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I have been attempting to capture the sparkles of a rhinestoned mesh tank top with great difficulty. My attempts have been in well-lit spaces both indoors and outdoors, using smartphone cameras.

This is related to, but distinct from, this question about photographing sparkly objects, because I'm interested in capturing photos in a relatively natural setting rather than a studio with full control of the background and lighting.

An ideal solution would be something that works

  • in well-lit indoor or outdoor spaces
  • using a smartphone camera
  • without special equipment beyond the lighting available in a regular home, or the torch on a modern smartphone
  • for still photos rather than video

but I understand that's asking for a lot(!) so I'm still interested in advice that drops one or more of those constraints.

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Either I answer your question or stick to your limitations and not answer at all.

So, let me explain using a small section of your image.

enter image description here

What is a sparkle on a reflective material?

It is a flare of an overexposed zone that is reflecting the full intensity of the light source.

  • A "flare" is the effect of an intense enough light so some internal reflections or diffractions from the lens are captured.

  • of an overexposed zone A light source is several magnitudes more intense than a pure matt white material. A flare looks bigger than the zone itself. The light is spilled out.

  • that is reflecting the full intensity of the light source Meaning that the material is not white, but glossy or metallic, and the incident angle and the reflective angle are right so what you are seeing is a reflection of the light source.


So. I am pretty sure in your house or outdoors you have light sources. Checked.

But does the angle of the reflection points this reflection to your camera lens?

The probability is very low. At most, you will have only 1 or 2 of those little mirrors pointing somewhere near your camera. If you point a strong flashlight on a dark room you will see the room filled with small dots. One or two of those small dots need to point to your tiny smartphone lens.


In order to augment the possibility of capturing the reflection of the light source, you can use a bigger light source. Lot bigger. Aka a softbox.

Normally light sources, indoors and outdoors are point lights. Just one light bulb here and there, and the sun.

Even a small softbox let's say only 60x60cm, near the subject has several hundreds or thousand times more area than a point light. Increasing the possibility of seeing that reflection.

So, either you move a lot trying to capture one random reflection (probably having one assistant giving you instructions if he or she can see the reflection at all), or you get a bigger light source.


You can also try Star Filters, (or Starburst Filters, or Streak Filters) this can produce a flare with less intense light than normally needed for internal reflections.

You can simply smudge your lens and point to a light source to make a quick test.


Or add them in post.

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Sparkles are a time varying phenomenon. As the subject/light/angle changes, different portions gain and lose high intensity reflections toward the camera or eye, that is it sparkles. A single instant in time photograph will have bright spots, probably a very low percentage area wise, which could be referred to as flares but sparkle requires change. Look at a video of a sparkly outfit, then look at a single frame. No one frame sparkles.

For a still photo, I'd suggest a Star Filter to emphasize the low percentage flares and the smallest aperture you can manage to make the diffraction patterns as sharp as possible.

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