Photographing Lustrous Metal

Slinky 8, photo by Harold Davis.

A reader of my Digital Photography Digital Field Guide writes:

Thanks for your excellent book which has helped me learn about digital photography. My speciifc question is how to photograph stainless steel containers. (I work for a company that manufactures these vessels for the food and chemical idnustries.)

I can’t any information about how to do this in your book, or anywhere else.

As product photographers know, metal objects are among the hardest things to photograph. A small technical issues is that refelective surfaces will foil most autofocus mechanisms–so you should plan to focus your camera manually.

The overall pictures is that a very reflective surface is like a blank slate. How it looks depends on the color that you reflect into it. Also, if you are not careful, the reflections will show the setup you used to photograph the metal object–and even the photographer.

Here are some more suggestions for photographing metal:

To make shiney metal look its best, one usually has to reflect warm color into it. One way to do this is by placing a colored board just out of the camera view, but where it is picked up by the metal as a reflection. This has to monitored carefully.

Next, light source reflections are a huge source of problems when photographing something reflective (like a steel vessel). Perhaps the easiest approach without a very fancy studio setup is to photograph the containers outdoors on a cloudy but bright day with your camera on a tripod and using a high f/stop (like f/22 or f/32 or even greater) so that you get a great deal of depth of field.

Another approach is to combine natural light and an incandescent light source, still placing the colored boards just outside the area photographed to add an interesting color effect. (A tripod and a setting with high depth of field should still be used.)

I followed both approaches to light the metal slinky in the pictures that accompany this story, and I think the photos as a whole create a very interesting set of patterns.

This entry was posted in Hardware, Patterns, Photography.

One Comment

  1. chiaroscuro October 22, 2005 at 3:43 pm #

    What a fantastic idea! Great abstract.

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