How to photograph curved glassware

Two problems with photographing curved glassware are reflections and dust.

Lionware Fruit Compote Dish (c.1858)
Lionware Fruit Compote Dish (c.1858)

The first transatlantic cable was completed in 1858 and a variety of glassware designs – everything from drinking glasses to plates and platters – were made to commemorate it starting in that year. This fruit compote is one of the larger examples and compared to many, shows a restrained design. The ocean waves are symbolized by the undulating frosting on the base. They rise to the three lions facing in all directions, showing the global reach of the British empire. Around the lid glass bubbles symbolize the strands of the cable and the solitary lion that forms the handle surmounting the lid represents the superiority of the empire.

Two problems with photographing curved glassware are reflections and dust. I start by washing the piece to remove dust and finger prints. It’s glass so use a mild detergent in warm water and dry with a lint free towel.  When it’s dry, handle it with cotton gloves to avoid adding more finger prints. I place it into a light tent with a black backdrop (glass doesn’t show up well with a light background). One off camera flash from the side reflects around the entire tent. Make sure the front of the tent is in place, especially at the top so that the room does not reflect on the upward facing planes. The camera and tripod are black and I wear black so that none of us are visible on the forward facing planes and everything behind us is too dark to be visible. The downward facing planes reflect the black backdrop the piece is sitting on. I focus on the faces of the lions, in this case. I slightly over expose the highlights so that when I reduce the exposure in Lightroom, the blacks become saturated and the details become clearer.
With this artifact, I took a number of photographs and chose this one, with the top lion in a 3/4 classic portrait. I shot it both with and without the fruit, but I think the fruit filled version gives a splash of colour and the best impression of scale.

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Author: Pete Cramp

I’ve been crazy about photography since I got my first camera in 1970 (I was eight), and went to Niagara College for radio/television/film production. My career took a strange detour into Information Technology, where I coordinate IT disaster recovery plans, but I’ve taken 2016 off to establish my photography business, in preparation for retirement. My passion is documentation of historical artifacts and antiques, shooting anything from pocket watches to antique tractors. Through my company, “Artifact Photography” I offer photographic services to collectors, museums, and small businesses.