I tip my hat to Jonathan Franks’ excellent tutorial entitled “How to photograph silver and silver hallmarks” elsewhere on this forum.
I would like to offer a few quick tips I have picked up over the past few years while photographing and cataloguing my own small collection.
Diffused light is the secret! How the light is diffused can be dealt with in a couple of ways depending on your budget and/or what you have to hand. One of the better devices for obtaining diffused light for the amateur is a light tent and two or three lamps.
The piece to be photographed is placed inside the tent and the lamps are placed around the outside of the cube. The tent’s material diffuses the light from the lamps, creating a virtually source-less light that doesn’t reflect too much on the surface of polished silver. The camera lens is inserted through an aperture in the tent’s “door” and the photographs are taken.
The lamps need be nothing more elaborate than the flexible neck type of desk or bedside lamp with 5000K fluorescent bulbs which can be bought at just about any electrical shop.
The light tent itself can be purchased quite inexpensively from good photographic shops. I’ve seen 40cm light tents for sale on eBay from well under £30.00.
A second type of lighting device is the light box. As its name implies, this is a simple open-fronted box, but the sides are opaque. The light is shone inside the box and reflected onto the object being photographed.
If you’re at all handy, another option is to make a light cube from readily available materials. There are a couple of resources I found on the web that show how to make your own light cube:
DIY light tent
homemade light box
Even with a light cube and a few lamps of the correct heat range, sometimes a large piece of silver, such as a coffee pot, can reflect some very odd looking shapes and effects. I discovered, quite by chance, an extremely simple and effective means of rendering shiny silver surfaces non-reflective.
I had just taken a bottle of wine from the fridge and after it sat for a moment, I realised the humid air was slowly condensing on the shiny wine bottle and it appeared quite matte. A similarly cold piece of silver will attract condensation and, depending on the humidity of the day, will remain suitable lustreless for long enough for it to be photographed.
Very humid weather will result in too much condensation which will collect quickly, forming droplets that are too large which then run in rivulets down the sides of the piece. A little experimentation will provide the necessary experience. Needless to say, care must be taken when handling the condensated (is that a word?) piece of silver, otherwise fingerprints will be left and the condensation will start running.
Best of all, the process costs nothing, is non detrimental to the silver and can be reversed with a dry glass cloth.