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Things CritiqueTwo (Difficult) Views of an Antique Percussion Cap Pistol, c. 1830, cal .50 or .55

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Charles Haacker
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Two (Difficult) Views of an Antique Percussion Cap Pistol, c. 1830, cal .50 or .55

Post by Charles Haacker » Fri Dec 22, 2017 4:24 am

The design and provenance of this weapon suggest that is is a dragoon or "horse" pistol, but I suspect the date may be earlier, possibly as much as 10 or 15 years. By 1830 the French dragoon pistols' grips were curving much further down, looking more like modern pistol grips. The French made the finest cavalry firearms, gleefully copied by other nations' armorers going well back into the late 17th century. The locks (actions) were different but the fundamental lines of the weapons remained very much the same until about the mid-19th century.

I'm showing these because there was a certain amount of technical challenge associated. I wanted to get the details on both sides of an elegantly made weapon, but it is behind glass on both sides so the museum lights are reflected, plus the lights in the gallery are a very different color temperature than the ones in the hall, plus you can see from the reflections that they have a range of colors from blue to pink. I am hand-holding as usual since tripods and monopods are verboten (curses!) but I did use my "stringpod," but the height and angle of view was slightly different from the lock side to the other with its robust scrolling of the Egyptian god Ammon Ra. (?) The biggest challenge was trying to keep the color halfway accurate on both faces of the piece despite the wall colors in the backgrounds being different, plus lights of different color temperatures. These were eyeballed in and are pretty close, I think... :|
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DSC00417.EM(lr)5.jpg
The lock plate of this weapon has classic acanthus scroll engraving. It's the side plate on the opposite side that's most interesting, and one clue for me would be that the Freemasons have loaned it to the museum...
DSC00435.EMlr.jpg
The scrollwork on this side plate (opposite the lock) depicts (for some reason!) the Egyptian god Ammon-Ra. If you enlarge and look closely you can see his ram's horns. The horns of Ammon may have represented the East and West of the Earth, and one of the titles of Ammon was "the two-horned." Why he would be on a 19th century French dragoon pistol is a bit of a mystery, but Napoleon did invade Egypt in 1801 and I suspect this piece is earlier than 1830. There is also some evidence, disputed, that Napoleon may have been a Freemason. I only mention it as it may relate to the Egyptian god on the side plate.
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Post by LindaShorey » Fri Dec 22, 2017 1:43 pm

Thank you for detailing the challenges of this shoot, Chuck. Great information. Have you given any thought to cropping to pano aspect? I like the background of #1 since it shows the related exhibits, but the streaked, wet looking glass at top wouldn't be missed :)

With #2 you could crop even tighter, right down to the first light reflections above the gun - and then clone out those three reflections. The elegant long construction of the gun lends itself to this aspect IMO. A beautiful work of art it is.
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Post by Duck » Fri Dec 22, 2017 3:48 pm

For on-the-fly snap shots you did well, considering the issues presented. There are three big issues with museum display shooting; color balance, glass reflection and background distractions. The first two are easy to solve for when on your own. The third can be solved with an accomplice.

For color balance, simply carry a neutral white balance card in your kit. Place the card under the same light you're shooting and take a reference shot to use later in Lightroom or Photoshop. In post you can use that image to get your white balance.

For glass reflections I use a piece of black foam core as a shield. Take a full sheet and cut it in quarters. Take two of those and hinge it with black gaffer's tape or duct tape. Cut a hole the size of your largest lens and use a piece of tape to hinge the hole. Fold your construction in half and stuff it in your bag or under your arm. Inside, you can use it as a light shield above you (block light reflections) or drop the lens opening flap down and shoot through the hole (block camera reflection). Here's a quick diagram to show the construction.

Folding_flag.png
Folding_flag.png (22.23 KiB) Viewed 595 times

The last requires an assistant with a small 4x4 piece of black cloth (and white if you like options) to stand on the opposite side of a glass display. When you're ready to take the shot your accomplice raises the cloth on the other side of the display to give you a clean backdrop to shoot against.

Hope this gives people some solutions for the next time of at a museum. :D
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Post by Charles Haacker » Fri Dec 22, 2017 7:11 pm

LindaShorey wrote:Thank you for detailing the challenges of this shoot, Chuck. Great information. Have you given any thought to cropping to pano aspect? I like the background of #1 since it shows the related exhibits, but the streaked, wet looking glass at top wouldn't be missed :)

With #2 you could crop even tighter, right down to the first light reflections above the gun - and then clone out those three reflections. The elegant long construction of the gun lends itself to this aspect IMO. A beautiful work of art it is.

Thanks, Linda! I did consider cropping, but I didn't for a couple of reasons. One was that I hoped to keep the two views about equal in size, and since I had not the foresight to be more careful with framing I didn't allow enough room (I was trained to crop in the camera but there are times when that is not the best approach). The other was that on the first shot I did indeed want to keep that blurry-but-related background intact, so if I wanted to keep everything else equal I considered that I was stuck with the less interesting stuff in the hall. I thought I could get away with it if I kept the DOF shallow enough.
The more I think on it the more I think you're right. I may go back and just crop them both to a very long pan-type frame. I think your suggestions are good! Thanks again! :thumbup:
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Post by Charles Haacker » Fri Dec 22, 2017 7:26 pm

Duck wrote:For on-the-fly snap shots you did well, considering the issues presented. There are three big issues with museum display shooting; color balance, glass reflection and background distractions. The first two are easy to solve for when on your own. The third can be solved with an accomplice.

For color balance, simply carry a neutral white balance card in your kit. Place the card under the same light you're shooting and take a reference shot to use later in Lightroom or Photoshop. In post you can use that image to get your white balance.

For glass reflections I use a piece of black foam core as a shield. Take a full sheet and cut it in quarters. Take two of those and hinge it with black gaffer's tape or duct tape. Cut a hole the size of your largest lens and use a piece of tape to hinge the hole. Fold your construction in half and stuff it in your bag or under your arm. Inside, you can use it as a light shield above you (block light reflections) or drop the lens opening flap down and shoot through the hole (block camera reflection). Here's a quick diagram to show the construction.
[...]
The last requires an assistant with a small 4x4 piece of black cloth (and white if you like options) to stand on the opposite side of a glass display. When you're ready to take the shot your accomplice raises the cloth on the other side of the display to give you a clean backdrop to shoot against.

Hope this gives people some solutions for the next time of at a museum. :D

Thanks, Duck! Great stuff! I thought I had a reference card built into the frame, though: the white identification placard. I figured all I had to do was balance on it on both sides, but what I discovered was that (1) due to unusually mixed light on each side (I think some of them were gelled based on the colors of the reflections) it turned out not to be as straightforward as I'd hoped. (2) Thus I discovered that if I simply balanced for the card the color of the gun went all wonky from one view to the other (the second one shows more accurate color on the card, while the first one shows more accurate color on the gun, but that had to be eyeballed). It wouldn't have been (literally) half so hard if I only had one view. I considered a B&W conversion. "Back in the day" I'd have probably shot this in B&W in the first place, but I hated the thought of losing the warmth of the walnut stock and the gold of the filigree.
The black shield is genius! (Y) :thumbup: An assistant, though, presents a real problem, but I have not run into many situations exactly like this. When I was working-working it was another matter... But heck, if I'd been working I could've asked them to take the piece out of the case! :D
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Dec 27, 2017 3:23 am

This is a wonderful post and a great way to learn from others. I too have been on that side of the glass and wondered how to make the best of it. You were smart to use your string-pod and coat might have helped with the reflections, but might have gotten in the way too. It's fun to try though and even better to learn something new!

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