A Quick and Easy Way to Shoot Shots
This is how I take photos of shot glasses.

Howard Currier caught me in action while documenting Paul Van Vactor's collection in Louisville in 2003.  It's a reasonably low-tech set-up that works so well both at home and on the road that I use it all the time.  This page tells you exactly what I do, and then the next few pages have some more suggestions for taking photos in natural light.

What you will need to copy my technique:

  • A digital camera

  • A tripod

  • A desk lamp (the one shown is a clip-on)

  • A piece of black felt (about 18" x 24")

  • A color-correction filter (optional - see below)

I bought the camera in 2002 and specifically looked for one with a threaded socket for mounting on a tripod.  I also picked one capable of taking close-ups.  The one you see in the photo above is an Olympus D-460 zoom, 1.3 megapixels, but any comparable camera will work fine.  I have a 32 Mb SmartMedia card in it and then I select the "SQ" image quality setting.  With the 32 Mb card, this means that I can take around 500 pictures and they are saved in a jpeg format.  Using an 8 Mb card, I can take 120 pictures.  I use the close-up setting and practically fill the frame with the image of the glass - the photo of the Anderson glass below is straight out of the camera with no cropping (although I did reduce the overall size to display here - it should fill the entire screen when it comes out of the camera).

You can see that the black felt creates a nice neutral background that sucks up light and makes the glass stand out in a very pleasing way.  I bought it at a local craft store (Michael's, a national chain).  $3 buys you a 3' x 3' piece that I then cut into smaller sections for ease of use.

The glass is sitting on the dining room table. Although it's daytime (late afternoon), I have the blinds drawn.  The glass is sitting dead center under the room's 6-bulb chandelier fixture and I have it turned on full.

        But the main source of light for the glass is the desk lamp.  It's a cheap clip-on, high-intensity lamp that puts out lots of light.  You can find them pretty easily for under $20 at any store that sells desk lamps. I have it in shining just in front of and above the glass to illuminate the label without creating bright reflections.  Look at the glass through the camera lens and adjust the light until you lose the hot-spots.  The reason to use the desk lamp is shown in the photo below.

  You'll notice that unlike in the case of the Anderson glass above, this Mountain Grove has lots of reflections of the room.  I'd turned the desk lamp off for this one so that the only source of light is the overhead fixture.

In the photo below, I turned the desk lamp back on so that you can see the difference.  You'll notice that the room reflections have gone and all we see now are internal reflections (light bouncing off the base gives the ladder effect)

The other thing you'll notice is that both photos have a muddy greenish color, unlike in the case of the Anderson glass above where all we see is black and silver.  That's where the filter comes in.
Artificial light is created by passing electric current through tungsten wire.  It becomes white-hot and gives off light, but that light is very orange compared with natural light.  We don't notice it until we start taking photos and then it becomes obvious.  It's very displeasing to the eye.  Some digital cameras come with programs that will automatically correct for the color shift.  Mine doesn't, which is why I use the low-tech filter approach instead.  It's a 3" by 3",  blue "80A" color correction filter that is specifically designed to make artificial light look like sunlight.  I bought it from B&H Photo in New York through their website for $12.95 plus shipping  (you can find cheaper, but mine is a Cokin P-series P020).  I just hold it in front of the lens while taking the photo - you can see below how much of a difference it makes!

Cokin P020 Color Correction Filter
That's all there is to it!  I have the camera on a tripod, but you can rest yours on a chair or step ladder or pile of boxes - whatever you have at hand.

The next few pages have some more ideas for taking shots in natural light, which dispenses with the need for the desk lamp and filter.  It's more difficult to control reflections with natural light, but click on the photos and take a look.


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