View Full Version : Photography tips and suggestions

August 13, 2009, 11:09 AM
I'm about to prove to some of you that I'm as big a blowhard as you might expect, but humor me for a while as I attempt to help out my fellow gun enthusiasts who may also want to dabble in digital photography.

There are some very talented photographers on this site, and I encourage them to add to this thread anything that I may leave out. I'm not a professional (although I have made a few bucks here and there with my work), but I do take my hobby quite seriously and I have fun with it, too, especially when I'm forced to shoot with beautiful local models wearing next to nothing on Miami Beach.

Here are some tips and suggestions that may help when taking pictures of your favorite guns, or any other subject that may come in front of your lens.

1. If it doesn't add to the photo, it detracts from it. I've picked this one first because it is the easiest problem to remedy and yet, the one most often ignored. Check your backgrounds and framing composition to remove unwanted or distracting elements. If the subject is a gun, having a bicycle pump sitting next to it doesn't make the picture better (unless you're shooting an editorial piece about self defense while fixing a flat tire). Similarly, having the dirty laundry visible in the background is only a distraction. Taking a few minutes to clean up can make a world of difference.

This also applies to Photoshop filters and similar digital editing techniques. It's tempting to use all those cool filters included with your new software, but use them sparingly, if at all. Again, if they don't make it better, they do make it worse.

2. When possible, use available light or off-camera lighting. Nothing screams "amateur" louder than the on-camera flash. In a two-dimensional photo the only way to show depth is through shadows. A light source close to the lens will effectively fill in any shadows and leave your scene flat and boring (as well as reflecting directly back into the lens when trained on a shiny metal gun). Window light is fantastic. If you have a big window with white translucent blinds or drapes, this will more often than not supply a broad, soft light source that is flattering not only to people, but guns, too. Set up a table next to the window and shoot straight down onto the surface to minimize reflections from the window. Or, shoot with the window on the left or right so the light falls across your subject. If the window is on the east or west side of your home, shoot when the sun is low and the window is catching all the light directly on the blinds. Direct sunlight will have a more accurate "color temperature" than light reflected off the lawn or trees.

3. Speaking of color temperature, all digital cameras have some way to set the white balance. Do not set this to AUTO. If you're using indoor lighting, set the WB to Indoor or Incandescent. It may also have a Fluorescent setting, so use that if it's more appropriate. If you're outside or using the aforementioned window trick, set the WB to Outdoor or Sunlight. There may be additional options for the outdoor settings, such as Cloudy and Shade. These will give finer accuracy and should be used of available. If your window is covered by shadow from the roof overhang, use Shade for the WB setting (the majority of the light hitting the window will be bluer than direct sunlight because it is mostly blue sky supplying the light source). For advanced users, there may be a Custom option to set the WB. Follow your camera's instructions to use this and you will get the most accurate color temperature.

For photographers with advanced cameras that can capture in RAW format, shoot RAW and fine tune the white balance in post processing software. RAW is the file format saved by the camera before it is processed into a JPEG file. It has no color temperature applied (although the output file will be "tagged" with whatever setting your camera was using at the time), so you can select your preferred white balance without compromising the photo integrity. Changing the WB of a JPEG file can be done, but it's not a good idea and photo detail can be lost in the process.

You'll notice the last two suggestions have been about lighting. It has been said that the difference between art and **** is lighting. Substitute "gun ****" and the saying still applies.

4. The "Rule of Thirds." This is more of a suggestion than a rule, but it's good to know what makes a good photo so you can decide for yourself if it should be applied to your photos. Pretend your camera's viewfinder or LCD has a tic-tac-toe series of lines, evenly spaced across the frame. You'll see the image is divided into three horizontal rows and three vertical columns. To add a bit of interest and drama to your shot, place your subject on one of these lines. This opens up the image a bit and leaves a little free space for the eyes to play with. With people, guns, or anything with a "front", it's best to have that face pointing towards the center of the image. In other words, don't place the gun on the right side with the muzzle also pointed to the right side of the frame. One way to force yourself into framing in this way is to place a small piece of tape in the center of the screen and then compose your shot while keeping the subject visible.

While I'm talking about composition, let me add something about cutting off the extremities of the subject. Unless you're trying to get a detailed closeup of one part of the gun, it's usually best to keep all of the weapon within the borders of the framed composition. When you get "almost all" of the gun, but leave an inch of the muzzle cropped out of the photo it just looks like you were in a hurry. Or that you were trying to satisfy my first suggestion at the expense of that chunk of muzzle. :)

5. Use focus to draw attention to your subject. This one is something that just can't be done with a lot of fully-automatic point-and-shoot cameras, but I'll include it for anyone who may have a manual focus lens or an SLR with the ability to control depth of field. All lenses have some kind of aperture that controls how much light gets through the lens. Controlling the size of this opening and the duration of the shutter opening is what gives a proper exposure. A benefit of the adjustable aperture opening is the ability to control depth of field — the focal distance at which all things in the scene are in acceptable focus. A smaller opening will provide a wider DOF, with more of the scene in focus, while a larger opening will tighten the focus to a short distance and allow the photographer to isolate the subject while leaving the rest of the scene out of focus. (This blurring is often referred to as "bokeh" and most pros will judge the quality of a lens based on the smoothness of this condition. The ability to totally obliterate a background is highly prized in a portrait lens.) Aperture settings are numbered according to the ratio of focal length to aperture size, with ƒ22 being a smaller opening (greater DOF) and ƒ1.4 being a larger opening (tight DOF). By adjusting the aperture of the lens and carefully focusing on just one part of the subject, you can draw the attention of the viewer to that part while still capturing the entirety of the scene.

6. Use a tripod. Unless you have an intensely bright light source(s), you're probably going to have to use a moderately long shutter opening to get enough light on your subject. Again, most point-and-shoot cameras don't allow the shooter to adjust (or even acknowledge) this information, so you're expected to just hold really still and hope there is enough light to freeze any camera shake/motion blur. If you're attempting to get a picture of a static object, like a gun on a table, using a tripod will almost always give a sharper final image. Even better, combine the tripod with the use of a self-timer or remote shutter release to minimize the effects of putting your fingers on the camera when the shutter is open. If you don't have a tripod, use a sandbag or some other method of locking down the camera during the exposure. Many modern cameras have some kind of anti-shake or image stabilization built in, but this can only do so much. Once the shutter speed gets above a certain duration there is nothing the camera or software can do to correct for too much vibration.

Almost all of these tips can be used without expensive cameras or lighting equipment. They're just basic hints that most photographers use no matter how much time or money they've spent on their craft.

Happy shooting!

October 12, 2009, 03:01 AM
Regarding #2, on camera flash can work OK if you bounce it, and not aim it directly at the subject. If bouncing off a nearby wall or ceiling does not work, there are bounce cards that you can attach to a flash to do this.

This naturally requires that you have a separate dedicated flash installed in your camera's hotshoe. Built-in camera flashes generally have no ability to be bounced.

In addition, be mindful that a camera's exposure meter assumes that the entire world is colored gray. If, for example, you shoot a photo with a white background, the meter is going to underexpose your subject. Conversely, if the background is black, the subject will be overexposed. You will thus need to compensate and adjust the exposure that you use with your camera, and not simply use the exposure that your camera automatically recommends.


October 12, 2009, 06:07 AM
Rule #7 : Any photo is better than no photo.


October 12, 2009, 12:30 PM
LanceOregon, good points, although I think that most people on this forum are probably using a small camera with a built-in flash or maybe the pop-up flash on most DSLRs. Does any company make a flash diffuser for the pop-up flashes?

Shooting in snow is a good example of when to adjust your exposure. The camera will assume the snow is supposed to be grey because it assumes everything is supposed to be grey. Consequently, the scene will look dull in the final output. You can adjust the exposure on the computer, but it's always better to try to get it right before you expose the frame. Usually an exposure adjustment of +1.5-2.5 will work depending on the scene and camera. (Careful not to overexpose!)

ZeSpectre brings up another important point. Always have your camera with you and be familiar enough with its operation that you can use when you need to without futzing with it until the moment is gone. The best thing about digital photography is the ability to capture large numbers of images without the feeling of "wasting" film. Someone said, "Take lots of pictures because memory is cheap, but memories are priceless."

October 17, 2009, 07:22 PM
LanceOregon, good points, although I think that most people on this forum are probably using a small camera with a built-in flash or maybe the pop-up flash on most DSLRs. Does any company make a flash diffuser for the pop-up flashes?

A piece of kleenex works. Probably have to dial in a little +EV, but it works. Cheap, low cost alternative.

October 17, 2009, 08:09 PM
A snap Shot of the Light Box I constructed out of 1/2" PVC and Panel Ceiling Florescent Light Diffusing Panel. The two "work lights" with 6500 Kelvin Florescent Lights provide good light.

The Background is just White Poster-board suspended from the back top part of the box, and allowed to curve forward.

A little trial and error and the results are in my gallery on this site. LINK HERE (http://www.revolverforums.com/forum/album.php?u=6)


With it, I'm taking pictures that look like this: With an old Sony Instant Digital camera.





October 17, 2009, 08:35 PM
Yeah, a light box setup can help too :D

This is my old setup, it's evolved a bit since then.


October 18, 2009, 08:06 PM
rjrivero, nice work! Good job on the light box, too.

ZeSpectre, is that camera tethered to the laptop or is that just a power cable?

October 18, 2009, 11:22 PM
Some excellent tips. I'll add a couple more as my firearm photography skills slowly improve.

When shooting indoors near a window or large light source, don't overlook opportunities for "offset" or low-angle shots. These can offer drama, eye-catching looks and show off the lines of your subject firearm.

Backgrounds can be distracting and/or busy which detracts from your subject. On the other hand, rjrivero's excellent work shows how to focus directly on the subject(s), but leaves little "flavor" to the scene. I photo'd this stainless steel gun on white & gray backgrounds but the look was too aniseptic for me. Adding the Mexican blanket caused the gun to jump out from the background more.

With stainless or nickel plated guns, taking an "offset" shot prevents light bounce-back if you use a flash. Here, fading natural light from the right was augmented by overhead light to compensate for the dark blued gun furthest from the main light source.

The use of an old wood table adds some flavor to the shot, while the accessories and ammo boxes is intended to convey something to the viewer. Hopefully it's a retired police officer's weapons. :p

October 19, 2009, 05:25 AM
ZeSpectre, is that camera tethered to the laptop or is that just a power cable?
Camera is tethered and being run by DSLR Remote Pro for Windows (http://www.breezesys.com/DSLRRemotePro/index.htm)

October 24, 2009, 10:37 PM
Phil, Lance, & ZeSpectre, You guys are "killing" me! Good advice, and I'm happy to see there are more than one kind of shooters here. :D
Phil, I looked at your site too. Very nice. :cool:
rjrivero, Outstanding set up, and work. :)

November 8, 2009, 08:16 PM
I'd like to sharpen up my focus. I havent figured out how to get the sharp focus I was getting with my old all manual Minolta 35mm. The camera seems to want to focus on a different point than I do at times, and is never as sharp as the 35mm was. A tripod may help, but I was able to manage handheld with the 35mm fairly well. A greater depth of focus may help in some shots, but there's till something missing.

November 8, 2009, 08:18 PM
Malamute, what model camera are you using now?

November 8, 2009, 09:23 PM
It's a Canon PowerShot S3 IS.

November 8, 2009, 09:37 PM
For one thing, the Powershot S3 is 6 megapixels. That in itself isn't a problem (my DSLR is 6MP), but coupled with the small sensor size and reduced clarity of the built-in lens and you're not going to be able to get the same kind of sharpness from that camera. At least, not without some software tweaking of the digital image.

Almost all digital files need some sharpening. Not much, just a little bit extra. It never hurts to have a really sharp original, of course.

As you say, you may be able to help by stopping down the lens for a broad depth of field, but this doesn't always lend itself to a nice photo.

Are you using the focal length reciprocal method of judging shutter speed (50mm = 1/50 sec maximum shutter speed for handheld shooting, 100mm = 1/100 sec, etc)? If so, make sure you are using the 35mm equivalent focal length. That camera uses a 6-72mm lens and if you use the reciprocal of 6mm it will be far too long a shutter opening for handheld shooting (the 35mm equivalent of the 6mm wide end is 36mm). If you are shooting with super long shutter openings that may be contributing to motion blur in your images.

November 8, 2009, 09:41 PM
I didn't understand all the details of what you said, but I understand the end result. I think that may help some. I often just use the automatic setting, but sometimes manaully set things, or use different semi-auto settings.

Thank you for your input. I'll look things over and see what sense I can make of it. I may have to read the book some more,.....

PM sent.

November 8, 2009, 09:48 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is when you reduce an image for display online it tends to soften the details a bit. See if your software can add a touch of sharpening as it reduces the resolution. (In Photoshop you can select the "Bicubic Sharper" option in the Image Size dialog.) This is what I would do when I was using PS for my photos.

Now I have an export plug-in for Aperture that adds a little sharpening as it exports the image.

November 8, 2009, 10:05 PM
I dont have PS, just whatever came with my camera for downloading and basic adjustments. The pics that I've put on here have been downloaded to photobucket, and they reduce them to a certain file size, as required on this and/or other forums. I don't know how to reduce them other than when they load into photobucket. I'd like to figure out if I can keep some sharpness when they reduce the file size if I can, as you indicated.

Just looked at the original of the pic I posted here, its only 480x640. I'm not sure how my camera decides what size to make the images, they seem to change with the same settings being used.

November 8, 2009, 10:11 PM
See if photobucket has some setting where the site can sharpen the files that it serves when you share them. I know the hosting I get from SmugMug adds as much sharpening as I specify, but for most of the stuff I share on here I am exporting the files and storing them on my MobileMe account and just linking from separate folders I've set up for my various online profiles.

November 8, 2009, 10:49 PM
You got me curious, I went into my Canon utilities program, and I looked at some things I havent tried before. I played with a pic of my dog that I almost deleted because it was a little fuzzy. I managed to sharpen it up and cropped it. Even cropped it was better than the original.

Will have to look into this further. Will check out the Photobucket options also.

Thanks PD