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.