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Six: Avoid Distracting Reflections

Shiny guitars and basses are cool to look at but a real drag to photograph. Recently I was photographing my friend's guitar, which happens to be very shiny and very black - essentially it acts like a mirror and reflects everything in the room (below):

The reflection is so bad you can even make out my PowerPuff girls T-shirt if you look real carefully. If the surface of the instrument is this reflective, turning the instrument slightly to one side is not really going to help - instead of seeing a reflection of yourself, you'll just see a different part of the room instead. So how did I take this picture below? (Brain teaser...)

Well, you know how light surfaces reflect a lot of light, right? Well, for dark surfaces, the opposite is true - they absorb light. So a common "trick" is to position a large dark surface in front of the shiny reflective object in such a way that when you look at it from a certain angle, the large dark thing (in this case, my black futon) reflects no discernable "image" on the surface of the instrument. I think a picture is easier to understand than that last sentence - try to imagine me taking the picture from the location/direction of the bunny:

See how the guitar is now "reflecting nothing" towards the bunny (me)? From this angle, then, you get the black graphite weave of the guitar's top, instead of a clear view of my desk, computer, and bookshelf on the other side of the room.

A similar idea can be used when you want to control "smaller" unwanted reflections. You can use a small piece of strategically positioned cardboard to block the path of light to a specific part of an instrument - for example, excessive light reflecting off a shiny surface like a bridge, or chrome pickup covers. I'll often cut out a piece of cardboard to the desired shape and size (something about the size of a playing card does the trick), tape it to a chopstick, then position it where it needs to go to block the incoming light (you may want to ask someone to help you do this if you don't have three hands).

Seven: Make Use of "Good Reflections"

Reflected light isn't always bad for your photos. Sometimes "controlling reflections" may not mean eliminating them, but rather creating them. In addition to lighting the subject with direct light, you can also use reflected light. You create reflected light by "bouncing it" to a part of the bass that is "in a shadow" and therefore hard to see. This can be easily done by using a reflector card, and doing this can really make a photograph look nicer, especially if you have only one light source. A reflector card can be made by simply glueing a sheet of white paper onto a piece of cardboard. The white surface of the paper may not be suitable for "large subjets" like automobile photography or Sports Illustrated-type swimsuit photography, but it'll do just fine for photographing small things like bass guitars. In a pinch I've even used things like aluminum pot-lids or baking pans as reflectors - these work well too.

Here's just one example of how you might use a reflector card to help direct light onto your subject:


As you can see, in the photo on the left, there is directional light falling on the bass from the left. To me, this picture is already "okay" - the wood, bridge, and pickups are all clearly visible. In the photo on the right, a white reflector was placed alongside the body of the bass, just beyond the camera's view. The additional light reflected from the surface of the card helps show two things lacking in the photo on the left: the glossy finish of this bass becomes more evident, and also the contours of the instrument's rounded sides are more clearly described. For this reason, I think the photo on the right is a little "better". Here's a picture of the whole "set up":

In this picture I'm using the lid of a cardboard storage box, supported by a guitar stand.
Basically, use anything you can find lying around the house -
aluminum foil wrapped around cardboard, a plastic cutting board, etc.

That's pretty simple. But whether you want to go through the trouble of actually doing this is up to you - lots of people won't notice any difference. When I'm feeling lazy (which is most of the time) I don't even bother using reflector cards. But I suppose it's a good thing to know how to do, just in case you want to take an extra special picture of an extra special bass.

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