A night of thick mist and fog, a dull morning, and then as afternoon approached, a mellow autumn sun cutting through the mist. It was one of those perfect autumn days that don’t happen very often and must be relished when they do. Autumn as it should be, and a photographer’s gift.
I’ve added a touch of Orton technique, just to bring out the glow. And only a touch – it’s easy to overdo. If you’re not familiar with the Orton technique, or you are but don’t know how to do it, you can find a downloadable pdf (plus other how-to articles) right here. If the link doesn’t work, click on the Articles tab above the post.
As part of the work I’ve been doing recently for Newark Town Hall Museum, I was asked to photograph a framed print with glass in front of it. As they didn’t particularly want to take the print off the wall (it was screwed onto it) I agreed to have a go while it was still hanging, knowing that it almost certainly wouldn’t work. There was reflected light from a window alongside it, plus spotlights shining on it from behind, and a mix of natural and artificial lighting. This is typical of what you get when you try that sort of thing:
Note my tripod reflection on the left, the reflections of other paintings on the right, and the generally uneven light all over the frame.
There was no doubt it would have to be taken down to be photographed, but even then it was going to be difficult. If you happen to own studio lighting, softboxes, and suchlike equipment, then the problem is easily solved (assuming you also have enough knowledge of how to use lighting). However, I don’t own any of those things and had to figure out how I could work with what I already have.
After spending a while on Google, and finding very few results that didn’t involve large quantities of studio lighting and complicated set-ups, I had an idea of my own. I have a framed and much treasured photo of my last dog, but it’s faded now and a few years ago I decided I’d like a digital version that I could work on so that I could get a fresh print made. Unfortunately the photo was stuck to the glass of the frame and I couldn’t remove it without damaging the picture. Not thinking it would work, I scanned it while it was still in the frame and it came out beautifully. Why not see if the same thing would work with the Newark print?
I experimented at home with another glass fronted print and it worked really well, so I emailed the Town Hall Museum to ask if they had a scanner big enough to take the print and frame. They did, and here’s the result:
Pretty good, isn’t it? A scanner is really just another kind of camera, and the resolution is equal to that of many ‘proper’ cameras. In this instance the frame of the print sealed off any light sneaking in from the side (you can’t fully shut the scanner lid when you do this), but if it hadn’t done that then I’d simply have draped some dark cloth over the whole thing. You are, of course, limited to using this for whatever size of artwork your scanner will take (usually A4 for a home scanner), but it is possible to scan in sections and use Photoshop to stitch it together again.
Had scanning not worked, my next ploy would have been to buy the biggest piece of black card I could find, cut a hole in the middle for my lens to poke through, and then to hide behind it as I took the shot. This should be enough to eliminate any reflections caused by light coming from behind, and the only other thing to look out for would be side light glancing off the surface. But I think I saved myself a whole lot of bother and came out of it with a better result, simply by using a scanner instead of a camera.
If you’re interested in other approaches to solving this problem, this article:
I’ve been busy, this past week, with a little job I’m doing for Newark Town Hall Museum. They need a small stock of photos to use in brochures and banners and other publicity material, and one of my lovely friends put my name in front of the relevant person and I was duly appointed Photographer.
What I hadn’t realised was that I’d have the bonus of getting to see parts of this amazing building to which you don’t normally get access. It’s quite a thrill to be in a room full of old silver artifacts that are worth – literally – millions, with some of them dating back to the 1600s. And then, even better, they unlocked the cabinets and lifted out solid silver bowls and jugs and a huge golden mace and placed them on the table for me to photograph.
This Mace is about 3-4 feet in length; I had to stand on a chair (a rather delicate antique one) to get high enough to fit it all in the viewfinder.
This Monteith punch bowl is solid silver, and the notches are for holding punch cups. The problem here is that the dado rail in the background isn’t straight, but if it’s straightened up then the bowl becomes angled. Mmm….need to think what to do about this.
Thrills aside, I was a bit anxious about this particular assignment because it’s far outside my comfort zone – in fact, quite the opposite of my normal approach. Instead of going all arty and abstract, I had to depict reality as it is (so to speak) and make things look the way they look. The interior of the museum is quite dark, and some of the images will be blown up big and used on a banner, so a tripod was an absolute necessity (and if you know me at all, you’ll know how much I hate tripods……..). However, it was interesting having to work this way and I do admit that my photos are quite a bit sharper than they normally are.
I’ve long had a suspicion that part of my hatred of tripods rests in the fact that I have a relatively cheap and nasty one, and that if I were to invest in a higher-end model then I might establish an agreeable acquaintance with it, although I can never see us becoming fast friends. It’s one of those Catch-22 things, though – until I spend the money, I don’t know if I’d be any happier with a good one, and I don’t want to spend the money and find out that I’m not.
The Committee Room, Newark Town Hall Museum; the paintings are of Newark, but painted by someone who’d never actually been there!
The Twinning Room, Newark Town Hall Museum
Main Art Gallery view
The assignment threw up a number of technical problems, not least of them reflections. Someone who does this sort of thing all the time would no doubt come with extra lighting and be able to sort it all out, smartish, but I don’t own any studio lighting and had to do the best I could with what I’ve got. One framed, glass-fronted print defeated me, however. They didn’t want to have the hassle of taking it off the wall, but I don’t think there’s any other way and it’s not going to be easy, even so. I’ve discovered you can buy a very reasonably priced – and large – lightbox on Amazon, so I think the way forward is to get one of these and place the print inside it.
Colour balance was a bit of a nightmare as well, with a mixture of daylight and artificial light in most rooms. Shooting in RAW means – thank heavens – that decisions can be made afterwards rather than at the time, but it’s still hard to get it looking right, with the colours as they are in real life. It’s even harder to get consistency of colour balance between shots, and I think I still have a bit of work to do there.
The part I most enjoyed was taking the shots of the Georgian ballroom. It’s a stunning room, with an even more amazing ceiling, and one of Newark’s hidden gems. The Museum is tucked away inside the Buttermarket building, and it’s easy to miss. Even if you know the Museum’s there, there’s nothing that tells you about the ballroom. This is all going to change, apparently, as the second part of this assignment is to take a full-length portrait of an attractive lady in full Georgian dress. Have you seen those life-size cut-outs of policemen they have in the supermarkets these days? Well, that’s what’s going to happen to this, and in due course there will be a life-size cut-out Georgian Lady strategically placed to bring the people in. Taken by me.
I go back in a week or so to take some people shots – the Georgian Lady, children playing dress-up in Georgian clothing, visitors to the Museum, and so on. This part is equally challenging, because I don’t normally do people shots, and I certainly don’t do them while using a tripod. Watch this space for part two, and in the meantime prayers, crossed fingers, four-leafed clovers, and lucky horseshoes will all be received with gratitude.
A short post this time, as I’m away for a couple of days this week. Newark has just opened a new Civil War Museum and there were all sorts of shenanigans going on this weekend involving re-enactments of the various battles and sieges. This is very much not my usual thing, but it’s good to try something new and I wanted to see what I could do with it.
By sheer chance, we ended up in exactly the right spot to see everything – we couldn’t have chosen it better had we known where the thrust of the action would be. It was tremendously noisy, with cannons and muskets firing right, left and centre – so noisy that I missed my first few shots because the sudden bangs made me jump just as I pressed the shutter, and my ears were still ringing when we got home afterwards.
The shot I most wanted to get, but failed to, was to catch the flames and smoke that billowed out of the castle window when they fired the cannon stationed there. I caught the smoke well enough, but not the flame. I think it was probably impossible – there was no indication of when they were going to fire the cannon and by the time you saw the fiery bit even the quickest shutter finger was going to be too late.
As always, I was drawn to moving in close rather than taking the bigger view. I liked the repeating lines of the guns in this shot.
I looked for slightly quirky shots rather than the obvious ones. I’m pretty happy with these – it’s not the sort of thing I particularly enjoy shooting but I did get quite into it once I got going, and it’s good to stretch yourself now and again. Normal service will resume with my next post!