advice on how to shoot highly reflective items

Discussion in 'Photography Techniques' started by Luke, Feb 7, 2015.

  1. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    I am a total fraud.

    I pretend to be "an amateur photographer" (which implies knowing something about capturing light) and I sell stuff on eBay (which needs to be photographed so people know what it looks like). I've rested on my laurels in the past by saying "I'm an available light photographer....I don't use flash". And that's fine.....for the kind of photos I like to take for pleasure. But for "product photography", I need to show people "the goods". 3 dimensional stuff isn't as big a problem, but most of what I sell are LPs.....mainly a 2 dimensional image.....and depending on the lighting and the cover....sometimes they seem remarkably like mirrors.

    And then I get my worst case scenario..... an LP with a dark cover that is still covered in shrinkwrap.

    First, I try a shot with a flash (trying to compensate for the backlighting)......
    16281761038_cbb90d80d7_c.jpg DSC00360 by Luke Lavin, on Flickr

    the flash is mainly reflected back at the camera.....not good.

    I don't have a pro set-up and I can't tilt the flash up at the ceiling (which I think might work), so I just cover the direct part of the flash with my hand (like the world's most low budget diffuser and get this.......almost like a mirror......

    16469447495_0303bb57f8_c.jpg DSC00362 by Luke Lavin, on Flickr

    mmmmmmm......this is when I start wondering if I can't just hire a photographer to shoot the stuff I want to sell (nope....that REALLY cuts in to the budget) . So I try with no flash and this is my best yet, but the shrinkwrap still acts more like a mirror reflecting back an image of me shooting the cover.....

    16281755808_b0a421b9ac_c.jpg DSC00363 by Luke Lavin, on Flickr

    I wasn't happy with any of them so I tried an "off-axis" shot where I brought the camera down and angled the LP slightly so I wouldn't have any direct reflections coming back at the camera.

    I got this shot.......

    15846927244_b9434c0ebb_c.jpg DSC00364 by Luke Lavin, on Flickr

    It's reasonably reflection-free, and before I loaded the photo up, I did some "perspective correction" so I don't get some asinine question from someone wondering if this is some weird trapezoidal cover.

    I'm wondering what is the simple way to (consistently) light & shoot albums (or other items that are highly reflective.....and mainly flat.....and mirrorlike)
  2. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    The shots where you are reflected in the cover have a light source (window) behind the subject that is shining on you. Try it with a light source that is behind you (to remove your reflection) and slightly above or either side of you. The only flash that I would use for this is one that can be bounced.
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  3. john m flores

    john m flores All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    My wife photographs pottery and ceramic art for friends and often has to deal with reflections. She started out with CFL bulbs in Home Depot clip lamps arranged 45 degrees from the camera-subject shooting axis. This way, the light reflect off the album but then harmlessly out of the frame.

    And as Nic says, controlling ambient light is important. You might want to invest in a shooting cube like this:®-Shoot...&qid=1423370993&sr=8-1&keywords=shooting+cube

    With lights pointing through either side, you'd have nice soft light and the slit opening minimizes direct reflection.

    If that doesn't work, the last trick that I've heard of but haven't used myself is to use a polarizer to cut down reflections. And if that still doesn't work you can gel the lights with polarizers too and make sure that the lens and light polarizers are 90 degrees out of phase to eliminate all reflections.
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  4. RT Panther

    RT Panther All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
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  5. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    try two lights to the side, roughtly 45 degrees, a polarizer on the lens and shoot behind a piece of black velvet with a hole the size of the lens cut in it. I shot some framed stuff in a gallery that way and it worked well. Alternatively you could double polarize each light source, but large pieces of polarizing gels get expensive. A piece of black velvet is a very, very handy think to have around, and for album covers it would not have to be that large to keep camera, you, and anything else in front of the shiny cover out of the picture.
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  6. I'd get a softbox and have two external flashes synced to the camera, outside it. IIRC the material of the softbox is often white, and semi opaque, so you should get muted light coming through. Do your photographs at night to reduce ambient light. Experiment!
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  7. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Luke, what you're attempting to shoot is not easy and will stump a lot of photographers. I would start by forgetting about the camera entirely and just walk around with the LP cover and keep turning it till you see no reflected light off it.

    This is easier to achieve when you have a smaller more narrow light source that doesn't have a wide "family of angles" (as Light:Science and Magic puts it), which is basically about getting the light off axis, so that it doesn't reflect head on.

    When shooting with window light (which is a very large light source) your "family of angles" is very wide and it's much more difficult avoiding reflections. You'll have to catch the tail end of the feathered light coming through your window.

    If you get this part right, you have managed to stop the light source from reflecting off your subject. Then comes part two. Making sure that you and your camera (which is on axis) is not reflected off you subject.

    This is tricky, but achievable if your background is darker than the surrounding available light. Shoot against a black background, say a black cloth and make sure that you and your camera are not illuminated.

    There is light coming from the window that is illuminating you. So you'll have to find a way to block that light. Hang another bedsheet between you and the window, or move further back into the shadows and shoot with a longer lens.

    You'll just have to stop that window light which is lighting the subject, from hitting you and reflecting you off the surface of the LP.

    Of course all this is why photographers have studios where they can control every part of this process.

    I highly recommend "Light:Science and Magic" which is a book that helped me hugely.
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  8. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    with my built in flashes I would try Curtain Flash - long exposure with flash / flash with long exposure
    but gut feeling is I'd probably make a light tent with 2 anglepoises from side
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  9. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    You could ask the cat to use his unearthly powers to assist, but the downside is he probably will want your soul as escrow
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  10. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY

    Diffuse light will knock down reflections.

    I was plagued by reflections off the metal parts of airguns, and I needed to photograph them to help illustrate some of my articles. I mentioned this to a professional photographer, and he said: "Wait for a cloudy day, take the gun outside, place it on the background you want, and take the picture."

    It worked perfectly, and I have used it ever since.

    You could easily take an LP outside on a cloudy day and shoot it, or even a whole stack of them once you get your basic setup -- mass production!

    Bottom line, do the cloudy day thing, or find some way to diffuse the light.
    Here is a proof of concept, taken just minutes ago (a cellophane covered box placed on a stand under a very cloudy sky). This is the original:


    Here it is, massaged with DXO9:


    The black dots are holes in the cellophane.

    The only problem with this technique is that you have to wait for a cloudy day, but it does appeal to my Scottish "thrift genes."

    Cheers, Jock
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  11. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    thanks all...... you have all helped immeasurably. I had never considered that the same light I need for illuminating the LP is also illuminating me. I think I'm going to try shooting in a blackened basement where I can more easily control the light.
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  12. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    You can use two simple table lamps with narrow beams in a dark room to avoid reflections. Just make sure you are not illuminated by the lights. Something like this.


    With this setup you need to make sure that the backdrop is far enough away that it's not too well illuminated with the continuous lights from the lamps. I would just cut the LP out and stick it on a white background in PS.

    If you use speedlights (or strobes) it's very easy to keep the background dark, by just reducing the shutter speed. When using speedlights, aperture controls the light on the subject, and shutter speed controls ambient light.

    Using speedlights/strobes is fun!
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  13. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
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  14. demiro

    demiro Serious Compacts For Life

    Dec 15, 2011
    Luke, if you want to go real simple try a phone app called Heirloom. It's free, iirc, and targeted at taking phone pics of old photos. It allows for basic editing in the app, and it keeps them looking square with automatic perspective correction. As long as you don't have any direct lighting on album I think you'd be good to go. I'd lay them down on table or floor and shoot that way. Not going to match Pentax quality, or whatever, but good enough for eBay I would think.
  15. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    I'd be inclined to make a light tent from an old sheet with 2 or 3 lights of the same type & strength

    maybe black mat card for the base