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Thread: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

  1. #1

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    Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    I'm a member of a museum that has asked me to photograph a model of a sailing ship. The ship is historically important, and the museum, in what is a major undertaking, is going to start building it to full scale next summer. The fellow who made the model did a beautiful job, fom both historic and aesthetic perspectives, and the organisation wants to use a photograph of the model to raise money through the sale of postcards, prints, T-shirts, etc. The model is about 32" long by 31" high by 7" wide.

    I haven't agreed to do this yet and I'm not going to unless I can come up with a way to make an image of the model that will sell. On that score, I'm getting discouraged. In an attempt to find inspiration, I've now looked at a few hundred photographs of ship models on the internet. The ones that I've seen are uniformly pedestrian. A picture of a model sitting on a cradle, or with the cradle swathed in fabric, which is generally how it's done, just doesn't excite me. There seems to be a disconnect between how these models look in person and how they look in a photograph. I can't imagine anyone except an avid model boat builder wanting to buy one of these images on a postcard or anything else.

    When the museum first asked me to undertake this, I told them that I would want to photograph the model out of its case, and suspend it in the air with clear nylon fishing line in order to get it off its cradle and reveal the whole of the hull. Any evidence of the line could be removed in Photoshop. It turns out that Scandinavian churches often have model ships in them that are suspended from above, and I'm somewhat encouraged by photographs that I've seen of this arrangement. Beyond that, I'm stumped, and I'm beginning to wonder whether I should just accept the model for what it is, cradle and all, rather than try to reinvent how it appears.

    Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.
    Cheers!

  2. #2

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    Any way to photograph it on a mirrored surface with a dark background to simulate it and its reflection on water? Or, something like that...

  3. #3

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    Yes, I can use a mirrored surface. Also, I had a look at Christopher Broadbent's still life photographs last night. I admire his work, and his style of background might work very well for something like this. I've also thought about incorporating other objects into the photograph, such as a very, very old hand plane used for shipbuilding. Of course, if I do this, I'll be abandoning respect for scale, but I'm not sure that that is a bad idea provided that it doesn't result in the model looking dwarfed. I also have access to things like fishing nets and very old cod fishing lures, all objects relevant to the function of the original vessel. I do have a concern that adding additional items will just look kitschy, and that it would mostly be a sign that I couldn't come up with a way to photograph the model on its own terms.

    Something else that I've considered is photographing the model in the hands of the man who built it, or in the hands of a stand-in, maybe one of the local fishermen or boatbuilders.
    Cheers!

  4. #4

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    The first picture on this page isn't too bad:

    http://www.vallejogallery.com/item.php?id=2172

    but in the main I agree, most model ship photos are a tad too documentary.

    I have found occasional ships in Swedish churches, but also in English maritime towns, so it's not just a Swedish thing. Photographing the model in-situ makes for a much more interesting shot than on an isolated studio background, but to take your model to a local church would perhaps look contrived. Why not photograph it in the museum itself?

  5. #5

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    You are right about many, many Danish and some coastal Norwegian and Swedish churches having large suspended models of ships. Sometimes the detail is lacking on these models as they are viewed from a distance. Another problem is that some of them are made to be viewed from below which means construction proportions are purposefully distorted (as in most Greek antique stone buildings!). You can find many images of hung and otherwise supported photographed through google. There are maritime museums in Denmark who have wrestled with this problem. Will check for you as rain has interrupted my Garden clean-up. Is this a painted model or, as I guess, a visable wood model?

  6. #6

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    Struan,

    I think that what makes that photograph work better than most is the stand/marquetry. In my case, while the model is beautiful, the stand is no more than functional. However, the link that you posted does suggest an approach - extreme closeups rather than trying to capture the entire vessel.

    The only place in the museum that would work in a photograph is the area in which old tools are displayed. That is a possibility. Doesn't help that the museum, except for a small office area, isn't heated in the winter

    Steven, it's a wood model with a brownish stain on the hull and above-deck details. The stain is beautiful. The original ship was a caravel with a squared, high stern, and was built in 1610.
    Cheers!

  7. #7

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    What an awful lot of photos there are! Range from uninteresting to bad. However, learning from their experience I would suggest:
    1. Hung - unless the craddle is fabulous. Probably best without anyway.
    2. Bottom edge of the keel should be visable. The hull defines a ship in my view.
    3. Completely plain light or dark background - depends on how light/dark the various wood details are.
    4. Taken from the front 45 - 60 deg to one side.
    5. Taken from about 10 deg under to 5 deg over. Depends on how many of the details are concealed below the railing level.

    Yes ,you can do it! It's the messy church background and people's inability to find a ladder which is the big problem with posted pictures.

  8. #8

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    You may want to speak with a movie efx house, perhaps bring them in as an advisor, or even hand the project off to them. Efx houses specialize in such projects.

  9. #9

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    Now this a one time offer. I didn't mention that I am (was) a maker of these models. I have one at home, which in spite of children/grandchildren messing around with the rigging and sails is still basically complete. It is somewhat larger than "your" model (1.50m long and 1.20m tall) and is mostly brown with little superstructure (hull from 1820 sails from 1880). It can't hang it as it is filled with ballast - ready to sail. It has three masts and sails (not square sails though). I could do a series with plain backgrounds at at different angles which might help you. Interested?

  10. #10

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    Re: Photographing a model of a 17th century caravel

    Could someone create a plexiglass sea with a ship size cutout as the water line? Then you could approach it from a low angle and avoid the normal wedge. Dramatic lighting and selective depth of field should preclude any background so that only the ship enters the mind.
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

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