Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Photographing Glass

November 20, 2020 Think THF

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections. Today I’m going to share a bit about the challenges of photographing glass artifacts.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our extensive studio and art glass collection (whether in person in the Museum or Village glass galleries, or online), I recommend you do so! We have pieces that range from teapots and cups to whimsical studio glass sculptures. Photographing these beautiful pieces of glass provides unique challenges.

The first task is to figure out the angles to shoot. Many of these are works of art, so figuring out the “front” and the “back” is difficult. Take the piece below, "Bubble Boy" by Richard Marquis, for example. It’s hard to tell what the best angle would be, so we take our best guess, and take more than one photo if we need to! Most of the time, we’ll look for a defining feature: say, a handle, or an area of the design that is most appealing, and start there.

Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Two views of “Bubble Boy” by Richard Marquis, 1988 / THF164207, THF164208

Often, the curator notes that one of these pieces is either historically significant or is important because of the artist that created it. In these cases, we take another step to capture more and create a rotating 360-degree image. We do this by (carefully!) placing the glass on a platform, rotating it by 20 degrees at a time, and taking 18 total photographs. This way we get a full picture of the piece from every possible angle! Take a look at an example below, or check out all the glass 360-degree views in our Digital Collections.

GIF of rotating glass artwork, red cuplike shapes on bottom and top, blue abstract shape in middle
Untitled from Relationship Series by Richard Royal, 1997 / 360-degree view

Another tricky part of photographing glass is dealing with its reflective qualities. As glass is usually shiny, creating an environment in the studio where we can control reflections can be tricky and time-consuming. Usually we create a fully white space around the object—if we don’t, every light and tripod and piece of furniture will be reflected on the object’s surface. We accomplish this very creatively with large boards or cloth, or if the object is small enough, we can put it into a tent that will allow us to fully control the space and light around it.

Photo studio with cart with laptop, many lights on stands, area blocked off with white paper
Aerial shot of space blocked off with white boards and paper; blue spittoon inside space; photography equipment outside
Examples of the Photo Studio set up to photograph a glass spittoon.

Then once we have everything set up, we take the photos, clean up the backgrounds with the magic of Photoshop, and enter the images and their metadata into our collections database—then voila, you get to see the finished photos in our Digital Collections!

Blue glass spittoon with vase- or urn-like shape
Spittoon, circa 1873 / THF168196

All that effort for a beautiful photo… of a spittoon.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.


Jillian Ferraiuolo is Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford.

art, Decorative Arts, glass, digitization, #digitization100K, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, photography

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