Capturing Images from Victorian Daguerreotype Jewelry
9.6.2013 I'd love to document and share our small collection of Victorian jewelry that feature daguerreotypes, an early photographic process that peaked in the 1850s. The trick is that in most lights, dags become mirrors. Try to photograph them and chances are you'll get a nice photo of your reflected camera.
If an image can be laid flat and is not deeply framed, often you can lay it on your scanner and the capture is surprisingly good. But alas, it's not always so easy. In May 2011, I asked for advice from the collective wisdom of members of the Linked-In Vintage Photography Group. From the many tips offered, I developed a little technique that was effective in capturing images from our dag jewelry. If you click on the collection photo below, you'll get to the large lovely images on Flickr (I recommend the full screen slide show).
The little diagram at the top of this page shows my process. The high points include the following:
- Dimly lighted room, with some diffuse natural light from northern exposure
- Shooting through a gray card. (Linked-in tip was to use a black card, but I thought maybe gray would provide a little better light.)
- Tethered my camera to my computer for a huge image of what the camera was seeing.
- Used Camera RAW format, which allows for lots of light and color temp adjustment in post-processing.
- A black hand-held card was handy for adjusting the light as the size and angle of the dag varied.
- I tried to adjust the focus to get the image rather than the dust, but that didn't always work.
- If you can see the buffing lines of the photo, rotate the photo 90 degrees. (I may not have done this consistently, but when I finally noticed an obvious instance, I found this was great advice. Thanks, David T.! One of the photos demonstrates a clear miss, now that I'm reviewing the Flickr uploads -- now a good example of how not paying attention to the buffing direction can add that milky sheen I was warned of.)
Lightroom was used to develop the digital negative -- cropping, color-correcting the slight blue of the natural light, and enhancing the contrast. The results show years of accumulated dust and scratches... so be it. My intent was to see the faces emerge from the past and to share the results.
I'm still trying to learn what I can about this jewelry. What little I can find suggests the pieces were put together as a memento mori -- in memory of a dead loved one (although obviously the little dags were taken while the subjects were still alive). So, a little heartbreak clings to each of them.