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IHCM1 12-16-2009 02:35 AM

How to take Great Gun Pictures
When I purchased my M1, before even shooting it, I took a bunch of pictures. I then posted them here for fun. In that thread I got a bunch of feedback that people really enjoyed the photos and would appreciate knowing what tricks & tips I used to take such great pictures.

This post is intended to provide what I know.

I have to say, however, that I don't consider myself an expert or a pro. I do take a lot of pictures, and I'm constantly trying to learn new techniques and get better, but I really am a rank amateur.

The tips I'm posting here are really about taking close up (macro) photos of smallish objects such as guns, gun parts, or toys. I learned these techniques two ways

1) From others on the Internet.
2) By trying different things and seeing what worked and what didn't.

I'll start this discussion with some comments about this second point: When I decided I wanted to get good at taking pictures of guns I took _hundreds_ of photos. Each batch of 4 or 5 shots required a round trip from my camera (pulling the memory card out) to my PC where I opened the images and played with touch-up software. Then back to the camera to change some setting or lighting arrangement for 4 or 5 more shots. Over and over until I found a formula that looked good.

I think if you want to get consistent you'll have to invest this time.


I happen to have pretty good equipment camera equipment. A Nikon D80 with a 18-200mm DX VR lens is a $1700 investment. However it's not _great_ equipment. A D300 camera body is $2500 alone!

_However_, I happen to know that you do NOT NEED even "pretty good" equipment to take great shots like I've taken. Your pictures may lack some sharpness and you may struggle more getting just the right settings, but a good consumer grade digital camera will take _great_ macro pictures if you use the right technique.

Tips & Techniques

Lighting. For macro photography lighting is _critical_. I think it is the far MOST IMPORTANT aspect. You need LOTS of indirect, reflected light from multiple directions. There are a lot of ways of accomplishing this; I choose a "light box". This is a white box that has rounded corners that the lights are shined on. There is a roof and adjustable panels. Use Bing to find how to build your own light box.

A tripod. Sharp pictures require a perfectly still camera. Get a stable tripod for your camera. Make sure the table or whatever you put the gun on is also solid and free of vibrations. The movement of the mirror getting out of the way in a SLR can cause vibrations that will impact the sharpness of the photo! To avoid even this most cameras have a setting that will move the mirror out of the way and THEN activate the shutter. In all cases you MUST use either a timer or remote control so that when you press the shutter button you don't disturb the camera.

Long exposures. Set your aperture to one or two stops below the maximum for your lens (in my case the max is f/22 so I chose f/20) and adjust your exposure as long as possible to get a shot that is not over exposed. For these shots the shutter stayed open for 1.3 to 1.6 seconds. The long exposure/small aperture lets you get a deeper depth of field meaning more of the object will be in focus.

Color. Adjust the white balance/color temperature on your camera for the best color. Frankly, this is where I am still struggling & learning. I just know it's important and some of my photos look far better than others :-). I think I did an OK good job on the M1 photos (on the first picture on this post, note how the white background matches the white background of this page? If you don't get the white balance and color temperature right that white ends up looking pink or blue or yellow...yuk!).

Post Production. Use an image editing software package to touch up your photographs. This can help immensely in adjusting the color to look more natural and to crop the photos.

I also _always_ use the "Unsharp Mask" feature that most of these software packages have to sharpen the photos further. On gun photos this makes a HUGE difference in making details like serial numbers "pop".

Speaking of serial numbers. For my non-antique guns I don't want my serial numbers on the Internet. So I edit them out. Notice on the HK P7 photo above how the serial number clearly ain't "right" on both the gun and the paper? I simply "deleted" a few digits.

I use Microsoft Digital Image Pro 2006 which, unfortunately is discontinued (but still available if you look). I find it very easy to use (unlike Photoshop which has always felt like it was built for Klingons to me). I hear Lightroom is good too. For free, the Windows Live Photo Gallery included in the Windows Live Essentials package does the basics _really_ well (and is actually based on the same graphics engine of Digital Image Pro).

Camera Settings
I use a Nikon D80 digital SLR with (my wife's!) 18-200mm DX/VR lens. I set the shutter speed and aperture manually and turn off auto-focus so I can manually focus. It takes a lot of patience and trial and error to get it right. It's sometimes hard to tell through the tiny viewfinder of the camera whether the focus is right so a round trip to the computer is often needed.

Staging Objects
I'm still trying to find a good way to prop up pistols and small parts. You can see two examples where I accomplished it naturally above. I've also tried building a rig for holding pistols via the barrel.

But you really want to experiment with different angles. I have found that the MORE LIGHT from MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS allows for the greatest flexibility.

That's all for now. Maybe others can chime in with their own tips or questions.

jaw1947 12-16-2009 07:08 AM

Thanks for the tips and pictures. It will put me ahead when I decide to take some studio quality pics. I remember reading that light source filaments can change in color temp over time. Great photos.

Rondog 12-17-2009 01:36 AM

Very nice tutorial, ya did good!

But WHAT is the story about that little derringer? That is too cool!

IHCM1 12-17-2009 02:31 AM


Originally Posted by Rondog (Post 29129)
Very nice tutorial, ya did good!

But WHAT is the story about that little derringer? That is too cool!

see this thread:

MhoinNV 01-15-2010 01:37 PM

Using a Fuji EXR 10X Optical Camera wi Macro which takes some pretty good pics.
IHCM1'S statement of lighting as being critical is right on. As to focus, I have no manual capability but have taken pics with and without the tripod. Occasionaly a pic on the tripod will be less clear than the tripod one. I am told this is due to the auto-focus feature. Am Curious to know if IHCM1'S lens is a macro capable, or just 18-200. Also have found experimenting with angle of camera to subject can make a difference. Wax paper on a whiteboard can soften some pics of the small gun parts. Am going to try different color background colors and cloth fabrics also. Will try to post some pics. Many of the pics posted need work on the lighting as many are too dark to see detail. Tried a little help from a small L.E.D. flashlight which helped in some situations...

Have a great day !!!

IHCM1 01-17-2010 03:09 AM

No, my lens is not a macro lens.


VMFn542bob 01-17-2010 11:45 AM

Last week I upgraded my point-and-shoot 1.2 megapixel Epson PhotoPC 750Z to a 10 megapixel Panasonic DMC-ZS1. Both cameras
have auto focus, optical zoom and macro. There are several differences: the Epson camera is 10 years old and cost $500 new and a
48 meg memory card cost $100.
My new Panasonic was under $200 and a 8 gigabyte memory card costs less than $20. I think both cameras take great closeups but
the Epson has to be used in telephoto and macro mode. The picture below was taken with with the Panosonic and no flash, no
telephoto zoom and no macro. The camera has a 7 element wide angle Leica lens and has more processing power and features than
I will ever use. In the world of cameras today it's considered a basic camera. I am very happy with it. The picture file size shown below
is below is 3648 x 2736 pixels and compressed by the camera to 4,765 KB in a JPEG format. I have placed line breaks in the text to
force it to wrap within the width of the photo, otherwise you would possibly
have to pan your screen to see all of the text. (Maybe some will have to do that anyway.)

ShootingSight 01-17-2010 12:33 PM

You are right on - there are two key aspects to macro photography:

1. Small aperture, which will give you a big depth of field. Most cameras can go into apreture priority mode ("A" on most) - even a cheap camera. In aperture priority, chose a big number = a small aperture at least greater than f/16. This gives you good depth of field, so the whole part is in focus.
2. Indirect light. A flash will produce bright spots on those parts of the subject that reflect right back into the camera lens, which will both wash out those spots, and fool the camera into thinking it is getting sufficient light, so it reduces the lens open time, underexposing the picture. Your options are to go with either continuous light (I recommend halogen lights, which are slightly more blue - incandescent lights have a brown/orange color) - and this will require a long exposure; or else use a flash, but be sure to bounce it off a wall/ceiling/or a big piece of white poster board to make it diffuse. If you have a small digital camera with a built-in flash that is pointing right at the subject, at a very minimum tape a small piece of white paper to the camera, so it is 2-3" away from the flash. Better is to tape a small piece of mirror or polished stainless or aluminum foil, so the flash is directed upward. Then get a white piece of poster board above you, so the flash hits the poster board and makes the whole thing bright white. The light coming off the white board is diffuse and will reduce the reflections off your part.


VMFn542bob 01-27-2010 12:21 PM

How to take great amateur photos
How to take great amateur photos
For 51 years I have been unable to get my wife interested in learning how to use a camera. Two times in the past I bought her what was considered at the time to be very good cameras and both times she let them sit unused. They were heavy and complicated and she does not do well with "complicated" anything. Many people have the same problem.
She also has a big problem with "heavy" anything because she is severely handicapped.
Enter our new Panasonic DMC-ZS1.
From the moment it arrived, a few days ago, I began trying to get her interested in using it. It's light as a feather, only 8 ounces, and so simple to use. Just point and shoot. It zooms 12x, has auto-focus and has 10 million pixel resolution.
Still she showed no interest in trying it out,
until yesterday.
We have a small Koi pond just off our backyard patio and yesterday morning a pair of mallard ducks arrived to check it out, probably considering it for a nesting site.
They stayed all day and finally my wife decided to try out this new camera. She only took 6 pictures and all were great. This one picture however I think is worth sharing with you and I will frame it for her.
This is the male mallard that obviously has a white mother. I've never seen a male mallard like this one before but he is magnificent and I think my wife is now a confirmed convert.
What do you think?
This camera also takes great close ups without using the telephoto. See my post on this earlier thread:
I know there are many other great cameras currently on the market. I used the Internet and cnet Digital camera reviews to help me make the decision on which camera to buy.
P.S. The eyes peaking over the bottom right corner of the photo are at the front edge of the pond and is the top of a ceramic frog my wife made when her hands were no so bad.

March 14 2010 update - March 14th Debut
The two ducks that appeared to be nesting here, when my wife took the close up of that beautiful drake, stayed quite a while and finally left.
Every day since then ducks have been coming here. I looked out on our patio a little while ago and this is what I saw. The male is not in the photo.
He was busy driving other ducks away from his paradise.

Rondog 01-27-2010 12:42 PM

Not bad! I'm assuming that was taken through a window, because the duck didn't flee?

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