The Hardest Keepsake I’ve Had to Photograph

As you’ve seen in my Photo Friday series about memorabilia photography,  I am learning a lot. If you’ve missed any of those posts, click HERE.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve tried to photograph? For me, it was this sparkly hat that I wore when I was a member of the color guard in high school. Now, not the America military flag-bearing color guard. A color guard that uses various flags and props to tell the story for a marching band as they perform half-time shows at football games. I tried using the hat inside my DIY Lightbox. I had one light source from the left. Perhaps I could have used light at the front right to illuminate this headpiece better. But, for all the lighting strategies, what I was really struggling with was how to orient the hat. I don’t have a white ‘foam head’  that I could set it on and I didn’t want to go through the effort to make/purchase/borrow one. I just wanted something ‘simple’ but nice. So, I played around to see if I could have a different orientation I liked better.

This angle shows more of the bow from the back, which I loved to wear. Other’s in my color guard line hated this hate. I just didn’t like having my head put into a tight french braid by someone who didn’t respect my tender head. Otherwise, I loved the effect of this hat. So, if I could show off the point and the bow a little better, I would be well pleased. I was starting to see that my box wasn’t the right size for this object in this orientation. Cropping out the ‘edges’ of the cardboard was going to be a challenge.

I thought I’d try to look down on the hat, but I really don’t like this particular orientation. I’m not exactly sure why. Right now, I like the first photo I showed, but I still wanted to try something different. But before I did, I tried a few more photos. This next one looks nice.

This photo isn’t too bad. In a collection of photos, I would say this would make the cut. But, could I make it any better?

My first attempt with the hat out of the lightbox was a failure on so many levels. The backdrop wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped. I’m pretty sure I was too close to the backdrop. If I had moved forward more, that might have helped. What was really bugging me was how harsh the lights and how strong the shadows were. The great thing about digital photography and photographing for myself, I can scrap the idea quickly and try something else.

I tried a different setup. I still use side lighting from the left. This time I used a reflector. I know I could improve the quality of the photos. However, I felt this one was good enough for me for now. So I stopped.

I think the biggest challenge this object gave me is in what orientation to arrange the headpiece for photography and which angle to snap the photo in. If I was more patient, perhaps I could have played more and finally have an award-winning photograph. But I suppose the question is one of balance and purpose. I’m not trying to win any awards with these photographs. I want to photograph my memorabilia in a way that a memory can be triggered.

When I see this photo, the sounds of the marching band, the great times and the bad times from being in color guard for three years come back to mind. I remember the coldest day I ever marched in. And I remember my color guard friends and instructor. I believe that’s the whole point of our photography. Sure we can invest hours and hours in trying to get the ‘right’ photograph. For some items, I would keep trying until I finally got it right. But for other objects, good enough is exactly that, good enough.

I’d love to know what was the hardest memorabilia you’ve ever had to photograph. What was your solution?

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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