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!

 
 

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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.