Relevant categories: Art Deco,Steamer Trunk Luggage Cases,Tables,Silver Plate,Glassware
(Above photo - The tapestry backdrop worked wonders with the classically inspired console table )
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With the push to online sales in the antiques and decorative arts sector, taking high quality photographs of your antiques is probably the biggest factor to drive sales. If a potential customer wants to buy something online - particularly when talking about high value pieces like antiques - they will want to clearly see what they are buying (without actually being in front of it). If your photos 'pop' - are sharp and well exposed with correct colour settings and display all angles and details - this really increases your chances of making a sale.
(Above photo - Regency chaise longue )
Of course, through the pandemic as many physical stores had to close in lockdowns, people couldn't travel and those of us lucky enough to still have jobs with income to spend on decorating the house, the push to online sales in the antiques sector really gathered pace. Plus, the great thing about ecommerce is the ability to connect with clients from all over the world. Clients in the middle of the US or Australia might not be able to travel to the London and Paris antiques markets - hence they will be relying on the quality of the photographs to inform their purchase decisions.
(Above photo - French Chiffonier decorated with marble obelisks and a red camel )
(Above photo - Art deco bronze fan dancer by Chiparus )
When shooting a single piece I can have anywhere between 10-30 shots of the item displaying all angles. Front, side, back, underside and close ups of any distinguishing features. For instance with porcelain there may be factory stamps on the underside, or with antique silver plate hallmarks that are very important to feature with a macro lens. Some pieces of antique furniture may include a makers mark or stamp, likewise oil paintings might feature a signature. When handling the goods examine them carefully to look for details like this. Dovetail joints in drawers and other construction features are always useful to include.
I currently work with the Nikon system using a Nikon D750 SLR and two remote Nikon flashes on tripod mounts and flash umbrellas. I feel this set up really makes the photos pop as I can flood the stage with light to make everything bright and sharp. If you set up the flashes on tripods the same distance from the subject (around ten feet) and then have the correct flash exposure so the two flashes cancel each other out resulting in no shadows in your photos. With this set up there are always a lot of variables to control via the camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, type of lens) plus other details like where you place the umbrella and how far the flash gun is from the flash umbrella.
To keep things very sharp and reduce blur, some people might mount their camera on a tripod. Whilst this would be the ideal method I find for my own working practices this would slow me down too much as I move around a lot to get the best composition and interesting angles. Of course the higher the shutter speed the sharper the image will be, helped by making sure you have a steady hand when taking the picture if you are not using a tripod.
(Above photo - Scandanavian sideboard style with marble Hermes bust and Chinese blue and white urns )
Depending on the colour source you are working under - fluorescent lights, halogen, inside, outside on a cloudy day, in full sunlight - these can all affect how the shots come out so you should adjust your White Balance setting accordingly to avoid blue or yellow tinges and hues to the finished shot and give it that natural colour quality.
(Above photo - Silver plate champagne bucket )
Of course as you get more experience taking photos you learn how to adopt different techniques according to the items you are photographing. Mirrors are always challenging as they will reflect you in the shot - you can treat this in post processing by shading the mirror a white or gray in Photoshop. Another techique - that I often use - is to get a bit sheet of polystyrene and place it in front of the mirror to avoid reflections. Photographing silver plate items such as epergnes or punch bowls can also be challenging again due to their reflective qualities and the risk of glare. Silver plate looks best on either a white or black (take your pick) background and often I will turn of the flashes and shoot on a slow shutter speeed to avoid glare and refections.
(Above photo - Art Deco cocktail cabinet )
With the advent of 1st Dibs and other big antiques and interiors platforms, it seeems like the industry standard is now to make sure your photos have a white background. This really helps with the clarity of the shot and makes the antiques you are photographing really stand out. I now shoot with a white background hung over a stand with a curve so there are no lines - and then post processing in Photoshop - lots of use of the line tool - I will remove any marks or smudges and perhaps brighten and sharpen.
(Above photo - Silver Plate epergne styled with champagne, grapes and flowers )
I've really been enjoying this aspect of my photography in the last few years and really enjoy styling and the use of props. I believe a well staged setting really makes the pieces stand out and will hopefully elevate them above the competition (of which there is much). I use a lot of flowers lying around the scene or standing in vases. Classical props - clocks, marble busts, candelabras, bronze statues - set on a desk, sideboard or table really gives the piece a lifestyle look that gives more of an idea to a potential client of how it will look in their home. Of course you can hire an expensive stylist to help with this aspect, although I still do a lot of this myself. Sometimes, with certain pieces I may forgo the white background and use another type of background to add flavour and style to a shot - I use tapestrys, large oil paintings and screens with different designs as backdrops. This also makes sense as you can use these 'lifestyle' style shots on Instagram and other social media platforms, another all important aspect in selling antiques online these days.
(Above photo - Regency sideboard chiffonier )
These are a few of my tips - I haven't really drilled down into more technical aspects of shootings, perhaps saving that conversation for another time. But I really can't stress the importance of good photos in selling antiques and art online. If someone comes across your piece on the internet the first thing they will see is the photo and it has to jump out to the client and say 'you need to have me in your home / design project / interior right now'. I take all of the photographs for Canonbury Antiques and have over 25 years photography experience and I am available for other photo projects - please take a look at my website Martin Worster photography and let me know if you would like to use my services. With what we do - we have a huge amount of stock - one of the the biggest factors to success is the ability to work fast. On a good day I can photograph up to eighty items in a single shoot - of course depending on the size of the piece and the set up of the studio. If it's lots of large pieces of furniture you will get less done in a day but if it's smalls (bronzes, silver plate, porcelain) I can really work fast and convert stock into cash. Please let me know if you have any questions and have fun shooting.
Perhaps the best showcase of our photography is in our Shop Window section, some of the highlights are shown below:
(Above photo - Art Deco Drinks Cabinet )
(Above photo - French glass centrepiece )
(Above photo - Pair dwarf blackamoors )
(Above photo - Victorian Davenport desk )
(Above photo - Pair Italian bronze pedestals with urns )
(Above photo - Victorian Bonheur du Jour )
Art Deco Drinks Cabinet Walnut...
Vintage Steamer Trunk Luggage ...
Hepplewhite Console Table Waln...
Silver Plate Centrepiece - She...
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