Photographing your antique treasures

If you really enjoy researching, discovering and acquiring pieces of older and antique furniture, not to mention repairing, restoring and maintaining your functional links to the past, sooner or later you are going to get the urge to photograph them. You have all kinds of legitimate practical reasons to make a record of your treasures, such as for inventory and insurance purposes and the like, but perhaps you just want to brag a little – show off the newest acquisition to a distant cousin or impress a friend who is still stuck in the “brass and glass” phase.

When you take pictures of a piece of furniture, take pictures of the whole thing. You can’t possibly show all the details of an ornate chest of drawers in one photo. Shoot a whole series of shots like the glamour mags do. Show a full frontal shot, then a side angle, then an oblique, then a top shot, then go to details like hardware, carving, turnings, legs, feet and casters. Don’t forget to shoot the back and don’t forget to get shots with drawers and doors closed and open, and be sure to record the important joinery such as on drawers and stretchers on legs. If your camera has a macro function, it is particularly useful with the finer details.

Lighting can make or break your photo efforts. Since most of your shooting will be indoors you probably will be using the built in flash. In this case, do not take a picture straight on of a flat surface like a chest front. You will get a photo full of your own flash reflected back in your face. Employ a slight angle so the flash bounces away from you. Even when using a flash unit you must be very aware of external light sources. An uncovered window in your frame will cause your automatic camera to react to the “backlight” and the resulting photo will be too dark. Always work with natural light to your back if at all possible. Employ auxiliary lighting to your advantage. Even a simple drop light from your garage set at a 45-degree angle between you and the piece will provide excellent side light while your flash fills in the front. Two drops are even better.

Finally, don’t try to get too much in one shot. It’s virtually impossible to show an entire dining room or bedroom set in one shot. Take an overall “group” picture just for the record but then shoot each piece individually after that.

A little practice and a lot of attention to important details will make you a very good furniture photographer.

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