: the souvenir’s detail and finish.
Backgrounds can also contribute to the image. Here, I used a blue painting in my dining room to give the photo a blue sky effect which adds some realism of the image.
Placing a building on a glossy surface will result in an upside-down reflection and create an interesting double-image effect. You can use either a shiny white or shiny black surface to achieve this. It works best if you get down low, right at the level of the surface when you take the picture. Here, I just used the black granite of our kitchen countertops.
‘Raking’ or side light is the most flattering for most subjects and shadowing allows details to be highlighted and gives the image depth.
If you have photographic lights or flashes and can use them for studio lighting, great. If not, create an inexpensive “Window studio.” Whether you use lights or daylight from a window, the following lighting set-up will be the same.
Set up your paper on a table near a window and utilize reflectors & scrims to control the light. As the name suggests, ‘reflectors’ reflect the light onto the building. Any white paper can work for this – an envelope or notebook propped up works great. You can adjust the angle of the paper to reflect highlights onto your building in the shadow areas.
You can also control light with a “Gobo.” Gobos are usually black cards placed in front of the light source to block light and they're most often used to keep light from hitting a particular spot on the subject or to cast a shadow on the background. Gobo is derived from the words "go between.” I’ve used books (which stand on their own) to block light from a background to darken it, yet allowing the light to hit the subject (building)
High or low angles result in different effects to highlight features of your building collection. A low angle can accentuate a towering feeling for your miniature architecture. You may want a higher angle sometimes to show a feature of a replica such as a coin slot or interesting roof surface.
Askew vs. squared off view? Angling your miniatures askew shows two sides of a building and accentuates the 3-D form. A straight on / squared off angle results in a flat look. Photographing your displays: if possible, choose a time of day when sunlight highlights your collection display. If direct sun does not shine on your display, try putting lights in different places and create different lighting effects and shadows. Don’t be afraid to get in close and capture details of a particular building. You may need a camera or lens which will focus closely. Miniature buildings, like their full-scale city counterparts, look great backlit and silhouetted.
Experiment, change your perspective and most importantly – have fun. Taking pictures of my collection always gives me a reason to dust my building replicas before giving them their time in the spotlight. (a clean paint brush works great for dusting) Do you have additional suggestions or tricks to photographing souvenir buildings or miniature monuments? Let us know via the comments link below.


Anonymous said...

thanks for putting this together and posting it online, there is some great information here. ww

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot...this was a great help to me and makes all the difference in my photos.-Arnie H

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