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Private collections, antique stores and auction houses offer a plethora of work for any photographer. The items you’ll encounter with antique and collectible photography will need considerable technical skill. Your ultimate goal is to create a factual presentation of the object since the buyer will most likely be a connoisseur of your subject. You must create an image that’s to scale, undistorted and highlights the tiniest details. It must be of the same quality as if the buyer were doing a visual examination of the piece.

Tips for Handling Antiques and Collectibles

You’ll be working with expensive and fragile items, so keeping your studio temperature in check is a must. (Tip: always assume the item is irreplaceable, fragile and unique so it becomes second habit to handle the piece with care). You may want to even consider taking out insurance prior to your shoot depending on the value of the items.

Pre-visualization is key. Over handling of a fragile item is a no, no. Decide exactly how you are going to photography it before moving the piece on set. If necessary, have extra handlers on set to help. (In fact, high-end auction houses such as Sotheby’s do not even allow their photographers to touch the items. Handlers are in charge of moving items on and off set.)

Keep it clean – your hands that is! Wash your hands with soap and water since oils and natural secretions on skin can soil the objects. Avoid hand lotions and wipes as well. Ideally, wear cotton gloves for handling all items (even latex will do in a pinch).

Making these practices mentioned above second nature will not only save you money but your reputation as well.

Shooting Techniques

  • Avoid Distortion

Shoot as straight on as possible to get an accurate representation of the object’s shape. Surface details can always be covered with additional shots. 

  • Cover the Details

Invest in a quality macro lens to capture woods grains, door pulls, intricate etchings and carvings. Particularly with furniture, such as armoires and dressers, you’ll want to show the piece both closed and open. Lamps should be shot with the shades on and off to show electrical equipment and bulb usage. Chairs and tables should be captured with all four legs in full view to show that they are intact and function able. 

Collectibles often have a date stamp and/or artist’s or manufacturer’s signature on the bottom. This is a must shot.

  • True Colors

If you’re shooting on location at an antique store or client’s home, you may get color distortion from artificial lights or windows. Use a color checker card in your first shot to easily balance all the shots the same in post production.

Tips for Shooting Specific Items

  • Ceramics

Ceramics are often numbered, signed and dated. This information typically appears on the bottom of the piece so carefully handling and placement is crucial. High gloss glazes on curved surfaces will make shooting difficult as well. Learning to control the light and utilize post-production techniques is important.

  • Silver

Silver objects will reflect everything in the room. Shoot in a white surface and remove everything possible from the immediate shooting area so it does not show on the surface. Silverware sets will be your most troublesome item as the curvature of the spoon will never match the lighting that works with the accompanying fork and knife. Shoot multiple images and blend post-production in Photoshop.


  • Books

Many vintage books often include unique dedications in their opening pages. Be sure to look for unusual details such as these. Showing wear and tear on spines and page edges is also important to capture.

  • Wine

Due to curvatures of wine bottles, a straight on shot may miss important details such as the date, manufacturer, etc. Capture this crucial information in details and write the information down as well since labels may be old and worn and will not render well even in a photograph.

  • Jewelry

Your quality macro lens will be a must have for jewelry. Additionally soft, diffused light works best with gemstones, Have a variety of softboxes on hand for varying size pieces.

See more: How to Effectively Shoot Jewelry

  • Fine Stringed Instruments

Avoid flash photography, which may wash out high quality wood grains. As with jewelry, softboxes and indirect lighting work best.

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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