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Photographing Antique Lanterns

Updated on September 1, 2013
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)  Public Domain Dedication
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication | Source

Old style or antique lanterns reminds us of when things used to be made with a purpose and everything was made with a lot of attention to every single detail.

Not only were these lanterns quite useful when the light went out, but in most cases they were also quite beautiful to look at.

Early lanterns were not decorative at all, but rather utilitarian only. They were primarily square shaped and their designs very plain.

The principal reason for their existence was to keep the flame of the candle from being extinguished due to wind.

Most early lanterns were simply designed, and made from sheet mostly iron or tinplate. These were cheap metals and it was quite rare to find any lanterns made from anything more costly like brass or copper.

Illumination was provided by either a single candle or a cotton wick which absorbed kerosene from a reservoir at the lantern's base.

They were made in mostly metal and painted in simple tones but the glass cylinders did come in a variety of colors whit clear glass being the most common. However some reds, yellows were very nice to look at and the light they produced created quite spectacular effects. Photographing these lanterns for a photographic project can turn out quite a collection of really beautiful pictures worthy of being displayed on a fine art gallery.

Your photos should reflect the time when these lanterns were found in almost every single house but try to add atmospherics to the scene by portraying them alongside a suitable environment like on a barn, a wooden support, used in stairs and so on.

Some good props are wooden crates, hay bales, fence posts, old wicker style chairs and tables. Take some shots that shows them up close as well as others that shows them in macro form. These along with other photographs showing being used is enough to make a full presentation format.

Although you may find new hurricane lamps or lanterns if possible avoid using them since they most likely are brightly painted. The "romance" is to use antique ones with their original weathered and faded paint, even rust adds charm.

Use subjects that feature their original illumination source, do not use modernized samples ( the ones that have had a light bulb installed). Photograph them while they are lit and use a weak photo lamp to bring out the details of their exterior. Photograph them at dusk or in a darkened studio. Ambient light like the one present during daylight hours will overpower the illumination that these lanterns provide.

Most samples can be found in antique stores. However like most antiques, they can be expensive Try to have the dealers let you use them to photograph in exchange for copies of your work.

Harder to find, but excellent subjects, are the more elaborate train lanterns These as their names suggest, were mostly used along train stations and on the trains themselves. Train museums should be able to provide with plenty of good photographic samples. Much like when photographing regular or hurricane lanterns as they are most often called, photograph these lanterns alongside trains and train stations whenever possible. As in antique shops, most train museums will arrange them according to their customary uses.

A good tip is to offer to do a catalog of their inventory in exchange for letting you use their wares and the majority of the time antique dealers arrange their merchandise in ways that makes them look appealing. Photographing them on the spot usually yields good images.


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