Taking Gun Photos Extra

By Roy Huntington

In his Winning Edge column in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of Handgunner, Dave Anderson did a great job helping to explain how to take better photos of your guns. A few simple tricks, even using a good quality camera phone or a simple pocket digital camera can deliver amazing photos. I thought it might be fun to show you how I take photos for the magazines, in my own home studio. I’ve included some “before and after” shots showing the final image as it might be used in an article, and then how I took the photo.

Keep in mind we use photoshop to help improve virtually every photo used. It assures correct color balance, increased clarity, better contrast and allows you to “see” into shadows, crop images so the focus of the picture is on what’s important, and generally make sure the final image is sharp, colorful and correct. The “before” images here (labeled as “B” in the series) are not photoshopped, while the final images (labeled as “A” in the series) are ready to be placed in an article.

The first photo is of my home studio. While I’m lucky to have the room, everything you see in these photos could be achieved with a less expensive flash set up (google “studio flash kits” to see what’s available for less than $350 or so), or regular “ambient” lighting like flourescent overhead lights. You just need to learn how to manage your camera’s exposure controls to get the right lighting and color.

I use a commercial flash set-up (the two umbrella set-ups) and a big flash control box below the table. My camera (I happen to use Canon) fires the flash remotely when I press the shutter). I can control the amount of light and focus easily, and see the photo on the TV screen on the table’s right side. It makes it easier than trying to see the small screen on the camera. It’s also good when sharing photos with someone while you shoot.

Note the various paper/board back-drops against the wall. I use them depending on what I’m photographing. I also have other backgrounds I can use for fancier lead photos. But most shots I take are simple product shots like the samples here, and I usually use a white background.

In his Winning Edge column in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of Handgunner, Dave Anderson did a great job helping to explain how to take better photos of your guns. A few simple tricks, even using a good quality camera phone or a simple pocket digital camera can deliver amazing photos. I thought it might be fun to show you how I take photos for the magazines, in my own home studio. I’ve included some “before and after” shots showing the final image as it might be used in an article, and then how I took the photo.

Keep in mind we use photoshop to help improve virtually every photo used. It assures correct color balance, increased clarity, better contrast and allows you to “see” into shadows, crop images so the focus of the picture is on what’s important, and generally make sure the final image is sharp, colorful and correct. The “before” images here (labeled as “B” in the series) are not photoshopped, while the final images (labeled as “A” in the series) are ready to be placed in an article.

The first photo is of my home studio. While I’m lucky to have the room, everything you see in these photos could be achieved with a less expensive flash set up (google “studio flash kits” to see what’s available for less than $350 or so), or regular “ambient” lighting like flourescent overhead lights. You just need to learn how to manage your camera’s exposure controls to get the right lighting and color.
I use a commercial flash set-up (the two umbrella set-ups) and a big flash control box below the table. My camera (I happen to use Canon) fires the flash remotely when I press the shutter). I can control the amount of light and focus easily, and see the photo on the TV screen on the table’s right side. It makes it easier than trying to see the small screen on the camera. It’s also good when sharing photos with someone while you shoot.

Note the various paper/board back-drops against the wall. I use them depending on what I’m photographing. I also have other backgrounds I can use for fancier lead photos. But most shots I take are simple product shots like the samples here, and I usually use a white background.

Lead-Picture

My basic studio set-up. The two strobes allow even lighting and can be easily moved away, closer or lowered if needed. I shoot all my flash photos without a tripod since the flash freezes any movement of the camera. If you were using regular lighting, you’d always use a tripod and the camera’s self-timer to trip the shutter so you don’t move the camera during slow shutter speed photos.

1A

1B

A typical shot you might see in our pages. I simply held the gun up against the white backdrop and used my other hand to shoot the photo. The camera auto focused.

2A

2B

A nice, seamless image showcasing the interesting gun (A Tussey Custom Damascus slide 1911, in this case). I used a nifty 1911 display stand someone made for me years ago to hold the gun.

3A

3B

We call these “Beauty Shots” and usually would use something like this to lead an article. The gun is a Turnbull custom SAA made some years ago. Note how I just basically tossed down an old rifle case and spread things out a bit.

4A

4B

4C

This might also be a lead photo. I used a cheap table placemat to break up the white background a bit and make it more interesting. Gun is a Tussey Custom Titanium Officer’s sized 1911. Grips are purpleheart made by Grips by Esmeralda with our house logo on them. Photo B shows the basic set-up, but I didn’t put the placemat down yet. I almost always use the same studio set-up for most shots. Photo C shows how to cheat using non-stick clays or even rolled-up bits of tape to lift parts of the gun for better angles.

5

This shot uses the same studio set-up to get a basic display photo of the gun.
You’d see photos like this in Handgunner regularly.

6A

6B

This is a little secret I’ll tell you. Photo A looks like the gun is sort of floating in space, but a sharp eye will see the shadows against the “wall” side. Photo B shows all I did was lay the gun down on its side and then simply turn the camera sideways to take the photo, framing carefully. In photoshop you rotate the image and fix the lighting. If I had taken my time, I could have eliminated the shadows and then the gun really does look like it’s simply floating in space! Shhh …..

7A

7B

In photos, less is always more. A bit of broken tile suddenly makes a knife photo more interesting. Photo B shows the set-up. Again, very simple. The flash makes it easier to take good product shots and frees the photographer from having to use a tripod making things go faster. I often will take 25 or 30 photos I need, in just ten or 15 minutes.

8A

8B

A good close up does take a “macro” or close-up lens, or one able to focus fairly closely. Keep in mind though, you can take a photo from further away and crop-in, blowing up the picture if needed. The modern high resolution digital cameras (10 or more megapixels) make this possible. In photo B, you can see I just put the cartridge down and took a picture. The seamless background helps. Then in photoshop, I cropped it in tightly and sharpened and color balanced it. Presto, a nice tight image of the case head.

9A

9B

This is the photo I see messed up badly in most gun magazines. Cartridges are often out of focus, the paper is dirty and more. But it’s easy to do it right, and you could too, to showcase your own loads, guns, accessories, etc. you might want to post on facebook, blog or website. Photo B shows I take good advantage of that seamless background!

10A

10B

We often show ammo photos, especially to showcase ammo we might have tested a gun with, and this is one way to take a photo of it. You’ll also see photos outside on a shooting bench, but outside photos are a different animal. We’re concentrating on studio shots here. In photo B you can see, once again, the simple layout I use and how the seamless background helps.

11A

11B

11C

While not perfect by any length, these three shots were taken with my iPhone! I used a flourescent light and my garage workbench. A white piece of paper bent up behind the ammo supplied the background there, and a piece of blue paper came in handy for the Luger. If you’re using a phone camera or automatic digital camera, keep in mind if you take a picture of a dark gun on a light background, the gun will be too dark, as the camera “reads” the white and thinks it’s bright, giving you a darker exposure. The way to fix that is to use a dark background (like my blue paper). That makes the automatic camera (or phone-camera) think it’s darker so it allows more light in, giving you a better exposure of your dark gun. Simple, actually! Okay, now go practice!

Read The Jan/Feb 2015 Winning Edge Column

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