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SOME BASIC DIGITAL GLASS PHOTOGRAPHY by Sandy Giffen

OK, deep breath, another deep breath, and let's get started.  This is not rocket science, just common sense.

If you want to get those Identifications on your Glass and get them fast, please read on...  What we NEED are GOOD detailed photos of your glass.

Things you probably should do:

Just putting that glass in an open space and snapping that photo is so tempting.  So you have a snapshot but then we look at other people's photos and wonder just why our pics don't have the same appeal.  It's because they have taken just a little bit more time with their photos then us.  Some thought has gone into the set up and positioning of everything.  Not all of us will ever get the same quality shots, but there are some things that can be done to help get better shots.

Here are a few ideas that cost nothing, just your time and ingenuity.  If after trying these methods, you want even better photos, then you can add other photographic options and lessons like lighting boxes, overhead llighting, shadow boxes or shields, backgrounds, camera setting lessons, etc..

Criteria for a good photo:

Number of items in the picture ONE, only ONE.  More is not good.
Ok, you have a whole set of one pattern.  One group shot will make you feel good, but it does nothing but show people you have a lot of pieces.  There are too many items to be able to see anything in detail.  The distance is too far away to show anything in detail.  You have to have distance to get all the items in the picture.  Close up shots are needed.  If you have 8 cups in one photo, no detail is shown.
Background Notice how the pictures that seem to grab you are uncluttered in the background, nothing to distract the eye.  These pictures have no fancy designs to distract from the glass.  The backgrounds will probably be a single neutral color, maybe a monotone color but never a design and never a clash of colors or angles.  Spend some time looking at photos, on databases or ebay and make note of the pictures you like.  Note what makes that picture appeal to you and try to duplicate what you see.

Simple backgrounds allow the eye to focus on the glass.  So, no lacy table clothes, no flowers, no other glass in the picture.  Yes this takes time and we want to take pictures.  But the effort is worth it in the long run.

Best background material for a quick simple set up seems to be a solid neutral color, no nap or very short napped fabric, a small throw blanket or piece of cloth from a fabric store, a large towel  This is just a simple easy set up that can be taken down and set up quickly.  Large sheets of paper could be used as well, just keep the creases out.  They really show up.

I use an antique games table set against the gigantic TV actually.  A small throw blanket is draped from the top of the TV down over the screen and across the table.   This allows the back and the base to be the same color, so no distracting wall paper, cabinets or window views are seen.   I am sure with some thought an area can be found that is small enough to do something similar.  Some suggestions of setups I have tried in the past:
  • a large cardboard box set on end on a table. 
  • A high backed chair that has a flat seat parallel to the floor and this is a backbreaking set up, just too low to be comfortable, but in a pinch works. 
  • A  couch, with a cutting board on the seat to provide a solid surface, then the blanket, a less than perfect set up, but easy to set up and take down, and it doesn't get the kitchen sink in the background.
Try to get a level surface that is above waist height, stooping to get pictures for an hour or three is not fun.  Straight on shots of a piece of glass when working at floor level is hard as well.  Waist level or higher makes moving glass in and out faster.  Also allows a person to work with the camera and sit.
Camera I would like to say any camera can take adequate pictures, just play with it to learn what it can do.   Don't be afraid to change settings and try a few more pictures.  Just remember to write down what pictures were taken on what settings.  When using a digital camera, there is only the time spent taking the photos, putting the pictures onto a computer and then, reviewing them, even better if you can do it, review the pictures on your TV screen.  Don't be afraid to delete pictures that are out of focus or don't show anything but the floor, you can always take it over if need be.  Play, constantly play with that camera, it won't bite you.
Resolution of picture Again, play with the camera.  Set it on medium or high resolution.  Yes, you will fill up the memory card fast, but that is what you have a computer for.  Dump the pictures onto the computer, empty the card and take more.  Editing can be done later.  It is easy to take away detail, hard to add detail.  Greater size at this point allows greater detail when reduced.  When editing, if you edit, always keep the original, make a second picture named to help you remember what it is (like -1 and -2), and edit that one.  You always have the original to start over if you don't like what you have done.
Lighting Everyone has different ideas about lighting, find what works for you.  I like in front of a west facing patio door, mornings or overcast days.  I like bright natural light without direct sunlight.  East side of a house in the afternoon will get the same result.  Ok, not everyone can wait for that or has that available.  Lamps without the shade can help, just be careful of the type of bulb in the lamp, some bulbs throw the glass color off. Try to use two lamps, one on each side to eliminate shadows.  
View angle All important and it takes time to know just what angles are needed.  Later there will be additional sheets added to this, giving diagrams. 

First and foremost, a straight on picture of a single piece of glass that fills the whole view window.  Try to figure out where center is on the piece and aim the camera there, holding the camera at the SAME level as that center point.  Move closer or back till the object fills the available area.  Move the camera up or down to have the camera at the SAME level as the center point of the item being photographed.  Most digital cameras have a view screen that will indicate when a picture is focused.  Don't rush things here.  Wait till the camera tells you the object is focused.  And don't click and move the camera.  Digital cameras seem to have a little delay between clicking and processing the shot.  Hold that camera steady for a moment or three after clicking on the button.   Then, are there other bits and pieces of this item that would help?  Take close up pictures.  Handles, treatments, bottoms.  I try to take every picture angle I can think of for one item, the bad or un-needed pictures can be deleted after.  Then move on to the next item.  This allows the straight-on full sized picture to be the lead picture and all pictures after that one refer to that piece of glass.  Then, the next full straight-on image in the camera is the first picture of the next item.
Clean glass ALWAYS wash the glass before taking a picture of it.  How many times I have taken a shot, then realized.....   it is dusty, it has finger prints,  gosh, a price tag is still on it.  (Don't remove your labels though, so wash carefully.)  Sparkle adds to interest, dust dulls interest.  The odd time, you may wish NOT to wash, but, in general, pictures of sparkly clean glass are so much nicer to look at and to identify.
Marks on Glass
Sometimes it's almost impossible to get a good photo shot of a mark on a piece of glass.  Try this trick.  Use a magnifiying glass and take the pic through it.

Try these ideas.  They will help the quality of picture taken for a beginner.  More experienced people will want more complicated set ups.  Those come later.  These are just suggestions for a quick set up and take down for a beginner or not so beginner.

Coming soon:  How to edit your photographs.


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