Bedazzled: 18-karat Gold, Jewel-encrusted Monopoly Set

I love being a photographer. One day I’m shooting shirtless firefighters for a beefcake calendar (click here to read my post), the next day I’m shooting an 18-karat gold, jewel-encrusted Monopoly set. The Monopoly set is the trickier subject. The firefighters generally cooperate when I give them instructions. The Monopoly set just stared at me in defiance when I commanded it to stop reflecting the ceiling.

The game board, soon to be on display at the Museum of American Finance, is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. You can read the interesting story about it on the Museum’s website.

There were two challenges in photographing the set. First, given its high value, it couldn’t leave the Museum, so I had to bring an entire photography studio there. Second, the polished gold is a mirror and reflects everything around it; the reflections had to be eliminated in the photograph, as no amount of retouching would help after the photo was taken.

The photo above shows the studio. In addition to my equipment, I rented four light stands with two crossbars, and one stand with a boom arm to hold the background. There’s a 25-foot roll of quarter-stop diffusion material draped over the crossbars to create a tent to diffuse the ceiling light. While I also brought lights, it turns out we didn’t need them. In the background is two large sheets of foam core taped together with two gold reflective sheets of paper mounted on top. This background is what is reflected in the Monopoly board. It was barely large enough, and positioning it precisely so there were no other reflections from the ceiling or equipment was extremely challenging. We got some extra help from a gold tablecloth we found in the Museum’s kitchen. Lucky they had it! The one photograph took about four hours and hundreds of shots to make.

The Monopoly set will be unveiled Friday, October 15, with a press conference followed by Monopoly tournaments for children and adults. I’ll be there to photograph the tournament, and I look forward to sharing the photos with you in a future post.

I couldn’t have done this alone, so I’d like to thank Arnold Katz, expert jewelery photographer, for offering me all the advice I needed to make the shoot a success, and members of the Museum staff, Kristin Aguilera, Leena Akthar, Maura Ferguson, and Robert Dinkelmann. Special thanks go to Maura, who pushed me at the last minute to get something perfect in-camera that I was resigned to fix afterward with much retouching.

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