Food and Drink Content Collection: Playing with Light and Shadow

As part of the series “Collecting Content for Europeana Food and Drink”, our guest author Niki Harrat from Wolverhampton Art Gallery shares with us his experience in selecting and photographing food and drink items to be used within the project. Playing with light and shadows, he is exploring different ways of capturing objects to make collections more interesting and appealing for visitors.

Food and Drink Items for Europeana – The Agony of Choice

Selecting just 500 objects for the Europeana Food and Drink project is no mean feat. The very terms ‘food’ and ‘drink’ are so open that many objects from the collection could be included from tools and equipment used in the production of food through to paintings featuring fruit or pastoral scenes and not forgetting ceramic pieces or ivory carvings of people involved in farming and production.

Many objects are being photographed to help improve the collection records we hold here in Wolverhampton. However, the link with TopFoto gave me the chance to revisit the idea of more dynamic museum and gallery images. 10 objects were selected that would lend themselves to being photographed either with directional lighting or close up to highlight the very fine detail.

Over the next couple of blog posts I’ll walk you through the process of photographing two of the ten objects we decided to submit to TopFoto’s online catalogue as part of the Europeana Food and Drink project.

The Earthenware Pitcher

Described on our collections management system as an ‘Earthenware Pitcher with handle modelled in the form of a seated man’. This is the existing image of the piece:


I was immediately struck by the face on the pitcher. It was clear that relief, especially around the eyes, and the texture of the earthenware clay would look great with strong directional lights.

I began by using a single softbox, to diffuse the light from the flash gun. It was used on a very low power setting and after trying a couple of slightly different heights and angles found an angle I was happy with. The set of images below show the tweaks and changes before I got to the one I was happy with.


With one nice side-lit shot I decided to move in for more of a close up shot of the face using this angle.


I am very lucky to have a volunteer working with me who has a similar approach to photography to myself. We tried a few different angles for fun and produced a couple of images that I wouldn’t have tried myself. They are very striking and whilst not exactly what the project needs the experience will be useful when photographing other things later on.


Once we had a set of images that we were happy with a shortlist was sent to some of our colleagues so they could pick a favourite. Which one was selected? You’ll know soon!


About the Author:

As Cultural Sector Partner within Europeana Food and Drink, the Wolverhampton City Council’s art and heritage collections number over 103,000 items, varying from items relating to the history of the area and fossils, to Old Master paintings and contemporary sculptures alongside items from abroad brought back by local adventurers.

Niki Harrat, Cultural Promotions Officer at Wolverhampton Art Gallery,  has worked in museums and galleries since 2002. From 2011, he became increasingly involved in photographing collections for Stoke-on-Trent Museums including important ceramics and the Staffordshire Hoard. Whereas the former was much related with traditional museum images, the latter collection needed another photographing style to make the most of small, reflective and very fragile the Anglo-Saxon gold objects. Trying to continue using this style where appropriate can make collections more interesting and appealing to visitors, especially those visiting the website.


By Niki Harrat and Angelika Leitner