Photographing bright shiny things
January 7, 2009 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Photographing shiny things: help my light this stuff nicely and take a good photo that isn't blurry.

Some basic info. I am using a Canon Eos DSLR 400D. I only have an EFS 18-50mm lens, on-board flash and I'm using a tripod, just general house lighting with variable amounts of sunlight, and I have access to a small light-tent and various bits of shiny or mat card. I am trying to photograph large pieces of polished silver jewelery on a black background.

My problems are that I'm finding it hard to get an in-focus shot and (probably related) getting a clear shot where the polished silver isn't unevenly over and under exposed. Because I don't have any good lighting, I've been trying to use mostly natural sunlight with a reflector and light-tent, not using the flash and hoping for the best (which isn't working).

Re: blurring, I assume that the auto-focus is getting confused with the multiple shiny points and I'm about to try switching to manual focus, but I foresee a large amount of time being spent futzing around because - even though things look sharp in the viewfinder (and even after zooming in on the on-board screen), they don't look particularly sharp when I download the pix and view them on my laptop.

Re: lighting, the polish on the silver is giving me a headache. Parts of the piece look great, but others are faded, too dark, too light or blurry. I'd use the Macro pre-set but it wants to use the flash which is horrible, and I just don't know enough about f-stops and ISO's to do it myself.

Before I start over again and waste more time, can anyone please give me some helpful hints to make this slightly less painful??
posted by ninazer0 to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If it is a focusing issue - put another object in the same spot as the jewelry, focus, switch to manual focus and tape the focus ring in place, also, don't move your tripod. Some information about the problem photos would help f-stop, iso, shutter speed and zoom (for example, say the bad photo was taken at f/5.6 at 50mm at iso 1600 with a shutter speed of 1/125 second).
posted by miscbuff at 11:01 PM on January 7, 2009

Lay something with a clear pattern that the camera can focus on over the jewelry--something like a magazine page might work. Press the shutter down a notch to focus, take the page away, then fully depress the shutter.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:01 PM on January 7, 2009

Don't use any auto pre-sets. Don't use on-camera flash.

Personally I prefer aperture priority mode. You set the aperture and the camera chooses the correct shutter speed. The shutter speed may be slow, so a tripod is necessary, and use a remote release or self-timer to avoid shaking the camera during exposure.

ISO... since you are using a tripod and the object is not moving, you may as well keep it low, 200 or 400 max.

Manual focus only.

Keep your aperture around f11. This should give you a good amount of depth of field, with the whole object in focus.

Try window light, but not direct sunlight, with a reflector added to the shadow side. The reflector can be a white posterboard. Google for information on using reflectors in photography. You can also try using a regular clamp-light with a bright bulb. Experiment with placement of the light and reflector for desired effect.

Be patient. You are trying to shoot something that very experienced photographers can find difficult.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:17 PM on January 7, 2009

Shortcuts to great photos:

- Diffuse the light source. Use curtains, sheets, pillow cases, shower curtains between the light and the object - whatever it takes to make the light on the object soft so the transfer from the highlight to the shadow is smooth.

- Learn to use the +/- "Exposure Compensation" button to change the scene to make an image brighter or darker. This will work in "P" (Program) mode, and probably in "Av" (Aperture Priority) mode too. If the scene is too bright/dark, use this button & the command dial to change how bright the camera will make the scene.

- The higher the aperture, the more of the scene will be in focus. Start from 4 and move up from there.

- To focus on something you can't get the camera to focus on, use a focusing target. It's a crosshairs drawn on a card. Put the card in the location of the object you want to focus on with the crosshairs in the center of the frame & allow the camera to auto-focus. Then flip the lens/camera into "M" Manual Focus mode so the focus doesn't change.

- The lower the ISO the better, on digital cameras, ISO is a measure of how much a camera has to boost a signal to get an image, and the less boost (lower number) the better.

Advanced Tips:

- Buy yourself a "gray card". When your camera is deciding how to take a picture, it assumes the average of the scene is a middle gray. By using a card that is already middle gray, you can precisely set the camera for the lighting you have.

- In Manual mode, now that you know how to set the aperture & ISO, use the gray card to set the shutter speed. Since you're using a tripod, you can use a relatively long shutter speed & get photos that aren't "shaky." Your goal is to get the -2 to +2 meter at the bottom of the viewfinder to be zero with a gray card. Then leave the settings there and take your pictures.

- Make your gray card do double duty as a focusing target.
posted by Muffy at 11:44 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm unable to find a link at the moment, but online somewhere you should be able to find out about using clear matte spray paint on shiny objects to control the exposure of the shiny spots.

And I second all the advice about using manual everything. For focus at close distances, though, I use autofocus with manual controls just because my eyes can't really tell what's in focus.
posted by msbrauer at 11:44 PM on January 7, 2009

Since you're using a tripod, use "timer" drive mode. This way you physically pushing the shutter release won't shake the camera. Depending on the exposure settings, mirror lock may or may not matter, but it will make timer only be 3 seconds instead of 10, which is nice if you're taking more than two trial/error exposures.

I agree with the advice to plant the camera on the tripod, and then focus on something easy to focus on (Canon's autofocus works best on high-contrast scenes, so something stripey would be best). Set which autofocus point you are interested in. Then replace the object with the jewelry at the exact same distance.

Switch it to manual, but use the light meter at the bottom of the viewfinder as a guideline. There's nothing wrong with doing a 30 second exposure if that's what it takes, though it should be pretty easy to illuminate your subject better than that with a lamp or whatever. That lens will probably give best results at F/8, but going higher will give you a little more wiggle room with inaccurate focusing.

How to light it? The light tent sounds very promising. Whatever surface you put it on to photograph, don't be surprised if you have to clean up a little dust or surface blemishes in Photoshop.
posted by aubilenon at 12:41 AM on January 8, 2009

Manual focus.

Diffused light.
posted by Netzapper at 1:20 AM on January 8, 2009

Wait for a day with an overcast blah featureless sky and shoot them outside. Take a couple of white cards or foamcore boards along to position to eliminate stray reflections that are of surrounding objects rather than the blah featureless sky.

If your background really is black you'll likely be OK with auto white balance.

Tripod, manual focus, manual exposure at around f/11 or f/16, shutter speed where it needs to be, and fire the camera with the self timer if you don't have a remote release.

This is the least hassle method I know to do this kind of thing, but there's no magic bullet so you'll still have to bracket exposure and possibly your focus point.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:43 AM on January 8, 2009

Definitely manual focus and diffuse lighting. I'd throw-in a small point-source light for dramatic highlights on the silver.

Frankly, I'd also turn-off auto-anything, and opt to manually set the exposure. That way, I could more easily play with depth-of-field and whatnot. But, I'm old-school like that.

Does the 400D have a connection for a cable shutter release? If so, I'd get one and use it.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:39 AM on January 8, 2009

A circular polarizing filter combined with linear polarizing sheets over your light source will do wonders for shiny, reflective objects (keep in mind that you'll need to use a larger aperture or a slower shutter speed to account for the exposure difference with a filter; adjust exposure compensation up if you don't plan on using manual mode).
posted by halogen at 4:48 AM on January 8, 2009

Photographing shiny metal and reflections (youtube). Also check out the other tutorials this guy has done.

My cousin who's a freelance food photographer just about learnt everything there is to know about lighting tabletop subjects from this set of videos.
posted by ianK at 6:06 AM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get this book: Light: Science and Magic; it has a chapter dedicated to just this subject and if you are serious about photography is an invaluable reference on lighting techniques.
posted by TedW at 6:25 AM on January 8, 2009

I've done this a lot and this is what I do:

1. lay the jewelry on a board draped with black velvet.
2. Prop the board as close to vertical as you can before the jewelry starts to slip. You might be able to use tiny pins to hold it. Or slip some braces underneath the velvet.
3. Print out a 1" letter or grid or tear something from a magazine tape it to the top of a thumbtack or something the same height as the depth of what you are photographing. Set it next to the jewelry to focus on then take it out before you snap.
4. Place the light tent over the object (or the object in the light tent).
5. Shine a light from each side and overhead of the light tent. Since you have one light, maximize your sunlight and mount your flash over the light tent, slightly to one side.
6. Cut some heavy white paper or foam core into 1" or 1/2" strips several inches long. Score these strips every inch or so and curve them so they will stand up on their own.
7. Encircle your object with these strips. You'll be surprised at how much they bounce the light onto the sides and reflect white onto the piece. Most importantly this pops your jewelry out of the background so it doesn't get lost and helps diffuse the light more.
8. Close the tent up around your camera lens so the camera doesn't reflect in the jewelry (maybe not important if this jewelry has texture.
9. Try moving your light around until you get a take you like.

Hope you enjoy. I love photographing jewelry.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 10:29 AM on January 8, 2009

« Older I would like to employ someone to pump *clap* us...   |   Help me learn Japanese via its music! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.