Part One – Alice In Blunderland

Part One – Alice In Blunderland

When you get to a certain age you can expect to forget things. Like your trousers. The case comes up before the magistrate in a fortnight.

In the meantime I visited Stirling Street shop and forgot to take my portable tabletop setup upon which to photograph new items. Rather than admit my folly, I set about using the resources that were already there – and this put me on an experimental track to resolve an unrelated photo problem.

Have you ever been in a museum shop, or display area that had things in it which you wished to photograph? Things that were behind glass in cases, and that the staff weren’t about to take out for you. This would be analogous to going into CE and not opening the cabinets. Display of valuable items can be well or poorly done, and the lighting is a lottery. Herewith some thoughts on the problem:

a. You need permission to take the pictures. If they say say ” No ” you have to abide by the rules of the premises. Some places will allow photography as long as there are no tripods involved – or no flash exposures. This was once a technical problem, but times have changed. Many museums will not allow you close enough to get a clear picture…though they will sell you a book for $ 59.00 in their shop that has a clear picture. Depends on whether you want clarity or $ 59.00, doesn’t it?

You can gain permission by asking politely for it, but be aware that there are some institutions that will refuse because you asked.

If there is no stated objection, shoot away until the jobsworth who minds the artefacts comes to shoo you away.

b. The light will not be right. I don’t care what they have been told by their lighting engineers – it will be mixed and awful.

c. There will be other people who come along and get in the way. You can put orange traffic cones and water-filled barriers around where you are trying to work and someone will still climb over them to walk in front of you. This is why the Bulgarians have poison umbrellas. Try to time your photo work for after hours or before the rush. This is why the N0-Tripod institutions have that rule – they know their visitors well.

d. Equip yourself with whichever of your cameras ( Buy more than one from C. E. ) can do the best high-ISO shots. Try to select a lens that will do wide -angle to moderate telephoto. Zoom distortion is a minor factor weighed agains th ability to adjust image size when you’re blocked out or pressed in to your subject. Bring a small, light tripod in hopes, and try to select a lens that will provide some stabilisation. Try to get a flash onto the camera…and then pack some accessories:

i.  A flash diffuser panel that you velcro or clip onto the flash. Ask at C.E. for Lastolite , MagMod, or other light shaping brands.

ii.  A sheet of heavy felt or flexible plastic. About A1 size, it should be foldable and matte-surfaced for best results.

iii.  A dear old gadget bag filler – the flexible rubber lens hood for your lens. Get one as big as possible.

iv.  A plan of attack. Tour the shop/museum before your expedition and see which items you wish to photograph. Decide whether you want them to be seen full-frontal or to the side. determine whether they have been presented square-on to the glass or plastic of the cabinet. Look at their backdrop – is it plain or coloured? Is it reflective or matte?

e. Practice at home first. Put an object behind the doors of the china cabinet and try out all the techniques to get it lit and the image back on your sensor with no shadows or reflections. If you are looking for artistic effect…ie, Night At the Museum…well, suit yourself… but if you want to illustrate, do it with light.

Note that mobile phones are quite a valid way of capturing artwork and other displayed objects. They are seen at all major galleries and sometimes are the first instrument grabbed by the visitor – even if they have a regular camera hanging around their neck as well.

A word about the jobsworths – they are often tasked with enforcing the No Tripod or No Flash rule and have been instructed to look for these. They may mistake the focus-assist light of a digital camera for a flash; this allows them to come and scold. No amount of explanation satisfies them that the brass bowl you wish to photograph will not fade from a focus-assist light, so just accept the inevitable and go to the part of the menu that turns it off. You can circumvent their tripedal angst with the good old Steadipod.

We’ve been selling these for more than a decade and they actually work well. You attach the device to the tripod socket and then pull out the steel cable from the housing. You step on the cable, or loop it around your waist belt. and pull up tightly. The tension you create steadies the camera marvellously well and you take up no more of the floor than your own two feet.


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