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Photographing shiny objects

PR 10 181 England
30 Nov 2011 5:32PM

I wondered if anybody could give me some advice when photographing a shiny/reflective subject.
I am trying to photograph an electric guitar and want to try and enhance the shapes of the furniture on the instrument and also bring out the natural reflections in the wood but without getting those awful specular highlights.
I have tried but with little success so far.
I am using two flashguns.( SB800 and 600) with there diffusers down and shooting in manual mode with radio triggers.
I am in a room with low light (curtains drawn) so I can give some atmosphere to the image just by using the light emitted from the flashguns.

If anybody could give me some advice it would be gratefully received


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Pete Plus
17 18.8k 97 England
30 Nov 2011 5:37PM
A polarising filter can help but as you're using flash you can't see the effect it has until the shot is taken. Try holding a torch or reading light from the position of the flash to see the highlights and the affect a polariser will have.

A soft box or large diffuser panel can help reduce the direct light of the flash. You can buy softboxes, or if you're just after a makeshift effect grab a white sheet and hold that a foot or so in front of the flash to create a soft effect. Experiment with it at different distances from the flash to see how it affects the highlights.
mikesavage 16 299 2 England
30 Nov 2011 6:39PM
Be aware that any reflections from a metallic surface will be unaffected by the use of a polarising filter.
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
30 Nov 2011 10:54PM
Don't use flash. You don't know how they will reflect when you compose the subject and arrange the flash positions.

For a still life like a guitar, longer exposures are no problem, so use continuous lighting so that you can see the effects and any reflections before pressing the button.

And, if you are using normal household lamps, you can adjust the WB of your Raw file in software.

Hugo 13 649 United Kingdom
30 Nov 2011 10:58PM
Bounce the flash off the ceiling???
ianrobinson Plus
8 1.2k 8 United Kingdom
30 Nov 2011 11:24PM
Personally as mentioned above, don't use flash and keep away from any harsh light source use tripod and a longer exposure if required.
Window light can be a really nice source of light if you feel the need for light on the subject and if thats too harsh put a thin white bed sheet up at the window, this will act like a defuser.
Nick_w Plus
11 4.3k 99 England
1 Dec 2011 7:05AM
Flash shouldn't be a problem - its just a light source. When you say diffuser do you mean the dome diffuser that comes with it? These arnt really what you need.

You will need to soften the light to avoid the specular highlights, softbox / shoot thro umbrella something like that ( if you don't have any improvise, muslin, bed sheet etc).

Also think about the lighting angles and where the spec highlights are. It's not like film days, just check the review screen then alter the lights accordingly.

All that said there's a lot to be said for natural light.

Sometimes specular highlights can be good. For example in out of focus areas they produce some great bokeh - particularly with prime lenses at wide apertures.
hobbo Plus
7 1.2k 2 England
1 Dec 2011 8:10AM
Don't use a flash, just diffused lighting....or..............if you wan't to use flash make your own diffuser/s to fit over the flash:

I take Macro shots of shiny insects and made an excellent diffuser snoot from a cheap Poundland tranluscent plastic water jug:

The base of the jug was carefully cut out to fit over the flash, the top side (when fitted) is lined with kitchen foil and the layers of tissue kitchen towel (according to diffusion required) is held on the whole with elastic bands.....it works like a dream and costs almost nothing:

You can use ice-cream containers in the same way too.........it all depends on what off camera flash you are using:

I find the setting.............S 160 and A 16 ideal for insects......I don't know about guitars:

Have fun!

thewilliam 9 6.1k
1 Dec 2011 11:36AM
This task is much easier if done in a studio. I used to assist a photographer who did the catalogue shots for a trophy company.

If you just use a light-tent or other ultra-soft lighting, the product won't have a clearly defined shape or texture. We used to introduce carefully shaped pieces of coloured card into the set so that their reflections defined the shape.
Kentoony 6 2 United Kingdom
1 Dec 2011 10:33PM
25 years ago I used to use a product called anti glare spray try http://www.stanleysonline.co.uk/product-1410.htm
29 Dec 2011 3:16PM
Light: Science and Magic is your friend here Smile
Im only halfway through but it as an amzing resource for all of this sort of stuff. If only i understood it all lol.....

I think (someone correct where ive gone wrong....)
You need to eliminate direct reflection, so the light has to be outside the family of angles (which spreads from the angle of incidence-ish), so make sure your big diffused softbox or whatever is outside this angle. In practice this means judging the line in your head that the reflection of the light path will bounce off the guitar (or from camera to guitar and out, as if the camera was the light). If you make sure you position the light outside that angle it should avoid the direct reflections.

This might end up a bit flat however, as some direct reflection might help shape the guitar, especially if its glossy, so you could use a second light inside the family of angles, or gobo the big light so that you effect both.

This looks a lot easier than it sounds when you see the diagrams, im useless at trying to repeat the details without having it to hand.....
Of course in the past i would just have guessed until it looked right, but its quite cool knowing the science behind it (or rather not knowing, but having a vague idea, as in my case).
14 Jan 2012 11:36PM
I photograph alot of billet metal / plastic products, i find angles are everything using constant light sources
rob_marshall 7 96 1 United Kingdom
14 Jan 2012 11:43PM
Either use a sheet as Pete said, or try bouncing the light off large reflectors
lawbert 11 1.8k 15 England
15 Jan 2012 3:36PM
Some excellent ideas here and I really like the idea of the polariser as I have been meaning to take some decent pictures of my Bass which has a quilted maple face which is hard to capture the depth of the grain as its covered in a very deep polyester lacquer, as is the graphite neck.

I tried a quick picture by bouncing a 580ex II speedlite off the ceiling which has cut the highlights down to a minimum but they are still there.


And one with natural light which has even more reflections but still hasnt done the quilted maple justice.


Im considering lighting the bass with a very low powered diffused or bounced flash a section of the bass at a time and then combining all the images into one final image in photoshop...Does anyone have any ideas on this?
66tricky 11 742 Scotland
15 Jan 2012 6:33PM
Use a polarizer over the lens and try to find a piece of polarized sheet that you can place over the flash. By orienting the polarisers at 90 degrees to one another you can eliminate all reflections (except those from metallic objects). This is known as cross polarisation. You can control how much reflection is removed by altering the rotational position of the lens filter.

Old LCD screens a are a good source of polarising sheet. you can also find it on Ebay.

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