Mirrors and artworks with mirror-like surfaces pose some obvious challenges for photographers. When the artwork is an image printed directly onto a mirrored surface, the challenge becomes that much more acute. This was the case for me when I photographed David Greene’s large (15 x 90 1/2 in.) Logplug and other drawings, which features an image screen-printed in ink directly onto gold Mylar. The highly reflective surface makes viewing the drawings difficult, regardless of the lighting condition.
The first challenge with photographing any mirror is how to position the camera so that it is not reflected in the mirror’s surface. Anyone who has perused eBay or Craigslist looking for antique furniture will know that is easier said than done. Many unintended self-portraits can be found in such listings. How to avoid that? Sometimes the mirror can simply be angled away from the camera, then a panel of some sort can be positioned to reflect in the mirror. If the object must remain square, the camera should be positioned off the central axis so it is no longer in the mirror view, then the object recentered using a lens shift or an image crop.
With the David Greene piece, the object did indeed need to be perfectly square to the camera. The artwork was set up near vertically on a specially constructed support that angled the piece backward slightly with support from below. The angle of the artwork was matched exactly with the angle of the camera. (I find that a level app on my iPhone is an excellent tool for this.) The extreme proportions of the artwork’s shape allowed me to position it within the bottom third of the viewfinder, keeping any possible reflection of the camera above the work itself.
One problem was solved, but I still needed to control what would be reflected in the surface, and for that I employed a trick often used for photographing silver objects. I hung a nine-foot roll of white seamless paper above the camera and pulled the paper down, crossing in front of the camera and curving it behind the artwork. I then cut a small hole in the paper to allow the lens of the camera to peek through.
I then positioned my lighting to illuminate the surface of the white paper precisely so that it would reflect evenly on the surface of the Mylar. Using careful metering and some software tools, I created a scene calibration for the object stage that ensured that the surface of the artwork was lit evenly. There are variations in tone in the surface of the art itself, probably due to age and handling, and I needed to make sure that I did not introduce any tonal variations in the final image that were not actually part of the artwork. This scene calibration is accomplished by removing the artwork and photographing a white panel in its place. Once the lighting was adjusted and the software corrections applied, the art was put back into position. Color calibration was then done and the final photographs taken.
The finished image is reproduced on pages 74 and 75 of the Drawing Ambience catalog.