Advanced Shadow Boxing:
Showmanship is the keyword here. Lighting, color, and composition can make all the difference.
(Be sure to check out Beginning Shadow Boxes if you need a review.)
There is this idea of making the most with what you have. It's fine as far as it goes, but it has a feel of poverty and deprivation though. Taken up a notch, there is the idea of showmanship. Means making what you have look like more'n you have. Have you seen those pictures that float around the net that show women before they are made-up? They are not unattractive women --they look like our wives, sisters, and... well... they look like regular women. Then their hair is all fussied up and all manner or foundations, blushes, and paints and I don't know what all is applied. AND THEN, someone takes the picture and puts it in a computer and fixes it more! WOW! But if you look at the before and the after side-by-side it's just barely believable that they are the same women. Now this is showmanship.
It's also no more -nor less- then any good museum exhibit designer or department store window decorator, or theatric set designer does. All of these folks -and this includes the person who makes you want to run out and buy the clothes the pretty woman is (almost) wearing- have light, color, and composition in their tool boxes. No reason you ought not have the same tools to make your collection stand out.
Here is where we start. Two little figurines of what I think is the King of the Monkeys from Indonesian folklore. The red one is about 7" tall and the the dark one is 'bout 6. They are hand carved from some sort of tropical wood. I suspect they were either purchased -possibly from the guy who actually carved them- by someone traveling in that part of the world as a souvenir. Or maybe there is whole village of wood-carvers and someone imports them to America. Point here is that their cost is problematic, but certainly not very high. I bought both of them at the flea market for a few bucks. I don't think I over paid. But cost and value are different things, aren't they? Now my task is to make them look like rare and valuable collectable items.
Can you really trust your eyes?
This is our control -the starting point for the topic of light. A shadow-box with a maple frame and a black box that's 8" x 8" x 4" deep. Light is simple room light -the pros call it "ambient light." Problems are obvious -the dark monkey is all but invisible against the black background. The red one ain't too happy either.
But don't give-up on black backgrounds -it has a place and is probably the most dramatic background there is. Here is how to make black work
This is what it would look like with a single spot-light from above. The black guy has shown up very enthusiastically. Easily done with the shadow-box at eye level on the wall and an adjustable spot on the ceiling. Don't let this frighten you -it may be easy to change a single ceiling light to a track with 3 or 4 high intensity directional lights.
Admittedly, this effect is more dramatic after dark, but if you are careful to protect your collection against UV Light, it may be that the room where you keep your collection is dark enough -even at high-noon- to benefit from ceiling mounted lights.
Another possibility is to put a contrasting color behind the object. (More on colors shortly.) The problem is that while the dark monkey shows up -you still can't see any detail. But hold on here! Put on your showman's hat. It may be that you are creating some mystery and inviting your audience to step closer and figure out what they are seeing. (This shot is also lit with ambient room-light.)
Now you know why they are called shadow-boxes! This is a simple piece of the same green card-stock paper as above. It's cut to the same height as the box's interior, but cut long. Makes a dramatic arched background that is super easy to do. Then it is illuminated with spot-lights from both sides and a little lower then the box. Sadly, spotlights -particularly spots at a level lower then the ceiling- are more difficult then a paper background, but for some collectables, it might well be worth the effort.
Our friend -the color wheel! Strikes me that people who understand the color wheel spend a not inconsiderate part of their lives trying to explain it to people who don't understand, don't care to understand it, and probably will lead the rest of full and productive lives without EVER understanding the color wheel.
Not unlike the people who try to explain the difference between 'affect & effect', or how catalytic converters work, or my personnel hang-up- the difference between or "square" vs. 'fore-aft" rigged sailing ships. But I digress.
There is stuff to be learned form the color-wheel that can be easily used in making a killer shadow-box display. Lets get through the dull stuff quickly -it's mostly vocabulary anyway. The first column describes the primary colors -these are colors that are used to make the other colors -the secondary -the one between (mixed-up out'a...) the 'primaries,' and the ones between the 'secondaries' -the 'tertiaryies,' or the 'intermediates' as the chart has it. The middle column describes combinations of colors. Think of 'complimentary" as opposites. The split 'compliment' is sort of a fancy opposite.
The third column is perhaps the most interesting. It shows pure colors, 'hues' and then these colors with white added. If you are hanging out with artistic types, you need to call them 'tints' and the pure colors mixed with black are called 'shades.' If you are talking to ordinary folks, you can call 'hues' 'pure.' Call 'tints' 'pastel' and call the 'shades 'shades' (Shade seems to be the only word that works. 'Deep' almost gets it, but deep blue -for example- may be a pure primary or a navy-blue -which is actually a shade of blue. So be careful.*
Take a good close look at the shades from yellow-orange to red or even purplish-red. This is where what we call the 'browns' live. Wood, dirt, people, and people's hair are all made out of shades of red and it's analogous colors. It's just easier just to say 'brown." The last two columns hold the secretes of good color co-ordination.
HOW TO DO IT:
For starters, you need to understand that there are people who do all of this instinctively. For such people, the following would likely elicit a response like "Well obviously!" or "What's your point?" These people are called 'women.'
For everyone else, it takes a little thought. And even so -if you decide some collectable item against a background of some color / shade / pastel just looks right and you -by gosh- like it that way, you are done. Entirely possible you may have had the benefit of one of the aforementioned 'woman' sometime in you life. One who taught you well.