Black Acrylic Glass: Magical Reflections
The size of the piece you use depends on the space you have available and the subject matter being photographed. Plastic is a petroleum product, and the industry has had price increases every year for the past three years. Therefore, you don’t want to buy a very large piece if you intend to shoot small subjects like flowers. The piece I bought was half of a sheet—4x4 ft by 1/8” thick—and I paid $50 for it. You can see in figure A that this gives you a large enough area to use it for many subjects.
It’s very important to keep the surface clean. Even though imperfections can be handled in processing, you don’t want to spend unnecessary time cleaning up scratches and dirt. Black acrylic glass shows fingerprints, too, so handle it with care. Hold it by the edges or wear soft gloves.
Like any indoor setup, you can do a variety of things with the background. When I photographed the white violin (I bought a cheap violin at a pawn shop and painted it white for this shot) (#1), I used a black velvet background. I wanted all of the attention on the subject without any diversion to elements, or lighting, behind the musical instrument. For the portrait (#2), instead of taking the time to set up the velvet background, I placed the table on which the glass was supported far enough away from the wall in my basement studio so the light fall-off guaranteed a dark background. The f/16 lens aperture also made sure the background would be black.
I used the black acrylic glass for the macro shot of a rose I picked in my garden (#3). Notice how subtle the reflection is. The black color is what gives this kind of reflection its elegance. In my opinion, no other colored reflective surface could come close to this. I did the same thing with an orchid in (#4) and notice that I was very careful in not allowing the flower’s weight to crush the lower petals. I had my son hold the flower from behind, and I put a small piece of black velvet on his hand so it wouldn’t show in the picture.
When I was in India, I bought a piece of black quartz specifically to photograph. I’ve tried to shoot it with several different kinds of environments and backgrounds, but I was never happy with the results until I used black acrylic glass (#5). Instantly the beauty and the mystery of the mineral came to life.
The background doesn’t always have to be dark or black, of course. You can be creative with it, but don’t make it so attention-grabbing that it takes attention away from the subject and its reflection. I placed a spotlight behind the unusual (my wife says “scary”) figure I found in Peru (#6), to add some drama to the image. When I am shooting subjects reflected in black acrylic glass, I hesitate to do much more than this to the background.
When I set up the T-rex skeleton to shoot (this is a model about 28” in length) (#7), I didn’t like the base on which the dinosaur’s feet were attached. Since the 1/8” acrylic is flexible, I simply lifted it up an inch and pulled it to cover the wooden platform. That solved the problem, and now the image doesn’t have anything that takes our eye away from the prehistoric skeleton.
Black acrylic glass is a wonderful prop to photograph glassware. In image (#8) I photographed a Venetian wine decanter and matching glasses and the dark reflection repeats the beauty and artistry of the subjects. With this kind of contrast—the acrylic glass juxtaposed with the reflective glass surfaces—you have to be careful that your exposure doesn’t cause a loss of detail in any of the specular highlights.