Saturday, January 31, 2009

Photographing Silver Objects

The Hard Way!

These two photographs were taken yesterday, at Glin Castle Hotel, in County Limerick, Ireland. It is the ancestral home of Desmond Fitzgerald, the present Knight of Glin and I went there at his request to photograph some valuable silver objects bearing the family crest - and other important engravings, that he wanted to portray in a new book.

Photographing silver is one of the most difficult subjects a photographer can attempt - and a successful result often depends on having been able to control and adjust the conditions for the photography. This usually means taking the shots in a controlled environment - a studio - where the reflections and shadows can be eliminated and manipulated. If the objects are quite small - the problems can be more easily managed, and often, building a "light tent" is the best open for small silver or glass items. I didn't have that option, as I was photographing on location - due to the value of the peices - and I also had very limited time, as they had to go back to the bank that morning.

I started shooting at 8am, and had to be finished by 10.30am. I was also photographing in the main entrance hall of the Castle - that was my choice, as I wanted to set up against a window that let in very soft early morning light. I then erected a white projector screen opposite the window, and rolled out a length of black velvet cloth across the table, and attached it (by "blue tac") to a wall. I shot with available light and very long exposures (up to 10 seconds) at very small apertures (around f20 most of the time).

The large silver platter gave most problems, as it is about 2 feet in diameter and acted like a large mirror, that reflected everything above it, including the brown beams of the ceiling in the room. To counter that, I took it into the hotel kitchens, that have a white ceiling, and asked members of the staff to hold the background cloth up for me.

I did a lot of post production too, mainly in Adobe Lightroom. In the two shots above, I used the brush tool, to selectively brighten the engraving in the basket, and to add "clarity" to the engraving on the platter - which enhanced the detail. I also selectively reduced some of the colour in the shots, if they were reflected in the images. For example, in one shot, the red lines on my camera strap were showing in the object, so I just reduced the red colour channel to zero and it vanished! It was easier that cloning it out in Photoshop.

An interesting exercise, and one that made me realise that even when the most difficult photographic subject raises its head - there are ways around it, even in the most unsuitable conditions. With a bit of thought!


  1. Just what I needed to read before I shoot I had two weeks ago photographing very reflective silver objects! Filed away for future use...

  2. The photos have come out really well Stephen. Lightroom is great isn't it? I've got to take some product shots of a very dark bottle later which will also be a challenge. Kevin

  3. I have just finished the beginners course with Stephen,his depth of knowledge of photography and ability to pass on this information to the students is breath taking.
    Tom Ivess.


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