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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> Eliminating Reflections? Here's one way...
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04/09/2013 11:29:32 AM · #1
Over the past month I've been photographing the Michelangelo and Mattia Preti exhibits at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary.
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This has been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, full of extraordinary challenges ranging from logistical to technical to creative. As yesterday was the last day that I would have complete access to the gallery for an extended period of time, it was a now-or-never time to complete the exhibit catalog. I not only had a shot-list to work through, I also had some major obstacles to overcome.

In addition to working in fairly tight time constraints, I also had to handle the issue of reflections. Because of the layout of the installation, the framed-in-glass drawings reflected the framed drawings from the other side of the gallery. Even though there are numerous switches for the gallery lighting, the circuits run from one end to the other - not from side to side. And for obvious reasons, I couldn't remove the frames from the wall. This meant that I would have to come up with a means for eliminating the reflections.

My first idea was to hang a black cloth from a backdrop stand and cut a hole for the camera. As I already had a fairly large (5'x10') piece of black cloth, all I needed was a suitable stand. However, there were a number of issues with this. For one, if I cut a hole, I would be stuck with not being able to adjust the camera height. Two, my backdrop stand is a studio stand; it is meant to be set up and not moved. That wouldn't work here as everything would have to be moved at least 25 times.

I explored buying a lightweight backdrop system from some folks that sell tradeshow backdrops, but cost and availability made that untenable.

While scratching my head, I came upon the idea of cutting the cloth in half and hanging it from a long PVC pipe that I could put on a couple lightstands. Eureka! Problem solved!

Well, sort of. It was a good starting point and it did yield the results I needed, but it was way too much work. The lightstands had to be moved in tandem, and then the tripod had to be moved, and even with a tape measure, it was hard to maintain consistency from one shot to the next. The logistical overhead was just too much to make it a long-term, feasible solution.

So I went back to the drawing board (well, notepad) and came up with a prototype for a portable "blackbox".
My immediate concerns were:
Stability. Even though the PVC sat nicely on top of the lightstands, I wanted something where I would have no concerns whatsoever about it toppling over.

Consistency. I needed my images to be consistent, both in terms of exposure and composition.

Mobility. I needed to be able to move it about the shooting location by myself. It's nice to have an assistant, but that may not always be the case.

Portability. With a 4'x10' footprint and reaching up 6.5', I had to be able to assemble and disassemble it onsite (as well as be able to transport it easily).

It took one day and only two trips to Home Depot to get the BlackBox off the drawing board and ready for use. The hardest part was learning just how far I needed to push the pipe into the joints so that it would be stable, but not permanent (after all, I needed to be able to take it apart). In addition to the PVC piping, I put a 4'x4' platform across the middle; this platform would support both the wheels necessary for moving it, but also the tripod (and, as it turns out, my laptop).

I made a couple dry runs, assembling and disassembling the whole thing, not only to make sure it worked, but also to get a sense of how much time I would need onsite (since setup and take down time had to be subtracted from my available time). Once I was satisfied, I was able to pack everything comfortably into the back of our smallish SUV.

In the field, the BlackBox performed wonderfully. I was able to get all my images within the time allotted and the results were spectacular. Even though I uncovered a number of areas for improvement, this prototype satisfied my four major concerns and exceeded my expectations performance-wise. I am quite confident in saying there is no way I could have completed this inventory without this apparatus. And now, as soon as I have time, I'll start working on version 1.1...

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The bottom line, here, is that I will go to whatever lengths necessary to capture and deliver the images my clients need, regardless of the obstacles and challenges presented.


Message edited by author 2013-04-09 11:54:28.
04/09/2013 11:37:33 AM · #2
Wow! And now you can add plumber and inventor to your remsumé. Nice work!

Message edited by author 2013-04-09 11:37:42.
04/09/2013 11:38:22 AM · #3
This is my kind of problem solving, DIY, kickass photography! :)
04/09/2013 11:38:33 AM · #4
Brilliantly 'simple' solution with excellent results and the take home message is terrific too. Altogether another wonderful contribution for us all to learn from. Thanks Skip!
04/09/2013 11:38:59 AM · #5
Back in the day (WAY back) we did photography, documenting installations, for a number of museums, including the L.A. County Museum of Art, The original Getty (in Malibu), and the San Diego County Museum of Art. This was done with 4x5 camera and photographer-provided lighting. We ran into all of the issues you dealt with, and we constructed a rolling cart on which we set up the camera, and which also carried supports for the lights and a black-cloth masking system. It worked a treat when we got it ironed out :-) Once the camera was all zeroed in, all we had to do was crank it up and down for different centers on the displayed art. We had two sets of wheels and a lever system, so we could roll the dolly at precise right angles: we'd get the horizontal center, flip the lever, and set the distance-from-wall to frame the art.

Anyway, if anyone here can appreciate what you had to deal with, it'd be me :-) Well done!
04/09/2013 11:39:11 AM · #6
great info Skip.

04/09/2013 11:51:52 AM · #7
That was awesome and informative.
04/09/2013 02:38:56 PM · #8
Great thinking Skippy! The only way I see that I would change it might be to rig the uprights so that they could be very easily extended or lowered, perhaps by telescoping the upper pipe into the lower one, with holes and a pin or bolt to allow adjusting height quickly and easily.
A couple of "tee" fittings , larger size than the uprights, and reducing bushings to fit them to the cross pipe, where the elbows are now, would allow you to keep the same pipes and still be able to move the top pipe up and down, using holes drilled in the uprights for pins to set the height.
You built a "pole-arizer" . : )

Message edited by author 2013-04-09 14:45:22.
04/09/2013 02:55:21 PM · #9
above and beyond, thank you Skip
04/09/2013 04:14:04 PM · #10
Thanks for sharing your experience Skip!
04/09/2013 08:24:20 PM · #11
First, congrats on such an awesome assignment!!!! And second, I'm not surprised at your inventiveness!
04/09/2013 09:54:09 PM · #12
I never tire of seeing the many ingenious ways in which DPCers solve problems! Great solution Skip!
04/09/2013 09:56:21 PM · #13
Originally posted by kirbic:

I never tire of seeing the many ingenious ways in which DPCers solve problems! Great solution Skip!

I agree I learned so much from the DPC that I have never before! This is awesome place!
04/09/2013 11:07:35 PM · #14
Awesome post! DIY wins again!
04/10/2013 07:44:35 AM · #15
thank ya'll for your kind words! i'm just glad to be able to contribute a little here and there.

@waddy: i'll follow up with you later. i had some ideas about making stuff adjustable and would like to bounce off you.

@bear: what you described is where i can see this heading, and i really appreciate your experienced, independent 3rd party validation ;-)

stay tuned...we're not done yet... :D

04/10/2013 07:59:08 AM · #16
Cool, I'm all for learning DIY stuff esp in this ultra-costly hobby I have!
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