Part Three – Playing The Angles

Part Three – Playing The Angles

If you are young there is still time to mis-spend your youth by frequently billiard parlours and learning to talk slang. If you are old you are going to have to draw upon knowledge already gained. In any case, you’re going to be shooting for the angles.

The Leica cabinet photos were taken straight-on. This was to preserve the beautiful lines of the cameras and show the straight ones to advantage. The 90º in and out of the light sometimes caught the lens of the taking camera and sometimes showed the surrounding cabinet’s illuminations. This would also happen in a museum.

If we are dealing with curvier subjects we can take them from more angular positions. This means that the entry and exit of light into and out of the cabinets may not trap other reflections. The white of the lens’s front element engravings may never be seen – the room lights may add their lustre but not appear as ghosts in the frame.

The flash power needed to do this, however, may be much more than with the straight shot – up to 1 or 1.66 stops more. If your speed light allows you to dial the compensation in, do so. Some cameras will also let it happen from the ” Q ” screen – much more convenient.

Tripod shot. No flash, visual impediments everywhere. Ick.

Much better – boosted the flash and set the WB at 5600ºK myself. The flash over-rode the ambient light, the reflections never had time to impinge.

And finally, what to do when the press of the crowd keeps you away from the exhibit. Zoom your lens, shoot with boosted flash, and just crop your way in. Go for a decent depth of field and you’re laughing.

55mm lens, +1 stop flash, through glass and sharp as I need it. And this from at least 4 metres away, cropped heavily.

One over-riding factor may be the degree to which the staff of the museum or shop clean their cabinets. Fingerprints, scuff marks, spare coffee rings – they all block light in and out. If you are using a wide-angle lens and stop it down they’ll show up as marked, but diffuse blobs. It’s in your interest to use as wide an aperture as you can get away with – keeping the depth of field that you need for the actual subject matter.

Bless the cabinet designer who decides upon a white or reflective shelf and backing – not only does it make your job easier, but makes the goods more prominent and attractive. The dear old cabinets from dear old Stirling Street had done duty as library shelves for decades before they supported our camera stock  also for decades. they were tough and capacious, but wooden, and dark. Wehn we re-decorated with new cabinets they became a forest of maker’s colours and the displays looked a lot better.

But beware the mirror cabinet. This may make the flash shooting a lot harder – indeed it may even carom the room lights into your frame to such an extent that you’ll need to do extensive editing. You may not be able to persuade the staff to take the ancient Magna Carta out of the environmentally- controlled sealed case just so you can get a selfie with it…but you can always ask…

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