The ideal camera to take pictures of my guns?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by 10-Ring, Aug 30, 2009.

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  1. 10-Ring

    10-Ring Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    So, I've seen some great photos here -- and I've tried w/ my point & shoot to take pics of my stuff. But, I just can't seem to figure out the secret --
    my question is -- what is the best way to photograph firearms?
  2. Shung

    Shung Member

    Jun 11, 2008
    Geneva, Switzerland
    I think the key is good light... and skill (which I still lack of...)
  3. General Geoff

    General Geoff Member

    Nov 28, 2006
    Allentown, Pennsylvania
    One word:


    With a tripod, you can make almost any light look good. With a lightbox and a couple of cheap lights, you can make incredible photos on the cheap.


    Taken with an 8 year old digital camera, tripod, and one sheet of propped-up 8.5x11" copy paper.
  4. Mikhail Konovalov

    Mikhail Konovalov Member

    Aug 13, 2007
    Lighting and position are very important. I agree with the above poster, a tripod can coax most cameras to produce some fantastic photos, even in low-light.


    This was taken with an old 4 megapixel Fuji A400 point and shoot. I used a chair as an improvised tripod and morning sun from a window as a light source, never use a flash. Flashes have their use, but it isn't for snapping firearms. Also, try to avoid lighting that is too direct. Diffuse if you can.

    Now, ideally, I would say a high-end digital SLR like a Nikon D700 or a Canon EOS 40D equipped with a macro lens and a couple of lightboxes is a perfect setup, however, perfection costs money.

    When shooting on a budget, or doing anything on a budget for that matter, one must use what one has laying around. If you can't find or afford a tripod at this juncture, try a lamp.

    The part where the lampshade screws in, up on the top, shares a thread pattern with camera tripods, so basically any lamp can function as an impromptu tripod.

    Failing that, stack up a couple of books. The setup does not have to look glorious, just the results. I looked pretty ridiculous when I took the above photo, but you'd never know I was performing a feat of acrobatic tom foolery by looking at the picture.

    Also, avoid the zoom function. It's always better to move the camera it's self, and since most firearm photos are fairly close in, use the macro setting (The symbol looks like a flower), this adjusts the camera for close-up shots.

    In short, light them well, but avoid glaring light, keep the camera as steady as possible by any means necessary, and mess with the settings on the camera until you're satisfied. More importantly, though, take several shots. It never hurts to snap three or four of the same image, even if it looks just right the first time. You may just find a gem.

    After all that, the camera shouldn't matter too terribly much, but that being said, if you're in the market for a low-cost, high-quality digital camera with an excellent capacity for close-ups, the Panasonic Lumix series, particularly the TZ4 and up, are some of the finest point and shoots on the market, and last time I checked (At the camera store where I worked, sadly bankrupt), they were going for around $200.

    The intelligent macro setting is very handy, the color reproduction is top-notch, and the interface is very easy to pick up. Basically the best camera for the job short of a $500+ SLR.

    Hope this is helpful, if a bit wordy.
  5. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    northern california
    you won't need an expensive tripod to start out either...something <$100 should work

    in lighting, avoid using a flash at all cost

    a good Macro lense makes a huge difference
  6. Foofles

    Foofles Member

    Apr 28, 2009
    New York City
    I'll add onto the other posters and suggest even trying to take pictures outside if possible. The sky is basically a gigantic softbox with a completely neutral filter. If you can setup a little set for your subject outdoors it can help make up for having lights and softboxes.
  7. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    northern california
    for the most even lighting outside, overcast days are the best
  8. dpeticca

    dpeticca Member

    Feb 24, 2008
    Atlanta, GA
    The "Secret" is not too mysterious...

    Today's point and shoot cameras are easily capable of high quality photographs. In fact, the camera is probably the least important in all of this. It is often mentioned around here, but I'll say it again, it's software, not hardware.

    To get good pics, you need to isolate why some pics don't turn out. Spending years in a photo lab printing out thousands of pictures a day, I'll go ahead and list the most likely failures that occur from pic to pic.

    1. Bad Exposure
    2. Bad Color or "White Balance"
    3. Bad Focus or Depth of Field

    Dealing with item number 1, you must realize that the camera is essentially a light box. It needs just the right amount of exposure to light to record the scene correctly. Too little exposure, the picture will be dark, and lack detail in the shadow areas. Too much light and the picture is "blown out", with no detail in the highlight or white areas of the photograph. Check out your cameras manual, and learn how to adjust exposure up or down. The advantage of modern digital cameras is that you can see the final result without having to spend money on processing or printing! So if the pic is dark, just bump up the exposure dial. If it's too bright, kick the exposure down a little.

    For item # 2, realize that the biggest difference you see in the photographs among competent photographers here at THR, is that they know how to adjust their color balance in the camera. This is called "white balance" in modern digital lingo. In a nutshell, different light sources have different color temperatures ranging from blue to yellow, and a tint ranging from green to red. Areas under shade for instance in a sunny back yard under a tree, will come out blue-ish if you don't adjust your white balance for shade. This will cause the camera to add a touch of yellow to counter act the blue cast that naturally appears. Our eyes automatically compensate for these color adjustments, but the camera is authentic to reality, and needs help to adjust for the way we see things. More common failures occur when people photograph indoors under Tungsten lighting, without adjusting the white balance.

    For the last item, it is possible to achieve good focus by doing a "spot pre-focus". On most cameras, if you half depress the shutter button, it will lock the focus and the exposure so that the last thing needed is to simply take the picture. This is helpful because you can essentially focus on something in the foreground, but adjust your composition so that everything is in the frame. As an example, let's say you intend to photograph the trigger of firearm up close, but you also want to get some of the rest of the frame or slide into the photo for your composition. The problem happens, when you press the shutter release button, the exposure and focus lock on the closest object in teh scene, let's say the mag or slide release. Now you've got a picture with a sharply focused release button, and a nicely blurred out trigger. To counter act this, just put the cameras auto focus brackets/cross hairs (usually in the middle of the finder or LCD window) over top of the trigger, press the button half way.. you'll see a visual confirmation of the focus lock either by a green LED that lights up on the viewfinder, or perhaps a single beep to let you know you're focused.

    Ideally, you get yourself a tripod, set up near a window with plenty of sunlight coming through, you put your camera on the lowest (ISO) setting (light sensitivity) to eliminate grain/noise. You adjust your exposure to ensure proper balance between dark and light subjects in your picture, and you get your color balanced properly.

    Take it from a guy whose basically had about every kind of camera on the planet. I've spent tens of thousands of dollars on cameras, lenses, and lights, and at the end of the day, the basic photographers skillset is 9/10ths of how the pictures turn out... the rest has a little bit to do with luck, and probably a small bit is the equipment you're using.
  9. cchris

    cchris Member

    Apr 12, 2009
    An example of what you can do with a cheap camera:




    Play with the settings on a digital camera, go with no flash & natural light. That's all those took.
  10. conw

    conw Member

    Aug 17, 2007
    If you can't take good photos with a P&S you probably can't take good photos with a D-SLR, etc.

    That said, the P&S that let you adjust aperture and exposure (the two most important variables, seriously; go read about them) are about as good as D-SLR for your applications. If those variables are not adjustable, you just have to experiment and guess until you get the desired effect.

    Tripod is a great suggestion. Also, visualize the shot before you take it and retake if it isn't good. Experiment. Most people have this idea that photos turn out right the first time...rarely the case!

    You can use a variety of settings and lighting (e.g. draping toilet paper over a bright, cool OR warm compact fluorescent light and placing it directly over the item being photo'd, to name one) that will mimic expensive ($1000s) equipment.

    Now, if you were making high-quality high-resolution prints, a D-SLR would be the way to go. But for personal enjoyment and sharing, you can do almost everything with a point and shoot.

    Also, read up on something called "bracketing." The idea being, visualize your photo and then set all variables the way you *think* it will require them to be, then (let's say we're talking about exposure time) underexpose and overexpose. This adjusts for human error and you don't have to set up to reshoot if you mis-guessed the exposure initially. But you can bracket any variable: lighting, exposure, flash, positioning, etc. Be sure to take LOTS of photos if you are looking to get one or two good oens.

    Finally, remember that you can always crop out excess or reduce the resolution, but you can never get back what you didn't take in terms of field of view, or add more image quality. So include more than you need and increase the resolution beyond what you may need.

    Somehow I'm not surprised a lot of gunnies are also into photography!
  11. conw

    conw Member

    Aug 17, 2007
    double post
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2009
  12. nwilliams

    nwilliams Member

    Dec 10, 2006
    Albuquerque, NM
    There's no "ideal" camera you can use that will magically allow you to take successful photos of your guns. The secret, if you choose to call it that is the same fundamental principle of all photography, properly compose and properly expose.

    I've been a professional photographer for many years and gun photography is still pretty new to me. Now I've sort of got a handle on it but I owe a lot of my success to the fact that I studied photography and design in college and learned how to compose a successful image. It wasn't always this way, when I first started taking pictures of my guns I was pretty horrible at it. I spent a lot of time looking at successful gun photos in magazines and that helped a lot. I remembered back in college a big part of getting a photo education was spending a lot of time looking at the work of the masters.

    You asked what kind of camera you need. My response to that is simply find one that works and that is within your budget. I've seen magnificent photos done with the cheapest of cameras and absolutely horrible photos done with cameras that cost many thousands of dollars. If all you are going to do is post pictures on the internet then how many megapixels the camera has is not something you really need to concern yourself with. In general unless you plan on printing large scale images more megapixels isn't all that important. For posting pictures on the internet a 3-6mp camera is plenty sufficient.

    If you want a camera that allows you to have more control over your exposure then you can get a very decent DSLR now for a very reasonable price so just do a little research and pick one that sounds good. I'm a big Nikon fan but I've owned Canon's as well and you can't go wrong with either one if you pick the right model. Don't go overboard, remember that with DSLR's like with SLR film cameras the real image quality comes from the lens that's attached to it. One thing that hasn't changed over the many years that photography has existed is the simple fact that the better the lens the better the image quality. People often mistakenly think that more megapixels means a sharper clearer image but personally I would rather have a higher quality lens over more megapixels. Just food for thought if you decide to go out camera shopping.

    Hope this was helpful to some degree:)

    Here's a couple of my most recent gun photos. I used a Nikon D90 with a Nikkor 18-105 VR Lens for these...

    Last edited: Aug 31, 2009
  13. PandaBearBG

    PandaBearBG Member

    Aug 3, 2009
    You have to think more artsy, Here's some links to get you started with the basics. For firearms I'd suggest if you are doing a straight up shot, keep it EXTREMELY clean and simple like Geoff's so there are no distractions. For more dramatic shots, you gotta be creative and a bit aware, treat the firearm more like a human subject. Ask yourself, what are its best features? What do you want the firearm to convey? Simple beauty? Raw Power? Aggressive? Clean lines? Try many different angles and if you see a view you like, take 10 pictures in that view b/c you never know which one will be the one.

    Proper lighting is the key for photography. You gotta remember light BOUNCES off of surfaces, even raw wood, carpet etc. Indirect light sources, multiple light setups, diffused lights, etc create shadows, you just have to figure out what kind of shadows you want, soft, dark, hard shadows, soft, that's what will bring your firearm to life. A general rule is use a flash outside, and no flash inside (for inside use alternat light sources) AND when you are thinking about the shadows think how that compares with the highlights which on metal create intense areas of focus.

    Biggest problem I find when people take pictures of their guns is the background, which you always think isn't important. You usually get that flowery couch, dinnet set, things with crazy patterns or other distractions from the main focus of the image. You want to really show your rifle, not the bags, camo, crap behind it which can obscure it's outline and siloutte. Most firearms are simple design so really try to showcase those clean lines by sharp contrast of light and dark. If it happens to be a tricked out M14 sopmod or AR, use their many complex changes of angles and shadows to your advantage. Then again if you have a small armory that can supply a small country like Mikhail repetition in shots can be a good thing (on paper AND in photos!)

    Any point and shoot will do, just practice, it's easy to get the basics down. If you got the talent and want to beef it up I guess you could invest in a SLR camera .........oooooorr just use the money to buy more guns and ammo.

    Use of focus/distance/focul blur can create very dramatic effects too.


  14. halfded

    halfded Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    I use my Nikon D40 with a 55-200mm lens topped with a 3x macro lens. Bounce my flash off the ceiling and use a dedicated light. A good background and tripod are a must. Higher aperture settings can make things look really nice too.

    And last but certainly not least, LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!! Make your picture interesting. We can go to gunbroker and see pictures of guns. Take a PHOTOGRAPH of your gun. I like to incorporate things that are related to the gun being photographed. Use different angles and different settings until you find something you like. And my last bit of wisdom to impart: Take a LOT of pictures. For example, I'll take 70 pictures and keep 25 that had the best lighting and angles, etc.

    Guns and cameras, I'm always shooting something!!
  15. JohnBT

    JohnBT Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Richmond, Virginia
    Even a flash works sometimes. Keep shooting until you get lucky (or good.) Taken with a Nikon Coolpix 2300, a cheap old 2.3 megapixel camera.


  16. ezypikns

    ezypikns Member

    Jul 16, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    One reason that Point and Shoot cameras.....

    give such one dimensional looking photos is that the flash is on the camera. You can solve this problem several ways.

    1. Use natural light. If outdoors, try taking your photos early or late. And turn your flash off. You can also get someone to hold a piece of white or other light colored poster board behind your subject to bounce light back and soften shadows.

    2. If you have a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, get the flash off the camera, or bounce the flash. Don't use the built in camera flash on your DSLR. Get a speedlight (flash unit) which is separate from your camera.

    Then get a dedicated flash cord, one end of which mounts on the hot shoe (where the flash unit normally goes) and the other end is mounted to your flash unit. Then either hold the flash (or get someone elso to) at different positions, or get an off-the camera flash bracket, to see what sort of effects you can get. Once again you can prop up a white card opposite your subject to reflect light back and eliminate or soften shadows.

    You can also (on most good flash units) "bounce" the light by tilting the flash head toward a light colored wall or ceiling.

    Remember direct flash or sunlight generally looks harsh and direct flash (on the camera flash) tends to flatten your subject and make it one dimensional.
  17. everallm

    everallm Member

    Jun 6, 2007
    Just a quick reminder for those who may decide to get into digital photography, particularly if you will start to crop and enlarge images etc.

    DON'T be fooled by the pixel count......

    A "Point and Shoot" may say 12 megapixel (usually in bold and caps...) so you may think well that's GOT to be better than a digital SLR that says 6 megapixel....right?

    Remember that in a P&S, the imaging sensor for 12 million recording elements is the size of your pinkie finger nail (or smaller), the 6 million recording elements of the D-SLR is the size of or bigger than your thumb nail.

    This means that in practice with a D-SLR, between the pixels, there is less bleed over of colour, hue, brightness and contrast, fewer optical artifacts, less smearing or blocky looks etc.

    The easiest way to show this is by taking identical shots with the two and blowing them up to letter size or larger. The P&S image will more rapidly start to visually degrade than the D-SLR image.

    You can still taking stunning shots with a P&S and you are more likely to carry a P&S than a D-SLR but be aware of their limitations, comparative quality control and lack of an upgrade path.
  18. Justin

    Justin Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 29, 2002
    Get whatever camera you want that shoots 8 or more megapixels.

    Then go take a photography class or buy a book and study it.

    There are, frankly, tons of just terrible gun pictures on the internet. Don't be the guy who just plunks a gun on the carpet, snaps a photo with no thought to composition or lighting, and can't be bothered to crop his toes out of the frame.

    Don't be that guy.

    Take the time to put together a decent lighting setup. You can even build a light box for less than $10 worth of fabric, pvc, and card stock.
  19. Blackbeard

    Blackbeard Member

    Jun 16, 2007
    Behind the Daley Curtain (IL)
    One tip on tripods - I discovered that the tripod that came with my spotting scope also fits my camera.
  20. jfh

    jfh Member.

    Aug 28, 2003
    Maiden Rock, WI
    Well, I'll throw my comments in as well. Many viewers define good photographs as "being sharp," or whatever. From the photographer's POV, this means that having some means of controlling aperture is a must. Controlling the aperture means controlling the depth of field.

    A tripod. a good tripod.

    Off-camera flash. Period.

    Any better-quality digital with a pixel count of 5-6 Megapixels will easily produce quality 8x10 prints or larger, if the photographer does his part.

    I can produce "better pictures" easier with the D80, if I can ever remember all the features built into this camera. However, that $200.00 Fujifilm E510 does a good job with a slave flash. And, for available light shooting, it is hard to beat the Fuji F30.

    FWIW--I'm an "enthusiastic amateur" of some 40 years. Mostly shooting SLRs, but also Leicas, a Hasselblad, etc., in the post-inheritance days. I started transitioning to digital cameras about ten years ago at this time, with a CoolPix 950, IIRC. I now have several smaller digital cameras--that aforementioned CoolPix, an Olympus 5060WZ, Fuji E510, Fuji F30, and a dSLR package--the Nikon D80.

    Jim H.
  21. Deanimator

    Deanimator Member

    Mar 30, 2006
    Rocky River, Ohio
    1. Some people get good pictures with point and shoot cameras. I'm not one of them. I couldn't get a decent picture of the Hindenburg on fire with a point and shoot, if it were falling on me. I came up with 35mm SLRs. I've transitioned to a Canon Digital Rebel Xt DSLR.

    2. As pointed out, light is HIGHLY important. Some of us have bought or built light tents like the kind sold in camera stores and on Ebay. They make it easy to get good light without harsh reflections. I'd build rather than buy one. The tent itself can me made from PVC pipe and plastic or light fabric for less than $10. A couple of articulated arm lamps with high intensity florescent bulbs provide more than enough light and can be adjusted to provide light from any angle. Poster board from the drugstore, grocery store or Office Max provides you with backgrounds to suit your choice of color.

    3. You will probably end up with some fairly slow shutter speeds, due to the lighting conditions. A tripod is almost mandatory to avoid blurring. Use either an on-camera timer or a cable release to avoid disturbing the camera.

    4. A macro (close up) lens or extension tubes for your regular lens(es) will allow you to get much closer for closeups.

    5. A digital camera allows you to keep shooting until you get the results you want.

    6. Photo editing software is highly important. You don't have to spend $600-700 on Photoshop. There are programs which will do anything you'll likely need for a fraction of the cost. I use Corel Photopaint, which comes with Corel Draw. OEM copies of Corel Draw X3 or X4, typically run around $100. The benefit of Corel Draw is that in addition to a photo editor, you get a vector based drawing program (Corel Draw), an edge tracing program for turning bitmaps into vector drawings (Corel Trace), and a screen capture program (Corel Capture). Photo editing software allows you to crop, resize, retouch and alter the exposure of your images. You frequently salvage pictures which would not be acceptable otherwise, especially due to exposure issues.

    7. Buy a good general digital photography book. I have "Digital Photography" by Eismann, Duggan and Grey.
  22. snorky18

    snorky18 Member

    Sep 6, 2008
    21 posts and no one has yet said "the one that fits your hand best" or "the one you use the most and are most familiar with" :neener:

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Important: Camera skills, lighting, tripod, etc.
    Not so important: the type/brand/cost of camera.

    I think General Geoff's post pretty much illustrates that. A nice looking shot taken without the benefit of a high dollar camera setup.
  23. DHJenkins

    DHJenkins Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Texas
    Lighting makes all the difference.
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