Photographing obsidian: a different approach.

Obsidian artifacts are notoriously difficult to photograph. In most cases you are dealing with an object that is simultaneously black, reflective, and translucent (or even transparent). Any one of those properties makes for a difficult subject, but when combined… I’d almost rather photograph a ballbearing. Trying to light the thing in such a way as to bring out the flake scars, give an idea of depth and roundness (or flatness), and avoid reflections of flashes is no easy feat. So when I recently made a pretty nice looking point I thought that rather than knock myself out taking the usual slew of technical shots, I would eschew archaeological photographic convention and light it a little more creatively. More after the jump.

The starting point. Pun intended.

What first got me thinking about alternative lighting for obsidian artifacts as a failed attempt at streamlining my photo editing. Basically, instead of shooting against a black, white, or grey background, I set the artifacts against a bright green background, and then used Photoshop’s “select: colour range” tool to cut out the green. Unfortunately, doing that with obsidian you just end up with a very greenish point, as the translucent/transparent rock lets the underlying background  through. Since then shooting obsidian has become a multi-stage process (I’ll explain in another post- maybe), but the green glow gave me an idea: blow a bunch of light through a point, and see what it does. Well, this is what it does:

A nice glow, and very interesting colours.

The first trial (above) was done by setting the point above an upward-facing Metz flash with a lightbox on it, and shooting downward. As you can see, the Metz lit up the point quite effectively. A little quick’n’dirty fiddling on GIMP to get a black background and there you have it. Kind of pretty.

A more diffuse light for a less blazing point.

The second round switched from the direct flash to bouncing the flash off a sheet of white paper beneath the point. Nice results as well. Perhaps not quite as striking as the first one, but the details do not seem to get quite as obliterated in some places.

Not content to leave it at shots of glowing obsidian, I got to playing with the point as a GOBO, and shooting the shadow (or rather the projection(?)) created by the light pouring through the point.

It’s magic!

I wish I could get a full-length shot of the shadow itself, without the point in the way. Can I…? GIMP’s perspective tool wasn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty cool image nonetheless. A little more tweaking and experimentation may be required. But that will be a future post.

It looks like a brain, or a nebula, or something like that.


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