Easy Closeup Photography Volume 40.4

CAMERA SETUP FOR TABLETOP PHOTOGRAPHY, with a Canon 7D, 100mm macro lens; a Canon Speedlite 580EX and opaque plastic diffuser mounted on the external flash of the camera, which is attached to a Leica tablepod and ballhead. Visible as a knurled silver knob, this device permits the camera to be adjusted to almost any angle. Alongside is a set of Kenko extension tubes, of 10, 12 and 36mm, which give increasing magnifications. The extension tube is mounted between the camera body and the lens. Being light and compact, this type of setup is easy to carry and use when out of the photo studio. Another use of such lighting equipment is shown on the top right image, last page of this article.  Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.  WARRING STATES COMPOSITE BEAD shot with 100mm macro and lit by 580EX external flash, 2.9 centimeters diameter.

CAMERA SETUP FOR TABLETOP PHOTOGRAPHY, with a Canon 7D, 100mm macro lens; a Canon Speedlite 580EX and opaque plastic diffuser mounted on the external flash of the camera, which is attached to a Leica tablepod and ballhead. Visible as a knurled silver knob, this device permits the camera to be adjusted to almost any angle. Alongside is a set of Kenko extension tubes, of 10, 12 and 36mm, which give increasing magnifications. The extension tube is mounted between the camera body and the lens. Being light and compact, this type of setup is easy to carry and use when out of the photo studio. Another use of such lighting equipment is shown on the top right image, last page of this article. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament. WARRING STATES COMPOSITE BEAD shot with 100mm macro and lit by 580EX external flash, 2.9 centimeters diameter.

If you can’t see it, you can’t study it—anyone who is a serious researcher of jewelry needs to be able to look closely at the piece being studied. Ideally, a binocular microscope of 20 to 40x magnification would suffice for examining most jewelry, although such scopes usually do not come equipped with an adaptor to take photos of what is being seen in the scope, and not all researchers have access to binocular scopes. Besides ancient jewelry, I have a deep interest in ethnographic jewelry, especially those made of metal. Detailed and closeup photographs of such jewelry are rarely seen, but these types of images can tell much about techniques and skills of the makers. Good macro photographs can substitute for stereo microscopes, but closeup images sometimes require additional magnification. Here I describe a relatively easy way of making such closeups, with two different ways of providing that all crucial lighting.

 

EXTREME CLOSEUP OF WARRING STATES COMPOSITE BEAD, of low-fired glaze over faience core of plant ashes. The image spans a width of 1.6 centimeters of the 2.9 centimeter diameter bead. This bead is virtually the same as an approximately fifth century B.C. specimen analyzed by Wood et al. (1999). Their bead had the same makeup and colors, which are common to many composite beads. While it is not clear how the low-fired glazes are applied, one can see from this closeup that some are precisely brushed on (?), others appear to be dabbed on in layers, eventually resulting in stratified or mounded/rounded eyes or rosettes, probably due to the high surface tension of the glazes or the glazes incompletely melting (Wood 2001). Shot with 100mm macro, 36mm extension lens, ISO 100 and studio strobe.

 

      I needed to take closeup photographs for recent articles on ancient glass Nubian face beads (Ornament, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2017) and on Tuareg/Mauritanian jewelry (Ornament, Vol. 40, No. 3, 2018), so I have gone back to using the very simple setup of a macro lens, and extension tubes, lit either by an external flash or with studio strobes. Camera is handheld or on a tripod. Either of these modes of lighting work because the speed of a camera flash or a studio strobe is so short that it can more or less eliminate camera shake.

PHOTO SETUP AT BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS FOR SHOOTING NUBIAN GLASS FACE BEADS, with Canon 7D, 100mm macro and 12mm Kenko extension ring. Camera is coupled with cable to Canon Speedlite 580EX, with plastic diffuser, that is mounted on a Leica ballhead and table tripod. Camera was handheld, with the tripod mounted light source aimed at glass face beads on white background paper (Liu et al. 2017).

      The first situation, in a museum, required a portable setup that needed little time for setup, as well as limited space. The camera was handheld, which demands steadiness and a lot of concentration, as the slightest movement at high magnification will alter the framing of the photograph and possibly the sharpness. The images for the North and West African jewelry were shot in the Ornament studio on a sweeptable, with the camera on a sturdy tripod. This helped in making images that were more precisely framed, but it is perfectly feasible to handhold cameras when using strobes and it is my usual mode.

When we took closeup images of ancient Nubian face beads excavated over one hundred years ago, we determined that a halo of whitish glass that surrounded all the face canes was actually badly crazed glass, indicating severe incompatibility with the mosaic glass canes (Liu et al., 2017). With my continuing interest in faience, composite and glass beads of the Warring States Period, I decided to revisit some such beads in our study collection, applying closeup photography to them, with two modes of lighting.

WARRING STATES COMPOSITE BEAD shot with 100mm macro and lit by 580EX external flash, 2.9 centimeters diameter. SAME BEAD BUT WITH 20MM EXTENSION TUBE showing increased magnification of the center portion of bead in left-hand image. Four glaze colors are visible, a red brown and a yellow, colored by iron oxides; a blue, colored by copper-barium tetra-silicate or Chinese Blue; and an opaque white. Because the glazes, especially on the stratified eyes may not have melted completely, there is not extensive running or slumping of these structures (Wood 2001).

SAME WARRING STATES COMPOSITE BEAD shot with same camera setup but lit by studio strobe in overhead softbox and under sweeptable. Note difference in color; that lighting by external flash produces colder colors on the bead. FRAMING not exactly duplicated as above but both types of lighting suffice. Unlike glass Warring States beads, this type of composite bead does not require the use of premade elements. More precise Photoshopping would probably better align colors of both images but using these relatively simple setups yield useful imagery to enable close study of such beads.

      One of the continuing puzzling aspects was how intricate, polychrome designs were made on the composite beads that were often contemporaneous to Warring States glass beads. With a faience or clay core, which were atypical in not using quartz, such beads had built-up or high-relief stratified eyes, apparently achieved by layering low-fired glazes, possibly like overglaze firing with ceramics. Firing glazes over a porous faience core may differ from firing other ceramics or silicates and is unique to the Chinese (Wood 2001). However, no one has really determined if the layered designs were fired at the same time, or if there were multiple firings, but most likely the latter was not practiced. That being said, Yang et al. (2013) believed application of glazes and structures like horned eyes was a stepwise procedure, may have involved pre-made components and molds. I believe only horned glass eyebeads required pre-made components. The closeup images reveal no seepage of the glaze colors or layers into each other, although it is not known if a layer of glaze is allowed to dry before another is applied. According to Wood et al. (1999), the glazes of their composite bead were colored by lead, barium and hematite or iron, with the blue glaze related to Han Blue.

CAMERA SETUP ON TILTALL TRIPOD, showing distance from Mauritanian or Tuareg amulet propped upright on sweeptable. Studio strobes provided the lighting. A bellows or a holding device that enabled precise forward/backward movement would have made framing easier.

      Besides studying the composition of ancient beads, closeup photography can be easily applied to many other materials and objects. Tuareg smiths, as well as those from Mauritania, do extremely fine chasing/engraving, with a minimum of crude tools and equipment, often made by the jewelers themselves, while having no access to magnifying aids like Optivisors. According to Cheminée (2014: 75), jewelers from other African countries bring their pieces to be engraved by Tuareg smiths, since they are so good at this technique. Desiring to look closely at their work and skills compelled me to take closeup photos for this article. When I observe their jewelry, I usually cannot see with my eye what the closeup images reveal; only with Optivisors can I begin to see details of the engraving. One wonders how these remarkable metalsmiths can accomplish all this with only their eyes, simple tools and ambient light, often in poorly lit rooms.

 
 

BEAUTIFUL MAURITANIAN OR TUAREG AMULET, of silver, copper with steel back; it has cutouts that once held red and most likely green-colored material, now too faded to determine their original color. The silver balls are decorative, as the stepped front is held onto the steel back by bezels, not rivets. Note the fine engraving. The pendant/amulet is 5.7 centimeters wide, not including the hanger. CLOSEUP MAURITANIAN/TUAREG PENDANT, showing the very precise engraving, done before the silver balls were attached. Note the jeweler’s strokes, as well as slight errors in certain areas of the pendant. In the right margin, in a width of 1.8 millimeters, the jeweler has engraved seven lines. The uppermost silver ball is 0.6 cm in diameter.

ELEGANT BUT WORN TUAREG GERBA-SHAPED TCHEROT AMULET, of white metal and brass sweated onto steel and cold-joined by bezels. The back has no decorations. This shape is a stylized goatskin, used to carry water. The amulet is 6.5 centimeters tall and subtly domed. ARROW-SHAPED ENGRAVED PANEL, only 1.7 centimeters wide. It is difficult to comprehend how much engraved detail the Tuareg smith can put into a panel with his graver. In a 1.6 millimeters space, there are six engraved lines; in 2.8 millimeters, there are ten engraved lines. This closeup shows virtually every stroke of the engraving tool and how much engraving goes into each decorative panel on these amulets.

TUAREG NECKLACES COLLECTED by A.J. Arkell in the 1930s from Tuareg refugees living around El Fasher, Darfur Province, Sudan, shot with macro lens/external flash. The inner necklace uses silver Agadez crosses, an Idar-Oberstein agate talhakimt, Czech molded-glass pendants that have been chipped or ground to simulate shape of the diamond-shaped Tuareg silver pendants. This modification again shows how the Tuareg adapt foreign ornaments to their style. The outer necklace uses a characteristic Tuareg diamond-shaped pendant, silver bamboo-shaped beads and silver cornerless cube beads. Image originally published in black/white from film in Sara Wither’s article on the Arkell Collection (1998: 78). Courtesy of The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

      In the past, when film was used, I employed more elaborate equipment and lighting had to be much more carefully controlled, as film images cannot be manipulated as much or as easily as digital images post exposure. The film photograph of the Tuareg necklaces shot twenty years ago did not have sufficient depth-of-field to show the entire necklaces sharply. Closeup photography, its lighting, exposure for film and digital cameras and equipment were discussed in depth in my recent book, Photography of Personal Adornment (Liu 2014). I hope more jewelry and bead researchers will apply these relatively simple photographic techniques to extract more information from their study material.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Cheminée, M. 2014. Legacy. Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Brunswick, VT: Brynmorgen Press: 232 p.
Liu, R. K. 1977. “T’alhakimt (Talhatana), a Tuareg Ornament: Its Origins, Derivatives, Copies and Distribution.” The Bead Journal 3 (2): 18-22.
2014. Photography of Personal Adornment: Photographic Techniques for Jewelry/Artwear Craftspeople, Researchers, Scholars and Museum/Gallery Staff. San Marcos, CA: Ornament Inc.: 160 p.
2018. “Tuareg Amulets and Crosses: Saharan and Sahelian Innovation and Aesthetics.” Ornament 40 (3): 58-63.
—, Sage and T. Holland. 2017. “Ancient Nubian Face Beads: The Problem With Suppositions.” Ornament 40 (2): 34-39.
Withers, S. 1998. “The Arkell Collection.” Ornament 21 (3): 78-79.
Wood, N. 2001. The influence of glass technology on Chinese ceramics. In: A. and B. Haughton (eds), The International Ceramics Fair and Seminar June 11. London, International Ceramics Fair: 36-40. 
—, I.C. Freestone and C.P. Stapleton. 1999. Early polychrome glazes on a Chinese ceramic bead of the Warring States period: 1-15. In: International Symposium on Ancient Ceramics: Scientific and Technological Insights (ISAC 1999): J. Guo (ed). Shanghai: International Symposium on Ancient Ceramics: 594 p. (In Chinese with English abstract.)
Yang, Y. et al. 2013. Nondestructive Analysis of Dragonfly Eye Beads from the Warring States Period, Excavated from a Chu Tomb at the Shenmingpu Site, Henan Province, China. Microscopy and Microanalysis 19 (2): 1-9.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

RKL_Contributor.jpg

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament, for many years its in-house photographer, as well as a jeweler using alternative materials like heatbent bamboo and polyester. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. Chinese faience, composites and glass, both ancient and ethnographic, are among his primary research interests. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry, ancient Egyptian jewelry, and the worldwide trade in beads. In this issue, Liu discusses how to take closeup photographs of jewelry and beads for study or research, as well as beginning an occasional series on beads of historic and/or technical significance.

Photography on the Run Volume 39.5

As a photographer, I try to continually improve my skills and adapt to different types of shooting, as well as attempting to utilize more fully the capabilities of modern digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR), especially outside of the Ornament studio. Also, I minimize the amount of equipment I travel with, both to reduce weight and avoid problems with airport security, with the realization that the added weight of a laptop is now a must for functioning outside of the office. Instead of multiple camera bodies and lenses, I restrict myself to one body, perhaps a zoom and a macro lens, and if necessary, an external flash. Often, I just carry a DSLR, preferably with my image stabilized 17-55mm lens. If traveling by car, then a full complement of photography equipment may be carried, including a sturdy tripod and ballhead.

      In this brief article, I show images shot from late 2016 to recently, mainly photographed with makeshift setups, at museum exhibitions or shows and a few studio photos for comparison. With time always a premium, I still try to shoot images that are good enough to use for articles, news, blogs, and documentation, although it is hard to always match the quality produced by studio strobes in our office. When I am photographing outside of the studio, I consider it shooting on the run and often have to improvise without the proper equipment. But, by using external flashes, high ISO, image stabilized lenses and good camera holding techniques, one can get pretty close to studio quality. The images of the Bedouin necklace shows how a studio softbox and its diffused light can produce subtle qualities that enhance an image, like how the cloves and corralles glass beads are so well delineated, versus that shot with external flash in an improvised photo setup. In the latter situation, the more direct, less diffused light does not separate nor model as well the individual components of the necklace.

When I wrote the Photography of Personal Adornment (2014), I had already used almost all of the above techniques, although I had not used as much high ISO. Sometimes increasing the ISO, which is the equivalent of using higher speed film or ASA, produces too much electronic noise. The image of the Loloma bracelet, if examined at a higher magnification, shows noise or grain. Other times, by using high ISO and closing down the aperture of the lens, I can get very good imagery, even though the image on the viewfinder might be too dark to judge. After downloading to a computer and applying a few Photoshop moves, the image vastly improves, as seen in the minute glass facial mosaic of the Corning Museum of Glass (Liu 2014: 135).

Photography can be a difficult pursuit for both the professional and the hobbyist, but these photographs should give you an idea of what is possible with limited equipment.  Experiment and enjoy the process while searching for that satisfying result.


Click Photos to Enlarge

 

“AFRICAN-PRINT FASHION NOW!,” an exhibition at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, a large, well-installed show of vibrant clothing and accessories. Both shot with handheld Canon 7D, 17-55mm image stabilized lens (IS) on P or programmed mode, ISO 2500, 1/80. Left at f4.5, right at f4.0. For exhibitions, the 17-55mm is ideal, although because it was used with a sub sized and not full sensor, there is a magnifying effect, lessening the effectiveness of the 17mm wide angle lens. But the weight of the 7D and the IS lens make such a combination excellent for handheld photography, even though we did have a tripod with us, which requires much more time for each shot and reduces spontaneity. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

 
 

DRAGON BROOCH WITH KINGFISHER FEATHER MOSAICS, 7.5 centimeters wide, from my sister Margaret’s childhood; shot as part of an inventory of her jewelry collection, on a piece of black Tufflock. On the left, M mode, with Canon 7D, 60mm macro and 580EZ external flash with diffuser, at f32, 1/100, ISO 100, handheld, with flash aimed at brooch. On the right is the same brooch shot in the Ornament studio, same settings but with strobe in overhead softbox, and Mylar reflector in front of jewelry to bounce light against vertically oriented brooch. Note differences in amount of reflections and that color of studio images is more purple, as colors of bird feathers change due to the angle of light striking them. Shooting with external flash and macro can yield reproduction quality images.

 
 

BEDOUIN NECKLACE purchased in the 1970s, with the upper portion re-strung by author, given to my sister Margaret as a gift. It is an excellent example of use of cloves for smell as a component, as well as Chinese glass beads, evidence of trade. Right, shot on site with M mode, 7D, 60mm, external flash, f32, 1/100, ISO 100. Left, shot with studio strobe, equipment and settings exactly same.

 
 

CHARLES LOLOMA GOLD BRACELET, in his signature style of inlay, at the Heard Museum exhibition “Beauty Speaks for Us.” Shot with 7D, 17-55mm, manual mode, f14, 1/60, ISO 6400; at higher magnification, one can detect appreciable noise. HOPI DANCER, HALL OF DANCE, MUSEUM OF AMERICAN INDIAN, shot handheld, with 7D, 17-55mm: Left image f2.8, 1/6, ISO 2000, program mode; Right image f6.3, 1/80, ISO 2000, manual mode. While the latter is much darker exposure, the colors are better. The lighting for the installation was very low, to protect the colors of the costume materials. With more trials, a decent exposure would be possible.

 
 

BALEORA NECKLACE, of gold, rock crystals, rubies, nineteenth century, 35.3 centimeters, Rajasthan, as seen in exhibition installation at the Fowler Museum. Shot with tripod mounted Canon 6D, 100mm macro, manual mode, f8.0, 1/80, ISO 2500. Slightly underexposed, details are sharp; note how the curved parts of the necklace catch more light, whereas the more vertical lower portion and pendant are somewhat darker. When an external flash on an extended sync cord was used, the necklace cast too strong a shadow, so only ambient light from the overhead spots was utilized. Ideally, one would use an overhead softbox, with light bounced onto the lower portions of the necklace. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. PATRICK BENESH-LIU is shown using the above equipment to take these shots. A good, steady tripod like the three decades old Tilt-All is mandatory for this type of photography. The light is being projected into the Plex case from overhead spots that are slightly to the side of Patrick.

 
 

ROBERT K. LIU shooting with tripod mounted 6D, 100mm macro, manual mode, f4.0, 1/80, ISO 2500. Because of the shallow depth-of-field at f4.0, one focuses at the midpoint of the image, about where the brass rod of the armature bends. Much of the background blurs, but one can still see reflections off the silver of other jewelry. The 100mm macro is perfect, where one cannot get too close to object. VADLO SILVER TORQUE, early twentieth century, 21.5 centimeters diameter, Rajasthan. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

 
 

      Get Inspired!


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. Recently he has been giving one-on-one photography lessons at our office, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo and matrix jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about photographing in improvised situations while producing near studio quality images, by using accessories like external flash and increasing the ISO of digital cameras.

Light Sources Volume 38.1 Preview

Experiments with Lighting Sources

ETHNOGRAPHIC AND ANCIENT BRACELETS arranged on the frosted Plex of a FOBA sweep table, illuminated from above with a small Chimera softbox, set at 800 watt second power from a Norman P2000D power supply. The Canon 7D was set at ISO 100, lens at f32 and hand-held. The African, Asian and Native American bracelets of stone, shell, boar’s tusks, metal and glass are 6.3 to 10.7 centimeters diameters. Note that shadows are softer with the Chimera softbox compared to those on flash-mounted diffusers. Photoshop was used to resize the images to 320 dpi, sharpened and auto color corrected. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

As a photographer, I constantly think of how I can improve my photography or how to better utilize my equipment. While waiting for my new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment (Liu 2014), to land in California, I realized that I had not used some of my older equipment for a long time, perhaps not since I switched from shooting primarily film to digital. Knowing that this year I have to travel to photograph out of the studio, I wanted to know what was the minimum of equipment I needed to carry, yet be capable of taking macro images that were of good reproduction quality.