2016 is the year that the Bergstrom Mahler Museum of Glass in Neenah, Wisconsin finally received it’s grant to digitally photograph it’s substantial collection of paperweights and other glass art objects. The Collections Digitization Project was funded through the Community foundation for the Fox Valley Region. This immense project takes organization, attention to detail and teamwork to a level that will stretch-out over the next year. I, as the photographer, am concerned with lighting the diverse collection of objects, keeping true to color, texture, depth, contrast and shape. Many of the glass weights are antique so avoiding imperfections, inherent in the creative process at the time would be a disservice to the artist.
Each piece is different. I began the project months ago, thinking about lighting and workflow. There are over 1000 pieces and we will be shooting each piece at 3 angles: straight down, straight into the weight and at a 3/4 angle.
We have a copy table to shoot on with a deck of approximately 25 inches by 20 inches wide. The camera is mounted on an adjustable (up and down only) stable vertical aluminum arm. The deck is waist high. The set ups for each angle varies with regards to background, lighting and camera angle.
In the straight down views, I used velvet covered mat boards with various sized holes cut in the middle to block the under light around the glass weight. The light is a 12 inch tungsten balanced LED Rosco dimmable light pad. The holes in the mat board were sized to the paperweight’s base being photographed.
My top lighting is 4 Arri tungsten 200 watt lights. I have an adjustable snoot on each light with a little square linear polarizer bulldog clipped to each snoot. With heat resistant gloves I can rotate the snoot to maximize the effect of the polarizer to eliminate the light dots from my Arri’s on the glass. There is a circular polarizer on the the camera lens which is a 55mm manual focus macro Nikor lens mounted on a Nikon D700 SLR. By coordinating the polarizers on the lights and the lens, hotspot elimination on the subject is assured.
Close at hand on set is a Staticmaster 3 inch static neutralizing Polonium charged natural bristle brush. This little brush will rid surfaces of dust and make sure it doesn’t come back, unlike canned air that simply blows it around to settle in a different area of lens view. You can see the little brush poking out to the right of the Ready Patch can supporting the glass.
The light pad underneath the sheet of elevated glass illuminates the etched glass on the underside of many of the paperweights. The white seamless diffuses the light thus eliminating the “texture ” of the light pad’s 12 inch lens construction, which would not be acceptable if seen through the glass weights. I remove the black mat and just use the white seamless, still under lit, as a background for the 3/4 and parallel views. When doing those views, I move the camera onto a tripod and shoot from the opposite side of the straight down set up shown below.
Once all the lights are fired up, it gets nice a toasty in the studio. With so much lighting, all aimed at a small paperweight, coming from all angles, there will be subtle shadows, even on the black velvet. That can easily be removed in post production.
This is a basic description of the straight down lighting setup for the start of this project. As I may have mentioned before, part of what I love about my work is the variety of projects. Tomorrow I will be shooting beautiful glass, the next day, I photograph people collaborating at work in a printing plant and the next, a half million dollar home ready to be placed on the market. Variety makes me happy.