Mark Chervenka: How to Photograph Hanging Lamps and Shades

Photographing hanging lamps and shades can present online sellers a real challenge. Unless you go to the extra work and time of actually hanging the piece, it can be difficult to give buyers an accurate and attractive view of the piece. Following a few simple tips, though, you can easily photograph most pieces in a way that creates the illusion of being suspended from the ceiling.


To create this illusion you need to duplicate the angle of view in how the eye would observe the lamp or shade if it were actually suspended. You don’t need to make an exact match, close is good enough. Our brains actually fill in details from past experience if new images are fairly similar to images processed in the past. If you can just come close to a normal angle of view when you take the photograph, simply rotating the image will give the illusion the piece was photographed from below.

In the example shown here, I use an Art Deco shade to demonstrate the concept. The shade, which is about 16” in height, rests on its mouth. A sheet of colored paper is used as a background but any other smooth surface would work as well (even a plain solid colored wall). Since most ceilings are white or some other light color, though, white or other light colored backgrounds help add to the illusion you’re trying to create.


As you position your camera, try to set the camera angle to match the angle of view in which the lamp or shade would normally be viewed (Fig. 1). After taking the shop, use your cameras edit/or similar mode to view the effect. Use your camera’s editing functions to rotate the image 180° in the viewing screen (just turn the entire camera body by hand). Does the image look as if it is on the ceiling, that you are seeing it from below? Adjust the camera angle until you get the right effect. Once you achieve a convincing effect, keep the same camera angle to take close ups as needed. Keeping the same camera angle during close ups gives viewers a sense of continuity and a better sense of how the piece will actually appear in their home.

Once you have all the raw images the way you like, it’s just a matter of rotating them 180° for your online posting. When you rotate the image will depend on your particular camera, if you have your own image editing software and what online selling venue you use. Use whatever is easiest and most convenient for you. Many online selling venues like Ruby Lane and eBay offer users the ability to rotate images after they are uploaded to those sites.

If you specialize in lamps and shades you may want to go one step further by using a ceiling medallion to enhance your images. Ceiling medallions are decorative rings made to surround ceiling electrical boxes or other holes. Their original purpose is to hide or conceal ragged edges or over size openings but they make great photographic backgrounds for hanging lamps and shades (Fig. 3 below).

Most medallions suitable for backgrounds are made of rigid plastic and can be used for years. They range in size from 10-to-30 inches in diameter and cost from $9 to $30 in big box home centers. The only disadvantage of using medallions is that they do require the lamp to be hanging from an overhead support. I take photos of my very large hanging lamps suspended from exposed joists in the ceiling of my basement. I use a medallion to hide the rafters by positioning it between the joists and the canopy of the lamp. Setting the camera low and shooting up creates the illusion of a complete fixture set as it would appear in a finished ceiling.


Fig. 1: Set your camera angle, left, to match the normal angle of view in which hanging lamps and shades are typically observed, right.

Fig. 2:  If the camera angle is anywhere close to the natural angle of view, simply rotating the image 180° will give the illusion of the piece is being viewed from below.

Fig. 3: Plastic ceiling medallions can further enhance the illusion of a hanging lamp or fixture as it would appear in a finished ceiling.

By Mark Chervenka for Ruby Lane

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