Thursday, 17 December 2009

One Christmas present finished, many still to go

Further to an earlier blog about the dilemma of giving your own hand crafted gifts to family and wondering if they're thoroughly sick of your work, or actually value the effort you've made higher than bought presents, I have now finished the silver bracelet I was contemplating at that time - and have another different design in progress too.

Of the two bracelets made in copper, this was the heavier one.
Please click on the photos to see better versions.

The original idea was for an open loop-in-loop bracelet in Sterling silver and I started by trying the structure in copper first, liked the results, so then made a couple of finished bracelets in copper - I find working on a specific finished project far more worthwhile as a learning exercise than just tinkering with a part-made prototype.

Both copper bracelets together, heavily antiqued.

The finished bracelet in Sterling silver -
it is the same size as the smaller copper one.

I have now pretty much finished the silver version, save for some last minute inspection and polishing. I'm very happy with the results and definitely thankful that I'd already snagged the design and honed all the measurements and shapes in copper, as silver is slightly harder to work with in some respects and what I learned earlier potentially saved some costly wasting of material.

Unfortunately it has worked out heavier than I'd hoped when finished and will be too heavy to make to sell without being hallmarked, so that is something for the future.

Now all I have to do is hope that she likes it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Design or serendipitous accidents?

Or . . . "today I haz mostly been working with copper"

Just depending on the combination of what needs to be done, available materials, customer commissions etc., my work tends to go in phases. Some weeks I'm perpetually soldering silver, melting blobs or wrapping loops. Other weeks, as this last one, my work has been fairly exclusively as metalsmithing copper.

An intermediate, pre-oxidising, stage of
some twisted rope necklaces I'm working on.
Please click on the photos to see a larger, sharper version.

I do love all sorts of different types of work - and I suppose that the very variety of what I end up making keeps me perpetually interested. Sometimes the therapeutic rhythm of joining rings for some of the loose chainmaille designs I do is just what is needed, other times I love to shape and form raw metal - I just love expending the energy and getting dirty hands. On another day, I love to lose myself in the still and clean work of some fine wire wrapping.

I like to make all my own raw components, that way
I get just what I want, in terms of workmanship and design.

And some days, like today, nothing hits the spot better than getting thoroughly dirty by shaping metal, hammering, soldering, pickling and oxidising - I find myself totally lost in the work and oblivious to the passage time and outside world.

I've tried keeping clean as I work and it's just not possible. You need the fine control and touch that no tool can do better than your bare fingers - you need to feel the metal, you need to become intimate with every twist, turn and edge and you consequently end up thoroughly grubby. But nothing cleans dirty fingers quite as effectively as some nice soft moist fresh bread. It's a tad alarming to get to the end of your cheese and tomato butty and realise that your hands are now thoroughly clean and moisturised.

These soldered copper rings are destined to become a bracelet,
inter-spaced with round buttons of spider web jasper.

A friend recently brought my attention to a design award that she thought might be of interest. Which whilst it was very flattering to come to mind when thinking about design, I never really think of my work as 'designed'. It isn't really, it largely just happens.

I perpetually have a head full of ideas waiting to take form - shapes and techniques vying for my attention - and as I work on one thing, it then sets off a whole new tangent of ideas - I always have far more ideas than I have time to work on - and every day as I learn and stretch myself, the world of possibility opens even wider. I've already scribbled several ideas down over breakfast this morning.

The twisted hammered ring in this pendant arose from a different idea
entirely and the curiosity to see if it would solder successfully. Which it did.

The finished and antiqued pendant, hung on belcher chain.

I often start off with an idea and then the metal takes me somewhere entirely different. Some designs end up exactly as I drew them - but more often they just don't. The best pieces are often a serendipitous accident - sometimes an idea just doesn't work how you'd envisioned it - either the metal doesn't behave how you expect, it doesn't look as nice as you'd hoped, or the proportions are wrong for what you had in mind, so it becomes something different. Sometimes that result itself opens up a whole new area of possibilities.

Twisted copper earrings that started out as a different idea entirely.

The earrings and pendant shown nearby are one such serendipitous result. I was twisting wire for some rope necklaces, as shown at the top, and in an attempt to get a twist as thick as I could, I tried twisting two strands of a heavier gauge - which wasn't going to be suitable for the rope I wanted to make, but hammering it flat to open the twist right out gave an entirely different result than the idea I started with. My next version will combine silver and copper together and I have another sketch to work featuring twisted copper with silver nuggets. So watch this space . . .

The earrings in their raw polished copper form,
they've since been antiqued to match the pendant, see below.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Inspired by an ancient design

Further to earlier blogs about the perpetual gift dilemma, I wanted to make my Mum something a bit different and unusual for her birthday. She doesn't habitually wear much jewellery and so I settled on the idea of a brooch that she could wear on a coat or fleece, or use to fasten a scarf.

The design makes more sense when you see it at home on some chunky fabric.

The initial idea I sketched a little while ago with a nice lump of lapis lazuli I have put aside for her, mounted in Sterling silver, wasn't going to be practical, I'd need to buy too many materials and I knew the design was at the limit of my abilities. That in itself is not a bad thing by any means - pushing myself to do things for the first time and outside my comfort zone is precisely how I've grown - but I hadn't allowed myself enough time for that luxury on this occasion.

Please click on the photos to see a larger, clearer version.

As I commented in an earlier blog on the loop-in-loop chain I made in copper, that link format is an ancient design with examples 3000 years old having been found. That set me into looking at old jewellery designs and I was astonished at how contemporary some of the oldest forms still look. I suppose that just goes to prove the adage that good design is still good design - and will remain timeless.

Good design is still good design and will remain timeless.

The one design piece that really captured me was that of Roman fibula - sometimes called Toga pins - usually a T-shaped design with a bow front to accommodate a chunk of fabric where they were fastened at the shoulder and a sprung hinged pin. Many examples were made in copper or bronze with an iron pin for the hardness. Consequently, many have survived and are now a fabulously patinated green colour - but missing their pins.

The pin is sprung at the hinge to give it tension to keep it fastened

The design looked like it had potential to be re-worked and easily decorated - a good variation on my often made kilt style pin. I have a good range of gauges of copper wire in stock, so set about working a small prototype initially, then when it was evident it would work as I hoped, I set to work on a larger final version.

The 'decoration' of the pin was provided by 3 strands
of copper twisted together and wrapped around the bow.

For practical, domestic reasons that aren't of interest, I ended up finishing it in rather a hurry and consequently there are a couple of aspects I would prefer to give more time and attention to. But on the whole, I'm happy with the design and how it works in practice. I'm not sure however that the time it took me to make would make it practical to make to sell. I'd like to make another one, armed with what I learned on the first one, to see if I could hone down that time significantly enough to make it affordable.

One of my favourite parts of it is the scrolled end acting as the clasp.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Copper loop in loop bracelet - part 2

Further to my earlier post about the thought process that gave rise to the copper loop in loop bracelet featured - I decided on a finished colour for it.

I oxidised it fully black initially - I get a good solid black on copper by heating the pieces in a bowl of just boiled water to get the metal nice and warm, then drop them into a warm solution of liver of sulphur - a task I relegate myself to the garden for as it pongs something wicked. When it appears to have taken on a good tone, I take it out and rinse it, give it a good rub on some kitchen paper and repeat the process.

A copper pendant that has been oxidised, then polished back
to give an antiqued finish.
Please click to see a larger version of all of the photographs.

Pieces to be oxidised must be really clean - my habit is to tumble them just beforehand with some warm soapy water and avoid touching them with my fingers - I've seen pieces with flat hammered sections not take the colour properly and leave a clearly visible fingerprint, just from picking it up - the oil in your skin is enough to create a resist area. Hence I feel the hot water bath also helps get any surface grease off too. If I don't want to fire up the tumbler, I just give them a quick scrub with a baby toothbrush in hot soapy water.

One of my copper raindrops necklaces, antiqued.

Once I had the bracelet - and several other pieces - good and black I rinsed then washed them again with the toothbrush and washing up liquid - the oxidisation process tends to leave the surface rather sooty and I aim to get all the surface blackening off initially before I decide if the colour is good as it is, or it needs something else. In the case of the bracelet, I was delighted that the silver soldering (each of the 32 links and clasp is soldered) had taken the oxidising well - I'd chosen a harder solder for this reason and it worked well. Even after some polishing, it has remained less visible than I expected.

Darkly oxidised copper earrings which have been extensively
tumbled to give rise to a glossy gunmetal finish.

If the piece can withstand it, I tend to tumble again at this point as I really like the gunmetal finish this gives the post-oxidised metal. Some pieces are left like this, others get more attention. At this point, I extensively tumbled the bracelet before I decided on the final finish. I tumbled it until the outermost surfaces were just showing the copper through.

But I decided that it was rather too dark for the style, so manually polished the proud surfaces to settle on an antiqued finish instead. So this is the final version of it, heavily antiqued (more so than I typically do) and giving a good contrast between the internal and external aspects of the link structure.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The perpetual gift-giving dilemma gives rise to a new piece

If you're a craftsperson like me (I use that term loosely to mean you make things) you're surely familiar with the dilemma we continually face around Christmas and birthday times when it comes to gift giving. Do you give your nearest and dearest yet something else you've made, or head to the shops?

Please click on the photos to see a larger view.
They look rather dark and woolly here on the page.

The way I see it, if I'm going to spend a given amount of cash on someone, if I spend that on raw materials and increase its value by adding a chunk of my time too - they ultimately get that much more of a gift, value-wise, than if you'd spend the same cash on something priced at retail. This is especially worthy of consideration when times are hard and you simply don't have enough dosh to buy something you feel would be suitably worthy. Not to mention that most people value a little extra care and thought than just popping into a department store and grabbing the nearest shiny. For me, personal time given is 'value added' in every sense of the word. I'd much rather have an hour of someones time than know they just flashed the plastic.

But do others appreciate that thinking? Do they get sick to death of some piece of hand made goodness, no matter how carefully crafted or how many hours invested? Do they just think you're a cheapskate? I do have one particular relative who always calls my creations 'home made' deliberately to demean them. But thankfully she's the exception.

It's a perpetual dilemma to which there is no easy answer. I hope those that I invest the most time on will take it in the spirit in which it's intended - an effort to make my hard earned cash go that bit further, as well as giving them something that is perhaps even more precious than a few quid - some of my time and a resulting piece that I often aim to remain unique for them and something I've given particular thought and care to. I actually really enjoy sourcing materials, sketching designs and ideas in order to create that particular piece I hope they'll treasure.

Which is what took me to a reel of copper wire this week, to test out a Christmas gift idea I had, before committing myself to some Sterling silver. I wanted to try a chain maille technique I'd done before with rubber 'O' rings - a chain making technique which uses closed and usually fairly thin rings - where most maille techniques use open jump rings - at least initially to create the weave. This weave starts with closed rings that you shape and link together.

I know this as a loop-in-loop weave, but it may well have other names. It is reputed to be one of the oldest chain patterns found in antiquities, examples have been found up to 3000 years old. The design often features in Roman jewellery and as they knew a thing or two about personal adornment those Romans, that's good enough for me.

I soldered together a handful of rings of a guessed size and made a section of chain. The first attempt looked very nice, but there wasn't enough space for it to move and the chain was too rigid, so I made some sightly larger rings. Only a couple of millimetres larger in diameter (but over 6mm more wire in each loop), but it made quite a difference to the weave. They were now a little too loose and open.

But I made a few more to see how it flowed in a decent length and decided that I liked the loopy open look of it, so stuck with the size. It was intended to be a snagging and measuring exercise before I made a reach for the silver (I think of them as prototypes - I learn by trying), but I actually really liked the result in copper, so made a pile more rings and made me a bracelet.

It took me a while to work out a clasp design and methodology that worked with the shapes of the chain links, but I'm pretty happy with how it worked out - after a bit of trial and error and some that weren't quite right. I often see beautiful chain maille pieces, with poorly executed clasps or commercially made ones just plonked on. To me, the clasp is an incredibly important part of a design. It has to work efficiently, so be well engineered, but also sit comfortably aesthetically alongside the rest of the piece - to look like an intentional part of the design, not an afterthought.

So this one needed a little extra thought (I left it overnight for my brain to work on) as the links are directional, so one end of the chain is a different shape from the other, so making the clasp flow nicely, but with connections 90 degrees from each other and to reflect the shapes of the main links, took some working on. I also have bruised fingers for my trouble too. It's hazardous stuff this jewellery making.

I took some photos of it in its raw copper post-polishing state while I decide what final finish to give it. I'm erring towards antiqued - as I just like that colour best - but it depends on how the silver soldering will look once oxidised.

What do you think?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A personal caller in disguise

I went out of the front door briefly earlier and as I returned, spotted that I had had a caller. He was waiting patiently on the door itself, the colours of his wings blending perfectly with the rather shabby timber of my old front door.
Please click the image to see a larger version.

I wasn't sure how long he would wait around, so just grabbed some photos with my little camera to hand - the moth was positioned against a strut in the door making positioning the camera and the lighting a little tricky, so the photos aren't very good, but I was just amazed at how clever he was to find the door that was timber of just the right shade to co-ordinate with his own colouring.

My reading would suggest that it is an Angle Shades moth - Phlogophora meticulosa - and they are often to be seen in autumn, resting out the day on walls and fences where their scallop edged wings and russet colours blend perfectly with autumn leaves.

I think moths are often treated as the poor relations of butterflies and their habit of flitting against windows and around lights on summer evenings makes people skittish and wary of them. But they're stunningly beautiful and I was delighted to spend a few minutes with my caller today.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Tutorial: wrap your own cord ends

I have a firm philosophy of trying to create as much of my own work as possible - by that I mean creating as many of the individual components that complete a piece as is practical. I like to make my own clasps, jump rings and pins. Some parts are easy to forge yourself, some clearly can't be replicated with ease and you need to concede defeat and just buy in the parts.

I often hang necklaces on PVC, leather, silk or cotton thong and whilst there are many commercial cord ends available, I prefer to wrap them myself where possible, which gives me the opportunity to match the rest of the piece more closely, which is particularly desirable with copper pieces - where the scant amount of copper findings commercially available rarely match the finish you've given the copper yourself.

When I first started making my own, I searched for a tutorial for wrapping the coiled spring type cord ends - figuring that there must be a technique to make it easy and reliable to replicate a uniform finish.

I never found one that suited my needs, so I grabbed my tools and wire and set about devising a reliable technique. Having settled on a method that worked well for me, I recorded the stages so that I could now make it available in a tutorial of my own.

I work directly from the end of the wire on the reel and only cut it off once I get almost done. I would estimate that the cord ends shown below use about 125mm (5") wire each - obviously this could vary enormously depending on the diameter of the cord to be covered and how many loops you choose to make your 'spring' section. The example in the photos is 0.8mm copper wire on 3mm diameter PVC.

I use a pair of stepped looping pliers (as shown in the photos) as this gives me the opportunity to create neat coils of rings consistently the same diameter, as the pliers have several sections at different widths with parallel sides. I find the plier section that closest matches the cord diameter I'm making for and if necessary, might need to trim the cord to fit inside my coil if one isn't an exact match.

Make your initial coil as long as you feel necessary to give a nice finish and give a good coverage and grip of the cord end (I usually do about 8 full loops) and cut off the wire with a good inch or so remaining - enough to make two full turns of the wire - maybe measure this with a scrap for your diameter of coils, before cutting the final wire. Start coiling it back towards the main coil - keeping the coils the same side of the wire as the original coil - that's the bit I always struggle to remember and when you do it the wrong way, it simply doesn't sit as well. This is perhaps the single most important part to get right.

When you have your 2 full turns you should be back against the original coil. Start twisting it round - rotating it in the same direction as you did the turns in the wire, but now bringing those two loops on top of the original coil by twisting the two coils in opposite directions.

Carry on rotating and twisting the most recently made two loop coil on your pliers, so that it tightens up and sits perpendicular to the original coil - sitting nicely on top of it in the centre:

Give it a little final twist to tighten all the gaps - you can see a little daylight under the pliers above where there's still some slack, another part turn will close that up tight.

If the length of your wire was right when you cut it, the cut end should just nestle in the hollow top of the original coil, out of the way - this one is a few mm short ideally. I'd normally trim it flush at both ends to finish with a nice curved end, I hate to see that last little straight section where the wire was held in your pliers as you work, so always cut that last little straight section off.

This is why you need to coil it the right side of the wire, to get a nice neat twist like this, done the other way, doesn't sit neatly:

To attach the cord ends, I slip them over the end of the cord - which in the case of loosely woven silks and rattail etc., I tend to prepare by compressing the ends of the ribbon (folding over if necessary) and securing the threads with a little dab of PVA glue and let it dry before adding the ends. If solid cords like leather and PVC are a tight fit, shaving a tiny sliver off with a sharp knife or scalpel may make fitting them easier.

Once satisfied with a good secure and snug fit, I squeeze it into place by first contracting the last full loop slightly, so that it tightens around the cord gradually - by squeezing the coil of metal very gently to tighten, then releasing and moving along a little. When the cord end is secure with that one last tightened loop, I finish by squeezing the very end of the wire into the cord itself. It should dig in and make the cord end totally secure on the cord. You can now attach your choice of matching clasp components. My own preference tends to be a large ring and hand crafted hook.

To glue or not to glue?

Some people choose the additional security of gluing the cord end on before tightening the last loop onto the cord, but I personally have never done this - purely because this makes it more difficult to alter the length of the necklace once finished. As I sell at craft fairs too, if the customer wants the necklace shorter, I can cut the last loop of the cord end off the coil, loosening it off the cord, trim the cord to the required new length and re-work the cord end into place. It will be one loop shorter, but otherwise look the same with minimal wastage of materials. For necklaces featuring these fastenings that I put for sale on-line, I tend to only fix one cord end initially and finish the second once the customer lets me know their preferred finished necklace length.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Set dressing your product photographs

The photography of small hand crafted items to make them available for sale is a perpetual source of frustration and anguish and often detracts from time available to spend on actually making things - the fun part!

One of my favourite backgrounds, a piece of green slate bought from the Honister slate mine in the English Lake District. I de-saturated the colour of it a little in this image as I just liked the texture against the smooth polished silver. I bought several pieces for my garden as it's a gorgeous jade colour when wet - I must remember to wet it one day when I use it.

There are many issues of concern associated with product photography - from the decision on what camera to buy to technical photography issues, lighting issues, finding the best place to work etc. etc. One subject that often comes up is that of backgrounds and 'set dressing' - how many additional props are distracting and do things look better on plain white or black backgrounds, letting the item speak for itself?

As we approach autumn and as I just love the colours, textures and shapes of fallen leaves, I wanted to use these as props in my photographs and this maple just screamed out to be teamed with some copper.

Some people recommend that all of your photographs should use the same style, setting and colour way to give a cohesive feel to your shop and establish a style that will be associated with your work, but I feel that even if my customers liked the results, I'd personally get pretty bored working on similar looking photographs week in, week out. In order to retain my own interest in the project, I enjoy thinking of ways to show a piece off, to find papers and textures to use as backgrounds and small found objects to use as props.

I thought these hand made glass earrings looked like spring leaves, so a light parchment base and a hint of spring blooms with a silk flower in the background enhanced that bright feeling.

Another well used favourite - this is the bottom of a handmade earthenware pot I rescued from my grandmother's pantry - it is a lovely rich colour that can lift the pieces and has just enough texture and detail to make it interesting.

I'm personally of the opinion that a little window dressing adds to the overall attractiveness of the final photograph. You want to make an attractive image where the props and backgrounds compliment your work, hopefully without overpowering it or detracting from it. Some of my favourite objects are simply household items, often looked at from a different perspective - as above, the bottom of this pot is rather more interesting than the view you're supposed to appreciate.

This little piece of driftwood is becoming quite the star of my photos. It's just the right size, a nice gentle colour and has lots of ridges and notches to prop work against. I found this on a lake shore after a storm - it has been smoothed by being thrown about in the water for some time. It's simply a lovely piece of natural sculpture.

I especially like textures for backgrounds - nice hand made papers, natural surfaces and colours that enhance the piece. I have amassed quite a collection of items to use. Very few of which I have paid money for. If I see a nice paper lining a box of chocolates, or wrapped around cut flowers I'll retrieve it. I have an A3 size zipped portfolio that I store all my papers in and I periodically rifle through them to use pieces I've not done so for a while, it's easy to keep working with the same backgrounds and I have to remember to refresh the look once in a while.

This background paper is the lining parchment from a box of very expensive chocolate truffles.

Is your background too dominant - then tone it down:

The initial tip I started this blog to pass on was a way of making your backgrounds go further - several looks from a few papers - and can also make the results more subtle where your favourite paper is a little too bold. Some time ago I bought a pack of 5 sheets of parchment paper - A4 sheets of translucent paper each with a slightly different watermark within the paper. One is marbled, another striped, my favourite has random splodges. If you place a piece of this parchment - tracing paper would work too, but would be plain - over your background paper, it immediately tones it down significantly - reducing the contrast of a pattern that might overpower your piece.

The kraft paper I used here came wrapped around some supermarket cut flowers. It is black and tan coloured and far too contrasty on its own for a background, but under some parchment, it was toned down and took on the right colours to blend with the lampwork bead and silk ribbon.

Of the 5 original sheets, I regularly use 3 of the patterns and they're always out in my photography area, slipping one over your background paper, immediately give you a whole new look. You can retain the pattern and colour cast of the paper you liked in the first instance, but it is now much more subtle in appearance.

This background is a sheet of gold printed tissue paper, where the print is rather too clear for a background, but I like the colour and design of it. Placing it under some parchment toned the print down yet left me with the print I like.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Using reflections creatively to remove hot spots

This blog should be read in conjunction with my tutorial on small item photography and my article on my 'free to make' lighting diffuser.

Yesterday I had to photograph a flat silver hammered pendant and it reminded me that this was a blog I had in mind to post.

Photographing flat metal parts on jewellery can be very problematic, especially highly polished silver, as it is mirror like and tricky to show any detail in - or to avoid showing detail that you don't want. But I have a couple of little tricks that should help you out. The examples used below are not especially competent, but slightly exaggerated - and done rather quickly - to illustrate the points - I'd recommend a little more time spent will get more subtle results. Please click on the photographs to see better views, they look rather dark on the page here.

Unwanted reflections:

Unwanted reflections can look pretty unpleasant - you don't really want to see the photographers distorted face in a curved surface on a piece of jewellery you might want to buy or a shiny prop used in the set - a huge great nose-heavy hamster like face gurning out of you from the metal. By simply angling the piece away from front-on will change what the item reflects - and hopefully the ceiling or inside of the light tent will be more attractive than the photographer's hands etc. and in many cases, this simple step alone will be enough to remove the unwanted details - or at least make the reflections less distracting. Angle the piece so that any flat surfaces reflect areas with little detail in or at least avoids items that are recognisable - we've all seen the examples of reflective eBay items with nekkid photographers. {{{ shudder }}}

With small digicams that are hand-held out in front of the photographer for them to use the screen display on the back, you often see a pair of hands and a camera in reflections - even in tiny areas of metal, where simply re-positioning the piece might not be enough. One of my methods for combatting this, where a simple change of position doesn't suffice, is to make a screen for my hands - I have a square of kitchen paper (just because it's flexible and easily replaceable) where I cut a circular hole in the centre, just large enough to slip over the camera lens - on mine I've taped a couple of tabs on the back so that I can keep hold of it too, to prevent it flopping in front of my lens. I hold this in front of the camera as I work and the only thing to reflect then is some white and a grey/black circle for the lens. A little less obvious and distracting than the pink of hands.

You want the true colour and detail of your piece to show, not be bleached to white from your lights.

But we can do better than this can't we?

Yes, we certainly can. And it doesn't take much. With flat silverware, especially in a setting where you're adding lighting for your photography, such as a light tent - or I use a translucent bucket as my diffuser/reflector - you can get very bright hot spots of light reflected off the metal surface, especially if it's highly polished. This can lead to what photographers call blown highlights. Highlight areas on the item where it is so bright white that no detail is recorded at all.

A blown highlight is one where the pixels in that area are completely white - no image data is recorded at all. Once this happens with an image, the blown area is lost forever, there is no detail at all to work with in your image. Underexposing the image can overcome modest highlight issues, but for a really hot reflection, this simply won't be enough.

You can see how the light source on the right has created a very hot reflection, with no detail at all, on the shiny surface of this polished silver.

These blown areas not only look unattractive, you can't see any detail and it's maybe important that you do. You want your piece to look shiny and for the polish you've worked hard to give it to be evident, but not at the expense of too much detail being lost. So the best way to combat this is to create more appropriate & creative reflections. Actually make the piece reflect something other than the light.

The creative use of a manually added reflection has put the detail back into this otherwise hot surface. I had to make a modest adjustment to the exposure of about two thirds of a stop to counter the slightly darker image.

My own favourite technique is deliciously simple and I use it a great deal. I have a collection of small pieces of black and grey card - ranging in width from around 13mm (½") to 40mm (1½") and about 200mm (8") long and I crease them a couple of inches from one end and bend it at right angles. These cards can be positioned around the perimeter of my diffuser, at the lighted side, the bent tab at one end trapped under the edge of my diffuser, to reflect back onto the piece where otherwise too much light is reflected. The tab sticking out allows me to swivel it around the outside of my 'diffuser' to find the best position.

This causes the grey or black area of the card to be reflected off the metal where previously light was being reflected back. This kills the hot reflection and allows the detail to show. Where you position it and what size and colour of card you use will be determined by the size of your piece, your lighting source and a little trial and error.

I've used black card in these examples to exaggerate the effect, grey would have given a more subtle effect in this piece. Just hold the card initially and move it around see where you get the best effect. Sometimes a long thin piece will give a nice striped band over the surface, making it look shiny, sometimes you need the entire surface (if you have an engraved surface or similar) to reflect something back, so a larger piece would be more appropriate.

You can also use something like a 'helping hands' tool or simply a paper clip, blutak or stationery clip to temporarily position a small reflector where you get the best effect. Look through the camera and move it round in your hand until you like the effect on your subject. Sometimes I put the camera on a tripod or bean bag and set the 10 second timer and move the reflector until I like the effect, then hold still for it to take the photograph. I sometimes do the same with a little LED torch for the opposite effect, if I want to try and get a highlight in a particular place.

As you can see, you don't need a very big piece of card to reflect back and darken the surface. I used black in this instance to exaggerate the effect.

Reflected light may be more subtle:

My own lighting set up, as linked previously, uses a 'bucket' diffuser with a single light source at one side and scrunched aluminium foil pasted inside the opposite side reflecting that light back onto the subject. Where I find I get very hot highlights, I have found that rotating the subject within my diffuser so that it faces the reflector side rather than the light source often gives better results. I have a little less light on the subject this way, but that's often just what's needed. The aluminium foil has been scrunched up before sticking in place, so the reflected light is scattered over the subject, removing the more direct light that often causes the hot highlights.

This image was taken facing the reflector rather than the light source and is more subtle as a result. I used a small reflector to put some shape into the bail and some darkness at the bottom of the oval where it was otherwise brightest.

One of my finished images, taken with the set up shown above. I wanted to make it look shiny and show some form to the bail, so used a thin black reflector in this image.


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