Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway

Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway
by Saaru Lindestokke                

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I'm trying out my new DSLR (Nikon 5300) and 18-200 Nikkor lens. Long ago, I had a film SLR, but since then I've had point-and-shoot cameras. It's great to get back into SLRs again.

That said, here's my current obsession: capturing items that have some depth and translucence to them. There is this glass ball hanging in my back yard, and when the light hits it, it's spectacular. I'm having a very tough time capturing that light. My images either come out looking too flat with little depth, or too dark with too much contrast. And none of them really capture the range of colors in the sunlight hitting the glass; yesterday I saw yellows and blues in the white highlights. Couldn't figure out how to get them with my camera.

How do you film translucence and glass? How do you capture both the depth of the glass and the spectrum of light hitting it? Are there processing tweaks that help?

Attempting to attach photos so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about ... (this is my first time doing this here, so please bear with me).

The first is bright but flat; the second is too dark but begins to show depth, although it doesn't capture the brilliance of the light striking the ball.

Bright but flat

Dark but begins to show depth; doesn't capture the brilliance of the light striking the ball, though

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Personally, I think the second image looks more flat and the first has more depth. – AJ Henderson Jan 9 '14 at 19:34
Interesting. I think the second image better captures the light that passes through the glass and the ridges on the glass; the first looks like a solid ball rather than a semi-opaque one. But you may be right that the first one looks more like a sphere than the second. – Twitchly Jan 9 '14 at 21:15
You've now got enough rep to upvote answers. Go for it :-) – Philip Kendall Jan 9 '14 at 22:10
Wow, that was quick. Done! – Twitchly Jan 9 '14 at 22:36

It sounds like you are not getting the level of detail you want due to the limited dynamic range of your camera. You could try shooting RAW to ensure that full usage of the dynamic range occurs (and to adjust the shadows to be dark while keeping the image bright). You could also try using HDR techniques (either in camera or in post production) to expand the dynamic range your camera can capture.

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Sheesh; of course. I hadn't even thought about shooting RAW. That will be my next step. Thanks. – Twitchly Jan 9 '14 at 21:05

you have too much dynamic range. First of all shoot raw so you shoot the full dynamic range and can balance the different components to achive your desired depth and light play. Secondly, your highlights will be difficult not to clip. you could try a polariser, and turn it to dampen them a bit, just dont close them off completely, or shoot from a tripod with multiple exposures and blend them in from a darker exposure. I'm deliberately not recommending "HDR", as that most often lead to crazy looks, when people get started with it.

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Very interesting tutorial. Thanks. I probably should hunt up a polarizer. I did try shooting the ball in HDR, but it didn't provide the richness I was looking for. Then again, I probably don't know what I'm doing yet, either. – Twitchly Jan 9 '14 at 21:11

The problem here is the lighting and contrast. The first difficulty in capturing spheres in a realistic way is conveying that they are spheres instead of just flat circles. With light placed to the side and forward a bit towards the ball you'll see a light and dark side to the sphere, for example, and this kind of difference will make it feel more like a sphere. Additionally, in your photos you can see that the contrast is high -- some parts are dark while others are blown-out to pure white -- and this large difference is too much for the dynamic range of your camera to capture.

Applying these ideas: a softbox or umbrella and flash would help a lot. You can position the light to make the ball look good, and the added light will brighten the whole ball, reducing contrast.

Now, that will help you capture the sphere but I suspect it won't quite let you capture the translucence very well and it may not show off the colors you see. Honestly, off the top of my head I'm not sure how to approach that. But! The book Light: Science and Magic is exactly the resource you want. I'm not sure where my copy is right now, but I'm sure it has exactly the information about how to capture such detail (and lots of other interesting stuff, too)!

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That book looks great! Will definitely take a look. As you point out, I am less interested in capturing the object's sphereness as I am in capturing that depth and the layered effect of light. And the radiance of the sunlight bouncing off that glass. The book is being added to my list immediately. – Twitchly Jan 9 '14 at 21:04

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