Photograph Two Sides of the Same Piece

Photograph Two Sides of the Same Piece
Photos and text by Steve Meltzer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

The other day, artist Barbara Klar wrote to me on The Crafts Report Facebook page:
"I'm a jewelry designer and have been developing a line of [...] lockets that incorporate either found folk art-type objects or commissioned paintings that fit into these pieces [...]. What do you suggest as the best way to photograph these objects? Show application images ask for one photo per piece, and these items are clearly viewed in two ways--both open and closed."
Before talking about how to photograph two sides of an object, let me address the "one photo per piece rule." It is confusing and problematic, raising many questions. For example, is a tea set one piece or many pieces? Is a necklace and matched earrings one or two things?

The "one piece per photo" rule is a guideline proposed by shows to avoid a jury submission showing 15 pairs of earrings or six scarves. It is meant to help craftspeople create jury submissions that allow the jurors to clearly see the work. Some artists, nervous about their submissions, undermined themselves by trying to show lots of work. But fifteen pairs of earrings make each too small to really see well. That is what the shows want to avoid and it is different from seeing sets of things. A juror that would reject a jury submission of a tea set or matched jewelry, as too many pieces in a photo, perhaps shouldn't be jurying work, in my opinion. I start with the assumption that jurors understand that they are looking at a single product composed of several parts.

This is the name of the game with jury submissions. You can never present the entire range of your work or even all your "greatest hits and best sellers." Rather, you want to impress a juror with the quality of your craftsmanship and the power of your ideas.

Barbara Klar's "two sides of the coin" problem is a little different since it involves a single object with two very different aspects. However, it is not that strange, as by definition most craftwork is three-dimensional. Objects will always look different when viewed from different sides. Choosing just one of those views for a jury submission image is difficult for an artist, and when it comes to something like Ms. Klar's lockets, it is truly a conundrum.

Crafts photography, like all photography, is about solving problems. Even photographing the simplest object requires choosing which side to photograph, from what angle, how to frame the object, and how to light it. Sometimes solving these problems calls for a compromise.

One option for Ms. Klar is to provide jury submission images where there is one locket in each, but some are shown open while others are shown closed. Viewed together in a submission package, I think most jurors would be able to put one and one together correctly. However, with Ms. Klar's lockets, the outside designs and inside paintings are unique and never repeated, which undermines this first solution a bit.
Image F/8

The simplest way to show two sides of anything is to do it with mirrors. Ms. Klar's work is a mix of custom paintings, found objects, and her jewelry. An alternative solution to her problem could be to put two lockets in each photo; one opened, the other closed. These photos would show how she blends these artworks, despite the fact that the specific pieces shown are not the same. While this may violate the letter of the "one piece per photo" rule, it certainly is within its spirit by allowing the juror to see and to understand the artist's ideas. I am sure that a show promoter who is concerned with the quality and salability of work would understand and appreciate one of these compromised images.

Nonetheless, let us be literal and say that Ms. Klar or you needed or wanted to show two sides of a single object. It isn't hard to do; it just requires a little sleight of hand, a mirror, and patience.

The simplest way to show two sides of anything is to do it with mirrors.

Place an object like an open locket on a large mirror, and move it around until you can see some of the inside and some of the outside in its reflection. This takes a good deal of fiddling with the object and with the camera position to be able to see both sides. You will need to experiment with the lighting, too, especially when lighting of the front surface of the work. Remember to be flexible and to move everything about until the image shows what you want and looks natural.

Remember, too, that you will need to move the camera's position, so that you don't have reflections of your studio in the picture frame. There are two ways to do this. One is to work in a darkened studio with the photo lights tightly focused on the object and mirror set-up, with very little light illuminating the studio. Thus, any reflections will be very dark and mostly unnoticeable. The other is to work in a studio with a white ceiling or to suspend or place a large white poster board over the mirror setup. This will provide a white background.

This is one of the things I did in photographing two sides of a silver dollar. First, I laid a mirror on a tabletop and then stacked a couple of paperbacks on either side of the mirror. Next, I laid a piece of glass across the books. For this photo, the glass was about two inches above the mirror but it can be higher for larger objects.

After cleaning both the mirror and glass, I placed the silver dollar on the glass, face-up. I set my camera zoom lens to about a 100mm (in 35mm equivalent terms) and used a tripod to ensure that I could take several images that were framed exactly the same.

For simplicity's sake, I worked near a large north-facing window and used the available light.

I shot several images with the camera on P or program mode. The camera simply exposed the image with the lens at its widest opening--see image above. Looking at the images on my monitor, I decided I realized that at this sort of telephoto setting, the reflected image was not very sharp.

This was because at telephoto settings, lenses have a smaller depth of field--areas of sharpness--than wider angle lenses. To remedy this, I switched to A (aperture preferred) mode and manually set the lens to its smallest aperture (F/8) to get the largest depth of field I could. (See F/8 photo.)

When you try this with your artwork, remember that you can also move the reflected image's position relative to the original object by tilting the mirror. Simply placing a paperback or two under one corner of the mirror should do the trick.