How To Photograph Foiled Paper Projects

October 19 2021

Photographing foiled paper is challenging because the foil plays with light in interesting ways, creating shimmers and highlights that can create blown out spots with no texture or too little texture if the approach angle is all wrong.

Most photographers treat foiled paper the same as a reflective surface, but there are subtle differences between foil and mirrors. Foil is less reflective for starters, and it is coloured, so it requires a slightly different tack.

Here’s how to photograph foiled paper projects like a pro:

The angle of incidence


The angle of incidence is key to photographing foiled paper. The incidence angle is the reflected angle line from the point of the camera lens to the foil.

Walking around the subject, you can pinpoint various lines of incidence and place stickers on the floor so that you know where to stand (or where not to if you desire no reflection).


Camera positioning


You can shoot at a 45-degree angle when setting up your camera, tilted up to reflect overhead and broad light sources. Positioning your camera higher eliminates reflections, bringing out the metallic qualities of the foil.

When reflections are desired but give off unbalanced photos, take a spot meter reading on an area close to the reflection but not on it. Then, before shooting, focus your camera on the reflection and see if the exposure is corrected.


Experiment with lighting


When photographing foiled paper, the rule of thumb is to never light it at the same angle as the camera. Otherwise, you get light bouncing back.

Angles are better than overhead shots when photographing foiled paper. For example, lighting from a low angle dramatizes the subject’s shape, which isn’t possible when the light source is broad or coming in at an angle.

When low reflection is desired, you’ll need to soften the light source. A simple way to soften light sources is with layers of fabric between the subject and the light source.


Use reflectors to create effects


A simple trick to lift dark shadows or accentuate shape and tone is positioning a reflector that enhances the foil. Reflectors optimise the light you are working with, producing special effects that are subtle and appear to be natural.

The great thing about reflectors is they redirect light without altering the light source itself so that you can try different things without major setup changes.

Black reflectors that cancel out light are useful for reducing unwanted reflections, and you can use golds reflectors to create a broad sense of warmth. Silver reflectors are an excellent way to highlight foil features like speckles.


Use video to show off the foil


Video is your best friend for showing off a foil’s features. If you want to keep the subject static, you can pan around it with your camera, use a tripod, move lighting in real-time, or use reflectors to create natural lighting effects.

You can also accentuate reflections by moving the subject rather than the camera or light source. For example, you could suspend it on a fishline (an age-old trick) so that it appears to float. You might also like to try capturing a slow-motion of the subject moving, which will give you time to manipulate it in a certain way.

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