Photographing Trophies (Part 1)

In this series of post,  I’ll show you just how hard photographing trophies can be if you don’t have a clue what to do. Thankfully, somewhere along my journey, I had a wonderful friend come to my house for a tutoring session in photography. In return, I fed him and gave him a potential solution for one of his challenges. Let’s get started with the story.

As many of you have, I have a few trophies of the activities I’ve participated in. The trophies can range from a few inches tall to several feet. Once the trophies exceed the size of your lightbox, it becomes time to try a different approach for photographing the family heirlooms. You’ll need a location in which to take pictures of these objects that has a clutter-free background and good lighting. According to many photography blogs, one of the easiest ways to do this is to use a seamless backdrop and set up a few lights.
There are so many ways you can create a seamless backdrop. I enlisted the aid of my engineering husband for this project. He came up with a system that would allow me to have any size backdrop I want. I just change the configuration of several pieces of PVC pipe and I can have a medium sized backdrop, or I can extend it full length and have a 90” backdrop. I purchased 5 yards of 90” white muslin and I’m not ready to learn how to take pictures of objects that don’t fit inside my lightbox.
Unfortunately, for the first object of choice, I chose my color guard trophy.
Color Guard Trophy
exposure 1/60, aperture f/3.2, focal length: 6mm, ISO 800,
vivid color setting, spot focus, custom white balance

Now, at first glance, that’s a fairly decent picture. However, the shadows are odd, the angle of my camera to the trophy seems odd, and there is a lot of glare. Now, I’ll admit that many amateur photographers would take this picture and be happy. I’m not satisfied with this. I want something better.

I tried a few more pictures.
Color Guard Trophy

Shifted the light position

Color Guard Trophy

Another light position

Color Guard Trophy
Changed my settings

exposure 1/100, aperture f/4, focal length: 6mm, ISO 800, vivid color setting, spot focus, custom white balance, macro setting, used flash with + 2/3

Flash does not work!
Color Guard Trophy

exposure 1/200, aperture f/4, focal length: 7.3 mm, ISO 800, vivid color setting, center weight average focus, custom white balance, macro setting

Color Guard Trophy
Tried flash again.

exposure 1/60, aperture f/3.5, focal length: 6 mm, ISO 800, vivid color setting, spot focus, custom white balance, macro setting, flash

Color Guard Trophy
Color adjustment with flash

exposure 1/60, aperture f/4, focal length: 6 mm, ISO 800, vivid color setting, spot focus, Tungsten color balance, used flash with + 2/3

Color Guard Trophy
Re-positioned the lights

exposure 1/60, aperture f/3.2, focal length: 6 mm, ISO 800, vivid color setting, spot focus, Tungsten color balance, used flash with + 2/3

I was frustrated. I just couldn’t take the kind of picture I wanted of the trophy. I was ‘playing’ but not getting any better than the first picture. Plus, the seamless backdrop wasn’t looking it’s best.
I decided to search the internet and I learned that trophies are tough. They have highly reflective areas which can, among other problems, capture the background (you in a red shirt) or it bounces light back.

I also decided that covering a chair with my backdrop wasn’t going to work. I thought elevating the trophy off the ground and using the backdrop as the cover would make the object easier to work with. Nope. My backdrop was no longer seamless. So, I would be trying a different approach to improve that quality.

My first attempts with a seamless backdrop were not what I had hoped. I’m still very much an amateur and it’s time to consult a mentor.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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