An Ode to Silver, or, Silver: A Story of Love, Betrayal, and Triumph

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What’s in a name? That which we call silver by any other name would be as difficult to photograph. Look, when someone brings you what is, effectively, a mirror and asks you to take a photograph of it a few things will likely run through your head. I won’t list them here because it involves some cursing. Don’t despair, however, all you need are some basic physics.

Yup, physics.

Hello, reader, it’s me!

See, photography is so much more than many people think. You can’t just hit a button and suddenly have a fantastic photo. It just doesn’t work that way. Trust me. I’ve tried. Photography is physics, and mathematics, and psychology, and an art form. In the case of photographing something reflective, it’s mostly physics.

It seems daunting to work with light, but it’s predictable when you get down to it. Light travels in waves and a straight line, called a ray, from the source. When the “incident ray,” the one coming from the source, strikes a surface, it reflects off at an equal but opposite angle, known as the “reflected ray.”

The easiest way to photograph something highly reflective, then, is to give it something other than the room around it (and the photographer) to reflect back into the lens. In the case of silver, the best thing is something white. White will make the silver look the most genuinely silvery.

There is one other small issue, however. You still need light to be able to reach your shining silver subject. Putting white posterboards around it will cause it to reflect white, but it won’t allow you much freedom when it comes to lighting. The solution comes in the form of scrim, which is a semi-transparent material that lets some light through. You can purchase scrim in varying degrees of opacity.

Surrounding the silver pitcher with semi-transparent scrim allows for light control while still reflecting white back into the lens rather than the room around the object.
The low opacity of the scrim allows additional lights to be placed along the sides while still maintaining the clean reflection.

Positioning the camera slightly above the level of the pitcher and blocking the area beneath the camera with a white card completes the setup, allowing the camera to see nothing but white reflecting off the surface.

The completed setup from the view of the pitcher.

The result is a clean image that looks genuinely silver and requires little more than contrast and color correction in post-processing. There is no reflection of the room, the camera, or myself visible on the surface.

The finished image.

Silver artifacts are beautiful and terrible. They have a romantic quality even when they’re simple objects, but they require so much care and time. Using these techniques to photograph silver presents it in an idyllic setting and under the best possible conditions for the material allowing their true beauty to shine. Get it? Shine?

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