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Photography Question 
Noelle M. Winkle

How Do I Minimize Reflections?

I'm working for a small museum with limited resources. My job involves photographing the collection. I've taken over the very simple studio set up by my predecessor and am having problems with reflections from the overhead florescent lighting. I am using both an Olympus Evolt E-510 and a Nikon D1 to take images of reflective metal objects made of silver, bronze, etc., and of glazed ceramic objects which are also pretty reflective. I've tried diffusing the light which didn't work. I've also tried turning off the overheads and using spot lights and reflectors, which also did not work. I still got the same "hot spot" reflections. Any suggestions whatsoever would be welcome.

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9/6/2008 4:32:05 PM

  A polarizer filter will help with the pottery, but the metal objects will pose the problem. You may want to try some translucent plastic hung like a dome in the area where you are shooting to ward off some of the reflection. If you need to use flashes, place them just outside the plastic. You really need a DSLR for this job.

Have fun and keep shooting,
Mark H.

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9/6/2008 4:46:11 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Every time somebody asks this question, they say they want to "minimize" reflections, but act like they don't want any at all.
You can't shoot a reflective surface and be completely free of hot spots. Somewhere on that object you're going to see a white spot. If you've seen a picture that didn't have it, it's more than one shot photoshopped together.
Large light source, bigger highlight. That includes reflectors.
Surround it with black material, and use point light source, a spot.
If you're expecting to shoot it and not see some little spot that shows a light source, get busy with the photoshop.

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9/6/2008 5:42:39 PM

Noelle M. Winkle   I realize I can't be completely free of hot spots. Thats why my question asked how to minimize them not get rid of them completely. Photoshop is not an option in the museum world. Well thats not true, it is an option but one that is a last resort. When taking images of the collection you have to be as true to life as possible. I realize reflections are true to life, but I want them as small as possible.

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9/6/2008 7:59:42 PM

Museums take pains in presenting their artifacts in as beneficial as possible light and setting. 21st century exhibition lighting and settings/decors can be quite high-tech these days. And most who experience them agree it's good, and that the exhibit(s) have never been presented better.

I see no objection to using photoshop on archival or presentation photos of museum exhibits. Quite the contrary: Photoshop is a professional 21st century photo editing tool. Best in class. Archival or presentation photos of museum exhibits deserve the best treatment possible. Like their real life 3D counterparts get!

Go ahead! Use Photoshop on your archival or presentation photos of museum exhibits. For cleaning up and enhancing. NOT for overdoing it! But you'll see that soon enough for yourself.
Retouching is an art in itself. A mesmerizing art. With seemingly endless possibilities. It is the operator YOU who determines how far to go. And in what direction. And it is also the operator YOU who determines when you've gone too far. Or in the wrong direction.
And then you simply retrace, backtrack, your steps, and start again.

If the museum restorator goes too far with a file, or applies the wrong cleansing agent, there's not much he/she can do but to cover up the damage. But it cannot be undone.
With archival or presentation photos of museum exhibits and Photoshop you can never do irreparable damage!

You use state-of-the-art digital photo cameras. Seems strange to NOT use state-of-the-art digital photo editors...

YOU are at the wheel!

Have fun!

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9/6/2008 11:32:18 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Welcome to BP Nicole. This is one of those rare instances when I disagree with my colleagues here (who are generally far more esteemed than I am).

I think you're describing three underlying problems. It sounds to me as though you're underequipped, underexperienced and you're probably going to become really frustrated chasing your tail while trying to fix lighting problems that are relatively easy to solve at the time you shoot rather than afterwards. And it shouldn't matter whether you're shooting for the NY Metro. Museum of Art, the Guggenheim or the local museum of small town memorobilia.

You don't say what your background is but I'd guess it's not in product photography or studio work. That can be overcome by reading, taking courses, practicing a lot and learning how to shoot catalog work from an archival perspective. There are a few of us here who have shot a fair amount of artwork for reproduction. It should be as near as perfect as possible because if someone ever needs to recreate a piece or study it in great detail, they're going to rely on your work to do that.

Perspective control is important, color balance is too, and as reflections are generally off limits because they block out colorful highlights. In that respect, you need to learn how to light. It's additive and subtractive, bounced, reflected, direct and indirect depending on what you're trying to light and how you want to light it.

Using strobes with modeling lights and modifiers like softboxes, umbrellas, fill cards, scrims, gobos, barndoors, etc., will help you control your light. Using state of the art cameras is important although I prefer to use view cameras to correct perspective and transparency film. But rather than having state of the art software to correct problems, use start of the art lighting in a simple environment that's made to help absolutely control the light and solve those problems in advance of shooting and render those subjects accurately.

Strobes offer a daylight color temperature balance of 5500 degrees and UV coated tubes help prevent flourescing of organic pigments found in paints and dyes. You should have some idea of whether you're seeing a reflection or flourescing because that effects how to shoot it as well. Using polarizing filters may tend to muddy up or adversely impact your color saturation producing another problem you need to fix because your colors need to be true to the objects you're shooting. Using hot lights for some things and shooting in black and white is ok, but remember that as they burn in, hot lights change color temperature and cause color shifting which presents more problems to correct.

In essence, what I'm suggesting is that IMHO, you'd spend less time learning the nuances of how to shoot this stuff than how to fix it which in the end result may not produce results that are completely accurate and true to the subject. For that, if the artist is still around, you should ask them to look at finished work and compare it to the original. I'll betcha they can tell you which shot is fixed and which isn't vs. which is more accurate in an instant.

Lastly for now, I'm wondering how you can correctly "fix" something to look exactly right unless you actually have the object or painting in front of you and under the same lighting you photographed it under in order to replicate it accurately. I don't know about you, but my memory ain't nearly that good.
Take it light Nicole. ;>)

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9/7/2008 10:13:45 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Sorry, I meant to say Noelle not Nicole. :<( Forgive me, please.

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9/7/2008 12:40:01 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  New Image of the Mansion at the Huntington
New Image of the Mansion at the Huntington
Made with Norman 900 Series lights, 4 heads and two power packs. Without the strobes the outside and inside wouldn't match so well.
© John H. Siskin
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Kodak DCS 14N Digi...
Hi Noelle,
Just a few quick points. I do have some experience with the museum world, which might help.
Polarizers, as has been suggested, only work well with light that is moving in a parallel direction; that is already polarized. Sunlight, owing to the distance from the source, qualifies as polarized. Light from a strobe tube or a tungsten bulb is not polarized. If you want to use polarizers to control light in a studio setting you need to put polarizing filters over your light source as well as the lens. I should also point out that the light loss from two sets of polarizers is a problem.
To get back to your problems, you should consider using a light cube or large reflectors, while this will give you a reflection the difference between the value of the bright area and the rest of the object will be much less than if you use a spot light source. I find large light sources very useful. A diffuser the same size as the light source has almost no effect. However, as Mark suggested, there is no one easy fix for this kind of work. Really, experience and experimentation are critical.
One other consideration: Most museums are incredibly concerned about the light hitting their objects. Strobes might be better at controlling this problem, as they have a duration of about 1/1000th of a second. Also, most of the modern strobes have built-in filtration for ultraviolet, which is always a concern.
Im attaching an image I made recently of the Huntington Library in San Marino. I had the good fortune to work with the senior photographer at the Huntington on this project. While this is not a piece of the collection, it is indicative of the work a museum might need.

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9/7/2008 3:56:04 PM

Noelle M. Winkle   Thanks for all the advice. Hopefully I will be able to get my hands on something that will prove to be helpful.

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9/8/2008 11:29:17 AM

Peter Konrad
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/11/2007
  Hanging Bat
Hanging Bat
100mm f/2.8Macro USM) with twin strobes (manual). 1/125 sec, f/13, ISO 200. Picture shot through glass.
© Peter Konrad
Canon EOS 5D Digit...
  Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard
120mm (100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM).

1/160 sec, f/5.0, ISO 1000.

Shot through glass on sunny day with leopard walking through shaded area in exhibit at Nashville Zoo.
© Peter Konrad
Canon EOS 5D Digit...

From someone who loves to shoot animals and fish through glass a lot a zoos and aquariums (see Clouded Leopard and Hanging Bat in example shot through glass at the Nashville Zoo), one simple concept is to always make sure that your light source and lens are on the same side of the perpendicular to the glass. That includes both right to left and up to down. IF you divide the shooting angle into four quadrants, your lens and light should always be in the same quadrant. If I keep to this simple physics rule, you will NEVER have a reflection of your flash in your picture. This however will not eliminate glare from over head lights, so I tend to also shoot downward as much as I can when shooting through a vertical piece of glass (this again keeps my lens and the overhead light in the same side of the perpendicular to the glass).

Hope this helps some.

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9/9/2008 6:58:52 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  That's not the kind of reflection she's talking about.
For your zoo kind of reflection, you just need to have your flash away from the lens and the lens as close to the glass as possible. And actually the farther away the flash is from the lens, the better.

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9/9/2008 7:35:36 PM

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