First Class Photography: Photography of Collections

At some point, most people collect things. They may gather valuable objects, and they may simply indulge an interest. Perhaps, you collect something such as model cars, Barbie dolls, old cameras, model trains, comic books, coins, or any of a number of other items. There are many reasons for needing or wanting to photograph your treasures. You may want a photographic record of your collection that you can enjoy and share, or you may wish to keep a record for insurance purposes. You may want to share your images over the Internet with other collectors or use them to sell one or more items from the collection through online auction houses such as A photographic record is also a good way to keep track of the collection as it expands.

The equipment you’ll need to photograph the collection may vary, but it would be good to begin with a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera with interchangeable lenses to enable you to do the close-up work needed. You may wish to work with a basic lens and add close-focusing lenses to it. A macro lens is good for this type of work. The best lens to work with, though, is a macro zoom lens. The macro lens gives extreme close-up views. To use a camera other than a SLR is possible but extremely difficult. In the SLR, what you see is what you get–not necessarily true with any other camera.

For lighting, you may use anything from inexpensive reflector photographic lamps equipped with 3,200K bulbs to natural sunlight. When using lamps, you’d generally use tungsten-balanced film, but daylight film with an 80A filter will also work. Of course, if you’re handy with a flash off of the camera, you can use that instead of lamps–which tend to become hot after a while. If you’re lucky enough to have a digital camera, you may be able to do without the special lighting equipment altogether. Often, these cameras will filter color differences and handle light balances nicely. Sometimes, a bit of translucent material between the light source and the model will soften the light and make a more pleasing effect. It keeps down unwanted glare and reflections, lending a more realistic look.

I have a die-cast model car collection. Sometimes, I like to photograph several cars together and sometimes I prefer to shoot them individually. If I’m featuring a single car as a straight shot, seamless paper–which rolls underneath the car and up the back–works nicely as a background. The paper background leaves no unsightly lines in the photograph. However, at times I may wish to feature a car in a diorama setting, as though it were a full-sized vehicle in a realistic setting. Let your imagination be your guide here. I’ve seen photographs of miniature aircraft set down on a (real) runway with a hanger (slightly blurred) in the background. Just looking at the image, it was very difficult to determine that the subject wasn’t a real aircraft awaiting takeoff. Sometimes, you can use a photographic background of buildings or other scenes to increase the illusion of reality in the photo. Another, wilder background to use would be Mylar or some other exotic, shiny material that reflects light. Use your imagination and have fun.

I also have a camera collection and usually wish to photograph these as a group. I use my images for insurance purposes. However, occasionally, I wish to sell one of my cameras and feature it on an auction site. Then, I’ll photograph it individually. Whatever the purpose of the shot, you should pay close attention to depth of field. Check it often before shooting to make sure the important features are in focus.

Coin collections may be shot the same way (i.e., either singly or groups). Coins are usually shot flat, so you must be very sure to watch for unwanted reflections. When photographing items such as coin or stamp collections, sharpness is a must, because you’re trying to portray the value of the item as accurately as possible with detail and color. Any type of doll collection is photographed using the same techniques you’d use for model cars. Again, the lighting and sharpness must always be checked and rechecked during the set-up process.

The photographs you produce can be shared with guests, friends, and relatives without your having to pull the actual items out and endanger them. A nice photo album works well for this purpose. When done with attention to detail, the photographs themselves can become collectors’ items. Later in your life, when you may have disposed of the collection itself, the photos can bring you a lot of pleasure and good memories.

If you keep the photos in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box, they can be invaluable–especially if you’re unfortunate enough to have your house and collection burn or be burglarized. So, even if you don’t have a collection of your own, your brother, sister, mother or father may have one. A photographic record would be a thoughtful gift to them–as long as you don’t break or lose any of the items. If their collection is destroyed or stolen at some point in the future, the owners will never be able to thank you enough. Wouldn’t it be super to have them indebted to you like that?

by Willis T. Bird

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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