Saturday, 23 January 2010

Weekend wish list

My friend Maisy suggested this as a weekend blog idea, started by karuski from the Etsy European Street Team that the UKers have just been formally welcomed to.

I thought if I published my list, I might actually be shamed into achieving some of it.

So this weekend I would like to:
  • Go to the gym - I've been prescribed a 12 week session by my diabetic nurse and am actually looking forward to it. I've been frustrated at not getting out walking as much as I want/should due to recent bad weather. I have an enrollment assessment this morning and will then set a schedule for going regularly.
  • Do some very long overdue sewing - I bought some heavy upholstery fabric for a new curtain at my front door which is very draughty - ooh, let me see - only 18 months ago now when we had new flooring fitted. I wanted to get it up before Christmas, but it didn't happen (truth be told, I aimed to get it up before last Christmas), then again during the really cold snap - but I really must get it done soon. I'm fed up with looking at the one hanging that matched the carpet we had removed after a flood 6 years ago - the curtain still shows the tide mark from the flooding. I did the one for the back door last weekend, so must make the front door match. I also need to make the cover for the seat adjacent too - at the moment the fabric is pinned over the seat pad and has been that way since I bought the fabric. Bad, lazy Boo.
  • Photograph some of the new pieces I've made - I have a box of finished pieces since before Christmas waiting to be photographed and put on sale and yesterday, due to finishing some antiqued copper commissions, I also finished a lot of copper pieces that were waiting to be oxidised, so now have a pile of new pieces needing my attention. I'm very excited with some of the new things, so I'm hoping that my enthusiasm for them will get me motivated. My lovely husband set up his portable DVD player in my work area, so that I can watch DVDs while I take the photos to make it more tolerable, bless him.
The DVD helped a great deal, I did fully photograph 4 pieces and worked on the
finished images ready to list. Unfortunately that was only about
a quarter of what actually needs doing.

  • Make some more copper earrings - one of the pieces I finished yesterday was with an experimental surface finish and I'm over the moon with the results - which has given me a lot more ideas that I can't wait to try. I also finished another pair that I really like and want to make more of.
Some of the copper earrings I just made, I've struggled capturing the colour properly,
they have quite a bluish glossy gunmetal cast to them. But at least I got to photograph them!
  • Tidy the garden - the recent standing snow and cold weather has trashed my garden, there are a lot of wet leaves and crushed plants that could do with my attention when it stops raining.
  • To get set up for some copper etching - I have a head full of ideas for putting stylised images from my photography onto sheet copper for pendants etc. and I'm gathering together the ingredients and tools I need for this. I put it all away at Christmas, but want to get back on with that and see what I still need.
  • Get out for a walk tomorrow - I want to try and get out with my husband, we went out last Saturday - just on foot from home - and it's much more fun walking with someone than on your own.
We did manage a good walk out on Sunday - it was raining by the time we set off and very grey and dark. We walked on a footpath / cycle route that was made from an old railway line and which runs parallel to the branch it split from, now used by a tourist steam railway. We've measured it on the map and think we did about 3 miles. Please click to see a larger view.

I'll report back on Monday just how much of this I achieved. Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday, 18 January 2010

I've pimped my lighting diffuser

Further to my tutorial article on my own hand made - for free - lighting diffuser for product photography, I have added some features which I'd had in mind for a while and thought I'd pass the ideas on.

If you want more information on photographing small objects in this manner, I also have a more general tutorial on the photography process itself, in respect of small items.

I had reason in December, when taking some product shots for a client that were a little large for my usual diffuser, to utilise a larger bucket I'd saved for such purpose, to make another larger one. I incorporated the new feature ideas I had in mind and liked them so much, I added them to my regular small diffuser too. I now alternate between them, depending on the size of the piece I need to photograph, or the set props I want to squeeze in. The new features have been really indispensable, so I wanted to outline them for those that found my original tutorial useful.

By drilling a hole in the side, I can poke twigs, dowels etc.
through to hang earrings. See below.

The basic premise - and I do recommend reading the article linked to above first - is to use an upturned translucent bucket (mine contained fat balls for wild birds) as both a lighting diffuser and reflector, for small item photography. By lining the side opposite the light source with scrunched aluminium foil which reflects a great deal of additional light back onto the subject, I can get away with using a single light source - although granted mine is a daylight fluorescent ring, so the light is quite spread already and a good colour.

I use my upturned fat ball bucket diffuser for all my jewellery photographs.

I already have a magnifier light clamped to my work bench to use when working on small and fiddly things, so I developed the original diffuser to make use of this and minimise the set up time when I need to take photos - for many years I'd been over-complicating things using multiple lights and my DSLR and it was just no fun taking photos at all - once I cut out most of my gear and started using a compact camera, it became much more workable.

Sometimes it's easier to get an overall flat view by lying the subject flat
and shooting it from overhead, using the hole I cut in the top for this purpose.

My diffuser lives pretty much permanently on the end of my bench on top of a pile of background papers and I just pull to the top of the pile the one I want to work with. Consequently, I don't have much space to work in and so must do so efficiently.

I made a very rough diagram to show the various features.
Please click to see a larger view, it's easier to read the annotations.

Further to the original tutorial, I have added 4 features to my bucket diffuser:
  1. Some background paper inside the bucket to give me a safe shooting zone for lower angles;
  2. A small slot cut in the top/bottom to take a clip to hold additional background papers;
  3. A hole drilled in the side to allow a dowel, twig, rod or wire to be passed through to hang earrings off;
  4. I've lined the lid with scrunched kitchen foil to use as an additional diffuser and protect from reflections.
1. The original bucket was lined on the light side with tracing paper to diffuse the light and the opposite side with scrunched aluminium foil to scatter and reflect the light back from my single light source. The lighting just needs to be diffuse enough to soften any harsh shadows from your light and prevent any unwanted reflections from items outside the bucket. I still like to retain some soft shadow to give the subjects form. If the light is too diffuse and too flat, items can start to look a little unrealistic and lacking in shape.

My original bucket worked pretty well, but I had to be mindful of my angles taking the photos and keep above the subject, so that I didn't catch any of the inside of the bucket in the background. But occasionally, you want to shoot something as though it were at eye level and this perspective requires a suitable background behind. So I tacked a fairly narrow piece of vellum textured white card opposite the opening I take photos through to give me a small region of safe background to align myself with when needed. As most of my subjects are small, it doesn't need to be very wide. Using white as a starting point didn't impact on the light levels.

Sometimes I like to shoot from below the subject, or at eye level and this requires a safe area behind the subject.

Using tracing paper on the light side of the 'bucket' diffuses the light source nicely and softens the shadows from the uni-directional light, but I still like to see some shadow to give the subject form and depth, so I don't diffuse it too heavily.

2. To supplement this, I also cut a slot in the top (what was the bottom) of the bucket to allow me to use a small stationery clip to hold additional backgrounds in this area. I made this slot by drilling a row of holes parallel to the edge and then cutting the spare plastic out from between them and sanding off the rough swarf.

I tend to use long thin background papers with this clip, to allow me an infinity sweep type background behind long earrings etc. If I attach it at the top and let it naturally curve behind the subject and onto the base, I have no 'joins' and this increases my space visually.

Using a long narrow piece of background paper, clipped only at the top, I get a natural curve behind my subjects.

3. As you can see in the photograph above, the earrings are hanging on a piece of dowel. My third new adaptation, was to drill a hole in the side of the bucket so that I can poke a rod, dowel, wire or twig through the hole - clamped securely outside of the bucket - and hang earrings and other pieces from it. Previously I had a stand I used within the bucket, but this is much simpler and works much better for me - I found the earlier incarnation to be clumsy in use.

I used a 'helping hands' style clamp outside the bucket to hold my dowel in place. I've since made a purpose built clip on a weighted base that takes up less space and frees up my clamp for other tasks.

4. After trying to trace a bright yellow reflection in some polished silver one day, I realised that the open top of the diffuser bucket is quite a vulnerable spot when taking photos of flat reflective surfaces. The hole in it (cut to allow overhead photographs to be taken) offers no protection from reflections - my yellow spots were from something small on a shelf above me - so I lined the lid from the original bucket with the same scrunched aluminium foil and just sit this over the top of the bucket to kill any overhead reflections and to further reflect a little light back in - I found that I have gained a third of a stop exposure just from using it and it makes the overall light that bit more diffuse too. So I just leave it in place unless I need to access the top.

In this case, I used a dark blue clip to hold my background paper, so that you could see it in the photos, I usually use a white one. You can see the foil reflector above, stuck to the inside of the spare lid.

I can easily lift it off when I need to use the hole or clip papers in place, or just use the overhead hole for wrangling my subjects. I actually lined the outside of the lid as it had a lip which stood proud and this allows it to sit in place over the smaller base.

The hole to take a twig and the slot to clip background papers allows me to hang long earrings naturally with minimal working space.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Knotty issues

As blogged earlier, I made several Christmas gifts this year, hoping that the recipients would forgive yet another hand crafted gift from me, in view of the difficult year we'd had. I hoped that spending time on them would be as meaningful to them as it was important to me.

One of the shapes I've been tinkering with recently is that of a metal reef knot (also known as a square knot) and once I'd mastered the techniques necessary and fashioned some tools to assist me and honed a reliable methodology, the possibilities are endless if using it as a link shape - I have many more ideas in mind yet.

The first reef/square knot done as the centrepiece of a necklace - as yet unfinished.

The first idea I started with was to use it as a central section in a necklace, but having got close to the shape I had in mind, I wasn't sure it was going to work as I visualised, so that particular one is still on the bench waiting for me to decide how best to proceed. I find that if solutions don't immediately jump out, I leave them well alone and somewhere in the future, a suitable design will present itself via my subconscious. So that one is waiting for the appropriate inspiration to strike. Finishing a piece, for the sake of it, that turned out slightly different than you hoped doesn't often give good results. So I never force an idea if I have any doubts. The end result will certainly be better if left well alone for now.

A Sterling silver pin featuring the knot, with a single haematite bead.

But the work certainly still had value, as the process of thinking about it and looking for a solution gave me new ideas and one of those was the pins shown. I changed the shape of the knot link to accommodate a separate straight pin and then worked on the best way to both prevent the pin from dropping through the loops and to provide some tension to keep it where intended, in wear. A large bead at the top of the pin, married with a matching curve on the knot section allows the bead to seat itself under a little tension and stay in place.

Some of the antiqued copper pins made for Christmas gifts.

I made a shiny polished Sterling silver one initially (above), adorned by a large haematite bead and then upped the size a little with some heavy copper, which this time I antiqued to enhance the detail of the knot itself. The ones I've finished to date have either green jade or jasper beads - largely because they were just the right size and worked well with copper.

Finished pins in heavy gauge copper, antiqued to enhance the knot detail.

I wondered how small I could go with the knot, so made some much finer ones in silver for earrings (3 different sizes in total), the smallest of which I hung rock crystal dangles from for my own Christmas jewellery and the pair below were the middle size hung with red pressed glass flowers for a friend off to the Caribbean soon.

All Sterling silver with pressed glass flower dangles.

Ironically, they're rather more fiddly to make small and the smallest ones I made for myself are likely to remain the only pair that size. I think the ones shown ended up just about right and I aim to make some more shortly.

I haven't abandoned my love for twisting metal together yet either, this is the last of the gifts I've just made, for a friend to wish them luck in a new job. Heavy copper wire, twisted, soldered into a ring, hammered to the stage where the links just opened but kept the form of the twist and then hanging by a wrapped bail. I polished it quite substantially, so that it feels silky smooth to the touch (it's not really evident in this photo as I was trying to kill the reflections and did so rather too well) - then antiqued to bring out the textures. I wish I'd made two, I rather wanted to keep it myself. That's a task for another day . . .

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I stole some time to get some fresh air

Some days, whilst you know you have a lot to get done; that persistent and pressing niggle of work that needs your attention - outstanding paperwork, bills to pay, e-mails to answer, you actually get more achieved by actually totally ignoring it and just literally walking away from it. Yesterday was one such day.

After the laziness and over-indulgence of the festive period (which has its own rewards from time to time too) and being house-bound due to weather conditions, expected deliveries and waited-upon phone calls, my son and I were climbing the walls wanting to get out and stretch our legs. As the morning progressed, it was obvious that it was going to be one of those fabulously special winter days when the air is dry, crisp and the sun bright and you just want to be out in it.

I've never been afraid of the cold, whilst I don't do well in it due to suffering with Reynauds, I have good outdoor gear and an extensive collection of hats, gloves and scarves and so we wrapped up and headed out, small camera bag over my shoulder - even on my usual daily walk I always take a camera.

Please click through the photographs below to see larger versions, they end up rather dark on the pages here.

I've photographed this scene in many weathers and seasons and this was about as pretty as it gets.

It was treacherous underfoot - snow that fell on 17th December and had been added to several times since, had variously melted, been disturbed and re-frozen several times, to leave an underlying blanket of hard, rutted, very slippery and pretty unpleasant ice. Atop which another couple of inches of snow had fallen - just enough to disguise the underlying ice to keep you fully aware of every step and to ensure the placing of feet most carefully.

Looks can be deceiving, the icy mud under the snow made for an interesting walk here.

A few years ago after getting stranded 3 miles from home in similar conditions underfoot when buses stopped running and getting home totally exhausted from the walk, trying to remain upright without pulling too many muscles, I invested in some Spiky rubber over-soles for my shoes - they're like large heavy duty, shaped rubber bands impressed with hard wearing metal studs, that you stretch over your shoes or boots and they give a fabulously confidence-boosting level of grip to already good footwear, which may not always be enough on such days. The Spikys are perfect for such conditions and I don't get to use them to their full advantage very often. I felt that I got my money's worth in that one session.

A nearby waterfall that looks spectacular in cold weather.

I was most glad of them yesterday, I couldn't possibly contemplate such a walk without them. I was able to walk pretty normally at a decent speed on terrible surfaces and combined with my walking pole, made good progress.

The sheep were digging through the snow, but seemed to be finding things to eat.

It felt fabulous to get out in the fresh air, blow the cobwebs out and stretch my legs - I hadn't realised that I was actually getting to like my daily walk as much as I was and that I'd actually reached the stage of missing it. A considerable amount of the pleasure was being in the company of my 22 year old son, something I certainly do miss now he's away at university most of the time - I didn't even mind the daft hat he selected. We returned home feeling totally revived - it's odd how sometimes strenuous exercise and working up a sweat actually invigorates and totally revitalises you. I got more work done once home than I probably would have done without taking that break. The time spent was well-invested.

I find myself drawn to the geometry of fence posts to photograph.

I must remember this on days when I feel jaded and the workload ahead of me feels insurmountable.


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