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The "How to" firearms photo thread - Share your photo tips and tricks

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Trebor, Jan 14, 2013.

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  1. Trebor

    Trebor Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    This is a thread to share "how to's" and tips on photographing firearms.

    I'll be honest and I'm looking to steal some of your ideas to make my own photos better. I've been experimenting with gun photography lately and want to see what the rest of you are doing so I can learn.

    Please share some of your best pictures and, more importantly, the techniques you used to take them. A picture of your set up would be great, but a good description is enough if you don't have pictures of your lighting set ups, etc.

    Please do NOT just post pics without an explanation of how you got the shot.

    I'm not an expert, but I've been taking pictures for awhile and been doing more experimenting lately, so I thought I'd start it off. I'm going to focus on handguns as they are easier to photograph due to their smaller size.

    Please note that I've never learned Photoshop or other photo manipulation so all these photos are untouched, except for some cropping on a few. If you know Photoshop you can do much more to correct issues, etc, but you still need to get the basics down in camera first.

    Outdoor photography
    The key to all photography is light, and natural light is often the best light. For best results try to take pictures on an overcast day. The clouds will act as natural filters and diffuse the light. In some cases you may want to use your flash as a fill light to bring out highlights. If the flash is too strong, try covering it with a Kleenex to diffuse the light a bit. (I often rubber band a piece of Kleenex over the flash).

    This first picture is just a pistol plopped down on a wooden table taken on an overcast day. The background is also important and I think the faded paint and texture of the wood adds to the photo. I also like the composition on this one as I think the gun not being squared up adds some interest as well. (IIRC, no flash on this one). This was taken with a P&S Cannon Powershot D10.


    The next shot is a little more ambitious, but still pretty simple. I took a metal folding chair outside on an overcast day. I put an army blanket on the chair for the background and then arranged the objects for this still life. I know I did do the Kleenex over the flash trick for several of the shots in the series, but I can't remember if I did that for this particular shot. (Btw, there's "overcast" and than there's "OVERCAST." After about 5 mins I had to end the session as it started to rain! I'm glad I got anything useable)


    This is from the same series. There was definitely too much flash in this shot as you can see the glare on the metal and also on the top of the grip. I don't remember if I didn't use the Kleenex over the flash, or if the flash was just still too bright anyway. (Had I had more time I would have reviewed the pics right away and made adjustments on the fly)


    This one was taken in the same session. I put a black pistol case on top of the army blanket. Normally, I'd say there was also too much flash in this picture, but I kind of like the "ultra shiny" effect for this stainless steel gun.


    Here's another shot taken outside on an overcast day. I held the gun in one hand and the camera in the other and took a bunch until I got the reflection of the shells on the side of the gun just right. I took some both with and without flash. (I think flash was "off" on this one, but can't recall for sure).


    One more outdoor pic, taken at the range. The background is a sleeping bag and the rifles are propped up slightly with "stuff" underneath to bring them up off the background. It's generally harder to photograph rifles because of their length so one trick is to focus on some detail to give the impression of the gun without being a totally documentary shot of the whole gun. If I were to take this one again I'd reduce the flash (or diffuse it) as you can see the reflection on the bottom rifle and on the magazines. I'd also probably remove that strap to clean up the composition a bit. The camera was a HP Photosmart 3.2 MP P&S.


    Indoor photography

    The good news is with indoor photography you have total control of the light.

    The bad news is with indoor photography you have total control of the light.

    This what separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls (and the men from the girls, or whatever...)

    General tips:
    Avoid flash - You'll usually get reflections (EDIT: Unless you know what your doing and use flash deliberately. It is a tool, if you know how to use it best).
    Set your camera white balance for the light available (see your manual - Even Point & Shoot cameras typically let you either pick a setting or do a custom white balance).
    Prop up the guns - Use Silly Putty, modeling clay, crumpled paper, or whatever to prop up the gun so that it will separate from the background a bit.
    Use a tripod - You'll often need long exposures (No flash, remember?)
    Use a light tent/light box (see below).

    (EDIT: I realized my bias for continuous lighting over flash lighting really comes into play here. It's not that I think continuous lighting is better, it's that I don't yet understand how to use flash lighting in a studio environment. So, take my ignorance into consideration in this part)

    Having said that, this first picture breaks all those rules. I put the Schmoozi on a black case and took the picture, handheld, with flash. There's a little reflection, but I don't think it detracts too much. I just wanted to show that you can still get a little "artsy fartsy" without too much setup. This works as a detail study, but probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well if I was trying to take a "documentary" type photo of the whole gun.


    Light Tents

    A light tent is typically a box frame covered with a sheer material. You place the object to be photographed inside the box. The lights are placed outside to shine through the material to create diffused light. Use posterboard or something similar to create a continuous background behind the object.

    For best results make sure to set the white balance of your camera and use a tripod. You may have very long exposure times so use a remote release or self timer to avoid jostling the camera.

    You can play with the amount and placement of the lights. Start with one light on one side, than try one on each side, and then add lights coming in from the top. The different setups produce different shadows (or lack thereof) and you need to experiment to see what works best for what you are trying to achieve. (I'm using one on each side and two coming in from the top near the sides).

    This light tent is made from a $15 laundry bag holder from IKEA covered with wedding dress crinoline fabric from Joanne's Fabric (I used a sheet at first, but it was too thick). This was easier and cheaper than making the frame from PVC. IKEA also has a "portable closet" frame that is larger that would make a larger light tent. (I have that too, but haven't tried it yet).

    I'm not really happy with the lights yet. So far I'm using 60 w and 100 w regular incandescent bulbs and I'd like more light on the subjects. I'm going to try other lighting options soon. I also need to find my tripod and try some longer exposures (I couldn't find it when I set everything up so I'm shooting hand held, with elbows propped on the table, at speeds ranging from 1/60 to 1/15).

    (Ignore the small light inside the box. That was a failed experiment)


    Here's one of the shots with this setup. I feel it's a bit too dark.


    Light Box

    There's more than one type of lighting setup using a tabletop structure. To keep things clear I'll refer to the fabric covered frame diffuser as a "light tent" and this version as a "light box." Be aware that "light tents" are also often called "light boxes" though.

    This type of light box is designed to reflect or bounce the light instead of diffusing it. (You can still also use diffusers in front of the lights, and I will try that soon). This is very similar to the idea from the famous ARFCOM thread "How to take gun photographs in your bathtub."

    This light box is made from two "science fair" type white cardboard tri-folds. The base is a piece of white foam board. I used a second piece of foam board as a "roof" for some shots to block the overhead light.

    For this type of light box you put the lights inside the box (or just outside) and bounce the light off of the white surfaces. You can either use the plain white boards as the background, which works well if you want to isolate the object by changing the white levels in Photoshop later, or you can add a continuous background. (You can also put diffusers in front of the lights if you get too much glare otherwise).


    Here's the best shot taken with this light box. Notice there is more light than the one taken with the light tent. They each have their uses though. You can use this technique with rifles by building a "L" or "U" shaped box on the floor out of foam board or tri-fold cardboard panels. Place the rifle in the box and shoot down. You most likely would have to adjust white balance in PS later to bring the rifle out from the background.


    The "Photo fail" gallery

    Here are some pics that range from "not quite right" to "just awful" that I've taken over the years. I've learned more since then so I'll try id what went wrong.

    This was an early attempts at "desktop studio" photography. The big issue is too much reflection on the shiny gun. I know I didn't do anything to diffuse the light and I'm pretty sure I used a flash. I also didn't put anything underneath the gun to prop it up. The debris on the background is distracting, but could be edited out, if the photo was OK.


    This is just "blah" because it's so washed out and the background is so dull. I also should have filled that spare mag with ammo.


    And this is what happens when you don't have enough light. I should have forced a longer exposure or even just tried the flash. This can be fixed a bit by lightening it, but it's pretty off the way it is.


    Look at that busy background and that flash glare. What was I thinking?

    Last edited: Jan 14, 2013
  2. Inebriated

    Inebriated Member

    Mar 25, 2011
    I like this... I've been dabbling in photography for a long time... I'm no artist, but I've gotten pretty good with the camera settings and tinkering around to find the best settings for each environment... Photoshop helps too!

    I'll see if I can find something worthy of being posted.
  3. Cesiumsponge

    Cesiumsponge Member

    Nov 6, 2004
    Outdoor overcast and diffused fill flash tends to work best for me.

    Using a white bathtub and tile surround with diffused, bounced flash makes a free lightbox too with minor post-processing.
  4. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    I'm told that my photo results are not great and I agree. I struggle with lighting using digital format. But I keep trying.




  5. Trebor

    Trebor Member

    Feb 15, 2003

    What kind of lighting setups where you using?

    I assume natural light for the outdoors shot, but was there any fill flash or anything?

    The full length shot of the Yugo looks pretty good to me. Better than any of the similiar rifle shots I've tried.

    The top pic of the Colt does look a little dark. What was your light source?
  6. Trebor

    Trebor Member

    Feb 15, 2003

    How did you diffuse the fill flash on that outdoor rifle shot? (And what flash power settings, etc). That's a great pic and I'd like to try to get something like that.
  7. Cesiumsponge

    Cesiumsponge Member

    Nov 6, 2004
    I had TTL metering on the flash and manually bumped up the power setting on the flash. The camera settings were manual and I tried a few shots until I could get the fill flash to balance with the exposure. The diffuser was one of those milky translucent plastic units. You could use an old plastic bag or milkjug in a pinch.
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