Glass is a unique material to photograph. The allure is its fragile transparency. That is also the photographer’s challenge, because how do you make something see-through visible? Each object requires a different approach, depending on the shape, colour and surface of the glass. Photographing stained glass is a category all its own, given the dimensions are often monumental and circumstances (on-location) difficult to control.
It goes without saying that whoever handles glass has to be very careful. As long as nobody drops the glass or it falls, the material should stand the test of time. A calm and well-coordinated collaboration is important to photograph glass objects safely.
Engraved champagne glass, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. This glass photographed best in indirect light bounced off the background.
For lighting glass, lamps must be positioned very precisely. In general, backlighting is the best solution, direct or indirect. With objects like these, photographers can completely indulge themselves by using multiple light sources and small gimmicks such as mirrors, reflectors and flags. The photo should reflect something of the glass’ sparkling beauty or capture the tremendous impact of seeing a monumental stained-glass window.
Crystal vase, painted with gold, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. The shape of the vase is best visible when back-lit, but the gold ornamentation is only beautiful when lit from the front.
This lamp was designed in 1930 by René Lalique (1860-1945). It was a wedding present to the Dutch Royal Couple in 1937 and until recently hung in Soestdijk Palace. As with the previous object, it’s lit from behind but also the lamp itself is switched on.
Henri van der Stok (1870-1946) Saint George and the Dragon. This window was salvaged from a building that was demolished and now belongs to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. The challenge is great when stained-glass windows are no longer in their original location. Taken out of the building stained-glass becomes very vulnerable. For the photography of the collection stained-glass at the Cultural Heritage Agency a specially-designed construction had to be built to allow the objects to lay down while being lit from underneath.
Three stained-glass windows with religious scenes from the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Haarlem, photographed before the restoration of the church. A stained-glass window can best be viewed from inside a building on a sunny day. Though also a nice-to-have is when the photo reveals something more about the structure and the wall surrounding the window. This places great demands on a photographer. More than one shot usually needs to be taken and the photo processing given extra attention to achieve the desired result.